Sunday, 26 March 2017

We are prepared to deal with terrorists

The sponsors of terrorist acts against European countries should be told two things.

First that we are much better prepared to prevent. The attacks by lone individuals, with very modest means, show that at present it is much more difficult for criminal groups to plan and organise terrorist raids. The intelligence services are now much more efficient than a few years ago. Exchanges between these types of individuals have become better monitored. Surveillance is more sophisticated.

Secondly, the sponsors should understand that these isolated acts do not change the way we see public life and do not split our societies along sectarian lines. We respond by continuing to lead routine lives. We carry on. The terrorists might kill innocent people but they have no lasting impact on our democratic values and institutions. Furthermore, they do not generate c continuous state of social panic and entrenched fear. The effect on society is local, and short lived.

A terrorist is a loser.  

Saturday, 25 March 2017

EU at Sixty

The EU leaders today met in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the common European political dream. And they approved a Declaration to charter the way for the next ten years or so. In my opinion, the most salient point of this initiative is about unity. The leaders have shown they believe in the joint future of the EU Member States. They are particularly keen about strengthening the Euro, as the Union's currency. And they want to focus their attention on four priority areas: security, economic prosperity, social protection and a more strategic presence in international affairs. It´s a good choice even if within each one of these areas there is still a need to be more precise, both in terms of narrowing down the areas to concentrate on what is indeed transformational and timelines.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Challenging times

I went back to the notes I wrote at the beginning of last year and noticed I had pencilled that 2016 would be a year of political renewal. Well, it has exceeded the expectations, but not in the sense I was expecting.

What can I say about 2017?

What a strange question to be raised in mid-March, when the year is already moving fast.
Still, I think I can write that this is the year that is going to challenge many of the lessons we have learned in the past. That might sound pretty worrying. But it is above all a call for those who believe in principles and international cooperation to show they can respond to the danger and have the intelligence and the courage to bring us back to reason.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

UN funds should not be cut

The new US Administration plans to cut in a big way the country´s financial contributions to the UN. This decision, if it materialises, will have a major impact on programmes and operations at a time of greater demands and some extreme dramatic situations. 

At this early stage, it is not possible to measure the effect of such a decision. 

It´s only possible to say that the UN has the experience, the logistics and the credibility that make such operations tremendously cost-effective and able to reach many difficult corners of the globe. This might be a weak argument in some circles in Washington. But it is a strong reason for many to keep fighting for a strong, efficient, and properly funded UN system. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Too much despair

About 30 years ago, the famine in Ethiopia became a big story and millions of people responded to the call. Live Aid was launched and hundreds of millions of dollars were raised from individual donations by people from many countries. We lived a great storm of generosity.

In the last few days, the UN has launched a major humanitarian appeal to respond to dramatic famine situations in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel. The UN stated this was a crisis of unheard dimensions.
The appeal got a few minutes of attention here and there.

The fact of the matter is that we are inundated with catastrophic news. And we have seen so many pictures of human suffering on our TV screens that we have become indifferent. We have “banalized” distress and death. And we might have also lost a good deal of our humanity. Or maybe, not. It could just be that we are deeply confused by the political horrors we are witnessing these days. We might just feel too powerless.

I wonder.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Europe´s unity

Donald Tusk has been re-elected as President of the European Council. The Council brings together all the Heads of State and Government of the Union. They have voted today for Tusk. With one exception: the Polish government did not support his own citizen. For reasons of domestic politics, that's the truth. Not for reasons of competence: Tusk´s competence has been recognised by everybody else.

This was an important development. The Polish ultra conservative leaders had actively campaigned against the re-election. Some of us thought that the rest of the EU leaders would be willing to accept the Warsaw position in order to keep the European unity. But this time, reason has been stronger that unity at any cost. And that is certainly good news. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Time for some tough questions about North Korea

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, is a crazy man. But above all, as a political leader, he is tremendously dangerous. For his people and for the region. He controls an all-pervasive internal security apparatus, a machinery that makes everyone in country look either as mentally retarded or simply terrified. In addition, the tyrant spends most of the country´s limited resources on military hardware, including on expensive nuclear research projects for aggressive ends, and on an incredibly large number of troops, that make North Korea the most militarised country in the world. All this represents a major threat to peace in the region and gives rise to an arms race that includes Japan and South Korea.

The UN Security Council has approved a series of sanctions against the North Korean regime. But the man keeps provoking the international community. Today, it was the launch of four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

It is now time to make the sanctions more stringent. They should also be expanded. One area could be related to the international travel of the North Korean officials. Those movements should be made more difficult. And the 47 countries housing North Korean embassies should be advised to limit the privileges of the country´s diplomats.

North Korea must understand they have a choice. One option is to accept the existing international order and behave as a partner country. The other, is to continue the rogue policies of today and then face as much isolation and constraints as the international community can implement. And if such rigorous approach by the international community does not bring a change, then it is time to ask some tougher questions about the way we should treat a regime of such nature. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Juncker´s options

Now that Jean-Claude Juncker has presented his ideas about the options regarding the future of the EU, a matter that I will discuss in the next writings, it has become apparent that the Germans and the French have decided to support Juncker and accept his implicit suggestion that they should become again the core engine of the European project. Both governments back Juncker´s views that see different groupings of countries opting for distinct levels of integration. Also, they are convinced that this is no time for a change at top of the European Commission. That´s the reason they want to be seen as keen supporters of Juncker´s full mandate. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

When the generals write open letters

Over 120 US flag officers – generals and admirals – wrote an open letter yesterday to remind the key leaders of Congress and the top people in the Trump administration in charge of foreign affairs, defence and security that national security is a complex issue. It calls for a comprehensive approach that goes well beyond the military means and the armed response.

In today´s world, national security and the protection of key strategic interests are above all done through means of healthy diplomatic relations, efficient development cooperation and other external programmes that combat poverty, exclusion, disease and bad governance.

As such, these top commanders urge the Administration and the representatives of the American people to keep the investment of public resources on those programmes that fall under the State Department and have been designed and improved over time in order to more effectively prevent conflict in other parts of the globe.

This is a position that calls for wide support. It is the modern way of looking at international relations and of promoting peace and stability. Its relevance is even greater because it is stated by people that know about matters of war and peace. They understand the limitations of the use of armed forces. They are also people who have seen the world. They know what they are talking about.

The link to the letter is the following:

Monday, 27 February 2017

German politics

Martin Schulz spent many years in Brussels first as Member of European Parliament and in the end, as its President (Speaker). A few weeks ago, he returned to his native Germany and took the leadership of his party, the SPD (Social Democrat). He is now campaigning throughout the country, with the forthcoming legislative elections in mind. The elections will take place at the end of September. That´s a long way down the line. An eternity, in political terms, particularly now, that everything goes fast and can change even faster. He is competing against Angela Merkel, who will be fighting for a fourth term as leader of Germany. That´s a formidable challenge. But Schulz is doing well. He is seen as potential winner. That´s good, in politics.

In any case, we are fortunate to have Merkel and Schulz as the key competitors in Germany. They are both balanced leaders and people without fear. They are also resolutely pro-Europeans. Their presence in the front lines is good news for the EU.