Tag Archives: Government

The virtuous circle of what’s needed to trigger Europe’s digital sovereignty

By Stefano da Empoli – Like a prism that changes according to the perspective through which it is observed, there are many possible interpretations of the concept of digital sovereignty. In the past few days, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has provided some inspiration for the right way to look at it. During a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, and held after the signing of the Quirinale Treaty, Draghi referred to European sovereignty as the “ability to direct the future as we wish.”

In the digital domain, the power to be the author of one’s own destiny can be won with two tools: sound rules and technological investment. Only a balanced combination of them, however, can produce digital sovereignty to the benefit of European citizens. Much has been said in recent years about the so-called ‘Brussels effect’, the title of a successful book by Anu Bradford, the Finnish-born legal scholar based at Columbia University in New York.

Through the definition of a robust and ambitious regulatory framework, the European Union has managed to establish itself as the main global rule-maker, influencing the legislation of other countries and inducing non-European companies to take it into account not only for products and services sold in the old continent but also elsewhere.

A meaningful case study is the GDPR, the European privacy regulation, which was approved in 2016 and came into force in 2018. One of the basic principles, that of privacy by design, i.e. already built into a product or service at the time of its conception, has become the mantra of many American companies in just a few years. While it is true that the US does not yet have a federal privacy law, California, which is home to most of the large American technology companies, passed a very similar one. more>

Can the crisis of social reproduction bring the demise of central-European illiberals?

By Weronika Grzebalska – This month, Polish protesters took to the streets after 30-year-old Izabela passed away from septicaemia in a hospital, her foetus having died in her womb. Her death came nine months after abortion in cases of foetal defects was deemed unconstitutional in Poland, under the illiberal Law and Justice (PiS) government.

Women’s rights activists fear that this cruel ruling will increasingly push medical staff to take a wait-and-see approach to women with difficult pregnancies. Population experts also predict it will further lower already falling birth rates, with surveys long reporting that Polish women are having fewer children than they would like to, due to the twin pressures of market capitalism and illiberal pronatalism.

The anti-abortion ruling exposes the cynical contradictions of illiberal family and demographic policy. This is why Polish politicians and anti-abortion advocacy groups have since tried to distance themselves from Izabela’s death, presenting it as a tragic accident unrelated to their radical agenda.

After all, the illiberal right in both Poland and Hungary came to power harnessing material anxieties related to the growing crisis of social reproduction—the declining ability of societies to create and maintain social bonds and provide care between and within generations. By promising to protect ‘family values’ amid the progressive decline of socio-economic security, and by offering families vital endowments, central-European illiberals have rallied even moderate voters behind their agenda. more>

The F-35 At 20: How Its Successes, And Failures, Shaped The Aerospace Industry

The takeaway from the last 20 years, according to aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia, might well be, “You succeeded, but please don’t try that again.”
By Valerie Insinna – On Friday, Oct. 26, 2001, executives and employees from the nation’s two biggest defense primes gathered in boardrooms and sprawling production facilities to watch a Pentagon press conference. At stake: the Joint Strike Fighter competition, which would decide who would dominate the next 40 years of the defense aerospace industry — and rake in hundreds of billions in profits.

It was a moment five years in the making. The Pentagon wanted to buy a single stealth aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps capable of three distinct operational requirements: conventional landings on a runway, landing on aircraft carriers, and performing short takeoffs and vertical landings.

It awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin and Boeing in 1996 to build competing prototypes, known as the X-35 and X-32. By July 2001, Lockheed’s X-35 had proven it could execute a short, 500-foot takeoff, fly at supersonic speeds and then vertically land in a single flight. While Boeing’s X-32 also demonstrated supersonic flight and vertical landings, it did not accomplish them in the same flight.

For the engineers that had designed and developed the two planes, emotions were running high as a group of white-haired defense acquisition officials approached the podium of the Pentagon press briefing room.

And just like that, the competition was over. more>

The looming harm of tax harmonization

By Akvile Jaseviciute and Bhuvam Patel – The OECD’s proposals to harmonize international tax regimes were generally welcomed by governments without considering potential benefits of tax competitiveness. Blinded by their wish to stop multinational corporations from moving their business to jurisdictions with more favorable tax regimes, few considered the practical implications of OECD’s plans. Currently, OECD countries have divergent tax regimes – the 2021 edition of the International Tax Competition Index produced by the Tax Foundation ranked countries regarding tax competitiveness. Estonia earned the top spot in the ranking because of its relatively low corporate tax rate, while Italy and France fared poorly due to features like punitive wealth and financial transaction taxes. We hence question, why countries with favorable tax systems should be held back by a harmonized but uncompetitive tax regime?

OECD Proposal Problems

Current OECD proposals on tax harmonization focus on ending the perceived tax ‘unfairness’ while providing little practical benefits. The first Pillar aims to set tax brackets universally on companies making global sales above €20 Billion and profit margins of more than 10%. However, in practice, large companies often place the taxpaying burden on other stakeholders – employees or investors. Therefore, instead of benefiting the most vulnerable, the proposal could be detrimental to workers as companies choose to cut wages instead of letting their revenues shrink. If insufficiently considered, such an outcome could further disadvantage low qualification workers, which are already significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. more>

Lebanon’s public debt default

By Ilias Bantekas – The nature and causes of sovereign debt differ from one country to another. Yet, the popular or engineered narrative of debt usually conceals its true origin or cause.

In the case of Lebanon, currently facing a financial and economic crisis ranked by the World Bank as possibly among the top three most severe global crises episodes since the mid-19th-century, one of the key lessons from the Greek experience is the importance of understanding the cause. The truth about how and why Lebanon reached the current debt crisis, including its suspension of a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment in March 2020, must precede any step toward recovery and restructuring under current solvency conditions.

A look at the Greek experience

At the time of Greece’s sovereign debt crisis, the popular narrative was that successive Greek governments had augmented the public sector and had exceeded their finances. This further supports the popular myth that people in the south of Europe are lazy, take long siestas, aspire to be civil servants, and that their governments are corrupt. Even so, an independent parliamentary committee set up in 2015 disproved this narrative.

The committee’s extensive findings clearly showed that the Greek public sector was the lowest spender among its then 27 European Union counterparts (apart from defense-related expenditures). In fact, until the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio was one of the lowest in Europe and certainly sustainable. So, why did it shoot through the roof the following year? This is because Greek banks had accumulated private debt (in the form of loans) to the tune of about €100 billion.

At the time, Greek banks had largely been acquired by French and German banks and hence the private (and now unsustainable) debt of Greek banks was about to become a Franco-German problem. Instead of this happening, the then-Greek prime minister was ‘convinced’ to nationalize Greek banks and thus transform a purely private debt into a public one. By so doing, it was now the Greek taxpayer that was saddled with the debt and the ensuing austerity this entailed, while Greek banks were restructured (effectively re-financed) and France and Germany were relieved. more>

How democracy can win again

Democratic erosion in Hungary is symptomatic of structural problems afflicting most democracies, even threatening the future of civilization.
By Gergely Karácsony – My political awakening coincided with the systemic changes that unfolded following the collapse of communism in Hungary in 1989. I was both fascinated and overjoyed by my country’s rapid democratization. As a teenager, I persuaded my family to drive me to the Austrian border to see history in the making: the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, which allowed east-German refugees to head for the west. Reading many new publications and attending rallies for newly established democratic political parties, I was swept up by the atmosphere of unbounded hope for our future.

Today, such sentiments seem like childish naivety, or at least the product of an idyllic state of mind. Both democracy and the future of human civilization are now in grave danger, beset by multifaceted and overlapping crises.

Three decades after the fall of communism, we are again forced to confront anti-democratic political forces in Europe. Their actions often resemble those of old-style communists, only now they run on a platform of authoritarian, nativist populism. They still grumble, like the communists of old, about ‘foreign agents’ and ‘enemies of the state’—by which they mean anyone who opposes their values or policy preferences—and they still disparage the west, often using the same terms of abuse we heard during communism. Their political practices have eroded democratic norms and institutions, destroying the public sphere and brainwashing citizens through lies and manipulation.

Nativist populism tends to be geared toward only one purpose—to monopolise state power and all its assets. In my country, the regime of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has almost captured the entire state through the deft manipulation of democratic institutions and the corruption of the economy. Next year’s parliamentary election (in which I am challenging Orbán) will show whether Hungary’s state capture can still be reversed. more>

America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built

By Sean Illing – Did 9/11 pave the way for Donald Trump?

That’s a big question, and until I read Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How 9/11 Destabilized America and Produced Trump, I hadn’t really thought about it. Ackerman is a longtime national security journalist who’s covered the “war on terror” since its inception roughly two decades ago.

Ackerman’s answer to the above question is yes, but his thesis is even more pointed: The war on terror — and the panoply of excesses it unleashed — eroded the institutional armor of American democracy and left the country defenseless against its own pathologies. And those pathologies, which Ackerman lays out with meticulous attention, prepared the ground for a figure like Trump.

Reading Ackerman’s book was a bit of a whirlwind. I was 19 years old when the Twin Towers fell. I’ll never forget watching the planes hit the wall. I’ll never forget how confused and angry I was. And I’ll never forget the thoughts running through my mind as I realized I was heading to boot camp in just four months. more>

Why the EU needs interoperable digital wallets

By Lars Rensing – Recently, the news emerged that the EU Commission had proposed a new framework for the introduction of European Digital Identity. This framework proposal represents an interoperable EU digital ID, which will be produced by the individual Member States. These IDs will be linked to national digital IDs, and the announcement demonstrates how the EU is looking ahead by working to establish a European-wide digital ID system.

Something that will be included in this framework is the creation of a digital wallet, which will enable users to present their IDs digitally to access cross-border services. Digital wallets also help citizens regain control over their personal data. These wallets hold users’ digital identities, so they can then choose who they share information with.

However, the current production of these wallets will be the responsibility of each individual Member State, using whatever system they see fit. Using different systems for digital wallets could cause problems for citizens, though, when they need to access cross-border services or when they need to verify documents or identities with other member states. Making digital wallets and IDs as interoperable as possible, then, is essential. The proposed framework from the EU Commission needs to be interoperable, to ensure that the wallets created by each member state can interact with each other. more>

Vaccine Greed: Capitalism Without Competition Isn’t Capitalism, It’s Exploitation

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good
By Jag Bhalla – DID GREED JUST save the day? That’s what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed recently. “The reason we have the vaccine success,” he said in a private call to Conservative members of Parliament, “is because of capitalism, because of greed.

Despite later backpedaling, Johnson’s remark reflects a widely influential but wildly incoherent view of innovation: that greed — the unfettered pursuit of profit above all else — is a necessary driver of technological progress. Call it the need-greed theory.

Among the pandemic’s many lessons, however, is that greed can easily work against the common good. We rightly celebrate the near-miraculous development of effective vaccines, which have been widely deployed in rich nations. But the global picture reveals not even a semblance of justice: As of May, low-income nations received just 0.3 percent of the global vaccine supply. At this rate it would take 57 years for them to achieve full vaccination.

This disparity has been dubbed “vaccine apartheid,” and it’s exacerbated by greed. A year after the launch of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool — a program aimed at encouraging the collaborative exchange of intellectual property, knowledge, and data — “not a single company has donated its technical knowhow,” wrote politicians from India, Kenya, and Bolivia in a June essay for The Guardian. As of that month, the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, a vaccine sharing scheme established to provide developing countries equitable access, had delivered only about 90 million out of a promised 2 billion doses. Currently, pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists, and conservative lawmakers continue to oppose proposals for patent waivers that would allow local drug makers to manufacture the vaccines without legal jeopardy. They claim the waivers would slow down existing production, “foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” and, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr said, “undermine the very innovation we are relying on to bring this pandemic to an end.” more>

Germany is the freest country in Europe; Norway, Lithuania, and Finland are the worst on the 2021 Nanny State Index

By Christopher Snowdon – Today sees the publication of the Nanny State Index, now in its fourth edition. Launched in 2016, it looks at the over-regulation of food, soft drinks, vaping, tobacco and alcohol in thirty European countries. Since the last edition was published in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has led governments around the world to impose coercive controls on an almost unprecedented scale.

The index does not include anti-Covid policies that are expected to be a genuinely temporary response to the pandemic, but the outlook is bleak nonetheless. Almost without exception, governments across Europe are adopting higher sin taxes and more prohibitions.

Norway tops the league table, although that could change once it legalises e-cigarettes. Lithuania, with its heavy temperance legislation, is again in second place while Finland drops to third. The top of the table is dominated by Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Greece is the only country from southern Europe in the top half, largely thanks to its very high sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. At the more liberal end of the table, the best countries are a mixed bag. Germany has performed the extraordinary feat of having the lowest score in all four categories of the index. more>