Subscribe to our weekly newsletters for free

Subscribe to an email

If you want to subscribe to World & New World Newsletter, please enter
your e-mail

Diplomacy
Burning EU Flag

One step closer to the normalization of the far right

by Jaime Bordel Gil

More than a “before and after”, these elections represent a new chapter in the progressive integration of the far right into European politics. On the night of June 9th, the polls for the much-feared 2024 European elections closed. These were the elections of a change of cycle, the breakthrough of the far right, or the end of the grand coalition. In the end, it wasn’t as dramatic as expected, and the worst predictions of a possible right-wing majority did not come true. It is true that the earthquake some predicted did not occur, but for some time now, the tectonic plates of the EU have been moving in the same direction. The far right improved its results for the fifth consecutive time, which should not leave anyone indifferent. The grand coalition will not break, and the European institutions will not collapse due to the far-right tremor. However, for some time now, the European foundations have been shaking due to a far-right tectonic movement that could eventually bring the house down. The far right is growing, but it’s not taking over If we look at the results at the European level, beyond the respective victories in France and Italy, it seems that the far right is not growing as much as expected. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) of Giorgia Meloni gain four seats but do not surpass the Renew Liberals, who lose 22 seats but remain the third-largest group with 80 MEPs. Identity and Democracy (ID), the group of Le Pen and Salvini, gains slightly more, nine seats, but with 58 seats, it remains the fifth-largest group in the chamber and sees its growth hampered by the departure of Alternative for Germany (AfD), which would have brought it a whopping 15 MEPs. These numbers may vary slightly, and if some deputies currently among the non-affiliated, like Viktor Orbán's Fidesz, are incorporated, the ECR could become the third-largest group ahead of the liberals. However, this would not significantly alter the majorities in the European Parliament, where the grand coalition between the conservatives, social democrats, and liberals will continue to govern the main EU policies. Nevertheless, the European People's Party (EPP) will have a bargaining tool with its partners: the possibility of blocking certain laws by making agreements with the far right. The combined seats of the conservatives and radical right-wing parties are not enough to form an alternative majority that, as Giorgia Meloni intends, would exclude the social democrats. However, the 184 MEPs from the EPP, together with the two far-right groups, could be sufficient to block legislation on key issues such as the green transition. Additionally, around thirty non-affiliated deputies also hold far-right positions (15 from AfD, 11 from Fidesz, and three from Alvise), further complicating the EU's green and social agenda. The radical right will not bring down the European structure for now, but its influence will increase in this new period. They do not yet have the strength to cause everything to collapse, but election after election, their ideas continue to permeate the European agenda. In the previous legislature, they already made their mark on key legislation such as the European Migration Pact, where despite voting against many motions, Jorge Buxadé managed to become the rapporteur for one of them related to the creation of a biometric database of irregular immigrants. This five-year term will likely start with a prominent commissioner chosen by the far-right, and with Giorgia Meloni seated on the European Council, they will have much more to say than in 2019. We shall see where it ends. More than a "before and after," these elections represent another chapter in the progressive normalization and integration of the far-right into European politics. Their ideas are here to stay, and although they do not yet have the capacity to lead majorities or elect presidents of the Parliament or the European Commission, they are managing to alter the frameworks of numerous debates, such as immigration and the green transition. This is the real danger, and this election reinforces that we continue to discuss these issues in the terms desired by Meloni, Orban, or Le Pen. Bipartisanship resists Another point that I believe needs to be highlighted about this election is that bipartisanship is holding up better than many expected. While it's true that the heyday of the two major political families adding up to over 400 members will never return, for the first time since 2004, the People's Party and the Socialists have not lost seats together, breaking a trend that seemed irreversible. The EPP gained nine seats, winning the elections in three of the five most populous states: Germany, Spain, and Poland. The Social Democrats obtained 137 seats, slightly below the 139 they had in the previous legislature, avoiding the drop predicted by almost all polls. The Liberals and Greens, on the other hand, have collapsed, each losing about twenty seats. As I was saying, the heyday of social democratic hegemony passed long ago, but beyond the endurance of the Iberian social democracy — the only ones alongside the Cypriots to independently exceed 30% — there are some good signs that suggest this family may be moderately satisfied. In France and Greece, two paradigmatic examples of the crisis in this space, Pasok and PSF, which seemed long defunct, are now vying for leadership in opposition again. In Italy, the Democratic Party (DP), despite insufficient results, has outplayed the 5 Star Movement in the opposition, solidifying its position as the main opposition force to Giorgia Meloni's government. And in the Netherlands, a coalition with the Greens has managed to surpass the ultra-right Geert Wilders. It's evident that the current situation for social democrats is not ideal, but if we look back ten years, many parties that seemed on the brink of disappearance have recovered and could even become a government alternative in a few years. This directly links to the crisis of an alternative left that in many European countries has shifted from being a viable alternative to a minority space. In France and Spain, these spaces that once made socialists tremble now find themselves divided and subordinate. In Greece, Syriza remains the second force, but in 2019 it led the center-left by 15 points and one million votes, a difference that has now been reduced to just 2%. In northern Europe, things seem to be going a bit better as the green left, formerly the Socialist People's Party, has won the elections in Denmark, while in Finland, the Left Alliance — a member of The Left — is the second force with 17% of the votes. Interestingly, this is where the far-right has fallen the most, being the sixth force in Finland, fourth in Sweden, and ninth in Denmark. These results provide a glimmer of hope and show to the left in other regions a path to defeat the far-right. This is the landscape we find ourselves in. In the face of a far-right that is gradually gaining power and influence in Europe, the only ones seeming to withstand the far-right surge are the two traditional families, the EPP and the Social Democrats. The former, increasingly unabashed in their alliances with the radical right, remain committed to drawing a distinction between the "good" ultras, such as the Atlanticists like Meloni and Poland's Law and Justice Party, and the "bad" ultras, who are anti-European and aligned with Putin, like the AfD or Salvini. This distinction allows them to present agreements with parties that have repeatedly shown scant respect for human rights as respectable. And the latter, either through action or omission of others, have managed to weather the storm following the 2008 crisis and remain in many countries as the alternative to far-right governance. Who would have thought this ten years ago when many were signing the death warrant for social democratic parties. This is the Europe that remains. The rise of far-right influence and the consolidation of bipartisanship are the two main headlines of a night that will go down in history more for Macron's advancement than for immediate repercussions on Union governance, where everything will continue more or less the same. No earthquakes, but with tectonic shifts that may one day bring everything crashing down. The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Diplomacy
Putin and Kim

Ukraine recap: Putin love-in with Kim Jong-un contrasts with western disarray over peace plan

by Jonathan Este

Hotfoot from signing a security pact with North Korea on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin has popped up in Vietnam, another of the few remaining countries where the Russian president is still welcome (or doesn’t face arrest under the war crimes warrant issued by the International Criminal Court last year). Here he was congratulated by the president, To Lam, for his election victory earlier this year and for maintaining stability and continuity in Russia. Putin, meanwhile, made much of the Soviet Union’s historical support for the Vietnamese people’s struggle for independence and unity from the 1950s to the 1970s, referring, without a hint of irony, to Vietnam’s “heroic struggle against foreign invaders”. The visit has been billed as part of Putin’s strategy to promote a new “multipolar” world order, free from US control. But it should be noted that the pragmatic Vietnamese have already hosted Joe Biden and Xi Jinping over the past nine months. Hanoi’s “bamboo diplomacy” depends on the country being “actively neutral” – with one eye on China, Vietnam has also upgraded relations with the US, Australia and South Korea in recent times. So, while there will be plenty of expressions of goodwill from Vietnam’s leadership, they are less likely to commit to anything more concrete as things stand. North Korea knows little of such diplomatic niceties, though, and has fewer choices when it comes to its friends. Very little detail has emerged of the new pact with Russia, except that it would require each country to come to the aid of the other if attacked. But it’s likely that close to the top of the agenda would have been Russia’s military requirements. North Korea’s supplies of artillery and ammunition are thought to have been vital in helping Russia overcome the harsh sanctions imposed by the US as well as Beijing’s unwillingness to directly provide arms for the war in Ukraine. Kim, in turn, wants Russian know-how when it comes to sophisticated military tech as well as economic support when it comes to feeding his country’s starving population. But warm relations between the two countries is nothing new. Official pronouncements emphasised the “traditionally friendly and good” relations between Russia and North Korea “based on the glorious traditions of common history”. For Kim, writes Robert Barnes, a senior lecturer in history at York St John University, this is something of a family affair which harks back to the 1930s when the North Korean leader’s grandfather Kim Il-sung was a relatively unknown Korean communist leading a small guerrilla band fighting the Japanese in Manchuria. Kim spent much of the second world war in the Soviet Union, where he joined the Red Army and rose to the rank of major. After the conflict, he was handpicked by Stalin to lead the Korean Workers’ party and then North Korea when it was established in 1948. The Korean war which followed almost led to a nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the west. Hopefully, concludes Barnes, nothing as dramatic will result from this latest iteration of the relationship between the two countries. But pariah states such as North Korea aren’t the only countries where Putin can command a degree of support, if the recent European parliamentary elections are any guide. As Natasha Lindstaedt notes here, the rise of the far right in EU member states such as Germany, France, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria is throwing up an increasingly powerful group that stands in opposition to EU support for Ukraine. It may seem counterintuitive that such an avowed anti-fascist as Putin is courting extreme right organisations such as Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD) or Hungary’s Fidesz party. But Lindstaedt believes that leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán have shown little concern for the institutions of democracy – as shown by Hungary’s adoption of a similar foreign agents’ law which acts to curtail press freedom and the work of NGOs. She concudes: “Putin is seen by the far right as a strong and conservative leader that can defend himself against the liberal west, which is trying to undermine these values.” The west, meanwhile, remains divided over the manner and extent of its support for Ukraine. The good news for Kyiv is that the recent G7 meeting in Puglia, southern Italy, ended in an in-principle agreement to use the US$3 billion (£2.36 billion) interest from US$350 billion of Russian assets frozen in the western banking system to underwrite a US$50 billion loan to Ukraine. But Gregory Stiles and Hugo Dobson, experts in international relations at the University of Sheffield, sound a cautionary note suggesting that the details of how this will work are likely to take months to agree. Meanwhile, they write, five of the seven leaders – US president Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the UK’s Rishi Sunak and Japan’s Fumio Kishida – all face elections this year which none of them are guaranteed to survive. And, to take just one example, if Biden loses in November to Donald Trump, the likelihood of this deal proceeding becomes significantly reduced. Summit on peace Many of these leaders went on to Switzerland at the weekend for the Summit on Peace in Ukraine. Stefan Wolff, an expert in international security at the University of Birmingham, was following proceedings and concludes that it’s hard to judge the meeting an unqualified success. Out of 160 countries and international organisations invited, only 92 attended. Biden was a no-show and Canada’s premier, Justin Trudeau, was the only G7 leader to stay for both days of the conference. The main problem, writes Wolff, was that the only peace plan on the table was that proposed some time ago by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. This calls for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including Crimea, and the payment of reparations for rebuilding his country. Seven other peace plans, proposed by the likes of China (which also failed to send anyone), Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, a group of African states led by South Africa and the Vatican were not discussed. Most of these call for a ceasefire, which is anathema to Kyiv and its backers in the US and UK, as it would accept, for the time being at least, Russia’s territorial gains on the ground, including the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Putin, meanwhile, was trolling hard from the sidelines, releasing his terms for a ceasefire deal, which are for Ukraine to accept Russian annexation of Crimea and not just the land his troops currently occupy, but all of the four regions he annexed in September 2022. Putin’s column As previously noted here, a season of relative success on the battlefield, has left Putin in a bullish mood. It emerged recently that (despite being seriously disadvantaged by the war in Ukraine and the harsh western sanctions which have ensued) the boss of Russian energy giant plans to build an 80-metre column in St Petersburg to commemorate Peter the Great’s triumph in the great northern war, after which Russia declared itself to be an empire for the first time. As George Gilbert, an expert in Russian history at University of Southampton notes, anything honouring Peter the Great is a sure-fire way of buttering up the Russian president, who sees himself as a latter-day incarnation of the man who built his home town of St Petersburg, glossing over the fact that Peter saw his capital as a way of making Russia more of a west-facing country. Gilbert gives us some historical context about the conflict, in which Russia lined up alongside much of what would become Poland and Germany as well as Britain, by virtue of its king, George I, also being the ruler of Hanover. The key battle, he writes, was at Poltava, which is in the middle of what is now Ukraine, which involved defeating a crack regiment of Cossack cavalry, which you’d have to imagine is very much grist to Putin’s mill. One suspects, though, that it’s Peter the Great’s imperial achievements that Putin wants to emulate most of all.

Energy & Economics
USA and China trade war concept. suitable also as South China Sea conflict

Are tariffs, of all things, the salvation of free trade?

by Dr. Jan Cernicky

We can talk about selective tariffs - but not about protective tariffs - Concerns about the effects of economic dependencies are increasingly overshadowing the benefits of open global trade. - In the current geopolitically charged situation, there may be situations in which trade policy dependencies - for example in the case of rare earths - can be mitigated by state intervention. - In such cases, selective tariffs are the best choice. Subsidies to build up own production capacities are significantly less efficient, more expensive and undermine the market principle. - Protective tariffs for industries whose products are sufficiently available on the global market, such as the automotive and steel industries, should be rejected. - The fundamental goal should be the preservation of rule-based world trade in accordance with WTO rules. Any kind of state intervention must be justified on the basis of solid data. Background During Chinese party leader Xi Jinping's visit to Europe in May, there was once again a lot of talk about economic dependencies. They are seen as a threat to the "economic security" of Germany and Europe. What often seems to fade into the background is that the arguments for a global division of labor remain valid: it enables general prosperity precisely because certain countries and regions concentrate on the production of individual goods and consequently do not produce others themselves. On the other hand, it is also true that the economic damage more than compensates for these advantages if a state such as China uses economic dependencies as political leverage and, in the worst case, stops supplying goods for which it has a monopoly. In principle, China has achieved such a monopoly for refined rare earths and some other smelted metals.1 However, this clearly does not apply to electric cars, steel or solar cells. The reason for such quasi-monopolies is simple: Chinese companies export the products in question so cheaply that production elsewhere in the world is not worthwhile. If this were solely due to the fact that Chinese companies produce better, the only correct response would be to roll up our sleeves and become better ourselves. In the case of rare earths from China, however, the advantage of Chinese manufacturers is largely due to direct and indirect subsidies. In such an environment, in which Chinese producers have massive cost advantages due to politically granted benefits, it is not worthwhile for private companies outside China to build up their own capacities for the production of rare earths, for example. Even if prices were to rise and economic production were possible, this would not be rational; state-supported Chinese companies can easily survive periods of low prices. The usual market mechanism, whereby companies with the most competitive solutions survive, does not apply here. Even technologically superior production methods do not prevail due to Chinese subsidies. Possible reactions The best economic solution is undoubtedly for the state not to react at all and to see the availability of very cheap products that are available for domestic consumption or for further processing as an advantage. The fact that the products in question have been made cheaper by Chinese taxpayers' money can be gratefully accepted. It would be a genuine and courageous system competition not to respond with the same instruments, but to maintain a market economy system and thus exploit the weaknesses of the counter-design. Shaping the economic framework conditions politically in such a way that innovations that provide alternatives to the use of the raw materials in question can be developed more easily would be a reaction that is still justifiable within the framework of the social market economy. This would be, for example, favorable recycling processes. In most cases, such innovations are possible. However, their introduction and application is significantly more expensive than importing standard products from China. If dependence on China is really not justifiable in individual cases,2 there are two possibilities for state intervention in the form of subsidies or tariffs, which may be justifiable in rare individual cases, but are not provided for within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Important indicators for the assessment of dependencies are, for example, the lack of substitutability of the imported good, the degree of concentration of supply in a country and the relevance of the good in question for the domestic economy. However, state intervention to protect domestic production sites, such as is being discussed for electric cars or steel, appears to be explicitly unjustifiable. There is a sufficiently diversified supply of such products on the global market and there is no dependency on just one country. Economic effects of tariffs and subsidies Tariffs and subsidies both aim to compensate for the price difference to cheaper foreign competitors. Tariffs make imports more expensive, while subsidies make domestic production cheaper through state subsidies. Both have a negative welfare effect, but the correlation is more harmful in the case of subsidies. Figure 1 uses a schematic example, which is not based on empirical data, to illustrate the effect if the costs of producing rare earths in Germany were reduced to the level of the import price from China (country 1) through subsidies.   With the subsidies, it is now economically viable for the subsidized companies to produce the rare earths from ore in Germany. The actually cheaper ways of importing rare earths from alternative countries or using other technical solutions remain more expensive and would hardly be used. The goal of reducing dependencies would therefore be achieved in a very expensive way. Large sums of taxpayers' money would be spent on this. In this example, the most expensive possible route is discussed in order to clearly demonstrate the negative consequences. In reality, however, it is very unlikely that the cheapest route in economic terms will be subsidized. This is because there are always many different providers and technical solutions, which means that all the options are often not even known or can only develop in the long term. It is therefore very unlikely that the optimal subsidy recipients will be selected. A benefit is created for a specific, relatively arbitrarily selected application, but not for others. The effectiveness of the market is thus distorted and the competitiveness of the location decreases as a result. As the subsidies compensate for a competitive disadvantage, it is unlikely that high additional tax revenues will be generated. The funds spent are no longer available for other state investments. The result is a loss of welfare on this scale. Only the subsidized companies benefit from this. The price at which rare earths can be purchased in Germany does not change. It is also possible to subsidize production abroad in order to reduce dependence on one country. Such models are being attempted via "raw material partnerships", for example. Such an approach can be significantly cheaper than subsidizing domestic production. In the example (Figure 1), only the significantly lower import price from country 2 would have to be subsidized. However, the other disadvantages of subsidies listed above also apply in this case. In particular, it is even more difficult to obtain all the necessary information for projects abroad and therefore even less likely to choose the most cost-effective option. The targeted tariffs discussed here are intended to respond to dependencies on supplies from a specific country. They are therefore only imposed on imports from this country. Other imports are not affected. To stay with the example, the importer pays a surcharge on the imported rare earths. This makes his product, for which he processes rare earths, more expensive domestically. Manufacturers abroad who are not affected by the duty become more competitive in comparison.    If the tariff rate were set in the same way as above so that the competitive disadvantage for the most expensive option - metal processing in Germany - is compensated for in terms of price, the tariff rate on imports from China would be very high. However, consumers of rare earths in Germany would still have access to the significantly cheaper other options. Metal processing in Germany would therefore remain unprofitable, while imports - now no longer from China, but from country 2 - would continue to be significantly cheaper. However, the price difference to the cheapest processing variant in Germany, in the example (Figure 2) recycling, would no longer be so great, so that this variant would be easier to make economically viable by scaling up or using innovative technical solutions. In reality, the introduction of customs duties would not divert all procurement to a single country; there is no capacity for this anywhere. The result would be a mix of different suppliers, which would make it more worthwhile to drive innovation in Germany. Changes in the price structure between the different providers and processes over time can be tracked by customers in this model - the best process (or the second best, if the best is used in China) then prevails on the market. The welfare loss here arises from the fact that consumption or further processing of the imported products becomes more expensive by at least the difference to the second cheapest source of supply. However, the volume of the welfare loss is significantly lower than in the case of subsidies. It can be argued that tariffs make the prices of downstream products in the supply chain more expensive, whereas subsidies do not. While this is true, it overlooks the fact that the much larger group of companies and consumers who are not directly affected do not suffer any direct additional costs in the case of tariffs, but bear the costs of subsidies through their taxes. Political effects of tariffs and subsidies In terms of their political and structural consequences, subsidies are more harmful than targeted tariffs. This is simply due to the procedure at the end of which individual companies receive a subsidy decision. An "objective" allocation is hardly possible here. On the contrary: the procedure is susceptible to personal relationships, political influence and direct corruption. Furthermore, subsidies that are only granted in one country of the European Union jeopardize the integrity of the European Single Market. Similar problems can arise with customs duties. This happens when they are used to protect certain domestic industries. In the case of targeted, selective tariffs, which are based on clearly defined, objective categories, such as the degree of dependence on a product from a country, there is little scope for political influence once the criteria have been established. Tariffs cannot harm the European single market either, as they can only be imposed at European level anyway. WTO conformity The reduction of tariffs and subsidies within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the predecessor agreement GATT are a central reason for the reduction of global poverty in recent decades and one of the cornerstones of Germany's prosperity. It is therefore self-evident that tariffs and subsidies not only contradict the idea of the WTO. They also contradict its two basic principles: Subsidies for domestic production contradict the non-discrimination principle3, tariffs against individual countries violate the Most Favorite Nation Clause4. There are exceptions for both in the WTO rules. For example, WTO members must notify subsidies so that they can be examined and other countries can object to them if necessary. In principle, subsidies are only intended - and within a narrow framework - for developing countries, which still includes China. However, the notification of subsidies to the WTO hardly works any more. For example, 64 countries (around a third of members) have not even notified their subsidies for 20175. Nevertheless, some of China's subsidies may indeed be legal according to the letter of the WTO rules. But they are certainly not legitimate, as the aim of the WTO is to liberalize world trade and not to cement the opposite. And even if subsidies are known, the WTO cannot take legally binding action against them due to the dispute settlement mechanism blocked by the USA. Consequently, the USA has not reacted to the unresolved problem of China's subsidies within the WTO framework. Although tariffs have been imposed on some Chinese imports, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a huge subsidy program. If the dispute settlement mechanism were to work, the IRA would almost certainly have to be declared WTO-incompatible. However, as this path is blocked, many countries and regions of the world - including Germany and the EU at the forefront - are reacting with their own openly WTO-incompatible subsidy programs. The current subsidy race is constantly creating new reasons to impose subsidies in response to the subsidies of others. This will further damage the multilateral trading system, which has been very successful for Germany in particular. Targeted tariffs, on the other hand, which can be used to eliminate competitive disadvantages caused by subsidies and which are therefore only levied on goods from the subsidizing country, are in principle in line with the basic idea of the WTO. This is because it balances out a distortion of the world market created by subsidies. Therefore, tariffs are generally permitted as a reaction to dumping and subsidies6. A reaction to subsidies via tariffs within the strict WTO framework is currently hardly possible for the reasons mentioned above. In this situation, it should be actively communicated that in an unsatisfactory legal situation, the path of the least evil will be taken with tariffs. At the same time, serious efforts should be made to reform the WTO. Conclusion The argument: "We want to have the production of certain things in Germany because we believe that we would no longer be supplied with them in crisis situations" is not an economic argument. Production for strategic reasons is always a financially subsidized business. Because if there was money to be made, the private sector would do it. Politically, this line of argument is perfectly legitimate - as is the attempt to steer the economy directly in a politically acceptable direction through subsidies. However, this has nothing to do with a social market economy, but rather the opposite. However, if Germany and Europe are to remain committed to the social market economy and open multilateral trade, the only economically sensible response to problematic dependencies from abroad (if one has to respond at all) is to impose targeted, selective tariffs - but certainly not protective tariffs for domestic production sites. The German government should work within the EU to set a clear framework for this and at the same time work on a reform at WTO level to finally reduce the rampant subsidies. Because these - and not tariffs - are currently the biggest threat to the open global trading system that is so important to us. References 1 Vgl. etwa die Darstellung der Abhängigkeiten von für die Energiewende nötigen Metallen in Cernicky (2022): https://www.kas.de/documents/252038/16166715/Energiewende+und+Protektionismus+-+Wie+gehen+wir+pragmatisch+mit+China+um.pdf/442ba770-d504-43cc-25f1-eaf7d970dfc1, genaue Zahlen vgl. etwa die Auflistung des BDI: https://bdi.eu/publikation/news/analyse-bestehender-abhaengigkeiten-und-handlungsempfehlungen/ 2 Zum Versuch einer entsprechenden Bewertung vgl. etwa die von der KAS und dem Ifo-Institut durchgeführte Studie zu Abhängigkeiten in Lieferketten, Flach et al (2021): https://www.kas.de/de/analysen-und-argumente/detail/-/content/globale-wertschoepfungsketten 3 Art. III GATT 4 Art. I GATT/ WTO 5 WTO | 2023 News items - Members reiterate concerns on lack of transparency with subsidy notifications: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news23_e/scm_02may23_e.htm 6 GATT Art VI, Dumping und Ausgleichzölle Publisher: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., 2024, Berlin Design: yellow too, Pasiek Horntrich GbR Produced with the financial support of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V. is for information purposes only. It may not be used by political parties or election campaigners or helpers for the purpose of election advertising. This applies to federal, state and local elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. The text of this work is licensed under the terms of "Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international", CC BY-SA 4.0 (available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.de).

Energy & Economics
puzzle with the colourful national flag of poland and usa dollar banknote. finance concept

Poland is the Seventh Most Difficult Country in Europe to Conduct Business

by Adam Ujazdowski

Poland ranks seventh in Europe and 12th worldwide among the least business-friendly countries. It also performed the worst in this regard compared to neighboring countries, including war-torn Ukraine. Greece is the most challenging country to conduct business in. These conclusions come from the eleventh edition of the annual Global Business Complexity Index report by TMF Group, a leading provider of compliance and administrative services. The authors of the TMF Global Complexity Index 2023 examined 79 jurisdictions, accounting for 93% of the world’s GDP and 88% of net foreign direct investment. They compared 292 annually monitored indicators regarding key aspects of business operations, administrative regulations, and legal compliance for entrepreneurs planning to conduct business in a selected market. For the first time, Saudi Arabia appeared in the ranking, taking the 37th position. Poland, considering European countries, ranked seventh in the index, three places better than the previous two years. “We observe progress in digitizing processes in Poland. This is a significant convenience for investors and businesses along the Vistula River. An example is the ability to perform all financial reporting activities in an IT service. Another example is the growing interest in the simplified joint-stock company (PSA), introduced just over two years ago, which requires only 1 PLN of capital and has straightforward management and liquidation rules. The turmoil related to the introduction of the Polish Deal has also passed, which is welcomed by businesses and improves sentiment.” – explains Joanna Romańczuk, Director of TMF Group for Central and Eastern Europe, highlighting positive changes in conducting business in Poland. At the same time, Poland performs the worst regarding ease of doing business compared to neighboring countries (excluding Belarus, not included in the ranking), including Ukraine. “The position of a country in the ranking is determined by the complexity of internal business rules and how other countries in the ranking handle such issues. While we see positive signals in Poland, our neighbors are better at facilitating business establishment and operation, even war-torn Ukraine. Ukraine has the status of a candidate country for the European Union. Therefore, the government is introducing many business facilitations, and the pace of reforms is very rapid. For example, no penalties are imposed for self-corrected tax returns. Additionally, attractive solutions for businesses, such as favorable tax conditions and automatic intellectual property protection, are being implemented in the IT sector.” – adds Joanna Romańczuk. TMF Group experts point out that entrepreneurs in Poland are burdened by the necessity of repeatedly reporting the same information to various institutions and the long-standing variability of regulations, such as the announcement of the National e-Invoice System (KSeF), followed by the postponement of its implementation, which caused significant costs for many large organizations to adapt to its introduction. Among the countries where it is most difficult to conduct business, European countries dominate – Greece, which swapped places with France for the top spot this year. They are followed by Colombia, Mexico, and Bolivia. In Europe, it is also more difficult to conduct business in Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Croatia than in Poland. The Cayman Islands (a British Overseas Territory), Curaçao (a Dutch Overseas Territory), Denmark, Hong Kong (a Special Administrative Region of China), and New Zealand are the best in the world at eliminating business obstacles. In Europe, besides Denmark, which has consistently held top positions in this category for years, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Malta, and Ireland are the most business-friendly countries. “Last year, I gave examples of Denmark, which has long been a global leader in business-friendliness, and the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Malta. This year, the Czech Republic also shows that Europe can be very business-friendly, competing even with the United States. No one doubts that it would be beneficial for Poland to join the ranks of leaders in this field in the coming years,” concludes Joanna Romańczuk. In addition to analyzing business conditions in 79 jurisdictions, the authors of the TMF Global Complexity Index 2024 (GBCI) also identify key topics shaping the global business landscape and regulatory environment: Impact of Global Regulatory Compliance on Foreign Investments The authors of this year’s GBCI emphasize that representatives of most jurisdictions expressed confidence in the stability of regulations over the next five years, continuing a trend of increased stability compared to previous years. For example, in 2020, representatives of only 35% of jurisdictions predicted no significant regulatory changes. This sense of stability has grown yearly, reaching 58% of jurisdictions in 2024. Experts suggest that the number or complexity of regulations is not the biggest challenge, but the speed of regulatory changes is the real difficulty. Geopolitical Factors and Bridge Economies Geopolitical instability has an obvious impact on the flow of trade and investment worldwide. While energy prices remain high, supply chain disruptions and trade barriers also pose significant challenges for global players. As a result, many companies are reevaluating their potential growth plans and long-term expansion goals. However, while geopolitical issues may disrupt supply chains or create trade barriers for some jurisdictions, others benefit from global shifts. Due to their neutrality on global issues, countries known as “bridge economies” can capitalize on their unique positions. For these countries, their newly established roles in the global supply chain have become a crucial way for international companies to manage their risks during periods of international instability. Uncertain Times and Success Strategies – Technology and Retaining Employees Although jurisdiction representatives cited various factors influencing growth, IT and technology topped the list as the most influential. Technology offers growth opportunities in multiple ways, providing development possibilities where countries have technological expertise in production and can increase market share through production. The use of technology to increase productivity has also been identified in terms of streamlining work. In many jurisdictions, including New Zealand and Hong Kong, companies automate office, basic, and part-time work using artificial intelligence to keep the workforce size low and focus on higher-value tasks. At the same time, the vast majority of jurisdictions face challenges in attracting and retaining talent (78%), with this figure even higher in the EMEA (90%) and APAC (79%) regions. The ability to respond effectively to demand in this area largely depends on two factors: local labor laws and the potential of regional talent. Jurisdictions with restrictive labor laws and a strong presence of trade unions – or those with a shortage of available talent – are naturally much less able to flexibly adjust employment levels.

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Defense & Security
Paris,France,1st of May 2024.Thousands of people protested and celebrated on mayday in Paris. Labour unions,workers,students and others marched through the streets

The nickel behind Macron's recolonization project in New Caledonia

by Pablo Elorduy

The protests by the Kanak population are taking place against an electoral reform that will further benefit the settlers recently established on the island. In the background are the profits from nickel mining, which the metropolis wants to monopolize. The riots in New Caledonia have led the Government of the French Republic to intensify repression on the Pacific Island. This week, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc has announced that the police presence would be increased, nearly doubling from 1,700 to 2,700 officers. Officially, five people, including two police officers, have died in the clashes, which have arisen due to a legal change in the system of electing representatives that discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population, who make up 40% of the total population. The clashes are also a result of the deep inequality between the Kanak people and the settlers, who are organized into militias, and are said to have carried out executions of civilians. Kanak organizations claim that the death toll among civilians could be higher. Since Wednesday, May 15th, an emergency state has been declared in the archipelago, and the army has been deployed around ports and airports. More than two hundred people have been detained. The situation has worsened due to problems accessing food — due to distribution issues, according to the island government — and healthcare services, which have arisen since the unrest began in early May. The government has stated that in several neighborhoods, "control is no longer assured," and they hope to dismantle the barricades with explosives placed by the masses of protesters. It is estimated that there are around 9,000 protesters, of whom 5,000 are in Nouméa, the capital, especially in the neighborhoods of Kaméré, Montravel, and Vallée-du-Tir. Additionally, the metropolis has banned access to TikTok — a network used for information among the protesters — and the Ministry of Justice has announced "harsher penalties against rioters and looters." The Ground Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) is the main organization of the Kanak population and has linked the protests to the "methodical sabotage of the decolonization process by the French state" from the very beginning. The fact is that since 1986, New Caledonia has been part of the territories to be decolonized according to the United Nations. "Since Emmanuel Macron came to power, France has radically sabotaged the decolonization process," stated the anticolonial organization Survie in a statement. The government's response has been to discredit the CCAT as a "mafia-like" organization and to denounce foreign interference from Azerbaijan, a country which, according to the Élysée Palace, would be seeking revenge for France's support of its Armenian rivals in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Why do protests arise in New Caledonia? The protests arose in response to a reform by the French government aimed at expanding the electorate for provincial elections in New Caledonia, a territory with an estimated population of 300,000 people. The plan involves extending the right to vote to the recently settled colonial population, around 25,000 people, which would further exclude 40% of the island's indigenous population from the representative system, who are the most affected by poverty and exclusion. The settlers are already able to vote in French presidential and municipal elections, but the plan would change the balance in provincial elections. Thus, supporters of independence and the Kanak population interpret that the "Nouméa Accord" of 1988, which grants more guarantees to the Kanak population, would be reversed in order to further privilege the settlers who have gradually been settling in the territory, attracted by tax benefits and the relationship between their high salaries with European standards and the low prices in the archipelago. This is yet another nail in a hardline shift directed by Macron's government, which in 2021 imposed a referendum to shore up French colonial power over the archipelago despite demands for postponement from the Kanaks and significant voices in French society, who called for respect for the Kanak mourning for those who died from COVID-19. As expected, abstention determined the results. The current constitutional bill to "unfreeze" the electorate, which has been voted on in the Senate and must be endorsed by the French Assembly, has sparked multiple protests, including strikes at the port and airport of Nouméa, closure of numerous administrations, the beginning of a riot at the Nouméa prison, and clashes between police and youth from working-class neighborhoods of Nouméa. As noted in an article from the environmentalist newspaper Reporterre, the control of New Caledonia is strategic for France. The island hosts between 20 and 30% of the world's nickel resources, a resource used in the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars. One out of every four people works in the nickel sector, despite which the industry is in crisis, leading the metropolis, under the guidance of Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, to present a "nickel pact" that would introduce millions in aid to the sector but, at the same time, reverse a 1998 agreement by which the island secured management of the nickel. The proposed pact, explained by an expert cited by Reporterre, "completely departs from the model of mining revenues that benefit New Caledonia for its own development" and follows point by point with a neocolonial logic. Additionally, the metropolis aims for the archipelago to export more raw material, which would lead New Caledonia to lose the added benefit of in-situ nickel processing.

Diplomacy
Rome, Italy - March 22, 2019: Xi Jinping, China's president, speaks as he attends an Italy-China business forum with Sergio Mattarella, Italy's president, at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

Xi Jinping's "Civilization State" and Anti-Americanism in Europe

by Ihsan Yilmaz , Nicholas Morieson

It is not surprising that China’s Xi Jinping should visit France, Europe’s second largest economy and one of the dominant nations within the European Union. But why should he visit comparatively small and economically less important nations such as Hungary or Serbia? The answer lies not merely in the economic opportunities such a visit may bring to all parties, but in the increasingly anti-American themed politics of the three nations, and their governments’ belief that the future of international politics is a multi-polar order dominated by “civilization states.” These two factors make China, which promises to free the world from American political, economic, and cultural dominance and establish a new multipolar order, an attractive partner for France, Serbia, and Hungary. Equally, it makes them attractive to China, which seeks to divide Europe and the United States, and build greater economic and political ties with European nations desirous of a “new” Europe free of American dominance. Xi portrays China as not merely a nation-state, but a continuation of Ancient Chinese culture merged with Marxism. Xi is adamant that China must draw on its civilizational heritage, and reject the values of Western civilization, which are not – he argues – universal, but indeed particular to the West and thus unsuitable for China. Xi’s remark that China “will work with France to deepen China-Europe mutually beneficial cooperation,” and that the two are “major forces in building a multipolar world, two big markets that promote globalization, and two great civilizations that advocate cultural diversity,” underlines this civilizational perspective on global politics. Civilizationism, as a construct, is thus a tool of liberation through which Xi will free China of non-indigenous values and ideas, and through which it will overcome the United States and make the Chinese nation Asia’s dominant power. The leaders of both China and France, despite their differences, are drawn together due to shared antipathy towards the United States, and their shared civilizational perspective on global affairs, a perspective intrinsically connected with their anti-American politics. Naturally, China and France do not share the same opinion of the United States. China views America as a rival; France views America, perhaps, as a perfidious ally forcing “Anglo-Saxon” culture upon an unwilling French people. Experts have noted the importance Emmanuel Macron places on rejuvenating what he calls European Civilization. Indeed, where right-wing populist Marine Le Pen calls for the protection of France’s Judeo-Christian yet secular civilization, Macron is moving beyond the nation-state paradigm and speaking of centralising power within the European Union in order to protect otherwise moribund European civilization. Macron is very concerned about the future of European civilization, and believes that it represents the best of humanity and must therefore protect its “humanist” values. For Macron, European civilization has many enemies. But perhaps the key enemy is the United States, which is an enemy precisely because it is an anti-civilizational power that defends the nation-state paradigm, insists that its values are universal, and desires a relatively weak Europe. Macron argued that Europeans should take inspiration from the “civilisational projects of Russia and Hungary” and what Macron called their “inspiring cultural, civilisational vitality.” He says European civilization is “humanist,” and that to survive it must reject the “Anglo-American model” which permits the private sector to gain enormous power over human life. This position, of course, also rejects the Chinese model, in which the government is given total control over human life. Hungary and Serbia Victor Orbán is drawn to Xi in much the same way as Macron: both believe the rise of civilization states, such as China, as ineluctable, and both believe that China’s rise provides an opportunity for their respective states – if not civilizations – to free themselves from Anglo-American norms. Although Orbán possesses a civilizational rejuvenation project, it is of an entirely different nature to Macron’s “humanist” plan for Europe. Orbán calls for the re-Christianization of Europe, and for the strengthening of the nation-state and its borders, and he speaks not so much of European civilization but of Judeo-Christian civilization. Orban says, “the US ought to permit illiberal states – such as Hungary – to determine their own futures rather than impose ‘universal values’ upon them in an effort to prevent war.” China’s rise comes at the expense of Orbán’s liberal democratic foes (i.e. Washington and Brussels), decreasing their ability to pressure Hungary to return to liberal democratic norms. Equally, because China is ruled by an authoritarian populist who has a civilizational perspective on international relations, the rise of China legitimises Orbán’s own authoritarianism and his civilizational rejuvenation project. It should come as no surprise that the date Xi chose to visit Serbia coincided with the 25th anniversary of the American-led NATO bombings of Belgrade’s Chinese embassy. The two nations have become increasingly close since the 2012 election victory of the governing populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which sees China as both a source of economic growth and technological development, and also as a partner that is less likely to criticise Serbia’s refusal to sanction Russia, and its often socially conservative politics. Thus, President Aleksandar Vučić received Xi in Belgrade in a ceremony during which he promised the Chinese leader that he would receive in Serbia a degree of “reverence and love” not “found anywhere else.” He further promised that his government would only increase cooperation with Beijing, saying “the sky is the limit.” Xi authored an article in Serbia’s Politika news outlet noting that China and Serbia have similar positions on many important international and regional issues. In the piece, Xi is indirectly calling for Serbia to assist China in challenging US and Western dominance in the international sphere. Experts noted that “Serbia’s hosting of Xi is connected to broader efforts — notably by Moscow and Beijing — to challenge U.S. influence and potentially reshape the international order.” Conclusion Xi’s tour of France, Hungary, and Serbia demonstrates the growing influence of China in Europe. But it also tells us much about how some Europeans are responding to China’s rise as a self-styled civilizational power. This rise has inspired some European leaders to challenge US dominance in international politics and embrace the core values of “European civilization.” Many of Europe’s states thus may seek to emulate China, or help it rise and attempt to politically and economically benefit from it. Moreover, China’s rise seems to demonstrate how by rejecting normative Anglo-American (or more broadly Western) values, and embracing the traditional values and culture of one’s own civilization, these states can overcome American imperialism and cultural hegemony. Whether rejecting Western Anglo-American norms and embracing their own civilizational values can give these entire nations a shared purpose, and inspire reindustrialization, remains an unanswered question. Ihsan Yilmaz is a research professor of political science and international relations at Deakin University’s ADI (Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation). Previously, he worked at the Universities of Oxford and London.  Nicholas Morieson holds a Ph.D. in politics from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, and a Masters in International Relations from Monash University. He is the author of Religion and the Populist Radical Right: Christian Secularism and Populism in Western Europe, and a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.

Diplomacy
Pedro Sánchez

Spain recognizes the Palestinian state and reaffirms its friendship with Israel despite genocide in Gaza

by Redacción El Salto

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Although the gesture from Spain, Ireland, and Norway has been welcomed by Palestinian authorities, the past week has highlighted the Zionist determination to obliterate any possibility of a genuine Palestinian state. Pedro Sánchez announced early this morning what has been awaited since it was announced almost a week ago: the recognition of the Palestinian State, which, in the words of the Prime Minister, "must be a viable state, with the West Bank and Gaza connected by a corridor, with East Jerusalem as its capital, unified under the Government of the Palestinian National Authority," he stated. The president also sought to appease Zionist opposition and dispel accusations of supporting Hamas: "This is a decision that is not against anyone, least of all against Israel, a friendly people whom we respect and appreciate, and with whom we want to have the best possible relationship. This decision reflects our outright rejection of Hamas." The announcement of the recognition of the State of Palestine will be made, as the president communicated in the press conference, after it is approved today by the Council of Ministers. Meanwhile, the coalition government partner, ‘Sumar’, has welcomed this step, reminding that other actions are still necessary. "Arms embargo, suspension of diplomatic relations, supporting ICJ measures, and supporting the South African denunciation," have been enumerated in its X account. Today, May 28, 2024, was the date that Spain, Norway, and Ireland had marked on the agenda to take this diplomatic step in support of the Palestinian people. Ireland, for its part, will proceed with the recognition of the State of Palestine following a parliamentary debate to be held during the day. The decision taken by these three European countries, made public last Wednesday, May 22nd, joins them with the 144 countries that already recognized the State of Palestine within its 1967 borders, following the commitment to the coexistence of two sovereign states that can peacefully coexist, a principle underlying the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, and which, however, three decades later, seem unrealistic given Israeli policies of colonization of the West Bank, isolation of Gaza, and appropriation of East Jerusalem, the territories that should compose an already disjointed Palestinian state. The Spanish recognition of Palestine as a state — a recurring commitment made by the PSOE that has taken time to materialize — coordinated with Ireland and Norway, implies that European countries, traditional allies of Israel, are joining what the Global South and colonized peoples had largely done decades ago. In Europe, Sweden took that step in 2014, many years after several countries in Eastern Europe recognized the Palestinian state in 1988, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The former Czechoslovakia is a striking case; while the Czech Republic considers this recognition no longer valid, Slovakia reaffirms the decision made in the 1980s. Currently, Belgium, Malta, and Slovenia are other European states that have expressed their intention to recognize the Palestinian state, without specifying a specific date. For Israel, it is important that this trend does not spread. Zionist Foreign Minister, Israel Khan, wasted no time in attacking the Spanish government (again) on social media for its decision, accusing the prime minister of being complicit in "inciting the murder of the Jewish people and war crimes." The decision of the heads of government of Ireland, Norway, and Spain came after the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution for the recognition of the Palestinian State, calling on the Security Council to accept Palestine as a full member after the US veto. The gesture of these three European countries has been welcomed by the Palestinian authorities, it responds to a historical demand, and contributes to put pressure on those countries that claim to advocate for the two-state solution but have not yet recognized Palestine as such. But beyond its symbolic value, for now, it doesn't seem likely to change the reality of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem. In fact, Israel has punished Palestinians precisely after the decision of the three European countries: for example, by prohibiting the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from assisting Palestinian individuals. On the other hand, the fact that most states recognize a Palestinian state has not translated into anything resembling its materialization: many of these states are also important allies of Israel, as emphasized by Sánchez himself this morning, recalling their closeness to the Zionist state. However, Israel, with its foreign minister at the forefront, has not ceased its attacks on Spain, Ireland, and Norway in the last week: in addition to recalling their ambassadors for consultations in the European states, there has been a constant response on social media, with videos accusing the three states of collaborating with Hamas. Meanwhile, violence against Gaza and the West Bank has intensified. Last Sunday, Israel attacked refugee camps in Rafah, leaving around fifty Palestinians dead and causing global outrage at the images of people burned alive, including children. It seems that in response to the symbolic gesture of recognizing Palestine, Israel continues with its plan to make a real Palestinian state impossible. In yesterday’s report (May 27th), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) pointed out that one million people have been forced to flee again, following Israel's ground invasion of Rafah on May 6th. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has already reported over 36,000 deaths and more than 80,000 injuries, which, along with the missing persons, would account for 5% of the Strip's population. The United Nations has warned that it will take at least 80 years to rebuild Gaza. The fact that Israel is ravaging Palestine doesn't seem to concern the opposition as much as the worsening of bilateral relations with the Zionist state. While the leader of the opposition, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, stated yesterday that the government's decision "empowers" Hamas, Isabel Díaz Ayuso echoed a similar sentiment, saying, "They are calling for the extermination of Israel and are justifying what Hamas terrorism intends against that state. The offenses from the Government are continuous (...) The State [of Israel] will not respond with flowers," said the president of the Community of Madrid yesterday after the publication of a video released by Israel in which, with flamenco music in the background, it was reiterated that Hamas appreciates Spain's decision. But the recognition of the Palestinian state is not the only open front against the Zionist state: following the ICJ's order to halt the offensive against Gaza, the EU convened a meeting with Israel for the first time yesterday, and mentioned a tool that the EU has had from the beginning, the review of the preferential agreement between Brussels and the Zionist state. Meanwhile, civil society expands its mobilizations; yesterday, demonstrations condemning the bombings in Rafah took place worldwide, overflowing in cities like Paris. Meanwhile, the momentum continues from the encampments, which, as seen in yesterday's action at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, are bringing to light all the ties with Israel, achieving concrete victories, and exposing the extent of the economic interests and networks of influence that Israel has deployed in the university sphere. The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

Diplomacy
Paris, France, 25-04-2024 : Visit of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, for a major speech on Europe at the Sorbonne.

2024 Election Watch: France, the European Union, Germany, and Mexico

by Collin Chapman

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Elections in Europe demonstrate the growing popularity of far right parties as key outsiders gain on critical votes. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has moved to dampen Marine Le Pen’s success in the European Parliament with a snap national election. The election calendar for June has already thrown up some surprises, particularly in the northern hemisphere. To be sure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected, though with a much-reduced majority which will place limits on his power. But the biggest shock is in Europe where French President Emmanuel Macron decided to call a snap election for 30 June after his most notorious far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, pulled off a decisive victory in the French election for the European Parliament. Macron is taking a massive gamble—that in a national election he can recover some of the popularity he has lost since his re-election as president in 2022, squashing Le Pen’s challenge to his leadership. The initial reaction of the commentariat is that Macron will manage a return to the Élysée palace, largely because the centrist parties holding the middle ground were the overall winners and the Left and the Greens failed to increase, or lost, shares of the vote. “I’ve decided to give you back the choice,” Macron said in an address to the electorate from the Elysée palace. In France, the Rassemblement National (RN) party led by Le Pen won 31.5 percent of the country’s vote, according to early results. In Germany, the three parties in Olaf Scholz’s fragile coalition—the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and the liberal FDP—were all overtaken by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which came in second behind the conservative CDU-CSU opposition. Significant gains by nationalist and ultra-conservative parties were also anticipated by exit polls in Austria, Cyprus, Greece, and the Netherlands. In Italy, prime minister Giorgia Meloni cemented her position in her governing coalition, and potentially her hand in negotiations with other European leaders, with her hard-right Brothers of Italy party taking over 28 percent of the vote in the European parliamentary elections. Attention will now turn to the campaign by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, to win another five-year term in office. She has a good record and currently no obvious challenger. Nonetheless, her re-election will hinge on her ability to make uncomfortable choices and deals, taking into account the EU’s clear shift to the right in parliamentary elections on 9 June. Though her centre-right European People’s party won the election, securing 189 seats in the 720-strong assembly, von der Leyen’s allies fared worse and the hard right surged from a fifth to nearly a quarter of seats. Her fate is likely to be decided at an EU summit on 27 June when she will seek the personal backing of the EU’s 27 leaders and aim to demonstrate to them that she has the required support in the European Parliament. Mexico Another remarkable election result this month was in Mexico where the ruling left-wing Morena party won a landslide victory in presidential, congressional, and state elections. While president-elect Claudia Sheinbaum and Morena’s victory on 2 June was not a surprise, the scale of it was. Sheinbaum won more votes than the centre-right Xochiti Galvez across genders, age groups, and in every state bar one, coming in 31 points clear of her rival. After decades of high poverty, glaring inequality, and low wages, the ruling Morena party more than doubled the minimum wage and expanded social programs, endearing itself to Mexico’s long-neglected have-nots. The result has left Mexico’s conservative elite struggling to understand the left’s landslide win, living as they do in gated communities far removed from the lives and feelings of average Mexicans. There are unlikely to be any surprises in the other major election this month—that of Iran on 28 June. Iranian authorities have disqualified prominent moderates as candidates in the snap presidential election, called following the helicopter crash that recently claimed the life of Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s president, and other senior ministers. The field of candidates has been narrowed to five hardliners and one mid-ranking reformist. The United Kingdom has seen a frenzy of election activity this month following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s surprise decision to call an early election on 4 July. Polls show that there is likely to be a change of government to the opposition Labour party, which is currently holding a 22 percent lead, after 14 years’ Conservative government.