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Religion and the EU's external policies: Increasing engagement

12-02-2020

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Constitutional and political change in Russia

07-02-2020

In January 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional amendments. These have been widely seen as preparing the way for him to retain political influence after the end of his fourth and probably final presidency in 2024. Putin's announcement was followed by the resignation of the government. Dmitry Medvedev, who has been Prime Minister since 2012, has made way for Mikhail Mishustin. While these changes open up new possibilities for Putin's post-2024 future, his actual intentions are still ...

In January 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional amendments. These have been widely seen as preparing the way for him to retain political influence after the end of his fourth and probably final presidency in 2024. Putin's announcement was followed by the resignation of the government. Dmitry Medvedev, who has been Prime Minister since 2012, has made way for Mikhail Mishustin. While these changes open up new possibilities for Putin's post-2024 future, his actual intentions are still unclear.

Trade and investment agreements with Vietnam

05-02-2020

In 2019, Vietnam became the second south-east Asian country after Singapore to sign trade and investment agreements with the EU. The agreements are expected to bring major economic benefits to both sides, but opinions are divided on whether the Parliament should consent to them, due to human rights issues in Vietnam.

In 2019, Vietnam became the second south-east Asian country after Singapore to sign trade and investment agreements with the EU. The agreements are expected to bring major economic benefits to both sides, but opinions are divided on whether the Parliament should consent to them, due to human rights issues in Vietnam.

Political institutions in Indonesia: Democracy, decentralisation, diversity

28-01-2020

Until his downfall in 1998, General Suharto ruled Indonesia with an iron fist. Since then, a series of reforms have transformed his authoritarian 'New Order' into the world's third largest democracy (and largest Muslim democracy). Indonesia has a presidential system in which a directly elected president serves as both head of state and of government. A maximum two-term limit on the presidency helps to ensure a peaceful alternation of power. Also directly elected, the House of Representatives (the ...

Until his downfall in 1998, General Suharto ruled Indonesia with an iron fist. Since then, a series of reforms have transformed his authoritarian 'New Order' into the world's third largest democracy (and largest Muslim democracy). Indonesia has a presidential system in which a directly elected president serves as both head of state and of government. A maximum two-term limit on the presidency helps to ensure a peaceful alternation of power. Also directly elected, the House of Representatives (the lower house of the bicameral People's Consultative Assembly) has asserted itself as a strong and independent institution. There are nine parliamentary parties, none of which holds a majority, obliging the government to seek support from a broad coalition. Despite the success of Indonesia's political reforms, its commitment to democratic values cannot be taken for granted. Although Indonesia has traditionally been a tolerant, multicultural society, a rising tide of Islamic populism threatens to disrupt the delicate balance between the country's Muslim majority and minorities such as Christians and Buddhists. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has had some success in tackling endemic graft in the country's courts, local governments and Parliament; however, the latter recently voted to weaken the KPK's powers. While trust in democratic institutions declines, the military – whose commitment to democratic values has often been questionable – is becoming increasingly influential.

International Agreements in Progress: EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements

14-11-2019

The European Commission has described the free trade and investment protection agreements (FTA/IPA) signed with Vietnam as the most ambitious deals of their type ever concluded by the EU and a developing country. Not only will they eliminate over 99 % of customs duties on goods, they will also open up Vietnamese markets to European service providers and investors. According to European Commission figures, the agreements will boost trade in both directions, with EU exports set to rise by nearly 30 ...

The European Commission has described the free trade and investment protection agreements (FTA/IPA) signed with Vietnam as the most ambitious deals of their type ever concluded by the EU and a developing country. Not only will they eliminate over 99 % of customs duties on goods, they will also open up Vietnamese markets to European service providers and investors. According to European Commission figures, the agreements will boost trade in both directions, with EU exports set to rise by nearly 30 %. Vietnam is the second south-east Asian country after Singapore to sign trade and investment agreements with the EU, bringing the long-term goal of a region-to-region EU-ASEAN trade deal a step closer. In view of the human rights situation in Vietnam, opinions are divided on whether the agreements should be ratified. Critics argue that the EU should not approve the agreements until the situation improves. On the other hand, defenders point out that the FTA/IPA include commitments to stronger human rights (such as allowing independent trade unions); they also insist that the EU can best help to bring about improvements by engaging with Vietnam . Following the same approach as for Singapore, the single text originally agreed in 2015 with Vietnam has been split into two parts, an FTA covering exclusive EU competences and an IPA that includes competences that are shared with EU Member States. The European Parliament is set to vote in February 2020; if it gives its consent, the two agreements will then have to be ratified by Vietnam and (for the IPA) the EU Member States before entering into force.

Russia in Africa: A new arena for geopolitical competition

08-11-2019

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long ...

During the Cold War, post-colonial Africa was an important front in the geopolitical contest for international influence. However, in the 1990s, post-Soviet turmoil ended many of Russia's global ambitions, including in Africa. By contrast, recent years have seen a renewed Russian interest in the continent, as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to reassert his country as a major global player. As in other parts of the world, Russia has various means of promoting its influence. Moscow has long been the continent's leading supplier of weapons, and it has military cooperation deals with nearly two dozen African countries. Among other things, these provide for the presence of military trainers and advisors, and a small but growing number of Russian 'boots on the ground', many of them coming from shadowy private military companies closely linked to Putin's entourage. Russia's military presence in countries such as the Central African Republic often goes hand-in-hand with commercial interests. Overall, Russian trade and investment in the continent is quite small, except in the strategic energy and mining sectors: oil, gas, diamonds, gold, aluminium and nickel are among the African minerals extracted by Russian companies. Russia's African toolkit also includes covert political influence operations – again, involving shady Kremlin-linked organisations, soft power (building on Soviet-era links and a growing media presence), and increasingly close diplomatic ties. On the other hand, Russian development and humanitarian aid to the continent is minimal. While Russia's influence in Africa is growing, it remains a comparatively marginal player in most of the continent, except in a few key countries and economic sectors. Its overall objective appears to be geopolitical competition with other more established players, rather than disinterested help for African partners. Its role is therefore viewed with concern by the EU institutions and Member States.

Russia under Putin 4.0: Stagnation and discontent

23-10-2019

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto ...

The March 2018 presidential elections were a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin. Since then, however, an unpopular decision to raise the retirement age by five years has cost him some of his support and triggered a wave of protests. In summer 2019, Moscow saw the biggest anti-government rallies for several years over the authorities' decision to exclude independent, 'non-system' opposition candidates from local elections. Even though the decision was upheld, Putin allies struggled to hold onto their city council majority; they have also done less well than usual in other recent elections. Protests and electoral setbacks are linked to growing discontent – not only due to the pension reform but also to grinding poverty and inequality. Contrasting with the wealth of oligarchs, millions of Russians struggle to make ends meet as incomes register their fifth consecutive year of decline. Despite emerging from recession in 2016, the economy continues to stagnate. At the start of his presidency, Putin announced ambitious targets and massive investments to re-ignite growth, but these seem unlikely to bring more than modest improvements. Growing discontent is not expected to threaten Putin and his United Russia party's grip on power, given that Russians see no real alternatives. In the longer term, United Russia will probably hold onto its parliamentary majority in the next national elections in 2021, while Putin will see out his fourth, and probably final, presidency until its expiry in 2024. Even after that, there is a strong possibility that Putin, or at least a close ally, will remain in charge. In the past, confrontation with the West has helped to distract attention from the country's domestic problems and shore up support for Putin. However, given the need to boost the economy, the Kremlin may be considering options for improved relations in order to get Ukraine-related sanctions lifted, although it is still too early to say whether this will actually happen.

Kazakhstan: Transition, but not much change

18-10-2019

Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan for nearly 30 years, announced his intention to step down in March 2019. With Nazarbayev's backing, former senate speaker Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was elected to replace him in June. Although Nazarbayev is no longer president, he retains considerable power, and in the short term at least his successor is not expected to undertake major reforms.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan for nearly 30 years, announced his intention to step down in March 2019. With Nazarbayev's backing, former senate speaker Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was elected to replace him in June. Although Nazarbayev is no longer president, he retains considerable power, and in the short term at least his successor is not expected to undertake major reforms.

Serbia at risk of authoritarianism?

02-05-2019

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of ...

Among the Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, Serbia is seen as a frontrunner in terms of its democratic institutions, level of economic development and overall readiness for accession. However, in November 2018 opposition politician, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up by thugs, triggering a wave of protests that has spread across the country. Week after week, thousands have taken to the streets, accusing Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of authoritarian rule, attacks on independent media, electoral fraud and corruption. Although the protests only started recently, they highlight worrying longer-term trends. Press freedom has been in decline for several years, particularly since Vučić became prime minister in 2014. A large part of the media is now controlled either directly by the state or by pro-SNS figures. Independent journalists face threats and even violence, and perpetrators are rarely convicted. In the National Assembly, the governing coalition uses its parliamentary majority to systematically block meaningful discussions of legislative proposals. In protest, the opposition started a boycott of plenary debates in February 2019. The tone of verbal attacks by SNS politicians and their allies on independent media, the political opposition and civil society is often virulent. Criticising government policy is framed as betrayal of Serbian interests. The aim seems to be to marginalise critical voices while concentrating power in the hands of the SNS-led government. Elected to the mainly ceremonial role of president in 2017, Vučić nevertheless remains the dominant figure. If Serbia's drift towards authoritarianism continues, it could become a major obstacle to EU accession, for which 2025 has been mentioned as a possible date.

'Everything but Arms': The case of Cambodia

15-04-2019

Cambodia is one of nearly 50 developing countries that enjoy duty-free access to EU markets under the Everything but Arms scheme. In response to the country's deteriorating human rights situation, the EU is now considering whether to withdraw trade preferences.

Cambodia is one of nearly 50 developing countries that enjoy duty-free access to EU markets under the Everything but Arms scheme. In response to the country's deteriorating human rights situation, the EU is now considering whether to withdraw trade preferences.

Buduća događanja

17-02-2020
The Dilemma of Disinformation: How should democracies respond?
Drugo događanje -
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