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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): The EU's partner in Asia?

11-11-2020

Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is often compared with the EU. Both organisations brought together former adversaries and successfully resolved tensions through cooperation, helping to bring peace and prosperity to their regions. However, the EU and ASEAN operate in very different ways. ASEAN is a strictly intergovernmental organisation in which decisions are based on consensus. While this approach has made it difficult for south-east Asian countries to achieve ...

Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is often compared with the EU. Both organisations brought together former adversaries and successfully resolved tensions through cooperation, helping to bring peace and prosperity to their regions. However, the EU and ASEAN operate in very different ways. ASEAN is a strictly intergovernmental organisation in which decisions are based on consensus. While this approach has made it difficult for south-east Asian countries to achieve the same level of integration as the EU, it has also enabled ASEAN to accommodate huge disparities among its 10 member states. In 2003, south-east Asian leaders decided to take cooperation to another level by setting up an ASEAN Community. To this end, they adopted a charter in 2007, though without fundamentally changing the nature of the organisation's decision-making or giving it stronger institutions. The community has three pillars: political-security, economic, and socio-cultural. ASEAN's impact has been uneven. Barring the contentious South China Sea issue, ASEAN has become an effective platform for cooperation between its member states and the wider Asia-Pacific region, and promoted economic integration, even if the goal of an EU-style single market is a long way off. On the other hand, ASEAN is still perceived as an elite project that has little impact on the daily lives of south-east Asians. EU-ASEAN relations span four decades and have steadily deepened, building on common values as well as booming trade and investment. Both sides have expressed their ambition to upgrade to a strategic partnership.

Palm oil: Economic and environmental impacts

10-11-2020

Economical and versatile, palm oil has become the world's most widely used vegetable oil. Although palm oil can be produced sustainably, rising consumption increases the risk of tropical rainforests being cut down to make way for plantations. Deforestation threatens biodiversity and causes greenhouse gas emissions. In view of this, the EU has revised its biofuels policy to phase out palm oil-based biodiesel by 2030.

Economical and versatile, palm oil has become the world's most widely used vegetable oil. Although palm oil can be produced sustainably, rising consumption increases the risk of tropical rainforests being cut down to make way for plantations. Deforestation threatens biodiversity and causes greenhouse gas emissions. In view of this, the EU has revised its biofuels policy to phase out palm oil-based biodiesel by 2030.

Thailand: from coup to crisis

06-11-2020

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a history of political instability, alternating between military rule and unstable civilian governments. The latest in a long series of military coups was in 2014. In 2019, the junta handed over power to a nominally civilian government led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. Protestors are now demanding his resignation and constitutional reforms to end the military's control of Thai politics.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a history of political instability, alternating between military rule and unstable civilian governments. The latest in a long series of military coups was in 2014. In 2019, the junta handed over power to a nominally civilian government led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. Protestors are now demanding his resignation and constitutional reforms to end the military's control of Thai politics.

Another revolution in Kyrgyzstan?

22-10-2020

Kyrgyzstan is the only ex-Soviet Central Asian country to have achieved a measure of democracy, but it is also highly volatile. Massive protests broke out after irregularities in the October 2020 parliamentary elections, toppling the government. Ex-convict, Sadyr Japarov, is now the country's prime minister and acting president. New parliamentary and presidential elections are planned for December 2020 and January 2021.

Kyrgyzstan is the only ex-Soviet Central Asian country to have achieved a measure of democracy, but it is also highly volatile. Massive protests broke out after irregularities in the October 2020 parliamentary elections, toppling the government. Ex-convict, Sadyr Japarov, is now the country's prime minister and acting president. New parliamentary and presidential elections are planned for December 2020 and January 2021.

Armenia and Azerbaijan on the brink of war

06-10-2020

Armenia and Azerbaijan are bitterly opposed over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-backed separatist territory that international law recognises as part of Azerbaijan. The fighting, which began in September 2020, is the worst since 1994, when a ceasefire ended a two-year bloody war. With Turkey openly backing Azerbaijan, there are fears that this could trigger conflict with Russia, Armenia’s main ally.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are bitterly opposed over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-backed separatist territory that international law recognises as part of Azerbaijan. The fighting, which began in September 2020, is the worst since 1994, when a ceasefire ended a two-year bloody war. With Turkey openly backing Azerbaijan, there are fears that this could trigger conflict with Russia, Armenia’s main ally.

Russia, arms control and non-proliferation

29-09-2020

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear ...

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and it is probable that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining major bilateral arms control agreement, will expire in 2021. Russia's systematic violation of its arms control commitments is partly to blame. Other factors include increased US unilateralism and the failure of both sides to adapt the system to changing realities such as China's rise as a military power. Russia is investing heavily in its nuclear forces and developing new and more powerful weapons. Its arsenal is equal to that of the US and in some areas it may even have at least temporary superiority, partially compensating for weaknesses in terms of conventional weapons. As geopolitical tensions rise, arms control has become more necessary than ever. However, it seems unlikely that the US, Russia and possibly China will manage to conclude a new generation of agreements. The implications are not yet clear: neither a major shift in the military balance nor a new arms race are expected, but the lack of formal constraints creates uncertainty.

The poisoning of Alexey Navalny

21-09-2020

EU-Russia relations hit a new low in August 2020, after Alexey Navalny, one of Russia's leading opposition activists, was poisoned by a banned nerve agent. Although the perpetrators have not yet been identified, the attack has to be seen in the context of repression and growing discontent against Putin. In response to this clear breach of international law and human rights, the EU is considering additional sanctions against Moscow.

EU-Russia relations hit a new low in August 2020, after Alexey Navalny, one of Russia's leading opposition activists, was poisoned by a banned nerve agent. Although the perpetrators have not yet been identified, the attack has to be seen in the context of repression and growing discontent against Putin. In response to this clear breach of international law and human rights, the EU is considering additional sanctions against Moscow.

Forests in south-east Asia: Can they be saved?

11-09-2020

Nowhere in the world are forests shrinking faster than in south-east Asia. Rapid population growth and economic development put intense pressure on the environment. Between 1990 and 2020, an area larger than Germany was deforested, over half of it in Indonesia. Land clearing for agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Driven by booming global demand, oil palm plantations have spread into formerly forested land, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the world's largest producers. ...

Nowhere in the world are forests shrinking faster than in south-east Asia. Rapid population growth and economic development put intense pressure on the environment. Between 1990 and 2020, an area larger than Germany was deforested, over half of it in Indonesia. Land clearing for agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Driven by booming global demand, oil palm plantations have spread into formerly forested land, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the world's largest producers. Logging, much of it illegal, is also a serious threat to the region's forests. Deforestation destroys the habitats of iconic large mammals such as the orang-utan and tiger, as well as thousands of lesser-known, but still vital, animal and plant species; it also contributes to climate change. Smoke from fires on forested and cleared land causes economic disruption and thousands of premature deaths. Worrying though all this is, there are tentative signs of change. With international encouragement, south-east Asian governments are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of balanced development. Significant efforts are being made to protect forests and to make timber and palm oil production more sustainable. Perhaps reflecting such efforts, the pace of deforestation in most countries has come down slightly since a mid-2010s peak. However, it is too early to say whether this improvement can be sustained. The EU has played a leading role in helping south-east Asian countries to curb deforestation, for example by helping them to tackle illegal logging. It has also revised its biofuels policy to ensure that European demand for palm oil does not exacerbate the problem.

The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation

28-07-2020

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However ...

Following the post-Cold War reset of the 1990s, EU-Russia relations have become increasingly tense. Although initially seen as a pro-Western reformer, since the start of his first presidency in 2000 Vladimir Putin has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies, and his efforts to assert Russian influence over post-Soviet neighbours threaten the sovereignty of those states. Russia's 2008 war against Georgia led to no more than a temporary cooling of relations with the European Union (EU). However, its 2014 annexation of Crimea caused a more permanent rupture. Responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the EU adopted hard-hitting sanctions. In 2016, the EU decided to base its Russia policy on five principles, which remain as valid as ever in 2020. They are: insistence on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements on eastern Ukraine as a condition for lifting sanctions against Russia; efforts to strengthen relations with Russia's former Soviet neighbours; greater EU resilience to Russian threats; selective engagement with Russia on certain issues such as counter-terrorism; and support for EU-Russia people-to-people contacts. After six years of deadlock, French president Emmanuel Macron is among those calling for renewed EU-Russia dialogue. Improved relations between Ukraine and Russia following the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in spring 2019 raised hopes of a solution to the Donbass conflict, which is still the main obstacle to better relations between the two sides. However, there is still no sign of a breakthrough.

Textile workers in developing countries and the European fashion industry: Towards sustainability?

24-07-2020

As fashion becomes increasingly globalised, garment and footwear production has shifted to low-wage, mostly Asian countries. Thanks to lower manufacturing costs, clothes have become increasingly affordable for European consumers. For developing countries, fashion exports create jobs and growth, helping to bring poverty rates down. While there are benefits on both sides, the fashion industry highlights inequalities between the global North and South. With almost unlimited flexibility between countries ...

As fashion becomes increasingly globalised, garment and footwear production has shifted to low-wage, mostly Asian countries. Thanks to lower manufacturing costs, clothes have become increasingly affordable for European consumers. For developing countries, fashion exports create jobs and growth, helping to bring poverty rates down. While there are benefits on both sides, the fashion industry highlights inequalities between the global North and South. With almost unlimited flexibility between countries and factories, European and North American brands and retailers can dictate conditions to developing-country manufacturers, forcing them to cut costs in order to compete. The ultimate victims are factory workers, toiling long hours in harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions, for wages that barely enable subsistence. In many countries, restrictions on trade unions make it harder for workers to assert their rights. With employers reluctant or financially unable to invest in safety, many have died in industrial accidents, such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed over 1 000 lives. Decent work has become a priority for the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and other international organisations. The EU supports decent work, for example through its international trade agreements. European consumers and companies are also increasingly interested in sustainable fashion. After the Rana Plaza disaster, over 200 mostly European companies joined the Bangladesh Accord, which has helped to eliminate some of the worst safety hazards. While these are positive developments, a lot more still needs to be done.

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