It’s the 37th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a Davos-infused reflection on all things globalisation, technology and inequality.
Every year the world’s political and economic elite gather at an otherwise unnoticeable ski resort in the heart of Switzerland. The occasion is one for reckoning, reflection on the economic trends of the past year and large-scale conversations of the future of the global economy. It is equally hated by conservative nationalists as it is adored by so-called progressive internationalists’..much like the EU. But in all the conversation of a fourth industrial revolution, AI, education and climate change, one word is missing from discourse but is omnipresent in the thinking… neoliberalism. Admittedly anoverused yet misunderstood concept, neoliberalism is the underlying ideology behind globalism in all its forms and the EU is its biggest success story’ Fusing trade-barrier-free globalisation with social progressivism, the EU seems to have found the secret sauce…an end of history almost. But the popular backlash against transnational companies, governments and institutions since the global financial crisis requires a once in a generation tectonic shift in thinking towards another internationalist mindset. One that will be able to tackle the inequalities produced by neoliberalism but at the same time build a new model that will make the existing one obsolete. Neoliberalism is dead, enter the era of doughnut economics? 🍩
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The Brussels Brief Team 👨👩👦 ✌️ 🇪🇺
- Christine Lagarde
IMF Managing Director calling for caution among the Davos elite amidst an uptake in the world economy.
🔝 FRONT PAGE — Top News This Week
Snowstorm of globalization. All the stars come out to play. The global forum meant to fix the world (until next year) runs until Friday and has already heard from inspiring global business luminaries such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma on education, Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Artificial intelligence and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on fake news. But everyone was really there to hear about how well the EU and Europe is doing. Cue the politicians to play politics. In light of the imminent arrival of Trump to Davos today with his ‘America First’ agenda, European leaders have been waxing lyrical on the importance of free trade and global cooperation. Enter Mutti Angela who started off strong decried right-wing populism as ‘’under control but it is a poison’. Cousin Manu preferred to go the comedic route by letting loose a few jokes about Trump whilst going deep on the inequality that affects Europe and much of the world. Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni went for a more vanilla warning against protectionism urging Europe to ‘play its own game’ when it came to free trade and filling in the gaps left by Trump. All the while a much more interesting debate was held on how to rejuvenate European democracy. The only one that was missing is JCJ who had to pull out from his first Davos appearance in twenty years due to stomach flu (after having met Silvio Berlusconi this week. Some things aren’t meant to be, but Davos itself under threat of its own malaise as more question the role of the Forum to take on any meaningful change in light of accelerating global change. [World Economic Forum, Euractiv, ABC News, Deutsche Welle, Business Insider, Bloomberg, New Europe, Eutrotopics]
Foreign policy carrousel. EU in the world is usually an underreported phenomenon. High Representative Federica arguably clocks more activity and air miles than any other politician in the EU. This week she hosted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels and restated the EU’s commitment to atwo-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Moving to Latin America, the EU added to its arms embargo on Venezuela by issuing sanctions on senior officials of the Maduro regime. Moving across the Pacific, a Swedish bookseller who was detained by Chinese authorities for allegedly publishing books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist party leaders in Hong Kong prompted the EU ambassador to China to call for his release. Meanwhile, the EU-Philippines invited the country’s president, and serial EU critic, Rodrigo Duterte to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels in October. Going west to Africa, the EU will assume the rotating chairmanship of the Kimberly Process, the global platform against blood diamonds. Finally, Zimbabwe, who recently deposed its long-time leader Robert Mugabe, is reaping the rewards of current president Emmerson Mnangagwa after an appearance in Davos andwelcome words from the EU on economic reforms. [Reuters, Voice of America, South China Morning Post, Rappler, Mining.com, Fin24]
💸 ITS THE ECONOMY, STUPID — Top Economic, Trade and Innovation News
997 million good reasons to use Android. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager started off 2018 where she left 2017, by slapping a €997 million fine on Qualcomm. The bluechip computer chip producer was targeted for anti-competitive deals with Apple. Ms Vestager, although claiming she would like to continue her current job she has been hinting of a possible run for Commission president next year (and Cousin Manu hashinted his support previously). Macron could use a reform-minded Vestager leading the Commission and is already pushing for Eurozone reform by June this year. He is looking to make deep changes to the EU budget as the UK will leave a Brexit-sized hole in the EU budget, even going so far as to grab thethird rail of EU politics: proposing changes to the way agriculture is subsidised. [Business Insider, Politico Europe, Reuters]
Go green or go home. On Wednesday MEPs voted overwhelmingly, 485–132, in favour of raising the target for renewable energy consumption to 35% by 2020, a necessity according to rapporteur Jose Blanco Lopez (S&D). The new target, up from the current 27% legally binding demand, is met withopposition by Poland which gets a large part of its energy from coal and will now be negotiated with member states in the Council. The Eastern European countries, many of whom have been reluctant to adopt targets for renewable energy consumption, citing high costs, are doing rather well these days withhigh growth rates and increasing wages. In a separate vote MEPs also required that 90% of fuel stations install charging points for electric cars by 2022 so look out for more Teslas in the coming years. [Clean Technica, Economic Times, Politico Europe]
Bonus: an I-KEAn-do mentality. Sweden is home to more than just home decor shops. The socialist paradise has become the only start-up destination in Europe comparable to Silicon Valley and home to companies like Skype and Spotify. Maybe the Swedes still have a few things to teach the rest of Europe. [World Economic Forum]
🇬🇧 STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION — Brexit Stories
Frexit and empty seats. The Brexit week started off with a soundbite bang when overeager Brexit publications picked up on Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that France would have probably voted to leave the EU. The remarks came in a TV interview after the French President’s rendezvous with UK PM Theresa May. However, the bread and butter of the interview centred around the access to the Single Market, where Cousin Manu softened somewhat the possibilities for the UK to access certain parts of the market. Check it out for yourself to see the subtle signals and profound insights. (video) and make up your own mind. Meanwhile, Thersa May’s de facto deputy gave the UK a reason to come back to the EU (in twenty years) by declaring that Brexit would signal ‘radical changes’ for the EU as result of Brexit which would make it attractive enough to rejoin. On the other side of the Channel, MEPs voted to keep 27 of the 73 seats set to be left by the UK in the European Parliament to spread amongst the EU 27. The remaining 46 seats will be left empty to cater for new member states. [Daily Mail, Bloomberg, BBC News, Politico Europe, EUobserver]
🏢 BRUXELLES MA BELLE — News about the city
Grand scandal. Adjacent to one of Brussels’ most renowned landmarks, Grand Place, lies a neighbourhood that exploits prostitution and fuels human trafficking. Among other nationalities, Nigerian prostitutes number in the hundreds and many are lured into a reality of sexual abuse. Many come from poor backgrounds and their families are often convinced the young girls will be educated and will be offered decent employment opportunities should they separate from their families. The young women are then brainwashed to believe that the lives of their families also depend on them, and should they be unable to repay the debt (ranging anywhere between 40,000 and 70,000 euros), their loved ones are threatened with violence. To make things worse a growing number of these victims are underage, which makes them all the more prone to manipulation. [Euronews]
Bonus: Prince of darkness. December 2017 was recorded as the darkest month in Belgian history since 1887. The weather station in Brussels recorded10 hours and 31 minutes of sunshine throughout the last 31 days of the year. Surprise surprise though, January is looking like a bright start to 2018: the days are already growing significantly longer reminding us all that it can’t be dark forever! [Expatica]
✂️ EXTRA — From The Cutting Room Floor
EU-centric journalism. European journalism and storytelling has been facing a perennial challenge of linguistic diversity and closed off media spheres. Trying to overcome this is ‘The European Data Journalism Network’ which seeks to pool information, data and spread stories through translation in order to create Europe-wide stories. Participating journalists can get access to wide data sets to help reach into the European angle of issues such as the rise of right-wing extremism or the decline of social democracy and reach a broader audience by having their articles translated and distributed through a pan-European network of collaborating organisations. It remains to be seen if this new way of doing journalism has a future, and whether a business model exists beyond the initial EU grant. [Nieman Lab]
Appreci-hate. While journalists are trying to get the word out, social media companies are trying to keep tongue-in-cheek, or rather, hate speech in check. Instagram follows Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as the newest social media company to join the EU’s Code of Conduct created to countering illegal hate speech amidst growing concern that groups like ISIS use social media as an effective recruitment tool. The code, which is voluntary, requires the signatories to remove content within 24 hours of notice with the media companies having reached 70% removal rate in 2017, up from 28% in 2016, according to Justice and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova. At the same time, Facebook is hiring 3500 staff to deal with online hate speech and is opening 3 new centres to teach online literacy, no doubt getting into the Commission’s good graces and avoid being unfriended. [phys.org, Reuters]
💡 OPINION — Top minds muse on the European project
In May 2018, a new EU budget will be presented for a post-2020 era. And as many think about what the key points may be, John Hewko provides a rundown of millennial priorities highlighted by a recentsurvey. The under-30 generation represents a third of the EU’s total population and if there is one thing they can agree on it’s that climate change and conflict are at the top of the world’s most critical issues. While a “startup ecosystem and entrepreneurship” are thought to be at the core of youth employment and opportunity, 61.9% respondents admitted they did not feel considered prior to “important decisions being made.” Hewko claims that at a time when extremist organisations and forces are growing in momentum, it may be best to give millennials a greater voice, creating room for their impact in European society. [Euractiv]
Bad good censorship. For William Echikson, the sharing and spreading of fake information is nothing out of the norm. In fact, the phenomenon of “fake news” has existed since the beginning of time and traditional media outlets are as to be blamed as social media ones. After all, Echikson argues, state propaganda has in the past made its way across platforms influencing entire populations, such was the case of Nazi Germany. Threatening to take legal action or fining media outlets that cannot take down incorrect content may not be the way to go. [Euractiv]
🎧 PRESS PLAY — Media Corner
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Davoverdose. The people in Politico Europe have been braving walls of snow in order to bring you with a weeklong series of their EU Confidential podcast in Davos. Check them all out here. [Politico Europe]
🎥 Video(s) of the Week. It’s official. Leaving the EU and a club of 27 friends has left the UK kinda lonely. As part of her cabinet reshuffle, PM Theresa May has appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Jokes aside, loneliness is a real concern and could pose health threats as serious as smoking. [Late Show with Steven Colbert, Harvard Business Review]
✏️ Cartoon(s) of the Week. One Year of Trump, Angela and Refugee Crisis,[Cagle.com]
📺 GIF of the Week.
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