Reflections for action continue…

…It is not that I do not have a lot to say about what is happening in our world, global and European governance, climate change, terrorism and all in recent months. You will find my latest pieces on, personally written and signed as op-eds or collectively  published as Editorials, like the following:

Terrorism will not prevail

The Eastern Mediterranean arc of fire and Europe

Keep up the good thoughts and do not delay the good actions at this time of transition for Europe and the World.


Brussels, 15 November 2015

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Letters from America (II): Unite to thrive

Ambition, innovation and flexibility (see my previous op-ed in the Letters from America series entitled “Where the sky is the limit”) also characterize the US when it comes to politics, including international politics. In this op-ed I focus on the role of the US on the global stage and compare it with that of the EU, to the extent that the two are comparable.

In the post-World War II world the US has been the undisputable leader most of the time, certainly in the West. Its predominance may have been challenged by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but its ultimate triumph and the dissolution of the Soviet bloc confirmed the superiority of the US. At the one universal organization, the United Nations (UN), the US occupies one of five permanent seats with veto power. There and beyond its superiority in terms of hard (military, economic, political) and soft (cultural, innovation-al) power, its social and administrative cohesion and drive for achievement distinguish it from the emerging superpower of China, a defensive Russia, and the long-declining former colonial powers of France and the UK.

A European patriot, if one exists, would rejoice in the fact of EU “double occupancy” at the core of the UN Security Council. Caution is in order, though. While the US is a unitary actor, to the extent that is possible for such a complex state, the UK and France certainly do not want to surrender their Security Council prerogatives to any joint EU decision-making. To make things worse, among the elected ten members of the Security Council at least one and often two are also EU members. Four votes out of fifteen? That would be a great deal for the EU. Well, forget it, it is four different sets of policies and interests, no matter what lip service is paid to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Of course, interests often coincide and that is reflected in frequently concurring European votes. That, however, is not part of really joint strategic planning that involves the European institutions. Let the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, these days Ms. Mogherini, say what she wants; the ultimate interests are defined at the national level by the corresponding national elites.

While the US formulates strategies through its National Security Council and its Departments of State, Defence, Treasury, Energy, etc., the EU struggles to formulate common positions through protracted negotiations of its 28 member states, plus the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS, headed by the High Representative). By the time the Europeans have managed to reach agreement among themselves in the margins of UN negotiation processes the other countries of the world have moved on, with the European position having less of the impact that it could have.

European money is welcomed for development and humanitarian assistance by a large part of the world, but no leadership is expected or sought from the EU. The standard leader and trend-setter remains the US, whether loved or resented. Increasingly, China is emerging as a leader too, individually or in the context of groups that it belongs to, notably the Group of 77 and the BRICS. A “dual hegemony” thus seems to be taking shape at the global level, with the US and China as the two leading powers, the “G2”. One would expect that the other emerging power, the EU, with its more than 500 million inhabitants (the US population is about 320 million) and the biggest economy collectively in the world, to be part of the core group, part of a “G3”, but that is not the case.

One would expect the EU, with its more than 500 million inhabitants and the biggest economy collectively in the world, to be part of a “G3” of leading global powers, together with the US and China, but that is not the case.

In fact, this is not the case even on climate change, where the EU is broadly acknowledged to be taking bold steps. The large greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 announced by the EU in October 2014 were less imagination-grabbing and relevant to global policy than the joint November 2014 announcement by the US and China of their corresponding, more modest but coordinated measures. Discreet but targeted actions taken in tandem by the G2 also played a major role in saving the recent UN climate change conference in Lima (December 2014), compared to a respected but rather marginal role played by the EU.

It should be pointed out, in all fairness, that individual EU states like the UK or the Nordic countries often demonstrate more leadership and have more impact than the EU as a whole, despite their limited resources. These countries, however, operate in a second or third tier around the US, China and even other major developing or middle-income countries, when acting alone. A core problem for the EU is that there is no defined common European interest, and actually no effort is being made to define it in a strategic way for the medium and long-term beyond declaratory generalities. Not that such an exercise is “a piece of cake” for the US, which has its own internal divisions and dysfunctional elements. In the case of the US, though, there is enough common discussion, vision and empowered central institutions that make rational planning possible and mobilize sufficient resources to execute it.

The clarity of the US interest in the case of its partnerships over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from NATO to APEC, as well as in the “Western Hemisphere” (i.e. the Americas), leads to concrete political and economic outcomes. The same cannot necessarily be said for the EU’s policies towards its immediate neighbourhood, which manage to be at the same time intrusive when it comes to the details (strict adoption of the “acquis communautaire”) and politically disjointed on the big picture (see mishandling of Ukrainian case vis-à-vis the country’s internal divisions and Russia).

It should come as no surprise that EU members are steadily losing ground on the charts of state power and influence in the world, overtaken by more dynamic, emerging powers.

The EU’s central institutions seem to be stuck to what 19th Century Europe identified as “mission civilisatrice”, fuelled by an underlying sense of self-righteousness and superiority vis-à-vis others, while individual member states continue to pursue their narrow but concrete geopolitical and economic interests, which go in different directions. With all this, it should come as no surprise that EU members are steadily losing ground on the charts of state power and influence in the world, overtaken by more dynamic, emerging powers. Of course, the US steadily maintains one of the top posts, as would the EU as a whole, should it become really united.

Georgios Kostakos

Originally published as op-ed in on 4 February 2015

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Letters from America (I): Where the sky is the limit

I was recently visiting the US again, more than a year after my last visit and some two-and-a-half years after I moved from New York to Brussels. Twelve years working for the United Nations in New York may not qualify me for US citizenship or a green card, and I am not sure I would want either at this stage in my life, but certainly a New Yorker I feel, then, now and forever.

New York for me is the capital of the world, not only because of the United Nations, and less so because of Wall Street, but certainly also because of the immense diversity in cultures and cuisines, languages spoken, music, exhibits and other cultural activities from across the globe. You can find everything in New York and you can find New York everywhere – in the movies that the world watches, in the change of the year at Times Square, in what the New York Times publishes, in the trends that New York sets. The city is full of beautiful, ambitious and creative people. It is dynamic and intense. It is where you live your dream, if you want it hard enough: the sky is the limit here.

Brussels - Borse - 8 June 2014 - 20140608_142001Quite a contrast from Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the seat of the main European Union institutions, where I now live. “Gotham City” or “The Big Apple”, as New York is also known, rises into the skies, with its high-rise office and residential buildings. Brussels has an area of high-rise buildings, ambitiously called “Manhattan” by the way, but it is mainly a beautiful, art deco, low-rise city with some medieval structures still intact at is famous Grand Place. New York’s skies may pour down with rain and snow, lots of snow during a heavy winter, but they are deep blue and sunny the rest of the time. Brussels, in turn, tends to be milder but often overcast and with drizzle, giving you a claustrophobic feeling when you do not see the sun for weeks at a time.

New York is multicultural, with distinct neighbourhoods, restaurants and supermarkets, with its numerous national parades spreading their special flavour each time – from St. Patrick’s Day Parade to the Puerto Rican, Greek, and many others. Brussels is also becoming increasingly multicultural, mainly with Europeans from other countries and Arabs from North Africa, some sub-Saharan Africans too, and of course it has its indigenous linguistic divide between French and Dutch/Flemish speakers. As apparently is the case in the rest of Europe, rather than being a source of richness and pride these diverse cultural identities seem to be a cause of concern, with political correctness trying to ignore them and political expediency trying to accentuate them.

Plays and musicals on Broadway, performances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, exhibits at the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim, movies shot in and about the city, set trends and are points of reference worldwide. Brussels, of much smaller size than New York, has a surprisingly vibrant artistic scene that its inhabitants enjoy thanks to institutions like Bozar, Flagey and Ancienne Belgique, but has no claim on influencing people beyond its limits, not even within the EU.

New York is known as “the city that never sleeps”, with the subway (metro) running 24/7, delis and some other stores the same, shops opening long hours including on Sundays, and with attentive service offered by shopkeepers to waiters to bank tellers. Brussels thankfully has an increasing number of night stores and supermarkets that also open on Sundays, but most shops open during office hours, making it difficult for office workers to visit them. Services often seem to be offered with the rights of the person serving in mind, rather than of the client, who undoubtedly does not seem to “be king”… And I could go on and on making such comparisons between the two cities.

What am I getting at with these arguments? Is this an unqualified eulogy for New York and a scathing criticism for Brussels? A praise for America and a castigation of Europe? Not really, not least because I am aware of the many problems New York and the US model have. The infrastructure has a lot to be desired, notably the train system, which is still old and slow; no TGV or Thalys connecting New York to Washington or Boston for example, unlike the impressive connections that Brussels boasts of with Paris, London, Amsterdam, Cologne. Criminality is lower in Brussels and life is quite comfortable, more family-friendly and less stressful than New York. Working people are entitled to longer vacations and other benefits, and can count on high-quality healthcare and education at significantly lower cost. Inequalities may be rising but still in Brussels and Europe there is a large middle class that enjoys a good life. There may be racial tensions but Europe is not facing situations like in Ferguson, Missouri or in New York, with deadly attacks between black US citizens and the police.

My critical comparisons between New York and Brussels have been an attempt to distil the best of both worlds, and hopefully infuse what is missing from one to the other. For Europe, which is the focus of this publication, it would mean, among other things, less parochialism and more ambition for the future at individual and collective levels; more client orientation and more flexibility in employment conditions, while keeping an overall guaranteed social safety net that is the jewel of the “European model”; more openness to other cultures and influences, notably those from other countries of the EU but also beyond; much more openness towards and investment in new ideas, innovation and creativity; and an overall more optimistic attitude and can-do spirit.

Georgios Kostakos

Originally published as op-ed in on 29 January 2015

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Running for the Greek Parliament

Georgios Kostakos: A framework of consensus and stability is neededkostakos_kartaΝΕΑ

The Vice President of the European Federalist Party (EFP), Georgios Kostakos, is a candidate for the Greek Parliament in the 2nd electoral district of Athens with PASOK.  This is an unofficial translation of an interview published in Greek by ( on 20 January 2015.


The European Federalist Party (EFP), which has sections in 16 member-states of the European Union, is running for the upcoming parliamentary elections in collaboration with PASOK. EFP members participate in PASOK lists around the country. The Vice President of the federal board of the EFP, Georgios Kostakos, is a candidate in the 2nd electoral district of Athens, the largest electoral district of Greece. He spoke to about the vision of EU political integration and underlined the need for achieving a framework of consensus and stability through broad political collaboration after the 25 January elections.

Who are the European Federalists and what do they represent?

The European Federalist Party (EFP) was founded in 2011 by European citizens from different countries with the goal of deepening the European unification process and of working towards the transformation of the European Union into a federation. It is true that the ideas of federalism have existed for decades on the European continent and across different political parties. We at the EFP, however, want to bring this vision to the political centrestage and raise the awareness of citizens and politicians alike about the necessity of a truly united and strong Europe in an era of both old and rising global powers. We participated for the first time in the elections for the European Parliament last May in six different countries and we have members in at least 16 different states across the EU. The Greek national section of the EFP is one of the most active sections across Europe and its president, Harry Stamelos, is also a candidate for the upcoming elections at an honorary position on the national list of PASOK. I was initially Secretary-General of the Belgian section of the EFP, as I live and work in Brussels since 2012, but last November I was elected Vice President of the pan-European Board of the EFP during our annual convention which took place in Athens. President of the EFP at the European level is Pietro De Matteis from Italy. You can find more information about our program at and at

Why did you chose to be a candidate now?

I believe that we all can understand how crucial the upcoming elections are and we all want to do our best for our country. Personally, I have 25 years of experience in international relations and have worked, among other places, at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York for 12 years. The last two-and-a-half years I have spent in Brussels, working as an independent consultant for the UN and the European Commission. Some of the topics that I have worked on in depth are political affairs and the Middle East, UN reform, and climate change and sustainable development. I believe that my experience and my international contacts can prove very useful for the country. That is why I came to strengthen the Greek Federalists in their cooperation with PASOK.

Why did you decide to cooperate with PASOK?

As Greek Federalists we came to the conclusion that PASOK is the party that better represents the European model of the welfare state and the mixed economy, which constitutes an important achievement of European democracy. PASOK implemented this model in Greece; this is something that we must not forget despite the excesses and mistakes made. The party’s decision to recognize the errors of the past and to assume its responsibilities by participating in coalition governments, even as junior partner, shows political maturity and a sense of responsibility that is much needed in our country, especially during this period.

Why are you running for the elections in the 2nd electoral district of Athens and what would you like to achieve for the district if you get elected?

I come from Agios Ioannnis of Sparta, where I grew up. Since my student years, though, I have always lived in regions that belong to the 2nd electoral district. So, I feel at home in this region, I talk to my co-citizens and want to contribute to a better future for this broad urban region.

It is true that the 2nd electoral district of Athens is huge and very diverse. During this time of crisis, though, the district is united through many common problems, as is the case with the country as a whole. The high levels of unemployment, especially among young people, the rising levels of poverty, the closure of a large number of businesses, the pollution from the use of inappropriate materials for heating, are some of the most significant problems that the citizens living in this urban area are facing. We need to help small businesses with tax relief and other measures in order to create jobs for young people and revitalize the economy.

We need to drastically simplify the requirements for the opening, the management and, if need be, the closing of new businesses by reducing the lengthy, costly and soul-consuming bureaucratic processes. We can introduce more systematically the cultivation of land in urban public spaces in exchange for a symbolic rent as a measure to fight hunger, which is also a challenge that our urban regions are starting to face. We need to find a sustainable solution for both people and the environment in terms of the need for heating and the rise of pollution levels to a point that is harmful to human health, for example by subsidizing the use of central heating in urban buildings, using natural gas if possible. Moreover, infrastructure measures such as the building of a circular metro line that would directly connect several parts of greater Athens bypassing the city centre, would contribute to the creation of new jobs and would encourage economic activity across the suburbs while reducing traffic and pollution.

The revitalization of the economy plays an important role in your program. Do you have any broader ideas on the exit from the crisis?

I recognize, just like everyone else, the importance of exiting from the crisis through economic growth and development of the country. I believe that we need a national strategic plan with a cross-party consensus and long-term perspective on the central sectors of our economy, namely: agriculture, tourism, shipping, arts and culture. My family produces oranges and olives in Laconia, and despite the large production they cannot sell their products at prices that would ensure a decent living. A large part of the production is lost due to the low absorption and the lack of markets. We need to study all the stages from production to distribution and consumption to see how we could fix the whole system, whilst increasing exports. We need to encourage innovation in the tourism industry investing in ecological and cultural tourism that takes advantage of the unique riches of our country in a positive and sustainable way. We need a maritime policy which would bring ships and jobs back to Greece.

For all this, a framework of consensus and stability is needed, something that will be hopefully achieved through the creation of broad political coalitions after the upcoming elections. I am ready to work towards this goal.

[Many thanks to Georgios Triantafyllou for the translation]


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Apologies for the silence…

…It is not that I do not have a lot to say about what is happening in our world, global and European governance, climate change and all in recent months. The silence is due to many new projects being prepared. Do stay tuned as they get launched early in 2015, with new opportunities to express views and to have a positive impact on developments, not only for me but also you and others. For announcements and sneak previous keep an eye on FOGGS and Katoikos.

Happy Holidays and may the New Year bring you personal happiness, good health and many achievements, and to our world the peace, good will and equitable prosperity that it deserves, all this with good global and regional governance and sustainability, of course!


Brussels, 27 December 2014

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The EU Circus performing in Manhattan again

In the second half of September, each and every year, world leaders gather in New York for the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is like the annual town hall meeting of the planet, an opportunity for presidents, kings and prime ministers, to make public statements on the big issues facing their countries and our world as a whole, and to discuss privately possible solutions to the thorniest among those issues. Not all 193 countries that are members of the UN are represented at the highest level. Some send only their foreign ministers, or just have their resident ambassadors to the UN speak.

In this parade of leaders, or circus if you wish, Europe has a numerous and colourful team. Well, colourful and numerous it is for sure, a team not exactly, though. In addition to the leaders of the 28 EU member countries, who speak for their respective governments, the European Union is also represented by the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. So “Brussels” is also there, in addition to Berlin, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Bratislava, etc. Because “Brussels” is not a country, it has some (complicated) kind of global diplomatic representation and observer status at the United Nations. Senior European officials often get good speaking slots at UN events, not least thanks to the money they have to spend on good causes and the good relations with the host, the UN Secretary-General.

Let us briefly see what happened this year, how the EU representation positioned itself at the high-level stage in New York. Commission President Barroso, in his last global performance before leaving office at the end of October, participated in the UN Climate Summit of 23 September. He went there with the outgoing commissioners for climate action and development cooperation, Connie Hedegaard and Andris Piebalgs respectively. President Barroso repeated positions announced by the Commission earlier, that is that it will dedicate 20 per cent of the EU 2014-2020 budget to climate action inside and outside the EU (some 180 billion euros in total), and that EU member states will hopefully agree to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 40 per cent and increase in the renewable energy share to 27 per cent by 2030. In the same meeting heads of state or government from Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Slovenia and many other EU countries made their own statements and announced their own commitments, in terms of money to the Green Climate Fund (which the Commission did not do) and steps towards climate neutrality.

Outgoing European Council President Herman Van Rompuy had among his UN assignments to speak at the General Assembly, where he covered a range of issues, including the conflict in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria, sustainable development and the Ebola crisis. Of course, the 28 countries of the EU also spoke at different times there, many represented at the highest level. Mr. Van Rompuy also spoke at the Security Council Summit that was chaired by US President Obama on 24 September. He spoke as an observer on the issue of foreign terrorist fighters. When the time came, however, for a vote on the draft resolution, Mr. Van Rompuy had no vote to cast, unlike the President of France and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who were sitting at the actual Council table, because their countries (but not the EU) are permanent members of the Security Council.

In the same period Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, was chairing talks on resolving the issue of Iran’s uranium processing. Add the active presence of other Commission members, like Kristalina Georgieva, responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis response, and you get a picture of a lot of “Brussels” action in New York, usually in parallel and in addition to that of high-level representatives of EU member states. If that were a well-coordinated “blitzkrieg”, to take over UN headquarters by Europeans disguised in various forms but working for a common purpose, one could applaud the cunningness, strategy and coordination of this emerging global power called Europe. Things seem to be much more mundane, though.

The EU institutions add an extra layer of representation of Europe at the UN, without really affecting most hard-core political issues, especially in terms of global peace and security. London continuous to do its own planning with its Commonwealth contacts and residual imperial practices; similarly Paris with its Quai d’Orsay bureaucracy and traditions; Germany and Italy and Spain and Poland carry their respective weight around; the medium- to small-size Scandinavian states continue to play the nice guys and to spend money on good causes, thus enjoying major-country influence on the UN agenda, and so on and so forth. Imagine the day when Europe will speak in one voice that will be respected globally, on a par with other continental power houses like the US, China or even India, Russia, Brazil? Well, certainly that day is not here yet.

Georgios Kostakos

Originally published on 30 September 2014 as op-ed at 


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Cosmopolitan Consciousness and Civic Action in a Globalized World

See the outcome of five intense days of talking and walking/hiking in the mountains of North-western Greece in early August 2014; an initial contribution to creating the “global demos with a global ethos” that our world urgently needs.

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Urgently needed: tolerant, inclusive and pro-active ideology

The mind-boggling recent successes of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the aggressive promotion of its ideology show what an apparently small movement of determined people can achieve in a short period of time. Whether the Sunni Caliphate that ISIS is pursuing is something realistic or not is almost irrelevant, in terms of the inspiration and creativity that its members draw out of this pursuit. Bloody creativity and inspiration for absolutist and often horrible things, one may well add, but the energy is there as are the improbably real outcomes on the ground.

At first sight ISIS’ successes may look very different from the recent significant gains that extreme nationalistic, xenophobic, intolerant and often neo-fascist movements made in several EU countries in the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament. But are they? At the heart of all this is a lethal mix of human frustration, deeply felt exclusion and pain (see the alienated Muslim youth or the jobless EU citizens blaming immigrants), coupled with a counterbalancing sense of greater purpose and perceived moral superiority. This all too often culminates in a self-granted license to be ruthless, as if operating under higher orders / following a greater destiny, practicing offence as some kind of justified self-defense.

This is nothing to laugh about, dismiss or take lightly. It is actually a bomb, metaphorically and on occasion literally, in the foundations of today’s world, which is characterized by globalization in information, markets and trade, and supposedly increasing freedom. But even the “mainstream” of this world has its own “Taliban”, for example in the form of the (un)holy warriors of the financial sector, who spare no effort to conquer vast expanses in the meta-world of financial transactions, increasingly disconnected from the real economy and real people. Again a self-righteous, absolute and intolerant extremism served by dedicated people who are trying to prove their superiority and shape the world in their own image, of course with themselves enjoying the good life on top.

What is the counterbalance the “real” society has to offer to all this? It is enough to look around to notice the lackluster performance of what is considered mainstream. No conviction, no leadership, no vision but rather a focus on process, spinning things for electoral benefits every four years or so, hoping that the markets will deliver by themselves, cosying up to select authoritarian regimes to secure energy supplies, using a lot of big words that lose their meaning.

In the absence of any guiding ideology beyond the pursuit of money and power, which has come to be considered normal, and an overall nonchalance in terms of principles and “the big picture”, alternative ideologies develop, mostly of the destructive, exclusivist and intolerant kind. These ideologies excite some young and bright people that long for a sense of purpose and heroism in their lives. And they commit to them often sacrificing their lives and the lives of others.

The challenge is great for those who want to count themselves as voices of humanism and reason, win-win solutions and decency, moral values and peace. They may cautiously articulate something that slightly improves what already exists but fails to excite. Or they may succumb to one or the other extreme ideology, with possibly deadly consequences. Neither of these really works.

It is my strong belief that it is urgent and quite possible to articulate an inclusive, tolerant and pro-active ideology in a convincing manner. In fact, such an ideology is knowingly or unknowingly practiced already by millions of decent people who try to live their lives as close to ethical standards as possible. They would include pious followers of all established religions, as well as atheists and agnostics with a humanist/civic conscience.

What we need is a global paradigm of moderation and mutual respect at the individual and the collective level; an ideology of real life that also permeates politics and economics; and as a set of rights and responsibilities that are inalienable and shared, guiding interactions among people and with nature. It is also important to include a set of common projects that honestly bring together the expertise, resources and hard work of all towards achieving shared goals, from fighting poverty, disease and environmental degradation to colonizing Mars and exploring the universe. The only real question is, are we ready to do it?

Georgios Kostakos

Brussels, 27 June 2014

(reposted with a few revisions, 30 June 2014)

PS: It is in the above light and with this quest in mind that I will be joining the discussions at the “peripatetic” seminar on “Cosmopolitan consciousness and civic action in a globalized world”, due to take place in Vitsa, Epirus, Greece from 2 to 7 August 2014; see — great debates to be had! GK

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European Elections 2014: A Momentous Event for Regional and Global Governance

See my piece under this title posted on the webpage of The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 16 May 2014.

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International Environmental Governance and UNEP’s Future

See briefing on the subject published online by the Future United Nations Development System (FUNDS) project.

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