The dirty little secret no politician will admit: There is no way to ‘go for growth’

Investment professionals and politicians who spurned Liz Truss’s “go for growth” strategy for the British economy are slowly waking up to an uncomfortable truth.

The former U.K. Prime Minister’s plan, which relied on unfunded tax cuts that were perceived to be inflationary, may have been the only growth plan for Europe’s economies to escape over-indebtedness and low productivity without having to turn to austerity or greater state control of the economy. Not that any of them are prepared to admit it.

Britain’s Institute of Fiscal Studies on Monday described parties’ reluctance to admit as much on Monday as “a conspiracy of silence” arguing Labour’s pledge to rule out tax hikes was a “mistake.” “We wish Labour had not made those tax locks and it will be difficult [politically] to break,” IFS director Paul Johnson said about the party currently leading the polls.

But it’s not just British politicians who are refusing to face up to reality. In France, where an impending snap parliamentary election threatens to empower extremists on both sides of the political spectrum — to the cost of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party — there is a similar reluctance to admit there are only bad options on the table.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire highlighted last week, after French bonds began to wobble, that anything short of centrism risks placing France under the supervision of Brussels and the International Monetary Fund.

What he failed to point out is that even supposedly sensible centrists face having to do the unthinkable in the longer run.

“They have to go to financial repression because high growth as a strategy out of over-indebtedness is not going to be funded by the bond market,” Russell Napier, an influential investment advisor who authors the Solid Ground newsletter, told POLITICO. “I think it doesn’t matter who you vote for, you end up with roughly the same thing. So the market’s not maybe saying ‘we’re very sanguine about Labour [in the U.K.].’ They’re just saying: ‘It doesn’t really matter who you vote for. We are heading toward this route.’”

Incoming financial repression

That route, in Napier’s opinion, means it’s time for financial repression: putting a lid on the free movement of capital and having the government and other technocratic institutions increasingly determine which sectors benefit from public sector funding, and even more critically, from private sector funding too.

The pathway takes Europe much closer to the dirigiste policies that dominated the continent in the post-war period and away from the market-based liberalism that investors have become used to over the past four decades.

Truss’s risky tax cuts had hoped to avoid a push towards state-guided credit rationing by unleashing the power of the private sector and the financial industry to stimulate such a high rate of growth that the accompanying inflation just wouldn’t matter — especially if the Bank of England’s interest rate policy acted in support.

But the dilemma facing France, one of the EU’s largest economies, encapsulates three further political complexities: Paris does not control its own monetary policy, its public sector spending capacity is restricted by fiscal rules created in Brussels — which it is now officially in breach of — and any move to direct private sector financing domestically could clash with the bloc’s greater efforts to create a single capital markets and banking union.

That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for any incoming French government to experiment with a “dash for growth”, either of the free-market Truss variety, or — which is more relevant for France — the free-spending government interventionist one.

Politicization of the ECB

For Macron, the stakes are abundantly clear. In a speech to the Sorbonne University in April, he said: “We must be clear on the fact that our Europe, today, is mortal. It can die. It can die, and that depends entirely on our choices. But these choices must be made now.”

But in the same speech he, too, advocated a wholesale reordering of Europe’s economic framework largely because he — like the populists on either side of him — can’t afford everything he wants.

The current economic model, he said, is no longer sustainable “because we legitimately want to have everything, but it doesn’t hold together.”

Like all of the French presidents of the last 25 years, Macron has faced this constraint on domestic policymaking by trying to co-opt the one institution that has no formal constraints on creating money out of thin air — the European Central Bank. In his Sorbonne speech, he stressed that “you cannot have a monetary policy whose sole objective is to address inflation.”

The ECB’s mandate can only be updated by changing the whole EU treaty, something for which Europe’s leaders have no appetite. But even within its current legal straitjacket, the ECB has found plenty of ways to support national governments when it can, with a sequence of tools and programs that have allowed it to buy their bonds and keep their borrowing costs below where they would naturally have been.

It’s the newest of these tools that is likely to play a key role in the next few weeks. The ECB has stopped net purchases of bonds as part of its broader policy to bring inflation down, but it has one tool — so far untested — that it can use to alleviate any market stress after the elections: the so-called Transmission Protection Instrument.

The TPI allows the ECB to buy the bonds of individual governments whose borrowing costs it considers out of step with macroeconomic fundamentals. The idea is to ensure that its single monetary policy applies reasonably equally across the whole euro area. But it creates substantial scope for the ECB to exercise financial repression on behalf of those it considers aligned with its own mission.

It implies that the ECB knows better than markets what the value of a government promise to pay is. And in not setting any ex ante limits to the scale of its interventions, it has bestowed upon itself enormous power to take on the markets if it disagrees with them strongly enough.

It’s this power that Macron may want to harness if he is still able to present a budget he can call his own after July. But by the same token, he will want to ensure that the ECB denies that support to his opponents if they emerge victorious, just as it did to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Greece’s Alexis Tsipras a decade ago.

According to Napier, whether the ECB ultimately decides to use the TPI or not, the decision will have political implications, not least because it will change the parameters of what the central bank is really prepared to do save the euro, and on whose behalf.

“If you think Macron is an ally of the [European] project, then you don’t use it until after there’s some type of chaos,” Napier said.

Many things could still change between now and July 7. The far right National Rally’s Jordan Bardella, for example, has already walked back some of the party’s spendiest plans, aiming to reassure markets that conflict with the EU over its fiscal rules can be avoided.

But in an interview with the FT published on Thursday, Bardella upset the bond markets again by saying he’d campaign for a big rebate from the EU budget, only hours after his ally and mentor Marine Le Pen signaled that a National Rally government would try to wrest away Macron’s powers as commander-in-chief.

In other words, the threat of major market instability in July remains alive and well. And, as Napier put it: “If bond yields blow up in France they can blow up anywhere.”

(Additional reporting by Geoffrey Smith)

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Over-reliance on gas delays G7 transition to net-zero power

Three years ago, G7, a group of major industrialized countries that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, committed to decarbonizing their power systems by 2035. It was a historic and hopeful moment, in which the group demonstrated global leadership, and made a first step toward what needs to become an OECD-wide commitment, according to the recommendation made by the International Energy Agency in its 2050 Net Zero Emission Scenario, setting the world on a pathway to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

As we approach the 2024 G7 summit, the ability of G7 countries to deliver on their power systems decarbonization commitment, not least to address the still-lingering fossil fuel price and cost-of-living crisis, but also to retain their global energy transition leadership, is put under scrutiny. So far, the G7 countries’ actual progress toward this critical goal is a mixed picture of good, bad, and ugly, as new analysis shows.

via G7 Power Systems Scorecard, May 2024, E3G

Most G7 countries are making steps on policy and regulatory adjustments that will facilitate a managed transition.

Grid modernization and deployment is, for example, finally starting to receive the attention it deserves. Some countries, such as the U.S., are also starting to address the issue of long-duration energy storage, which is crucial for a renewables-based power sector.

Coal is firmly on its way out in all G7 countries, except Japan, which is lagging behind its peers. This is where the challenges begin, as things like Japan’s unhealthy relationship with coal risk undermining credibility of the whole group as world leaders on energy transition.

Despite these efforts, all G7 countries are delaying critical decisions to implement transition pathways delivering a resilient, affordable and secure fossil-free power system where renewables – mostly wind and solar – play the dominant role. A tracker by campaign groups shows that other European countries have already engaged firmly in that direction.

Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient.

Further gaps vary by country, but overall, more action is needed on energy efficiency, non-thermal flexibility solutions, and restructuring power markets to facilitate higher renewable electricity and storage uptake. The EU’s recently adopted power market reform provides a solid framework for changes in this direction, at least for the EU-based G7 countries, but it remains to be seen how the EU’s new rules are going to be implemented on the national level.

Overall: Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient. For one, translation of the G7-wide target into a legislated national commitment is lacking in most G7 countries, in Europe and beyond. Moreover, the chance of G7 countries reaching their 2035 target is at risk, along with their global image as leaders on the energy transition, due to the lack of a clear, time-bound and economically-sound national power sector decarbonization roadmaps. Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

For this change to take off, clear vision on how to decarbonize the ‘last mile’ while providing for a secure, affordable and reliable clean electricity supply, is crucial. Regrettably, today’s G7 long-term vision is betting on one thing: Gas-fired back-up generation. While there are nascent attempts to address the development of long-term storage, grids, flexibility and other balancing solutions, the key focus in most G7 countries is on planning for a massive increase in gas capacity.

Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

All G7 countries but France have new gas power plants in planning or construction, with the growth shares the biggest in three European countries: Italy’s planning to boost its gas power fleet by 12 percent, the U.K. by 23.5 percent, and Germany by a whopping 28 percent. The US, which consumes one quarter of global gas-in-power demand, has the largest project pipeline in absolute terms – 37.8GW, the fourth largest pipeline in the world.

This gas infrastructure build-out contradicts the real-economy trend: In all European G7 countries gas demand has been dropping at least since the 2021-2022 energy crisis, driven particularly by the power sector decarbonization. Japan’s gas demand peaked in 2007, and Canada’s in 1996 (see IEA gas consumption data). Even G7 governments’ own future energy demand projections show further drop in gas demand by 2030, by one-fifth to one-third of today’s levels in all European G7 countries and Japan, and at least by 6-10 percent in Canada and the U.S.

Maria Pastukhova | Programme Lead – Global Energy Transition, E3G

Most G7 countries argue that this new gas power fleet will be used at a much lower capacity factor as a back-up generation source to balance variable renewables. Some, for example Germany, incentivize new gas power capacity build-out under the label of ‘hydrogen readiness’, assuming that these facilities will run on low-carbon hydrogen starting in 2035. Others, for example Japan or the U.S., are betting on abating gas power generation with carbon capture and storage technologies in the long-term.

Keeping gas power infrastructure in an increasingly renewables-based, decentralized power system using technology that may or may not work in time is a very risky gamble to take given the time left.

G7 countries have got no more than a decade left to act on their commitment to reach net-zero emissions power systems. We have readily-available solutions to deliver the major bulk of the progress needed: Grids, renewables, battery, and other short and mid-duration storage, as well as efficiency improvements. These technologies need to be drastically scaled now, along with additional solutions we will need by 2035, such as long-duration energy storage, digitalization, and educating skilled workers to build and operate those new power systems.

While available and sustainable, these solutions must be deployed now to deliver in time for 2035. Going forward, G7 can’t afford to lose any more time focusing on gas-in-power, which is on the way out anyway and won’t bring the needed structural transformation of the power system.



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Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Von der Leyen faces Socialist revolt over her far-right flirtation with Meloni

Europe’s Socialists have warned Ursula von der Leyen they won’t back her for a second term as European Commission president if she continues to suggest she could work with hard-right MEPs aligned with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Perhaps most crucially — just as French President Emmanuel Macron visits Germany to try to forge Franco-German consensus on Europe’s political landscape after the June 6 to 9 election — even Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party are signaling that they are willing to torpedo a second term for von der Leyen.

Some even have a replacement in mind: former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. And that’s a choice that will go down well in Paris.

In multiple comments over recent days, high-ranking Socialists including Scholz and the SPD lead candidate for next month’s EU election Katarina Barley threatened to scuttle von der Leyen’s candidacy if she accepts the backing of the hard right to secure a majority in the European Parliament.

“We will not work with the far right,” Barley said on the Berlin Playbook podcast, reiterating the pledge made by the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left to “never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level.”

The comment was the latest sign of the left-leaning parties’ alarm at von der Leyen’s stance on Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which belongs to the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen, who hails from the center-right European People’s Party, has indicated that if she fails to secure a majority with the backing of center-left and liberal lawmakers after the EU election, she could work with the ECR

On Friday, Scholz warned von der Leyen against such a move, saying: “When the next Commission is formed, it must not be based on a majority that also needs the support of the far right.” He added that “the only way to establish a Commission presidency will be to base it on the traditional parties.”

Putting the boot in further, Nicolas Schmit, the Socialists’ lead candidate for the EU election, said in an interview published Sunday: “Von der Leyen wants us to believe that there are good right-wing extremists and bad ones.”

Meloni is “politically extremely right wing” and her vision is “certainly not a strong, integrated Europe,” Schmit said. “For Ms. von der Leyen, however, she is probably a conservative.”

The questions now are whether Scholz and his German Socialists would actually kibosh a second term for fellow German von der Leyen — and who they might have in mind to replace her.

One potential challenger to the incumbent is Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Just last week, Draghi received the backing of one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies, Pascal Canfin, an MEP from the French president’s liberal Renaissance party who is known to have a direct line to the Élysée.

Asked by POLITICO whether France supports von der Leyen’s reelection bid, Canfin said: “France and everyone in the presidential ecosystem would like Draghi to play a role.”

Macron has long been rumored to be maneuvering to put Draghi at the head of the EU executive — and now he appears to have allies in Berlin.

Markus Töns, a German MP from the Social Democrats, told POLITICO’s Brussels Decoded: “Draghi has experience at the European level and knows the current challenges. I would have no problem seeing him in this position — he might even be better than Ursula von der Leyen.”

Ralf Stegner, an influential SPD member of the Bundestag, on Friday said: “If Emmanuel Macron is critical of another term for Ursula von der Leyen, who lacks sufficient clarity regarding alliances with the right-wing bloc, I have every sympathy for him.”

With both Paris and Berlin expressing dissatisfaction with her stance on working with the ECR, von der Leyen’s bid for a second term as Commission chief faces a serious challenge.

While von der Leyen is the EPP’s lead candidate going into the EU election, in theory making her a shoo-in for the post, she will require support from European leaders like Scholz, Macron and Meloni to secure it.

The electoral arithmetic is difficult as she will need 361 votes in an approval vote in the European Parliament, and the EPP is on course only for some 176 seats. The Socialists and Democrats are expected to win 144 and von der Leyen’s prospects will be in severe trouble if the center-left MEPs do not support her.

If they do decide to forgo EPP lead candidate von der Leyen in favor of a curveball, it wouldn’t be the first time: That was precisely the way von der Leyen herself got the job after the 2019 EU election, installed after leaders shunned the EPP’s Manfred Weber.

Macron is currently in Germany for the first state visit with full ceremonial honors by a French president in 24 years. Macron will meet Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

It’s hard to believe there won’t be any mention of the electoral mathematics — and of Meloni and Draghi.

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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute



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Airstrikes are unlikely to deter the Houthis

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

TEL AVIV — In a preemptive bid to warn off Iran and its proxies in the wake of Hamas’ October attacks on southern Israel, United States President Joe Biden had succinctly said: “Don’t.” But his clipped admonition continues to fall on deaf ears.

As Shakespeare’s rueful King Claudius notes, “when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” And while exasperated Western powers now try to halt escalation in the Middle East, it is the Iran-directed battalions that are bringing them sorrows.

Raising the stakes at every turn, Tehran is carefully calibrating the aggression of its partners — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in the Red Sea —ratcheting up to save Hamas from being destroyed by a vengeful Israel. And out of all this needling, it is the Houthis’ more then two dozen attacks in the Red Sea that crossed the line for Western powers — enough to goad the U.S. and the United Kingdom into switching from a defensive posture to launching strikes on dozens of Houthi targets.

As far as Washington and London are concerned, Western retaliation is meant to give teeth to Biden’s October warning, conveying a clear message to Iran: Stop. But why would it?

Privately, the U.S. has reinforced its warning through diplomatic channels. And U.K. Defense Minister Grant Shapps underscored the message publicly, saying the West is “running out of patience,” and the Iranian regime must tell the Houthis and its regional proxies to “cease and desist.”

Nonetheless, it’s highly questionable whether Tehran will heed this advice. There’s nothing in the regime’s DNA to suggest it would back off. Plus, there would be no pain for Iran at the end of it all — the Houthis would be on the receiving end. In fact, Iran has every reason to persist, as it can’t afford to leave Hamas in the lurch. To do so would undermine the confidence of other Iran-backed groups, weakening its disruptive clout in the region.

Also, from Iran’s perspective, its needling strategy of fatiguing and frightening Western powers with the prospect of escalation is working. The specter of a broadening war in the Middle East is terrifying for Washington and European governments, which are beset by other problems. Better for them to press Israel to halt its military campaign in Gaza and preserve the power of Hamas — that’s what Tehran is trying to engineer.

And Iranian mullahs have every reason to think this wager will pay off. Ukraine is becoming a cautionary tale; Western resolve seems to be waning; and the U.S. Congress is mired in partisan squabbling, delaying a crucial aid package for Ukraine — one the Europeans won’t be able to make good on.

So, whose patience will run out first — the West or Iran and its proxies?

Wearing down the Houthis would be no mean feat for the U.S. and the U.K. In 2015, after the resilient Houthis had seized the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Saudi Arabia thought it could quickly dislodge them with a bombing campaign in northern Yemen. But nearly a decade on, Riyadh is trying to extricate itself, ready to walk away if the Houthis just leave them alone.

The United Arab Emirates was more successful in the country’s south, putting boots on the ground and training local militias in places where the Houthis were already unpopular. But the U.S. and the U.K. aren’t proposing to follow the UAE model — they’ll be following the Saudi one, albeit with the much more limited goal of getting the Houthis to stop harassing commercial traffic in the Red Sea.

Moreover, Western faith in the efficacy of bombing campaigns — especially fitful ones — has proven misplaced before. Bombing campaigns failed to bring Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to heel on their own. And Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and Syria have shrugged off Western airstrikes, seeing them as badges of honor — much like the Houthis, who, ironically, were removed from the U.S. terror list by Biden in 2021. They seem to be relishing their moment in the big leagues.

War-tested, battle-hardened and agile, the Houthis are well-equipped thanks to Iran, and they can expect military replenishment from Tehran. They also have a firm grip on their territory. Like Hamas, the Houthis aren’t bothered by the death and destruction they may bring down on their people, making them particularly difficult to cajole into anything. And if the U.S. is to force the pace, it may well be dragged in deeper, as the only way to stop Iran replenishing the Houthis would be to mount a naval blockade of Yemen.

Few seasoned analysts think the Houthis will cave easily. Tom Sharpe, a former Royal Navy captain and specialist anti-air warfare officer, said he’d suggest “just walk[ing] away.”

“Make going round the Cape the new normal,” he wrote last week, albeit acknowledging he’d expect his advice to be overruled due to the global economic implications. But degrading the Houthis enough to make the Red Sea safe again, he noted, would be “difficult to do without risking a wider regional conflict in which the U.S., U.K. and friends would be seen as fighting on the Israeli side.”

And that is half the problem. Now ensnared in the raging conflict, in the eyes of many in the region, Western powers are seen as enabling the death and destruction being visited on Gaza. And as the civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave mounts, Israel’s Western supporters are increasingly being criticized for not doing enough to restrain the country, which is determined to ensure Hamas can never repeat what it did on October 7.

Admittedly, Israel is combating a merciless foe that is heedless of the Gazan deaths caused by its actions. The more Palestinians killed, the greater the international outrage Hamas can foment, presenting itself as victim rather than aggressor. But Israel has arguably fallen into Hamas’ trap, with the mounting deaths and burgeoning humanitarian crisis now impacting opinion in the region and more widely.

A recent poll conducted for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 96 percent of the broader Arab world believe Arab nations should now sever ties with Israel. And in Britain, Foreign Secretary David Cameron told a parliamentary panel he feared Israel has “taken action that might be in breach of international law.”

Meanwhile, in addition to issuing warnings to Iran, Hezbollah, and others in the Axis of Resistance to stay out of it, Biden has also cautioned Israeli leaders about wrath — urging the Israeli war Cabinet not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

However, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 75 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country should ignore U.S. demands to shift to a phase of war with reduced heavy bombing in populous areas, and 57 percent support opening a second front in the north and taking the fight to Hezbollah. Additionally, Gallup has found Israelis have lost faith in a two-state solution, with 65 percent of Jewish Israelis opposing an independent Palestinian state.

So, it looks as though Israel is in no mood to relent — and doesn’t believe it can afford to.



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Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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Ukraine needs a government of national unity

Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and the author of the forthcoming book, “Battleground Ukraine: From Independence to the War with Russia” (Yale University Press).

In recent weeks, discourse about the war with Russia has turned deeply pessimistic in Ukraine.

A difficult Ukrainian counter-offensive, with lesser results than anticipated, has fueled deeply dark discussions about a deadlocked and bloody long-term war with Russia. Meanwhile, analysts and politicians have started to snipe at Ukraine’s military and political leaders, blaming them for the war effort’s failure and even speculating about defeat.

Further feeding this atmosphere of pessimism is evidence of tension between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s military command, as well as delays in military aid from the United States. And these pressures now need to be addressed.

Clearly, the period of euphoria propelled by major Ukrainian military victories and territorial advances is over. So, too, is the period of grandiose promises by Ukrainian officials.

Last winter, an official spokesman for the president had proclaimed he expected to spend the next summer in Crimea. No less extravagant a promise was echoed by the head of military intelligence, who predicted Crimea would be liberated within six months, bringing official promises of a major spring counter-offensive with significant territorial gains along with it.

Early battlefield success also contributed to near universal approval for Zelenskyy among Ukrainians. Despite slow Russian advances in the Donbas and scant Ukrainian victories later on, happy talk on the state-dominated TV “marathon” — joint programming produced by the bulk of the country’s main television networks — continued to promote frontline success, helping Zelenskyy maintain his popularity.

All this changed, however, when Ukraine’s 2023 counter-offensive stalled. The massive loss of fighters amid meagre gains and a slow-moving positional war eroded public trust in the president and his team for the first time since the war began.

A subsequent mid-November poll gave Zelenskyy a trust rating of only net 32 percent plus — meaning two-thirds of Ukrainians trusted the president, while a third now did not. This was a steep decline from polls earlier in the year, and far below the trust ratings of the armed forces and their commander, General Valery Zaluzhny.

A later poll conducted for the President’s Office and leaked to the Ukrainska Pravda news site showed Zelenskyy was neck and neck with Zaluzhny in a hypothetical race for president. Moreover, Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party — which currently holds over two-thirds of the seats in parliament — would see its presence shrink dramatically if elections were held today.

And as Zelenskyy’s support weakens, Ukraine now faces a number of challenges and difficult decisions. These include a deadlock on the front, a rapidly depleting supply of munitions, some erosion of support from Europe, and an impasse in the U.S. Congress over a bill to provide for the military needs of both Ukraine and Israel. His star power notwithstanding, Zelenskyy faces new difficulties in maintaining high levels of military and financial support for Ukraine both in North America and in Europe.

Additionally, the ranks of Ukraine’s armed forces — initially populated by experienced military professionals with combat experience and highly motivated volunteers — have suffered mass casualties during these brutal two years of war. Аs a result, military recruiters — now called “people snatchers” — are scouring cities and villages in search of males aged 18 to 60 for military service. Sometimes, these recruiters are not merely using coercive tactics against draft dodgers but detaining and pressuring those not called or exempt from service into signing on. And such tactics are contributing to justifiable public anger toward the authorities

In addition to such unpopular tactics, Zelenskyy will soon likely need to need to dramatically widen the national military mobilization and shift social spending toward military expenditures, if only to hedge against any decline in, or interruption of, financing from key allies. Both moves will be highly unpopular.

All this doesn’t mean Russia will prevail. Indeed, Ukraine has basically fought Russia to a standstill. Taking minor territorial losses in the Donbas, while gaining modest territory in the south and forcing Russia’s navy to the eastern reaches of the Black Sea, it has effectively restored freedom of navigation for commercial vessels in the sea’s west.

Zelenskyy has also been a courageous and successful wartime leader. But much of this was dependent on steadfast public support. Near-universal domestic approval gave him political carte blanche to shape policy and strategy. But while Ukrainians remain united in their aim of defending the country, unqualified support for Zelenskyy and his policies is declining. And the embattled democracy is subsequently witnessing a revival in national politics.

Zelenskyy’s team itself has contributed to this politicization. After Zaluzhny soberly spoke about the difficulties of Ukraine’s war effort, while providing a road map that could ensure victory, his public comments were shot down by officials from the President’s Office.

In early November, Zelenskyy’s foreign policy advisor Ihor Zhovkva went on national television to assert that Zaluzhny’s statement “eases the work of the aggressor” by stirring “panic,” adding there should be no public discussion of the situation at the front. Zelenskyy himself then chided the general in an interview, warning the military not to engage in politics.

Deputy Head of the Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Maryana Bezuhla piled on, alleging Zaluzhny had ignored U.S. General Mark Milley’s recommendations to mine Ukraine’s border with Russian occupied Crimea back in 2021 — an act of negligence, she implied, that cost Ukraine large swaths of territory in the south. However, Zelenskyy is unlikely to seek Zaluzhny’s dismissal, as it would instantly launch the soldier on a political career.

And that’s not all. On the heels of this kerfuffle, Zelenskyy’s allies in parliament then blocked a visit to Poland and the U.S. by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The ostensible reason behind this was a report from Ukraine’s security service suggesting Poroshenko’s trip would be exploited by Russian propaganda. Of particular concern was a planned meeting between Poroshenko and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The idea that a seasoned leader like Poroshenko, whose tenure as president earned Western praise for his diplomatic skills, could be manipulated is, on the face of it, preposterous. And it later turned out that Zelenskyy himself would be meeting Orbán and didn’t want to be preempted.

These clear fractures need to be dealt with now.

Furthermore, as importantly, as domestic support erodes, Zelenskyy’s term in office is due to formally expire in May 2024, while the parliament’s four-year term expired in October. New elections are well-nigh impossible with millions of voters outside the country, a million engaged at the front and millions more internally displaced or under Russian occupation. Elections amid bloody combat and constant missiles and drone attacks on urban centers are unlikely, and would require both legislative and constitutional changes.

This issue of expiring mandates would be moot were the ratings of Zelenskyy and his party unassailable, but polls show a creeping disenchantment with both.

In this context, the time is ripe for Ukraine’s president to consider establishing a broad-based government of national unity. Opening the government to opposition and civil society leaders in this way would instantly provide legitimacy to the leadership team, reduce opposition criticism and widen the circle of voices that have the president’s ear.

There are compelling precedents for such a step too. For example, as World War II began, Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood Britain faced an existential threat that required sustaining national unity and created a broad-based coalition government. Churchill installed his main rival — Labour leader Clement Attlee — as deputy prime minister, and added Labour’s Ernest Bevin, a former trade union leader, to the national unity cabinet.

Similarly, this practice was followed most recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered opposition party leaders a place in a unity government after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attacks. The proposal was accepted by centrist Benny Gantz.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Zelenskyy has relied on an exceedingly narrow circle of trusted advisors. But while he meets with his top military command, intelligence officials, visiting Western leaders and the media, he has largely shut himself off from civic leaders, political critics and rivals — including some with important foreign policy, national security and economic experience.

Their inclusion in leadership posts would offer Zelenskyy additional input on policy options, allow for discussions of alternative tactics and contribute to new approaches when it comes to external relations. With national unity showing signs of fraying, a government that includes the opposition would truly give it a boost.

The only questions are whether Zelenskyy is flexible enough to overcome his contempt for most opposition leaders, and change his style of governing from highly centralized decision-making to more broad-based consensus-building.



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The right to breathe: how policymakers can tackle severe asthma

Asthma impacts over 330 million people worldwide. While severe asthma makes up only 5-10 percent of cases, it is accountable for over half of asthma-related costs globally.[1] It profoundly affects patients’ lives, undermining their physical, mental and economic well-being, and increasing the risk of preventable deaths. Despite its significance, severe asthma is often overshadowed by other health priorities, leading to inadequate resource allocation and substandard care, further straining already pressured health systems.

Severe asthma outcomes, like many other chronic diseases, are deeply entangled with a wide range of environmental and socio-economic factors. Therefore, addressing it is not merely about medical intervention, but about creating and implementing comprehensive, holistic strategies.

The challenges presented by severe asthma are not beyond our capabilities. Around the globe, there is a wide range of best practices, treatments, and approaches to asthma management. Yet, the path to transformation demands a unified commitment from a broad set of stakeholders, from policymakers to medical professionals, industry, patients and beyond. While the blueprint for a future unburdened by severe asthma exists, it is up to decision-makers to realize it together.

While the blueprint for a future unburdened by severe asthma exists, it is up to decision-makers to realize it together.

And the good news is that progress is already underway. Since autumn 2022, we have collaborated as an international expert group to support the development of the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies’ (CIFS) Severe Asthma Index. This tool assesses how 29 OECD countries manage severe asthma across various indicators, such as national strategies, treatment access, hospitalizations, societal costs and air quality, among others.

While the Severe Asthma Index is an important stride in tackling severe asthma, the true test lies in how its insights are applied in practice. Among the many actions needed to be taken to improve severe asthma care, the most pressing concern is policy change.

We have identified three actions, derived from the work we have conducted to date, for policymakers to kickstart strengthening health systems’ approaches to and management of severe asthma:

  1. Development and implementation of national asthma plans and strategies

The Severe Asthma Index has found that less than half of the countries analyzed have a national strategy for asthma, prevention, and management. There is, therefore, a need to formulate and actively implement dedicated national asthma programs, tailored to the unique challenges of individual health systems. These programs should not only emphasize prevention, early detection and diagnosis but also adapt best practices to specific national and local contexts.

Importantly, plans should be situated in the context of long-term strategies for improving population health outcomes.

“In England, work around respiratory illness is gaining traction,” notes Sir David Behan, chair of Health Education England, NHS, and expert group member. “Part of the initiative being developed [is] to ease pressure on the emergency care pathways and hospitals.”  

All approaches should promote awareness on respiratory diseases, support personalized care plans, empower patients and improve training and opportunities for training health care professionals working in respiratory care.

2. Coordination and harmonization of policies and care guidelines

There is a patchwork of country approaches to severe asthma, illustrated by the observation that more than two-thirds of the country guidelines assessed in the Severe Asthma Index do not fully align with the Global Initiative for Asthma’s (GINA) guide for Difficult-to-treat and Severe Asthma in Adolescence And Adult Patients. Policymakers must strive to coordinate their approaches to severe asthma by harmonizing policies and guidelines for asthma care to the greatest possible extent, with the aim of reducing outcome disparities, bolstering equity and promoting health system sustainability.

In doing so, there should be an emphasis on identifying and scaling best practices, promoting cross-border collaboration, and championing holistic solutions informed by the widely-acclaimed Health in All Policies approach.

The Australian National Asthma Council’s Australian Asthma Handbook is a strong example of a best practice in this area that policymakers could draw inspiration from in acting on this point.

3. Supporting improved data collection and the development of a more robust evidence base for severe asthma

Policymakers should incentivize and ultimately mandate improved production, recording and utilization of asthma- and severe asthma-specific data, as well as identifier data such as prescription data, adherence to treatment regimes, lung function analysis and demographic and socioeconomic indicators, following a set of common standards.

Currently, despite the existence of clinical codes for severe asthma, the condition remains significantly underreported in clinical settings due in large part to inconsistent coding practices, leading to an increased probability of patients receiving inadequate care and suboptimal allocation of health system resources. The dearth of severe asthma data and barriers to accessing the few datasets that do exist render it difficult to develop a comprehensive and consistent understanding of the full impact of severe asthma.

National policymakers need to prioritize financial and logistical support for country-level asthma research. Research activities should aim to produce a solid evidence base that will offer a nuanced understanding of each country’s needs, challenges and opportunities regarding asthma care. Support for research activities granted over the long term will enable longitudinal studies so that national trends and progress can be accurately tracked.

Only 3 percent of the European Union’s budget for health [is] spent on lung health, although 13 percent of Europeans have lung disease.

“Only 3 percent of the European Union’s budget for health [is] spent on lung health, although 13 percent of Europeans have lung disease,” says Susanna Palkonen, director of the European Federation of Allergy & Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) and expert group member.

The International Severe Asthma Registry (ISAR) initiative provides a strong basis for continued work in this area.

The path ahead requires that these actions evolve in tandem with the latest advancements in respiratory care and approaches to the management and prevention of noncommunicable diseases. This is not simply about updating and developing new policies — it’s about crafting robust and well-rounded solutions that proactively address a health challenge that is both global and local and supporting a much-needed vision for improved respiratory health outcomes.

As we look forward, we cannot just treat asthma. We must transform our approach to ensure that every patient’s right to breathe becomes a global reality.


Author(s):
Patrick Henry Gallen, senior advisor and futurist at Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

Bogi Eliasen, director of health at Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies

Professor Dr. Vibeke Backer, MD, DMSci, chief respiratory physician at Department of ENT and Centre for Physical Activity Research (CFAS), Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark

Sir David Behan, chair Health Education England, National Health System (NHS), U.K.​

Dr. Mark Levy, board member, Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), U.K.​

Mikaela Odemyr, chair European Lung Foundation (ELF) Patient Advisory Committee; chair Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association, Sweden

Susanna Palkonen, director, European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA)  

Professor Dr. Arzu Yorgancıoğlu, chair European Respiratory Society (ERS) Advocacy Council; member of Global Initiative on Asthma (GINA) Board; chair of GINA Dissemination and Implementation Committee; chair of the WHO GARD Executive Committee Turkey 


References:
[1] Al Efraij K, FitzGerald JM. Current and emerging treatments for severe asthma. J Thorac Dis 2015;7(11):E522-E525



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Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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