The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Sanctions finally find Russia’s Achilles heel

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures as he chairs a government meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama were reportedly engaged in a heated telephone conversation last Thursday when Putin noted in passing that an aircraft had gone down in Ukraine. The tragic crash of the Malaysian airliner in rebel-held eastern Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines, but it is important to remember what agitated Putin and prompted the phone call in the first place -- sanctions.

Sanctions against Russia have been the centerpiece of the U.S. response to Putin’s interference in Ukraine. While they primarily have been directed against prominent friends of Putin and their businesses, the underlying target has been a weak Russian economy.  The sanctions have definitely found Russia’s Achilles’ heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia’s economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the “red lines” that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a “gray line” -- demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis. No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty -- and risk -- of doing business in Russia.

Europe needs smarter education and research investment

Anka Mulder–Anka Mulder is Vice-President for Education and Operations at Delft University of Technology.  She was formerly Global President of the OpenCourseWare consortium.—

Education and research infrastructure, such as laboratory facilities and digital learning networks, play an increasingly important role in diffusing knowledge and technology to enhance prosperity. At a time when the overall EU budget has decreased for the first time ever, education and research programmes such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 continue to receive significant funding increases, but Europe is still falling behind other areas of the world in building digital infrastructure.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

How EU politics pushed Merkel to lift Germany’s austerity policies

German Chancellor Merkel and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Luxembourg

Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy who took the revolving presidency of the European Union this week, seems to be the sort of man that Napoleon was referring to when he reputedly said that the key qualification he sought in recruiting a general was good luck.

Renzi become prime minister without even needing to win an election because Silvio Berlusconi and all other rivals self-destructed. He took power just after Italy passed the lowest ebb of its economic fortunes. In May, he was rewarded for his good fortune by Italy’s voters, who anointed him with a strong democratic mandate in the same European elections that discredited almost all Europe’s other national leaders. Now he is taking the helm in Europe, as an economic recovery is starting and the European Central Bank is swinging decisively in support of growth.

Youth is the answer to the EU’s troubling voter turnout rate

MJC–Dr Marie Julie Chenard is Deputy Head of the Cold War Studies Programme at LSE IDEAS and Academic Officer for the Dahrendorf Symposium Project at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The opinions expressed are her own.–

The European elections are the second biggest exercise in democracy world-wide (behind India). Nearly 400 million EU citizens were eligible to vote their representatives to the European Parliament between the 22nd and 25th May, but only 43% actually did. What can be done to increase participation in elections that have an impact on 500 million people?

Italy – the new good man of Europe

Up until Monday, Italy used to be known as the sick man of Europe. It has huge debts, sclerotic growth and had been ruled by a billionaire prone to a bunga-bunga parties. It was at risk of becoming the laughing stock of the currency bloc. The relationship in recent years between Italy and Germany has been dreadful. But could things be about to change?

Italy could become the best man of Europe after the EU elections last weekend. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party won an impressive 33% of the vote, beating off competition from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo. Silvio Belusconi’s Forza Italia was left straggling in Renzi’s wake with only 18% of the vote.

Scepticism about the state runs deep

–Sheila Lawlor is Director of the London think tank, Politeia. The opinions expressed are her own.–

As UKIP’s earthquake materialises, with the party topping the European poll and the Conservative party narrowly missing second place, a shift in the political landscape is underway. Even before counting of the council votes had finished, or that for the European parliament had begun, the message from voters was clear – people were returning to the values with which they most readily identify: socialist or conservative.

Why Antwerp is under threat as the world’s diamond trading centre

–Vashi Dominguez is the founder of Vashi.com. The opinions expressed are his own.–

When the European Union and the U.S. took action against Russia over the invasion of Crimea and the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, alarm bells immediately rang for the diamond industry. Russia is one of the biggest suppliers ($2.8 billion last year) of rough diamonds for Belgium, through which 80% of all rough diamonds and 50% of all polished stones pass. If Antwerp were to lose access to Russia’s diamonds, it would be the latest in a string of challenges facing the world’s diamond trading centre.

from The Great Debate:

Meet the Tea Party — European edition

schneider combo

Europe finally has its own Tea Party. Or something like it.

Last weekend, citizens of 21 nations elected members of a new European parliament. The result? An outpouring of rage.

Angry voters across the continent and Britain cast ballots for protest parties, mostly on the far right, which doubled their number of seats and now account for close to one third of the parliament. French Prime Minister Manuel Vallis called the vote “more than a news alert . . . it is a shock, an earthquake.”

from The Great Debate:

Europe is under siege from both the left and right

eu combo

Elections will begin on Thursday across the 28 European Union member states to elect national representatives to the European Parliament, which regulates trade, borders and some elements of foreign policy. Though this is a continent-wide election, voters historically use it to send a message to their own nation’s governing party. With the meteoric rise of anti-European populism on the political left and right, however, things promise to buck that trend this time.

This was not how things were supposed to be. Five years ago, at a meeting of the European Union’s heads of state and government in Lisbon, Portugal, European leaders signed a treaty that foresaw these elections as defining the political direction of the European Union. This week’s elections are supposed to mark a turning point, as competing progressive, liberal, green and conservative visions of Europe’s future vied for popular support.

from Lawrence Summers:

Britain and the limits of austerity

The Bank of England is seen in the City of London

The British economy has experienced the most rapid growth in the G7 over the last few months. It increased at an annual rate of more than 3 percent in the last quarter -- even as the U.S. economy barely grew, continental Europe remained in the doldrums and Japan struggled to maintain momentum in the face of a major new valued added tax increase.

Many have seized on Britain’s strong performance as vindication of the austerity policy that Britain has followed since 2010, and evidence against the secular stagnation idea that lack of demand is a medium-term constraint on growth in the industrial world.

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