See my piece under this title posted on the webpage of The Hague Institute for Global Justice on 16 May 2014.
Tag Archives: Europe
A vision for Europe
We often talk about a united Europe, as an ideal, without fully knowing what that would entail. There are many technical studies that expand on the details, but they cannot be easily understood and cannot inspire the imagination of the average citizen. We need a compelling story, a narrative that brings Europe from the realm of ideas to something closer to everyday life. Only that way can Europe attract broad attention, inspire action, and become a reality that we can all identify with and benefit from.
Europe as a community of spirit and object of patriotism
The giant with the glass legs that we now call Europe seems to lack soul and spirit. It is a big machinery that produces regulations, directives and decisions but has no real authority and legitimacy beyond what its member states want to confer to it. Clearly, those member states and their governments don’t like competition. So they keep Europe tied up, like Cinderella doing the dirty work in the background, while they abuse and complain about it. It is about time to change this and release the potential that Europe has, even if the current political, civil service and business elites may lose their national comfort zones and privileges. Not doing that will endanger the whole European project that started from the determination to end deadly confrontations, like the two World Wars, which started on our continent.
A history of wars and linguistic fragmentation do not help bring Europe together. The lack of pan-European media and even the lack of pan-European debates on issues that concern all Europeans are a major handicap. This could though change, and should change soon. We do have a common language that we basically all use in addition to our mother tongues, and that is English. We can and we are using it increasingly to make business deals, study abroad and exchange views; let’s do it more systematically. And we do have a largely shared approach to the value of each person and the role of the state and the economy, a shared appreciation for individual and collective rights, a common view of the challenges that face our continent and the world, the society, economy and the environment. All this could give rise to a European patriotism that is not exclusive or chauvinistic but does show pride in our common origin from this continent of palaces and cathedrals, philosophers and scientists, poets, human rights activists, adventurers and business people.
What is sorely missing, of course, is leadership that transcends national borders, leadership that can talk to each individual and community, that can articulate, for instance, a common European industrial and agricultural policy that is equally beneficial for people in the North and the South, the East and the West of the continent. Some symbolic initiatives would help generate more of a sense of togetherness, like a couple of pan-European holidays, more publicity for European mega-projects in the sciences and space exploration, more joint cinema productions, key IT and social innovations. And of course a pan-European political discourse that goes beyond the ritual of European Parliament elections that are usually polling tests for national governments…
Europe as a political entity
Democratic processes are well established in the individual states of contemporary Europe, although some extreme tendencies also exist in terms of resurgent nationalism and xenophobia. More clarity on the role of the central European institutions, their competencies and functioning, is necessary to establish the democratic legitimacy that is now missing from the pan-European/”federal” level. Can this diverse community of currently 28 countries and some 507 million citizens, the first economy and trading power in the world, stick together and become a coherent whole? The challenge is to show that is possible, without losing the richness of individual countries and regions, nor their self-government, but rather complementing the national and local level with something at the centre of it all.
To that end, a realignment of institutions would have to take place, including:
A Chief Executive or Federal President, elected directly by the people or through the bicameral parliament (see below) every five years. This position would be an evolution of the current Commission President and Council President positions that would be merged. The Chief Executive would be the head of a unified federal government, an evolution of the current Commission and the European External Action Service combined. The latter would be the Foreign Affairs Department of the federation. There would also be a federal Defence Department. Senior positions would no longer be allocated on the basis of nationality but of merit, and the officials would not have diplomatic status but would belong to the federal civil service.
The bicameral Parliament would consist of today’s European Parliament, as the lower House/Chamber where representation is according to population size; and the Upper House/Chamber or Senate, where representation is by country. The latter will be an evolution of the current European Council, with its specialized committees evolving from the various Councils of Ministers. Neither chamber would have executive powers, only shared legislative and budgetary powers, with possibly the authority to ratify treaties and confirm Ambassadors reserved for the European Council/Senate.
Consultative bodies, which can also initiate legislation that has to go through the two chambers would include: the Committee of the Regions, bringing together subnational units, including region and city representatives; and the Economic and Social Committee, bringing together a broad range of stakeholders, including social, economic and environmental partners, through representatives from pan-European associations and not on a national basis.
The European Court of Justice would have to open lower-level Chambers of first instance and first degree of appeal in each country and in groups of countries (e.g. Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Northern Europe, Central Europe) respectively.
One European Foreign Service and unified European Armed Forces should be created over a transitional period of a few years, leading to one federal embassy in each foreign country and unified armed forces on the borders of the federation with adequate support structures. A European Federal Police and Crime Prevention Service, including economic crime prevention among its tasks, would also be established.
The gradual absorption of Foreign and Defence budgets by the federal level would lead to increase in the federal budget to several percentage points above the current 1 per cent of EU collective GDP. This would include foreign development aid and humanitarian assistance, and can be increased further through cross-border corporate taxation (without increasing the total tax burden) on big companies, and VAT and other transfers, up to a level of 10 or 15 per cent (federal government spending is over 20 per cent in the USA).
In general, competences and resources should be distributed according to the principle of subsidiarity, which means that functions should be performed at the level closest to the citizens. In this light, the federal level would deal with the big issues that concern the whole of the federation, all its constituent units, enabling internal trade, communications and movement according to common standards, and protecting externally the common interest, common currency and security, without micromanaging the individual constituent units.
Europe in the world
A united Europe, speaking with one voice towards other global powers, bilaterally and in international organizations, would carry a lot more weight than its individual states do today. Joining together the more than one European seats on the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the IMF etc., as well as on the current G7/8, G20 groups (whose name should be changed accordingly), would be a major advancement from the polyphony/often cacophony that exists today. This would be good for Europe and the broader world. Moreover, merging the armed forces of EU states, with a joint external border protection service, eventual joint nuclear weapons control, and a unified participation in NATO and UN peacekeeping forces would demonstrate the collective strength and would increase the effectiveness of Europe as a global actor.
A lot of the above does not really need major treaty amendments to start getting implemented. For example, election of one Federal President by merging the posts of Commission and Council President can be done by the European Parliament and the European Council acting as two chambers of a bicameral parliament. It is a broad understanding and transparent practices that need to be introduced, and of course inspiring leadership and inclusive vision to win over the hearts and souls of citizens around the continent for a legitimate Europe that we all want.
Brussels, 2 April 2014
Irresponsible brinkmanship all around on Ukraine
Worrisome signs of the (re)emergence of a cold war between the West, mainly the US and the EU, and Russia are emerging over the issue of Ukraine. Political rhetoric is being ramped up, along with sanctions gradually introduced on the part of the West, while Crimea’s incorporation into Russia is advancing. It looks increasingly difficult to return to the status quo ante and have a reasonable discussion on how to ensure the integrity, prosperity and good governance of Ukraine in the difficult buffer zone between the EU and Russia where it finds itself.
Barring a major miscalculation from Ukraine, Russia or the West, the most probable is for a new status quo that includes:
– A Crimea that is de facto part of Russia, whether internationally recognized or not;
– A Ukraine run by a pro-Western government but facing outbreaks of violence with parts of the population feeling closer to Russia and with the extreme right making strides in the other parts;
– Frosty relations between Russia and the West, with Russia facing limited sanctions and exclusion from fora like the G7/8, and Europe potentially facing counter sanctions and experiencing energy supply problems.
This may make for a somewhat unpleasant situation but nothing the key protagonists cannot live with, except perhaps Tatars, Ukrainians and other minority populations in Crimea, and Russians in the rest of Ukraine. But the main political players, international and local, can always restate their claims against each other, excite patriotic sentiments among their respective publics and allies, win elections and exercise power, without having to resort to much more than tough words. If no unpredictable factor intervenes, that is, no provocation or public uprising that might demand from politicians to prove their toughness in practice and authorize action. Such an improbable, it must be said again, turn of events that might lead to a hot incident between Russian and Western/NATO forces could have unpredictable consequences for regional and even global peace and security.
To avoid any dramatic eventuality, and to stabilize the situation as much as possible, measures like the following could be taken:
– Swift and systematic moves to establish democratic governance and respect for minority rights in Ukraine, as part of its gradual integration into the broader European space; the EU and the West should strongly discourage right-wing or other excesses, retribution among rival political forces, etc. by setting their avoidance as precondition for any deepening of integration and financial support; organizations like the UN and the OSCE could be brought in to help with or monitor actions in that regard.
– Guarantee of minority rights, assistance with family reunions across the new de facto borders etc. in Crimea too, through similar assistance or monitoring arrangements with the involvement of organizations like the UN and the OSCE.
– Continuation of mutual engagement between Russia, the US and Europe on other issues like Syria, Iran, North Korea, and avoidance of a Cold War-type split in the UN security Council; gradual reinstatement of collaboration fora like the G8.
This would be a far-from-perfect state of affairs, but could be the most viable, because it would entail a pragmatic recognition of mutual interests and might eventually draw the West and Russia closer together. This would presuppose a degree of humility, self-discipline and self-awareness from all sides, with the Russians realizing that they cannot reconstruct their empire with threats and a gradual return to centralized authoritarianism; the US and Europe admitting their hypocrisy and finally learning from the litany of failures they have created by “spreading democracy” around the world, e.g. Iraq and Libya; Europe facing head-on the major handicap of its own divisions that still allow the pursuit of narrow nationalist gains instead of working to define and implement the common European good.
20 March 2014
Disappearance in Ukraine: Looking for the EU under the rubble
The recent dramatic developments in Ukraine have led to the disappearance of its dismissed President Yanukovych, but also to another very apparent disappearance, that of the European Union. The US officials who earlier used a four-letter word to describe Europe’s absence from the scene and inability to put its act together in Ukraine was obviously right. One cannot wait for the dysfunctional Union to act.
Brussels is unable to prove its relevance when it comes to big political issues, the people holding the highest offices in European institutions are mediocre and getting ready to go after the May elections, and the wish of the EU’s most powerful member states is obviously to hold on to their prerogatives; thus the Union appears as disunited and ineffective as ever. There is not even a semblance of EUness in what is happening in terms of Western intervention in Ukraine today. The monitors who will pronounce on the violence and the deaths are British and clearly say so to the press, announcing already their foregone conclusions. Even for monetary assistance, something the EU used to be good at in the past, it is the UK talking to the US and the IMF. The interface with the Russians is fragmented, with Hollande, Merkel and others making calls and sending messages to Putin, while the sad presence of Catherine Ashton moves around Meidan, trying to utter a common EU foreign policy, or is she another member of the UK delegation?
This is as disappointing as it can be, and “one of the same” too. What has changed from 100 years ago, the games of the big powers and the Great War? Very important that the war is not with us this time, but for how long, if such games continue?
For a European federalist like me this is particularly disheartening for many reasons:
- It is another proof, if one was needed, that the Union is there only for the soft issues, while it breaks up in front of big politics, big interests and big money;
- It is particularly worrying that parochial national interests and uncooperative national elites continue to play their games around Europe and beyond, competing with each other and undermining the common European project, while being unable to utter a coherent stance towards third parties like Russia or the US;
- Coming from Greece, the current holder of the EU Presidency as it happens, and the best known example of a punch bag for internal EU discipline, I am triply worried about the weak-to-non-existent role of middle and small powers within Europe, as they should be trying hard to keep the big powers within the fold and the EU institutions up to task…
Another dark day for Europe but will it prove a better day for Ukraine, no matter who has actually intervened and how? The specter of the country’s splitting in two, and of possible civil war, is hovering over it. Will the new leadership, not without a past itself, manage to keep the country together? Will it split peacefully if it does split? Will Europe offer guarantees to Western Ukraine if the split happens? What will Russia do, vis-à-vis Eastern Ukraine and the country as a whole? What a wonderful world, and the Sochi Olympics have just successfully concluded nearby…
Athens, 25 February 2014
This cannot be a German Europe
There is increasing evidence of a German takeover of EU policy making, not least through measures introduced — and imposed — in response to the financial problems of Eurozone states in the European South. There is also increasing sense that central EU institutions are sidelined by new structures put in place by and run under predominantly German influence. While this may be justified on the basis of Germany’s relative weight and actual monetary contributions, as well as the country’s constitutional approval processes, its generalization would not bode well either for Europe or for Germany.
The modern history of Europe has been marked by major wars between Germany, on the one hand, and Britain and France on the other, with the rest of Europe and the world eventually drawn in on one side or the other. After a second devastating defeat in the Second World War, the German miracle of discipline and systematic work has again brought the country to the top. The European Union has served as a more benign and consensual “Lebensraum” that guarantees a minimum market for German industrial products, under rules and monetary policies that suit Europe’s industrialized North. In contrast, one sees a lack of organization and propensity towards the good life, deserved or not, in the European South, and thus a North-South split within the EU, which is becoming increasingly pronounced.
German- and North-led policies and structural arrangements may have contributed to the bad state of the South, but a big part of the blame lies undoubtedly with the South itself. Some examples from my Greek experience: Loads of EU subsidies have often been used unproductively, in infrastructure and other projects and training not connected to the local economy’s comparative advantages and strengths. The state machinery has been populated by an excessive number of people often selected not on the basis of merit but after the intervention of politicians wanting to secure individual and family votes. A resulting low productivity and low or non-existent sense of responsibility by civil servants and workers in the broader public sector, including utilities. Widespread tax evasion, while benefits are milked out of state coffers for undeserved, occasionally criminally forged reasons. While similar incidents occur in all countries, their frequency and extent clearly increase the further South one goes in the European Union.
Is the imposition of German discipline on others the way to deal with this? Is it a German Europe that is the only solution, or there are alternatives? Before attempting to answer this rather specific question let’s go back to the realm of ideas. The source of a lot of the European Union’s troubles can be traced in the inability to articulate a narrative of Europe that is inclusive of and goes beyond its individual national parts, be they strong or weak, productive or rotten. Different histories, often of wars, languages and cultures seem to make European unification a pipe dream. The alternative way of functional integration has apparently reached its limits, occasionally descending to extremes of standardization, which further increase the democracy gap that exists between the peoples of the EU and its central structures, notably the Commission, without delivering real and lasting unity. This year’s first-ever EU budget to be passed with reductions compared to previous budgets can be seen not only as an expression of empathy with the Union’s governments and peoples going through austerity, but also as the beginning of the reversal of unification, towards re-nationalization.
In light of Germany’s being the undisputed engine of growth and basis of stability for the EU and the Eurozone, what could be an alternative scenario to uniformly “Germanizing” Europe? What could balance out German influence while preserving Germany’s positive contributions? Such a European “third way” should rely on some basic understandings:
— That Europe is diverse and cannot be dominated or represented by a single nation, no matter how strong or virtuous it may be;
— That Europe is rich in culture and languages, but it now de facto has a lingua franca, which is English that can be used for official business at least, containing the current Babel and allowing to have one discussion without extinguishing the national and local languages;
— That Europe has a model of social free market that has worked in the past and can work again, if both its public and private sectors do their job properly;
— That Europe needs to be united because divided it will fall, as it is falling, next to giants like the US and China;
— That Europe has technologies to reduce its energy dependence on outside powers like Russia, if only it makes good of its own talk about green economics and sustainability;
— That Europe can come up with policies that serve both the interests of its North and of its South, if only both are properly represented and empowered in the discussions, and if decision-makers at the EU level, including the European Central Bank, try to think of Europe as a whole rather than the nations they originate from.
The above principles can be developed further and can lead to concrete guidance for action. For that, a proper panEuropean debate is needed, across borders, cultures, languages and regions, bringing the peoples together to contemplate their common future. Such a debate should take place in the lead-up to the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament and should be decisive in allowing panEuropean thinkers and leaders to emerge. Beyond the new Parliament and Commission, this could also lead to new EU institutional arrangements, be they in the form of an EU Constitution or otherwise.
One could easily see, for example, a move towards a more federal centre, with a bicameral assembly, one of elected representatives as is the case now, and one of national and regional authorities, that would replace the European Council. The EU Executive, with one President and unitary structure, should be accountable to these two chambers for its actions according to the competencies attributed to the panEuropean/federal level of government. The system of national representation on political and bureaucratic posts in the central EU institutions should be discontinued and merit should be established as the main consideration instead. And there should be plenty of light shed on the proceedings at the European level for Europe’s peoples to see and understand what is going on.
Some final thoughts on our question about the desirability, feasibility and irreplaceability of a German Europe: Such a Europe would have balanced budgets, trade surpluses and a well-oiled industrial base producing the latest in engineering. Could this model be extended to the European South too? I doubt that it could be adopted in Cyprus, Sicily, Portugal or the south of France. The oranges and the olive oil that they produce is another kind of treasure that industrious Germans want to introduce into their diet for better health and mood. The warm beaches of the Mediterranean should be enjoyed for what they are, plus as a source of powerful solar energy, but not much more than that. The tourism industry of the European South can get better organized but taking away the relaxed feeling of the summer would defeat the purpose and undermine the interests of even the visitors from the North.
European unity will not come with enforced homogenization and extreme discipline that foresees only penalties without forgiveness or growth. It will come when the Spaniards and the Greeks appreciate the Germans for what they do well and what they bring to the table, which cannot be only money, and the other way around. And a well-run Union will be one that balances its peoples strengths and interests, and provides through its monetary, investment, and other policies the framework for all to thrive, in a complementary and mutually supportive way, with unity in diversity.
Brussels, 15 April 2013
In search of soul for Europe
The 10 December celebrations in Oslo for the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union were grand and moving. They felt like confirmation of success of a bold experiment that started in Europe in the 1950s, under the then still fresh memories of the Second World War.
A lot of progress has indeed been made over the last 60 years on the European continent towards peaceful coexistence, cooperation and development. So there are certainly good reasons to celebrate. This is not the end of the road, however, and success is in no way absolute, nor should it be taken for granted. The European Union of now 27 and soon-to-be 28 member states has been peaceful and quite prosperous within itself. But its role vis-à-vis the rest of the European continent, notably the start and escalation of the wars in former Yugoslavia, needs to be more honestly discussed for lessons to be learned. Also its record on prosperity seems to be compromised by the current serious problems in the European South and beyond.
In this piece I do not discuss specific problems and concerns in both the peace and prosperity areas, but rather focus on the big picture, what for me is the core reason for which Europe seems to be wobbly and even failing: the lack of “soul”, of European identity among citizens and leaders alike, the lack of a common concept of what is Europe and where it is going.*
The frequent EU ministerial councils and leaders’ summits show in their bickering and horse-trading the fragmentation of the project and the lack of a common vision, beyond reacting to the markets and other external factors that batter the Union. The solutions that are devised only add to the complexity of an already very complex machinery, and seem even more detached from the average citizen, who can neither understand nor practically influence any of this. So in the end it is more nationalism that comes out of this experiment, as Europe is in a way used to impose tough choices on reluctant publics by leaders who cannot lead, realize that they have to act together, but want to keep their national turfs and cannot rise up to the continental challenges.
Does anybody think of the European Union as a whole, a potential polity of some 500 million people, bigger than the US in population and in aggregate the biggest economy in the world, above the US and China? Does anybody worry about imbalances within the Union, how to secure a decent leaving for workers and farmers both in the North and the South of the EU? Does anybody run the institutions that have been created, notably the European Central Bank, with that common good in mind? I doubt it, and if it is the case it does not show these days.
One could of course rightly point to the European Commission and the Parliament as close to having such a pan-EU picture. And it may well be the case, to some extent. But you can also see the fragmentation there, with political parties in the European Parliament just being associations of sovereign national parties, while the Commission is unable to inspire and gain legitimacy among EU nation state citizens beyond its technical role.
It is about time that leaders emerge and institutions behave in a way that really thinks and speaks of the EU/”Europe” as a whole. If that has to start from the Eurozone, which is more closely interconnected, so be it. The broadening of the Union has been at a serious cost to its deepening. Real deepening would mean a common political discourse and common economic, social, foreign and defence policies, with sovereignty basically transferred to the corporate entity from all constituent states, unlike the current sense of domination by a few strong powers. It would thus get down through direct links to the individual citizen, which is where sovereignty really lies. With English as the common language, even if the UK did not participate, such an entity would balance a common core identity of democratic governance, well-being and solidarity, with a wide variety of linguistic and historical backgrounds, in an inclusive and mutually enriching way, rather than an endless fight of competing nationalisms.
If the Eurozone were to really integrate, it could become the “federation of nation states” that Mr. Barroso talked about in his last State of the Union address in September. This potential federal or confederal entity would have a population of about 330 million people, which is slightly bigger than the population of the US. It would have about two-thirds of the GDP of the US and would rank third, after the US and just after China, in the ranking of world economies. It could also have a single, strong voice (not the current collage of voices) at the United Nations, and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, through the current French seat. Moreover, it could have unitary representation and significant weight in other multilateral institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. This entity would not be against anybody but for its own citizens, and it would have a positive influence on broader global stability, by offering a solid pole along with those of the US, China, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil and other established and emerging polities and economies.
If all started to work towards it – leaders, civil society, academics, the press, the private sector and individual European citizens – this could soon become a reality. The 2014 elections for the European Parliament offer a good opportunity to publicly debate, if not start to implement, such a project. Irrespective of the outcome, a public debate would create awareness and would build up the legitimacy of whatever project ended up being implemented. Arrangements to separate the institutions and competencies of an eventual political union (“Eurozone”/”Europa”/”European (Con)Federation”?) from the rest of the EU would be complicated and messy, but solutions would be found. Technical arrangements are a minor problem once Europe has found its vision and soul.
Ixelles, 13 December 2012
*Apologies here to those who would rightly argue against the interchangeability of the terms “Europe” and “European Union”. Strictly speaking using “Europe” to refer to the EU is as incorrect as using the term “America” to refer to the USA. In the case of Europe as a continent, the appropriation of the term “Europe” by the EU disenfranchises all those countries that belong geographically to the continent and politically are members of the Council of Europe, but are not members of the EU. At the same time, like “America”, the idea of “Europe” is a rallying term mostly used by the one entity that goes beyond individual nation states and represents a good part of the continent, aspiring to include even more. So apologies for this methodological looseness but this is more of an aspirational piece and political commentary than an academic essay.
The US is not the World, but… (or Why the US elections matter)
The race is down to the finishing line, and in a couple of days we will know who the next US President will be. The whole world has been watching the drama unfold on our TV screens, worthy of a Hollywood production with elements of science fiction, thanks to super-storm Sandy.
Taking into account that many of us do no have the right to vote in the US elections, it is quite an overkill the way the Presidential race is covered by non-US media. At the same time, it is not easy to remain indifferent to the dramatic debates, the massive scale of meetings and electoral expenses, the dogged determination of the candidates crisscrossing this vast country. It is these fascinating “democracy rituals” that the American Republic has developed, and the realization, even if unpleasant to some, that the US still matters the most among the countries of the world, that attract the global interest in this election that involves less than 5 per cent of the world’s population.
What is it that the US still has that gives it such predominance? With a crumbling infrastructure – see New York City after Sandy – a huge debt, declining industry, increasing inequality and unemployment, this seems to be a country in decline, an empire whose best days are past. Nevertheless, the country remains the main global trend-setter, innovator, political and military leader, as well as moral norm proponent (even if in practice it does not always respect such norms itself – see Guantanamo and CIA “renditions”). It maintains its “killer instinct”, ready to use, effectively and in an escalating way, all means, from political to economic and military, to achieve its objectives. The American dream has an irresistible allure for the majority of people, who watch Hollywood movies and American TV shows, use the latest gadgets and social networks launched by US firms, and expect the US to do something about all of the world’s problems, even if they criticize it anyway.
The new US President will have to deal with all this, build on the strengths and address the weaknesses. And it is on how they deal with the weaknesses that the differences between the two candidates seems to be most clear. President Obama seems inclined to focus on “nation-building” at home, tackling the shortcomings that have emerged within the American society, rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure and mending the inequality gap that has increased significantly between the haves and the have-nots inside the US, while maintaining a respectful and rather restrained presence abroad. Governor Romney seems more inclined to export the US problems, with a more assertive presence abroad, notably military presence, which is hoped will restore America’s clear predominance and will correct domestic problems by being tough on trade, monetary issues, resource access, etc.
Whoever wins, will try their best to elevate their country and their leadership in the way they think best. Come January 2013, the world will work with either President Romney or President Obama, no matter what preference people might have had before the elections. The world needs a strong US, because leadership is hard to find, and the challenges are numerous, many of them of a global nature, like climate change, food insecurity, financial instability, resource scarcity. For the same reasons, the world needs a strong Europe, and a strong China, and India, and Brazil, and a strong Africa, and Southeast Asia and Latin America. These countries and regions also need to show leadership, and take on the glory and cost that leadership entails.
It is not about balancing or unseating the US from the global throne. The more leadership the better, as long as it is not of the confrontational type. We need leadership of the problem-solving type, addressing real issues and not just playing geopolitical games. In that sense, the world would probably vote for Obama, if it were allowed to vote in the US elections. Despite his known shortcomings, including an apparent intellectual aloofness and problems with consensus building in his own capital, he has been projecting a more benign and constructive America, which seems to be learning from its mistakes in Iraq and elsewhere and tries to avoid making new ones. This kind of America, one that also starts dealing seriously with its own problems at home, would be more of an asset to the world and leader for a new era of more balanced burden-sharing and problem-solving.
Ixelles, 4 November 2012
PS: Barack Obama has just been reelected, with a convincing majority. Expectations are running high, and he seems determined to meet them. He is in a good place, with nothing to lose in his second and final term — nothing other than his good name and legacy, that is, if he does not deliver. His reaching out to his defeated opponent for ideas to get the US back on track is a good sign of bipartisanship, which is necessary if things are to be done. His talk of America being a peaceful and generous power for the world, reference to climate change and other elements of his speech bode well for the future. Amen!
GK, 7 November 2012