2015: The World Ahead

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It is undeniable that a new calendar year has its own transformational effect on everyone: if only the start of a new year has the power to recalibrate world events to more optimistic trajectories. The year 2014 saw an avalanche of disasters, from wars in the Middle East, to the unrest in Ukraine, to the triple air disasters, to the resurgence of Ebola in Africa and the collapse of oil markets towards the end of the year.

In almost every global issue, 2014 has strained not just the wits of our leaders, but also the resources that were required to tackle them. Indeed, we can only wish that humanity’s problem-solving vigor does not fatigue itself in the year 2015. What then are we to expect for the year ahead?

On the economy front, the United States, still the world’s biggest economy (but not anymore in a few years’ time), is expected to slowly move out of its unemployment woes which in effect will help in improving its GDP. Economists are looking at 3% growth with unemployment going down to a modest 5.3%. They also predict a stronger dollar against the euro and the Japanese yen.

Economists also predict continued growth for China, but at a slower pace in the months ahead. As for Germany, the Eurozone’s economic powerhouse (and savior), its giant trade surplus will likely shrink this year. Already a legitimate and a functioning entity, the Eurasian Economic Union, a rival to the European Union, already came into effect on January 2, 2015. It comprises the initial countries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Belarus. Despite its potential competition with the EU, the new EAEU called for “start(ing) official contacts between the EU and the EAEU as soon as possible”.

For the rest of the world, most economists agree that the world is headed for a better economic outlook in 2015. For instance, the International Monetary Fund predicts the global economy to expand to 3.8% this year, compared to 3.3% in 2014. Such growth is the fastest since 2011, and the downward spiral of oil prices means businesses and consumers alike will have more money to spend on other things. On the energy side, economists predict still lower oil prices in 2015, thanks to continued oversupply and the reluctance of oil majors to cut production.

Political activity in major European countries like the UK, Greece, and Spain will see an interesting shakeup this year. Starting with Greece, concerns in Brussels will finally see the light (or dark) if a left-wing party challenges the present austerity measures and with it, bring back memories of a Greek exit from the Eurozone. At 24% unemployment, similar public sentiment in Spain will test the euro-wide policy of austerity in the coming Spanish local elections. In the UK, general elections will be held in May as well, where the dissolution of the present Parliament will likely take place, while political rivalries are expected to be ‘neck-and-neck.’

Another notable mention is the expiration of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on December 31, 2015. Discussions as to what will replace it, along with which priorities should be set, are already underway, with some prominent leaders suggesting a focus on broadly the same issues for global development, while others suggest embarking on the newer UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). Regardless of the global issues that will be focused on, the new goals will represent the most challenge to Ban Ki-moon and represent the most important legacy as he leaves the UN after his term ends in late 2016.

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Understanding Russia’s Near Abroad Foreign Policy

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Much has been going on in Russia’s borders in recent months:  from last year’s violent “Euromaindan” protests sponsored by the West, to the annexation of Crimea, the Eastern and Southern Ukraine’s invalid independence referendum, the sorry (at least in the Western eyes) Sochi Olympics, the relentless economic and political sanctions, and the stepping up of military patrols in Eastern Europe by NATO.

Not long ago did the West portray Russia as rebuilding a “Soviet empire” when it went to war with Georgia in August 2008. Since then, Western politicians and the mainstream media have spread their usual fear-mongering propaganda against Russia.

What’s missing from this narrative is the question of why Russia is forced to tackle its present challenges, especially along its borders. For one, centuries of Russian empire and the 20th century’s Soviet experiment solely points to the immense and legitimate influence Russia has on its near abroad frontier, be it in greater Eastern Europe or former Soviet republics, which include Ukraine.

What the West fails to understand is Moscow’s right and obligation to protect ethnic Russians outside the country, especially in the former Soviet republics. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, millions of Russian suddenly found themselves second-class citizens in other former Soviet republics, including in Ukraine.

For instance, back in February, one of the first “legislation” of the new illegitimate government of Kiev was to ban Russian language in Ukraine. Seriously, can language alone be of matter national security concern? The judgment and intentions of those in power can be in doubt especially if your country’s new leaders do not even know the right flag for a country he is visiting. And yet the West has the nerve to spread lies about Russia being the aggressor in the Ukraine crisis rather than the other way around.

And how Western politicians and mainstream media portray Russia’s fictitious ambitions is pretty much the same as how they portray China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea: that hot foreign policy conceals and overrides domestic concerns; a way to consolidate public support against a foreign aggressor while forgetting the troubles at home.

And yet all that protection for minorities outside Russia is seen as part of Vladimir Putin’s “empire building”, which in contrast to the West’s military and covert interventions abroad pretty much vilifies those accusing the Russian president instead.

Now that Russia is firmly out of the G8, eyes are focused on where Russia’s economic potentials will go instead. Indeed, Russia is part of the greater and more important G20, as well as the economic collective known as the BRICS. For at least the past decade now, Russia and China has been busy building new pipelines to transport energy to countries East of Russia, which will help Moscow diversify its economy to where the global economy is happening most: in Asia.

And of course talks of a new Cold War with Russia (and China) has been circulating in the Western mainstream media. Politicians up to the highest levels, including Barack Obama himself, are trying to blame (or deny) the new Cold War. Indeed, for some politicians in the West, the old Cold War with the Soviet Union really did not go away.

A Reemerging Russia is indeed what they fancy; after all, the fear of enemies abroad means the sustainment of the military industrial complex which Eisenhower feared will sustain America’s insatiable appetite for a permanent war economy.

Addressing the democratic deficiency of EU elections

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Years of public spending cuts and unimpressive economic recovery has not only changed the minds of EU citizens regarding the legitimacy of the whole European Union experiment but also how its leaders try to engage the public in the European project as a whole.

Under the slogan “This time it’s different”, there is an attempt to persuade voters to go to the ballot box this coming May, which EU leaders hope to increase the EU’s legitimacy.

Such inadequacy was expressed recently by the European Commission’s vice president, Maros Sefcovic, stating that the ‘democratic deficiency’ of the Commission’s actions had been regularly raised in the past four years, in a statement to Reuters.

In a statement made in Brussels, Sefcovic expressed that “the recent strengthening of European integration means the Commission is playing more and more a political role and all of Europe needs to boost democratic legitimacy more than ever.”

But more than increasing the democratic deficiency of the EU project, there has been a progressive decrease in electoral participation by the public and overall attitude towards the EU. In a PEW research conducted last May, it showed that positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future.”

The research blamed the public distaste on prolonged economic crisis which “has created centrifugal forces that are pulling European public opinion apart.”

Also reasoned is the general disillusionment toward elected leaders, where Europeans “are losing faith in the capacity of their own national leaders to cope” with economic woes, including the inability of leaders to address the lack of employment opportunities in the continent.

As for the coming elections itself, some observers caution that “if any political party is looking forward to the EU election, it has to be the hard right, anti-EU National Front”, as exemplified in France these days. The general mood there is that “France has lost its sovereignty since the EU was created.” Polls show that the French public has lost their ‘faith’ in the ability of the EU to solve the country’s economic crisis.

In Britain, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, said the mood in France is shared by Southern ‘peripheral’ economies, which are at the receiving end of the financial bailouts.

In Germany, feelings of burdensome tax payer bailouts to help ailing economies across Europe stem from factors including lack of transparency through to doubts in the merits of the EU-US free trade agreement (TIPP).

Indeed, it will be exciting to see how the decision to include the election of the Commission President in the ballots will turn out this May.