Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day of Franco-German friendship on January 22nd

There are three annual political holidays that I try not to miss. May 9th, the Day of Europe. July 14th, the French national holiday. Yes, I am German and comfortable with it, but October 3rd doesn't spark a lot of patriotic emotions with me (in contrast to the football worldcup which definitely does). July 14th with its fireworks around the Eiffel Tower is certainly a more memorable event. The third holiday is the day of Franco-German friendship on January 22nd.

I am reminded of the former two holidays by the media, but I always miss January 22nd. Was I not paying attention, or were the media not paying attention?
Well, I admit, I forgot it. However, what speaks in favor of me is that all self-proclaimed Franco-German blogs on the web including Vasistas, l'Europe en blogs, Le Blog Franco-Allemand, Le Franco-Allemand, Deuxzero, deutsch-franzosisch, Frankreich heute, Bernard de Montferrand, Scharlotte en France, Komische Petite française, Berlin & Co, Le Blogueur and the Franco-German couple blogging at Fenris et Fionan also forgot it.

Does the holiday have such a low importance that nobody cares to remember it? No! Praise goes to Das Frankreich-Blog - France Blog, which extensively covered the Franco-German Day. And on a political level, Germany and France celebrated as well. Secretaries of State Werner Hoyer and Laurent Wauqiez met in Paris on Tuesday, January 25 for a working lunch, followed by a visit to a French kindergarten and a debate at the French elite university Sciences Po. Foreign Ministers Guido Westerwelle and Michèle Alliot-Marie (sadly, Bernard Kouchner has eventually been shuffled out of the cabinet by Sarkozy) had already published a joint declaration on January 22nd. They affirm their commitment to the Franco-German Agenda 2020 and Germany declares its support to the French G20 presidency. In schools and public institutions in France and Germany, the Franco-German Day was celebrated as well.

Next year, I promise not to miss this holiday. And I hope to celebrate it in an adequate fashion as well.

By the way, if you are a young German or French professional, you can apply for a Franco-German future dialogue organized by DGAP and IFRI. However, the deadline for applications is today, Monday January 31st.
If you are interested in a one-year postgraduate
Franco-German Master of European Governance in Paris, Strasbourg, Potsdam and Berlin, you can still apply until May 15th.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The CAP towards 2020 - Video interview

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is currently under revision. The Hungarian Presidency is devoting much energy into the reform of the CAP. The Commission has released a communication, the Parliament and the Council are debating it now, lobbyists and academics are giving their input.

Last week, an expert of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) in Brussels, Valentin Zahrnt, proposed to cut agricultural subsidies. In his eyes, the prime argument in favor of the CAP, namely to provide food security, is not valid. He holds that food security can be maintained without the EU subsidies.

I questioned Mr Zahrnt on his ideas. In following, his answers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dambisa Moyo and the decline of the West

After her bestseller "Dead Aid", Zambian author Dambisa Moyo has presented her second book, "How the West was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly--and the Stark Choices Ahead".
While "Dead Aid" was entirely focused on development in Africa, Moyo now turns to the industrialized West and diagnoses it with 50 years of paralysis.
Working along the terms capital, labor and productivity, Moyo says that the West and in particular the US (but also the UK) have failed in all three regards.
  • With regard to capital, the US went deeply into debt by borrowing from China and investing into housing.
  • As far as labor is concerned, Moyo holds that Western pensions, health care and education are seriously underfunded, and disregarded in the democratic four-year cycles of most Western countries.
  • Productivity gains in the West, finally, have stayed far below those in China. Western countries do not try to use education to produce higher-quality products and services, but fail to reform their systems, meaning that they are headed to compete with China on the same playing field: labor cost.
Although not saying that democracy is harmful, Moyo points out that four-year election cycles reward Western politicians for short-term thinking. To get out of decline, she proposes to either reform political systems in favor of a more long-term view, or to build strong incentives that encourage innovation and education. Or both. Without innovation, she says, countries will engage in a struggle for a shrinking amount of resources which is necessarily a zero-sum game and will produce bitter struggles.

If you want to listen to the full speech that Moyo recently gave at the LSE, you can do so here:

Picture Source: Amazon

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Aggressive China? Aggressive America!

The whole western world went abuzz when China recently tested its new stealth fighter jet (more info here). In particular, Americans were put off because the test flight took place at the same time as Defense Minster Robert Gates met with Hu Jintao. A provocation? A demonstration of Chinese power?

In following, military expenditure in the world:


Seeing that the US military is far superior to the Chinese military, lets look at US military deployment in the world:

Countries with a US military presence in 2010
More than 1,000 US personnel
More than 100 US personnel
Use of military facilities

(Source: Wikipedia)

In China's east, South Korea hosts 28,500 military troops (2007 figure) and 38 military installations, while Japan has 32,385 American soldiers or military staff on its soil (2010 figure). In and around Afghanistan, the US has 105,900 troops (2010 figure) that come into Asia through a US travel base in Kyrgistan, China's neighbor in the west. During South Korea's last military exercise, the US deployed an aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea that separates South Korea from China.

Somehow understandable that China feels a little threatened, isn't it? Everything points to the idea that the US is seeking to contain China. What would happen if China dispatched an aircraft carrier to Cuba in return? I can already hear the US media panic.

Recently, an article from a Peking University resurfaced and caused much discussion in the Chinese blogosphere: "If the United States Attacked China, I Would Surrender". The Chinese believe it is a real threat that the US will use military power to advance its own interests in China.

In Japan, the presence of the US military is already contested. The troops have been involved in 200,000 mostly traffic-related accidents and acts of crime against Japanese in which 1,076 Japanese civilians died since 1952.

Given an increasingly assertive China, the US Military Chief has vowed in early 2011 to put a special focus on Asia. How will China react?

By the way: Chinese president Hu Jintao finished his three-day state visit to the United States successfully. Read more about it here and here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

China and the "laowai"

"You don't know anything about China!"

I've heard that sentence quite a few times in China. One of the first words you will memorize as a foreigner in China is laowai, or foreigner. The word strikes a dividing line between you and the society in which you live. Being a foreigner, by definition you don't know China’s "unique national conditions". You don't know the exceptionalism that arises from a proud, 3000-year-old society, humiliated during the Opium Wars of the 19th century, invaded by foreign powers during the World Wars and mutilated by a ruler who is still praised as the country's national hero. And people will hold your ingnorance against you in the same way as this LSE (!) student does it from minute 44:00.

The relationship between China and the laowai is a very strange matter. On the one hand, Chinese people are extremely interested in American movies, American clothes, Christmas, McDonald's and other parts of Western consumerism. When I walked through central Shanghai, people were staring at me in awe. School girls asked me for a photo. Public schools in China employ foreigners to teach English, from high school all the way down to kindergarten. Clearly, there is an interest to know more about "the West" and about those laowai.

On the other hand, there is a deep inferiority complex toward those laowai. "Lao" itself means "old" and is normally used with a person in a more senior position. By definition, all laowai are filthy rich (which is true in a sense, considering the low value of the yuan). And filthy rich means that they're socially superior. A Chinese person will have to work a lot more than a Westerner to achieve the same social standard.

Put together the fact that Western people in China are filthy rich and that they have no idea about Chinese exceptionalism (or even the language, as the language in many foreign enterprises is English), could there be a desire to strike back at the West? Pay back the humiliation once Chinese money and power really kick off? Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson heard an invisible "We are the masters now" from his interlocutors when he recently went to China. In the EU, Portugal, Greece and Spain are now financially dependent on China. Are we facing a danger of revenge?

As laowai, we should probably spend some afternoons studying Chinese history - so that nobody can tell us "You don't know anything about China!" anymore.

Update (23/02/2011): We could start here, here or here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

MountEUlympus back in action

I've come home from China and will start blogging again. It's pretty exciting to come back just now, with the EU busy about the Hungarian Media Law, the Hungarian presidency, democracy in Italy and saving the Euro. Taken as a whole, 2010 has certainly been one of the EU's most challenging years since 1957.

The new year is always the time for new plans and new beginnings, so I will try to do some new things as well. First of all I'm honored to join the editors. Hope that I can do some good things as an editor. To that effect, you can also add me on Twitter now. Secondly, I will give a new focus to my blogging. Sure, I'm still writing about institutional affairs and current EU events. But I want to pursue a few topical issues as well.

The most important one is China. We don't know anything about this new world power. And the way it is, we are headed into a clash of cultures between "the West" and China. In my blogging, I will take up issues that China talks about and take up EU-China questions, trying to avoid the conventional bias of our media. The question is, how can "the West" and China be reconciled? How can the faultlines be mended? Where does assimilation take place, in China or in "the West"? Obviously, talking about "the West" will not be limited to the EU but essentially incorporate the US as well...

The second aspect is the global economy. This will be a learning-by-doing experience, as my knowledge about international trade flow and finance only stems from a bachelor's degree. Together with the global economy, I also want to explore questions of sustainable development in the world.

The final aspect is event journalism. I will move into the Brussels bubble in a bit and try to cover some European Councils, press conferences and what else seems of interest to me and to you. Depending on the opportunities I get, I'm also going to play with my video camera and try to interview some of the people that keep the wheels spinning in Brussels.

At any rate, this is an exciting time to recommence blogging. After the #EUCO tweet wall event, I expect that we'll have to negotiate how blogging and bloggers can be incorporated into EU policy-shaping in the future.

Glad to start this new year together with you. I'm looking forward to a lot of fruitful interaction and debates.

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