Ukraine’s impact on Russia

The crisis in Ukraine now dominates the Russian foreign and domestic policy agendas. Domestically, Putin has done well out of recent events. According to the Levada-Centre, a polling organisation, just before major protests erupted against former President Yanukovich in Ukraine, Putin’s approval ratings were at their lowest since he came to power 15 years ago. By May 2014, however, they had shot up to 83% – some of the highest levels he has ever enjoyed. There are several reasons for this development. One is the simple fact that Crimea’s – ‘return’ to Russia is popular in its own right. But there has also been a sea change in public option since the 2011 anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow. Although many Russian citizens remain frustrated by government incompetence and corruption, the p...

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Azerbaijan and the Two EUs

Of the six countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP), Azerbaijan is the only one that has not chosen to definitively align itself with either the EU or Russia. With the signing of Association Agreements with the EU on June 27, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia declared their strategic choice to further integrate with the EU and, despite Russian opposition and aggression, stated full membership as their goal. Meanwhile, Belarus and Armenia have taken another path, choosing Russia's Eurasian Union (EaU). Azerbaijan, as Georgia and Armenia, is located at a very sensitive and volatile geopolitical crossroads, sandwiched between Russia, and Iran. However, unlike its neighbours, Baku has chosen a policy of “choosing not to choose”, having a cautious approach, not wanting to openly confront a...

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Court on Google? No flaw

Well, isn´t this a proper mess! The EU Court ordered Google in a ruling in May to remove links to information on the Internet if the perosn concerned find it "outdated, irrelevant or no longer relevant." The case in question was about a Spanish lawyer who didn´t want info popping up on the Internet on his house having been repossessed a few years earlier when his finances were in rather a bad way. He felt it harmed him in his new career. Google was confused. People actually have this “right to be forgotten” that the EU legislators have been going on about but never managed to get put down properly in a law? Google swiftly removed the links and some others upon request, for example to some articles in the Guardian. But then Google had to put them back after protests from the med...

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Kurdistan: On a straight line to independence.

R.I.P. Iraq. The country is no more. Iraq has ceased to exist. That is my conclusion after a short, but intensive visit to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not the declaration of the “Islamic State" on 29 June that marks the turning point. It will rather be the soon-expected declaration of independence by the Iraqi Kurds which will prove irreversible. Few paid attention two weeks after the parliamentary elections of 30 April 2014 when Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, threatened to boycott a new government led by Iraqi PM Nuri Maliki. Barzani said he had enough of the authoritarian way in which Maliki has governed. The dispute between Erbil and Baghdad dates back a long time. One elements is that the referendum on disputed areas such as Kirkuk, promised in the...

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Gay and Furious

So now it is finally clear. Minsk can’t meet the EU half-way and release political prisoners, because it knows what demand will come next: this Gayropa will want Belarus to legalise gay marriages, said FM Makey. Oh no, same-sex marriages, quelle horreur! Lukashenko believes it’s better to be a dictator than to be gay; (bare-chested) Putin says that homosexuals are a threat to national security and compares gay marriages to worshiping Satan. The Russian Orthodox Church (which in Belarus doesn’t say anything against capital punishment) views gay parades as homosexual propaganda. Nato used to be the main worry for Eastern Europe. Now the scarecrows are neo-fascists and gays, two “threats” imposed by the West which undermine traditional Christian values and, while they should be mutually ex...

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A toast for Juncker, Habermas and Bild Zeitung

The designation of the Spitzenkandidat calls for reflection amongst all those pundits, who were so sure it would never happen “That’s an hour and a half you’ll never get back. NONE of these so-called ‘candidates’ will become the next Commission President”, a friend lamented on May 15th reflecting the media sentiment at the time, when learning my excitement about the Eurovision presidential debate; that night outside the hemicycle at Brussels, in a moment the European public sphere found a form and a shape. Journalists encircled Ska Keller – she was the Green star of the evening and the winner of the debate – whilst Martin Schultz stood firm for the emerging democratic selection, if not election, process. So the European public space, which many think is to remain an illusion, conceiv...

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Cameron's get-out-of-jail-free card

Had six months to prepare, but came to the table without a game-plan. Reached out to Sweden and the Netherlands, and alienated swing-state Italy. Concentrated far, far too heavily on Germany. Failed to play the European Socialists off against the Christian Democrats. Failed to put pressure on MEPs to see if they would really endorse a man with that record. Took a hard line when the battle was lost but concessions might still have been won. The UK has clearly made a poor start to its campaign to reform the EU, straining relations with the Parliament, Commission and Berlin all for the relatively symbolic matter of the Commission presidency. Indeed the government’s efforts have become almost impossible to defend (the best the Brits can manage is “it’s not fair” – and that from a country wh...

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IMF report heavily criticises the OECD's tax consensus

The IMF has a major new Policy Paper out entitled Spillovers in International Taxation, looking at the effects that one country’s tax rules and practices can have on others. Reading between the lines, this report constitutes a major attack on tax havens. "Spillovers" in international tax are all about tax haven activity, particularly when those spillovers are deliberately crafted. It also savages a significant part of the prevailing OECD tax consensus that has dominated international tax for the last century or so. This is a really important document, and though it focuses on developing countries it has important implications for European countries as they consider the urgent matters of tax reform. We are delighted to see the IMF convincingly takes the side of developing countries...

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Is there a role for the Christian Churches in the EU?

One of the main problems of the EU is is inherent one: it is a problem of being constructed in a particular way as well as behaving in a particular way. The EU suffers from a lack of self reflection and the idea of not 'knowing oneself'. The EU also suffers from a denial of failure: its official discourse claims it is on the right track. The EU does not question what it has done so far and why it went wrong. The EU has a cognitive problem that puzzles many of us. The Christian Churches may ask for more room for reflection within the EU. In times where there is no time to 'waste' on reflection, the Church may take a lead into bringing spiritual values back to the agenda, without of course repeating the mistakes of the past. Society has changed and it keeps changing. The Churches should foll...

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Nationalism bad, patriotism good?

In the opening scene of HBO drama ‘The Newsroom’, renegade news anchor Will McAvoy shocks his audience by declaring that ‘America is not the greatest country in the world’. The fallout plays out through the rest of the series, as McAvoy is hounded from all sides for ‘hating America’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16K6m3Ua2nw At first glance, this seems to be a very American debate, with less relevance for a European public. If there is one thing that brings Europeans together, it is the sense that we are not American. We do not subscribe to flag-waving shows of patriotism (except during the World Cup); we do not pledge our allegiance to anyone; we are allowed to be self-critical. But is this really the case? Or are European countries also guilty of feeling exceptional? Only a mo...

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