About Žiga Turk

Author Website: http://www.zturk.com/
Author Bio:

Articles by Žiga Turk

Slovenia tries again

Posted by Žiga Turk on 14/10/14

Some Europeans are deeply respectful of European institutions and serious about the jobs of the persons that lead it. It is a valuable project that brought peace, prosperity and democracy to the continent. It deserves full support. On the other hand, the Slovenian center-left was cheering to the song that refrains “Europe is a gang of thieves”. Somewhere in between these two understandings is the second nomination for the member of the European Commission from Slovenia.

Not serious

Ms. Bulc has had a political job for a few weeks only. She has zero political experience. She has never been involved in policy-making. However, Slovenia is a country of political opportunity. For some. After a poor performance of the center-left government of MS. Bratušek, the voters this summer did not give a chance to the opposition. Instead they awarded Mr. Cerar, a center-left “non-politician”, with a landslide victory. The current prime minister was never leading anything bigger than a chair at a University. He set up his party a few weeks before the elections. He now leads the country. The uneven political playing field in Slovenia makes this possible.

Why, then, could not an absolute beginner lead a portfolio in the European Commission? The decision to nominate Ms. Bulc could be interpreted as an indicator of a shallow talent base of the Cerar’s party and a result of poor understanding of the seriousness of the European project. Which I believe is the case.

However, it could also be interpreted as a sign of contempt and disrespect: as if being a Commissioner is a job that does not require any experience. As if just about anyone who did some public speaking could do it.

It is worth remembering that in August, when his opinion did not matter much, Mr. Cerar said he was supporting Mr. Potocnik; then Ms. Fajon and Mr. Erjavec. Now that his opinion matters, he pushes his party loyal Ms. Bulc through the process. Though even in the government there were 7 votes against her, 6 in favor and 2 abstained. But technically not a majority against.

Mr. Cerar won the national elections on the ticket of morality and ethics. He is becoming a politician fast. Sadly Ms. Romana Jordan, two time MEP, PhD in nuclear physics and a respected member of ITRE was never seriously considered in Slovenia though she could excel in an energy, industry or science related portfolio.

The sacred feminine

The second controversy that is accompanying Ms. Bulc’s nomination is her track record in the occult, in shamanism, in walking on fire, whispering to horses, annulling the second law of thermodynamics. The list of readings and links on her website is long and mind-boggling.

If she is appointed a European Commissioner she could inspire the next Dan Brown’s novel. On how the sacred feminine energy, symbolized by the Zeus’s mistress Europa is returning to the center stage of Europe. Yes, the novel would take place in Brussels, not Vatican, Florence and Istanbul. Perhaps there are some some underground corridors between Justus Lipsius and Barleymont for Prof. Langdon to navigate.

On a more serious note, I actually think Ms. Bulc’s appointment (a few weeks ago) into the Slovenian government – to a position similar to mine in 2007-2008 – was not a bad idea. At a non-portfolio post she could not do much damage but could bring some out of the box thinking to the government table. Which can be valuable.

The way I understand Ms. Bulc’s consulting, it is about making businesses more creative and innovative. Without going too deep into the theory and psychology of creativity, being creative means finding a solution, which as outside of the set of obvious solutions that a mind limited with rationality could come across. The mumbo-jumbo that she preaches could be a way to “overload” the rational brain and, with the shields of common sense and reason weakened, allow for “out of the box” ideas to emerge – in business, design, anywhere.

I do not know if she really believes in the unscientific quackery that she lectures about or is just selling that snake oil to (naïve) business customers to help them be more innovative and creative. If it is the second, Brussels could certainly use an occasional departure from the politically correct but often void phrases that dominate the bubble.

She will make it

The problem is the thin line between the irrational and the creative. If she can persuade Mr. Juncker and the MEPs that she can walk it, she will do just fine at the hearings. After all, it would be disrespectful and un-European to dismiss a second Slovenian in a row.

There might even be sympathy for her beliefs in the parliament. In the West the appreciation of shamanism, African cults, conversations with horses etc. is regarded open, tolerant and multicultural. She would be in much greater trouble had her blogs be about the visions of Archangel Gabriel instead of pseudo-scientific equations; and conversations with Virgin Mary instead of with the spirits of horses.

Commissioners were dismissed for less. In the European Parliament it is more dangerous to be a strict catholic (such as Mr. Buttiglione) than a shaman. It is worth noting that we are speaking about European and not African Union.

Personally I am sorry that Slovenia was unable to look beyond petty party interests in the nomination of its Commission candidates. Ms. Bulc is not the best choice but has broad horizons, is intelligent and will hopefully learn fast.

The lesson

What Europe should learn from the saga with the Commission member from Slovenia (and a few others) is, that the Commission construction process is dysfunctional. The president of the Commission should simply have more to say on who he/she wants on his team. Parliamentary rejection also should not be such an exception. After all, the success or failure of the Commission is not the responsibility of the member states. It is the responsibility of president of the Commission and, to some extent, of the Parliament. Powers, formal and grabbed, should be compatible with that.

Slovenia: State of Denial

Posted by Žiga Turk on 14/07/14

The landslide winner of snap elections in Slovenia is the “Party of Miro Cerar” that six weeks before the elections did not even exist. Its members and candidates are rather unknown, its policies are unclear. It is named and lead by a law professor and legal consultant with zero track record in executive politics. Strongest opposition party SDS with its leader jailed after an unfair trial just three weeks before the elections came in second. Half of the parliament belongs to two brand new political parties.

The results are a culmination of economic, financial, social and political crisis in Slovenia and, one can always hope, a step towards its resolution.

From poster child …

Slovenia was a poster child of the former communist countries. It achieved independence almost without violence that tragically marked the breakup of Yugoslavia. Even before 1989 it had open borders, elements of market economy and substantial exports to the West.

Its independence was a success story. It joined the EU and NATO in 2004, adopted the Euro in 2007 and was the first of the new member states to hold the rotating presidency of the European Council in first half of 2008. It entered the economic crisis with low unemployment, a budget surplus and one of the lowest public debts in the EU. Since independence it has been catching up economically. In 2008 it reached 92% of the EU average in terms of GDP per capita.

… to sick man of Central Europe

Since the beginning of the crisis in late 2008 everything went sour. Neither the economic nor the political system was able to handle it.

The crisis exposed the lack of reforms that Slovenia failed not make since independence that would complete the transition towards market economy and rule of law. Because of open borders and a softer version of socialism Slovenes were led to believe that not much needs to change after democratization – except to have more than one political party and to hold elections every few years.

Slovenia failed to make an overhaul of the institutions and of the economic systems that enabled some other former socialist countries with much worse starting positions to develop faster. As a result, Slovakia is buzzing with foreign investments, Prague is a cosmopolitan metropolis, Poland avoided recession altogether and is living its historic golden age, the Baltic states grabbed with both hands the opportunity to be independent after a long occupation and Estonia, for example, is now the E-capital of Europe.

Slovenia, now one of the worst performers in the EU, remembers with nostalgia the 1970s and 80s when it was the richest and most democratic part of Yugoslavia and the entire Eastern Europe, and the 1990s when bright European future was ahead of it.

Buying time with borrowed money

During the last six years Slovenia had three different governments, center right for a bit over a year, center left otherwise. It was holding two elections that, due to a complicated political system, bring the government activities to a standstill for almost a year. During the brief interlude of the second Janša government in 2011, efforts to reduce the budget deficit and modest reforms were met with violent protests in the streets and resistance in the left-dominated media.

Except during that brief interlude, Slovenia was buying time and was doing so with borrowed money. Since 2009 the public debt almost tripled, unemployment more than doubled. In 2013 Slovenia was running the highest budget deficit in the EU. The 2014 budget spends more on interest payments than on entire primary education. From 92% of the EU average Slovenia slid back to 85%. The educated youth is leaving the country en masse. Poster child is no more.

State of fear

For a citizen, the years of the crisis were characterized by uncertainty about her economic prospects, jobs instabilities, looming dangers of reductions of salaries or cutting down public services. It was speculated that Slovenia will be forced to look for external help and face a Greek scenario. But actually there was not much of a belt tightening. The public debate reflected this nervousness and sense of powerlessness. It was fierce, everyone against everyone on anything; except the debate on what would matter – about key structural and economic issues.

This is the general context in which the snap elections took place. The existing left wing parties could not expect much support because of a rather poor track record of handling the economy and internal skirmishes. The economic message of center right were sobering but sometimes unpleasant; especially for those on the receiving end of government spending that would need to be reduced to bring the budget deficit at least closer to the Maastricht criteria.

The public debate over the last couple of years was not about economy, jobs and reforms but about corruption, allegedly corrupt politicians, and spiced up with ideological debates about the continuation of the totalitarian regime in a democratic setting.

The most prominent (but not the only) case was the alleged bribery in the purchase of the armored vehicles for which leader of the opposition Mr. Janez Janša was tried and convicted on charges of “accepting a promise of a bribe”. He was sent to jail just three weeks before the elections. That he did not have a fair trial (to say the least) is argued by most Slovenian legal experts regardless of their political affiliation.

This case dominated the discourse of the strongest opposition party SDS. They were pushed it into a corner where the battle was about the legal problem of its leader, about politically motivated judiciary and about ideology. They made little effort to break out of the corner and appeal to moderate less opinionated voters. They came out second but lost a fifth of their seats.

Enters Mr. Cerar

In this heated political atmosphere the Slovenian people chose a person, who ran on a ticket of ethics, who seems to be a nice guy, who was not bringing any bad news, never said anything that one could disagree with and did not take part in the political quarrels of the last years.

Mr. Cerar was not the only one who was calm and moderate. The EPP affiliated Christian Democrats and the People’s Party as well chose constructive, tolerant, moderate language and had a modern pro-European program. And largely failed in these elections. They were not brand new and lacked the enthusiastic support that Mr. Cerar was getting in the left dominated national media.

The voters in Slovenia turned their backs to political quarrels. They chose not to face reality but to look the other way. And there was Mr. Cerar  with a sober face and (according to some media) an aureole of honesty not tainted by a history of political involvement.

The day after

Unfortunately reality is still there. Debt is mounting. Economy will have to open up to foreign investment and privatization, budget will have to be balanced, public services reformed, business environment will have to get more flexible and friendlier to entrepreneurs.

I am sure Mr. Cerar is aware of all this and is well intentioned to address some of these issues. The problem is, however, that in these elections he did not get a mandate to do anything specific. Should he ever push any of his supporters out of her comfort zone, she could rightfully argue this was not what she chose at the elections.

Grand coalition?

Since 2008 I have been advocating grand coalitions. One reason for this is the deep ideological divide that is hampering Slovenia and is rooted in the Communist Revolution during World War 2. A grand coalition could bring a remedy to this. The practical reason is that only right and left combined could move things in Slovenia.

The left, not being a modern social democratic left, is lacking ideas to reform the country. They would like to continue the pre-1989 system with democratic means. They don’t seem to include a reformer like Mr. Schroeder.

The right faces hostility of the informal power structures that remain strong in Slovenia – the trade unions, the media, many academics and the professionals in the civil service. But together, left and right could bring about change.

The elections did not give us the result that could support such a coalition. Indeed the Cerar party and the SDS have the numbers but not the will. Mr. Cerar would not get into a coalition with SDS because he claims that by questioning the Janez Janša’s verdict they are not supporting the rule of law. The SDS would not work with Mr. Cerar, because it is not yet clear what he stands for. The culture of political dealmaking in Slovenia is not very high.

The SDS is also questioning the legitimacy of the entire elections, due to the fact that the leader of the opposition was unjustly jailed just before elections. In fact the elections in Slovenia have hardly ever been fair. Without any right-leaning national media they have always been an uphill struggle for a half of political spectrum.

Failure with a chance

If elections are about establishing trust in politics and government then not much trust was created this Sunday. Mr. Cerar’s voters were not offered a substance to project trust into. SDS voters do not trust the outcome of these elections in general. Half of the population did not go to the polls at all. And the remaining less than a quarter of the electorate voted for minor players catering special interests of farmers, pensioners, public employees and left radicals. And without much trust from the people, a government cannot do much good. Especially in a stormy weather.

On the other hand, elections always offer a chance for a new beginning. Not such a long time ago, Slovenia was a success story. Perhaps it could be again. Mr. Cerar may not have a substance but has the numbers – the seats in the parliament. Now is his task to turn the numbers into substance for the good of the country. He will need support in this, ironically, by those that are not in denial about the state of affairs in Slovenia.

 

Slovenia and the Return of History

Posted by Žiga Turk on 23/06/14

For nearly six years the alleged bribery in the case of procuring Patria armored vehicles from Finland has been the No.1 topic in Slovenian political discourse. It has had a strong impact on elections in 2008, 2011 and 2014, because the accused is Janez Janša, key political figure in Slovenia, leader of (usually) the opposition and former prime minister.

But lacking convincing evidence against him this is no longer the case of alleged bribery. The case is increasingly about the rule of law and democracy in Slovenia.

Known unknowns and known knowns

No, I was not there when they were buying the Patria armored vehicles and do not know what was really going on. Was anyone bribed or were there business-as-usual consultancy fees, markups, margins etc? No, I did not read the 20,000 pages of the Slovenian legal case nor the additional 7000 documents that were used in the procedure in Finland (and where all accused of bribery were acquitted). And no, I was not present at any of the court hearings.

But I did read the indictment, the first and second instance judgments, the opinion of the Slovenian Constitutional Court and the dissenting opinions of its three judges of the Constitutional Court. It is a few hundreds of pages that can be read and which provide a complete information. Not on how they were buying the armored vehicles, but on whether Janez Janša had a fair trial.

And since this was not an ordinary process against an ordinary person but against an uncompromising opponent of the politics that has roots in the former communist organizations, these few hundred pages also shed light to the question whether is there rule of law in Slovenia and if in Slovenia its highest authorities respect the constitution and human rights. Or are the police, prosecution and the courts abused by the dominant political forces to suppress political opponents.

Failed democracy?

Dr. Avbelj, Professor of European Law at the Graduate School of Government and European Studies argues quite convincingly that Slovenia is a failed democracy:

Slovenia has thus become a primer example of a de facto failed constitutional democracy, whereby the orchestrated media (…) refuse to present to the wider public the Patria case for what it really stands for – an apparent abuse and instrumentalization of law, through the actions and omissions of the judiciary, to eliminate particular political opponents and to consolidate political, economic, legal-institutional and finally overall social power in the hands in which it has rested so far (…).

The state of democracy and rule of law is larger than the fate of one individual and his family, larger than the fate of one political party and its leader, larger than the legitimacy of one elections (even though Janez Janša was jailed some three weeks before parliamentary elections and after his party won, hands down, the elections to European parliament).

State of fear?

Those few hundred pages are destroying the confidence in the repressive apparatus and the rule of law. This confidence is the difference between democracy and the rule of terror. Democracy holds society together with trust. The alternative is to hold society together with fear. We do not want to live in this alternative state of fear. We had it before 1989.

Janez Janša is a polarizing political figure in Slovenia because of his uncompromising attitude towards the ideological and economic heirs of the communist regime in all elements of society.

His trial may be an inconvenient nuisance for EU democracies that find it more comfortable to believe that all EU member states are idyllic democracies with fair and unbiased rule of law. But this case is not about Janez Janša. It is about preserving European values – human rights and rule of law – not in Belarus or some other country on the borders of EU – but in a member state in the heart of Europe.

Not only are extreme-right ideas resurrecting in Europe. The democratic processes that swept through Eastern Europe in late 1980s and early 1990s may be in retreat. This is a kind of Europe we hoped was left to the history books.

Echoes of the Past in the Future of Europe

Posted by Žiga Turk on 10/06/14

Lecture at the
Center for Transatlantic Relations at John’s Hopkins University,
Washington DC, May 28th, 2014.
Full version with introduction in PDF.

Some people compare Europe to a bicycle. In order to maintain its balance, a bicycle has to keep moving. And in order to be stable, Europe has to keep moving. At least this is what we are led to believe. No other country or continent so often contemplates is future as Europe.  The Future of Europe is a subject of visions, reflections, and strategies as well as political maneuvering among its institutions.

Civil servants in Brussels can either be occupied with day-to-day execution of policies, deepening the common market, distributing structural funds, passing directives, regulating anything from vegetable sizes to Google … or with a grander task of building “an ever closer Union”.

Trumping peace, prosperity and democracy

It is not easy to find a sequel to the success the Union had – with bringing peace, prosperity and democracy to the continent. But creating a United States of Europe is such a task. So is saving the planet from climate change, and Brussels is always interested in taking the lead there.

The 21st century started successfully. In 2005 most of the Eastern European countries became members. The Iron Curtain fell already in 1989, the continent looked united again. Soon after its introduction, the common currency, the euro, seemed like a success. The Union was searching for a next grand project, the next narrative.

This was the atmosphere in Brussels in 2008 when the European Council set up the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe. It was led by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and included the legendary Polish freedom fighter Lech Walesa, former EU commissioner and future Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, several academics, and other former heads of states. I had the privilege to be the secretary general of the group. The title of its report was “Project Europe 2030.”

And while we were thinking on how to maintain the fantastic success the European civilization has been since the Renaissance, how to ensure that the West continues to lead in front of the rest in science, culture, wealth, military and political power … the financial and economic crisis happened.

The Group’s report was handed out to the president of the European Council in May 2010, on one of these “hard night’s days” during which, so they said, Greece was saved. Many such nights followed when either Greece, the euro, or the EU were saved.

Only recently we are seeing the crisis receding, Portugal and Ireland exiting the assistance program and economic growth anemically picking up. However, another kind of crisis emerged on European eastern borders, the Ukraine crisis.

If the first decade of the 21st century looked like a success for Europe, the beginning of the second confirmed that neither peace, nor prosperity, nor democracy are as certain and lasting as we believed.

It is not Project Europe per-se that is to be worked on; the effort should be to maintain these three elements – peace, prosperity, and democracy.

Peace

The historic achievement of the European Union is that it brought lasting peace to a continent whose nations waged wars with each other for centuries.

In essence the European Union put an end to a thousand year old problem on how to divide the Lorraine part of Charlemagne’s legacy for which France and Germany have been fighting ever after. At Waterloo, Napoleon was stopped from entering Brussels. And Brussels is now the capital of the European Union.

But not all of Europe enjoyed the peace and not all the European nations are enjoying the end of history. The peace in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia, looks fragile, but with a clear European perspective for all major players in the region, the situation appears defused. Instead of waging wars on the Balkans they will soon be discussing common agricultural policy in Brussels.

But there was another area in Europe where conflict was permanent and where borders were shifting in the East/West direction. Where occasionally a small country would emerge between two strong powers or get swallowed by one or the other. It is the area east of Germany and west of Russia.

Europeans discovered Russia through the writings of a Slovenian diplomat of the Holy Roman Empire – Sigismund Herberstein. He was surprised how absolute the power of the Muscovy Tsar was, how wretched condition of the peasantry were and how he was, as a diplomat, closely monitored on one hand and kept undiplomatically waiting for meetings on the other. Since then, some of this changed and some did not.

At least since Peter the Great, Russia’s attention was towards Europe and played an increasingly important role there, first by waging wars with Sweden, Poland, and Turkey for the lands on its western borders, then increasingly, as a major pan-European force.

It played a decisive role in the defeat of Napoleon and was then a pillar of the Holy Alliance that brought peace to Europe in the first half of the 19th century. It had to leave the 1st world war to stage a communist coup-d-etat. It took the majority of the war effort in fighting the Nazi Germany in the Second World War and won – at a great price in human lives and devastation of the country.

Not only militarily, also culturally, Russia became increasingly European. Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn are as much titans of European culture as are Beethoven, Verdi, Balzac, or Dickens.

In spite of vast lands in the east, Russia was always looking west, but never quite sure if it is a part of it or not. And the western part of Europe was never quite sure if Russia is a part of it or not. The communist revolution and the Iron Curtain made the question entirely irrelevant.

Even today, Russia is faced with the question, if it is a European or Asian power. And it is not only on the Russians to answer that. If they are a European power then they should probably sit around the same table as Germany, France, Poland and others. If they are not a European power, they are in fact no match to united Europe. The EU creates 23% of global GDP (the U.S. as well), and Russian economy is the size of Italy’s at about 12% of that of the EU and 40% the size of Germany. But in terms of population Russia is almost twice the size of Germany.

What we see in Ukraine is Russia’s answer to this problem of identity – to create a regional bloc that would be of at least a similar order of magnitude as the EU to its west and the Muslim countries to its south; “too big to be swallowed” by mighty China on its eastern border. Without Ukraine, Russia’s capacity to build a reasonably strong bloc is not possible.

In a sense the situation around Russia after its defeat in the cold war is similar to the situation around Germany after its defeat in the 1st world war. A still powerful country surrounded by new and weak countries that emerged as a result of Russia’s weakness. Germany, when recovered in 1930s, got an appetite for them. Russia, as it is recovering, has a similar kind of appetite.

With Germany, the mistake was not repeated after the Second World War. The EU was created. On the one hand, the West should be very determined not to repeat mistakes like Munich and should take a firm stand against Russian expansionism. On the other hand, the Russian people, particularly the intellectuals and the political elite, should be given strong signals that there are European perspectives for Russia, as there are for Ukraine.

Russia should be encouraged to comply with EU membership criteria, with the principles of democracy, market economy, and human rights on which the European Union is built. Since Peter the Great, Russia has had European ambitions. The European Union should make it clear that these ambitions are realistic and that potentially the true limits of what can be called Europe could be on the Russian Pacific coast.

Not tomorrow. Another former superpower, Great Britain, became EU member half a century after it lost its superpower status. It still is not sure whether it was a good thing or not, but many of us are quite happy that the EU has such members as well.

Prosperity

Someone said that both the American and the French revolution were fought along the same keywords: liberte, egalite, fraternite, however, that the French revolution put the “egalite”, equality, before “liberte”, liberty, and the American vice versa.

The obsession with inequality in Thomas Pikkety’s book Capital in the 21st Century is the latest indicator of that. Envy seems to dominate political debate and will continue to do so, particularly if some prognoses are correct – that we will be looking at decades of no or slow growth.

In the period of strong economic growth after the Second World, War everybody was better off. Indeed, some more than others, but children were expecting to live better than the parents. This is not the case anymore. According to Eurostat most Europeans believe that their children will live worse than the parents.

In a no growth world some can be better off only if others are worse off. And this is the situation we are looking at in Europe. Through the glasses of envy.

Germany and some northern European countries are more productive than countries in the south and there are no politically easy fixes for that. In a European unionized labor market and opportunistic political system it is very hard to reduce labor costs or do structural reforms. A sympathetic central bank, on the other hand, can improve competitiveness easily by devaluation.

This tool is not available to the Eurozone members. Significant debt reduction and investment financing through bond issues and inflation cannot be expected from the ECB. It will take time and money (in the form of debt) before national policies can adapt to the Euro and before the structures around the common currency are completed in such a way that crisis can be resolved in a faster way.

Money markets did not learn enough from the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish crises. Too much of the bailout money was bailing out banks that gave credit to sovereigns which turned out not to be as safe as thought. Latest developments in the money markets show an increased confidence in lending to the European periphery. Financial markets have learned in the crisis that sovereign European countries indeed are too big to fail.

Both crises, the financial and the Ukrainian did not only question the peace and prosperity of Europe, they rised doubt if Europe can be managed politically. Which leads us to the third element …

Democracy

On May 25th the EU held parliamentary elections. Europeans voted for over 750 members of the European Parliament – a body that creates a notion that although there might not be a pan-European democracy, Europe is demoicracy – plural for democracy. The results demonstrate the retreat of traditional center-left and center-right parties and the rise of parties on the extremes. Populist right, populist left, Pirate party, Greens, Eurosceptics, etc.

The retreat of the traditional center parties was bigger in the EU elections than it was in typical national elections. One reason for this is surely low turnout and bigger motivation of opinionated voters to attend. The other may be structural.

Voters seem to feel that the role of the European parliament is to an extent symbolic. EU redistributes only about 1% of the EU’s GDP. When voting they could afford to send a signal to their own national politicians about their dissolusenment and anger without risking that, in the end, real power would be with rather populist, perhaps irresponsible and unreasonable extreme parties.

The vote demonstrates a crisis of European continental democracies. In fact democracy everywhere is in crisis because much has changed since the principles of democratic rule were set up hundred or, as is the case with the USA, more than two hundred years ago. Three elements changed since that time:

(1) ways through which elements of society are connected and collaborate together via communication technology and media

(2) different distribution of knowledge with a much smaller share of the knowledge concentrated in the government offices or church hierarchies

(3) increased share of GDP that the government is distributing creating different incentives for the population to take an interest in democracy

The crisis of democracy deserves special attention, but I will only focus on the problems of Europe in general, and of the former communist countries in particular.

In continental Europe the matters are made worse by a proportional electoral system and the relatively highest share of GDP that government is redistributing. When democracies were set up in Europe about a hundred or more years ago, governments were redistributing 5 or 10% of the GDP. Voters chose whom they would trust to maintain law and order, take a country to war and who talked their language in terms of ethics and values.

Today European governments redistribute a half of the national GDP. About 2/5 of the population is employed in the EU and between a quarter and a third of all employed work in the public sector. The majority of voters are on the receiving end of government spending. And their vote is not only influenced by the broader policy ideas but increasingly by expectations which political party may put more money into their pocket, provide them with more free government services or ensure better salaries for public sector in which they work.

Proportional election systems typical for continental Europe make possible that rather small political parties are organized to respond to the expectations of, for example, pensioners, civil servants, peasants, small businessmen, the young etc. And when in power, the government is buying their vote. With the money it borrows from the next generation (that does not vote) and the money from taxes.

Jean Baptiste Colber said that “the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”  In his latest book Piketty actually says that democracy is a tool to reduce the hissing:

“If we are to regain control of capitalism, we must bet everything on democracy—and in Europe, democracy on a European scale.”

“If necessary, the tax can be quite steeply progressive on very large fortunes, but this is a matter for democratic debate under a government of laws.”

It seems that the voters in the recent European elections rejected Pikkety’s first suggestion – democracy on a European scale (success of the Eurosceptic and Eurohostile parties) but seem to be in favor of the second (rise of extreme left, retreat of center right and European liberals).

Democracy in the East

In some former communist countries matters are even more serious. All these countries have a system which they call capitalism. The flavor of capitalism and democracy that we see at close-up does not compare very well to our view of the western democracies and market economy. But perhaps this view is idealized.

Before 1989 these countries were ruled by communists. They preached solidarity and equality, however they enjoyed privileges and luxuries not available to the working class. While at the edges of communist movements there were many people, particularly the intelligentsia, who sincerely advocated equality and solidarity, the clique that had the power used these (actually noble) instincts as a tool through which they could hold on to power. Communism was an attractive narrative that allowed some to gain and keep absolute power and economic privileges.

When the system changed in 1989, the interests remained the same:  wealth and power.  Some countries succeeded in establishing new political and economic elites. Others failed. The elites stayed more or less the same, except that they are now in power, apparently through democratic means.

The first president of one of such countries, for example, was a former secretary general of the local communist party, the second was the president of the country even before the democratic change, the third was very young when he became a member of the inner circle of undemocratic ruling elite and was later a diplomat of a socialist country. The current one started his political career in the Union of the Socialist Youth, then rising through the ranks of the renamed communist party.

It seems the careers of these people would not be much different even if there was no change of system in 1989.   The situation is very similar in law enforcement, the judiciary, civil service, economy, and business. The idea here is not at all to condemn them for their past activities. The problem is, however, that there was apparently no significant mobility of the elites and that the country largely remained under the control of a single elite that ruled it even before the Berlin Wall fell.

To be honest, power and wealth are quite often a motive of politicians in the western democracies. The major difference lies in the way economic and political power is distributed in old democracies and how it remained concentrated in some new eastern European democracies. Is there a fair competition, a balance, or is there almost a monopoly?

What happened for example in Slovenia, Russia, Belarus, to some extent in Ukraine, and elsewhere was that the people who were entrusted with the management of (then) state owned enterprises during socialism became, one way or the other, owners and capitalists in this so called capitalism. The government remains a significant owner, attempts to privatize are blocked.

These companies are big advertisers in the media, so the media is in fact influenced by the same group. To get advertising, the media has to be friendly to certain kind of politics. Biased media can never support an honest political discourse.

The only school that teaches journalism perhaps evolved from a school for communist party cadres. No teacher was fired in 1989. And no judge or public prosecutor – including those who took part in violations of human rights — was fired. So even if the democratic opposition at some point wins the elections, all other branches of power, including the media, are firmly in the hands of the so called left.

This left is accepted, in the European scale, as an ally of the Western European Social Democratic parties. As Tony Judt once wrote, the Social Democrats in the West were envious of their communist comrades in the East, because the latter could do so much more, with so many fewer democratic checks and balances.

They are true allies now, shifting whole Europe to the left, questioning capitalism, questioning the Atlantic partnership, questioning TTIP, opposing NATO — while taking advantage of the legacy of communist regimes.

A recent example: the winner of the European elections was supposed to become the president of the European Commission. This is what the voters were lead to belive. Now that the center-right candidate Juncker has won, and the Socialist candidate lost, the latter has already announced that he will be trying to form a majority – obviously looking for votes in the extreme and former-communist left.

European peace, prosperity and democracy are in crisis. Changes are needed.  But the results of the EU elections are such, that not much – reform wise – can be expected in Europe, Because Europe will, most likey, be run by a bi-partisan coalition of People’s Party and Social Democrats.

This coalition will be faced with difficult questions, large and small.

Dilemmas

The great philosopher Woody Allen once wrote: “We’re all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices.”

Europe too is faced with agonizing dilemmas on a great scale:  about peace on its eastern borders; about enlargement; about its internal democracy; about more or less Europe; whether Europe is a project or a done product. These are “agonizing dilemmas” but also “moral choices.”

In the past, Europe must have made some good choices. European civilization reached a global monopoly on economy, military power, science, technology and art in the 20th century. European wars were world wars. The cold war was the last European war that was a global war.

Europe has to make the right moral choices and stand firm by the values that made it great in the first place: liberty as the basis for human rights and allowed the individuals to be empowered by technology and innovation; property rights secured the fruits of that liberty. Prosperity spread.

And Europe has to stand firm by the values it got it united and peaceful. True borders of Europe are the borders of European values. We Europeans and Americans together should do more to promote them in Ukraine, Russia, and in fact within Europe itself. Sometimes we need friends from across the Atlantic to remind us what these values were. Sometimes we need competitors who are beating us, relying on our own principles. Like China. The founding fathers of the EU were correct. Creating a community prevents wars and creates peace.

And finally, we must be reminded again and again that democracy is not a system where the masses make decisions about policies, but a system to establish trust between the rulers and the ruled. This trust in Brussels is breaking apart.

It could be regained if Brussels would stop look at Europe as a project. Europe is not a project. Europe is half billion Europeans that deserve peace, security, jobs, economic opportunities and services from efficient public sector.

This too requires choices, but perhaps not on such a grand scale.

If European center fails, forces exists that will amplify the echoes of the past and offer geopolitical distractions and dangerous populist shortcuts of all colors.

 

To Russia with Courage

Posted by Žiga Turk on 03/06/14

Originally published in New Europe, 24.2.2014.

Not far south of Brussels is the village of Waterloo. In the museum of the battle there is one painting that should touch the heart of even the most cynical Eurosceptic. It depicts the French cavalry attacking one of the diamond-shaped British infantry positions. The field in front of the diamond is so thickly covered with bodies that the horses are unwilling to charge, refusing to step on the corpses.

The historic achievement of the European Union is that it brought lasting peace, prosperity, democracy and respect of human rights to a continent whose nations waged wars with each other for centuries. Only in the last two centuries blood was shed in the Napoleonic wars, Franco-German wars, Balkan wars, and Crimean war, not to mention the massacres of the First and Second World Wars. Since 1945 most Europeans have been enjoying the longest period of peace in its history.

In a sense the European Union put an end to a thousand year old problem on how to divide the Lotharingia part of the Charlemagne legacy for which France and Germany have been fighting ever after. It made partners out of former competitors for colonial power and brought former parts of empires as independent states under the same roof again.

But not all of Europe enjoyed the peace and not all the European nations are enjoying the end of history. The peace in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia, looks fragile, but with a clear European perspective for all major players in the region, the situation appears defused.

On the other hand, even today the citizens of Ukraine are struggling to obtain what is taken for granted by the rest of Europe. It looks like one of those “us” vs. “them” conflicts where the players on the geopolitical chessboard are moving pieces to win positions. The people of Ukraine are just pawns in this match. The people of Belarus or Moldova could find themselves in a similar predicament. It is exactly the board that has been replaced – for western and central European countries – by negotiation tables around the Schuman roundabout in Brussels.

Russia has been an increasingly important player in European affairs over the last 500 years. It decidedly chose to become European with Peter the Great in the early 18th century. The Russian empire took European center stage during the Napoleonic wars and became one of the three key elements of the Holy Alliance that the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires set up to maintain “justice, love and peace” after the defeat of Napoleon. Wars for the lands between Russia and Germany or Turkey resembled the wars for the lands between Germany and France. The latter conflict was made obsolete with the creation of the European Union.

In 2008 the European Council set up a Reflection Group to think about the future of Europe. One of the questions it was expected to answer was about where the borders of European Union should lie. The group, led by the former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, concluded that “the EU must stay open to potential new members from Europe, assessing every candidacy on its own merits and compliance with the membership criteria.” Compliance with membership criteria, it claimed, were “in fact the true limits of Europe.”

The recent events in Ukraine are a reminder that the European project is not finished. Historical experience in the European West and parallels to the European East challenge the introverted Europeans to think the unthinkable.

Russia should be encouraged to comply with EU membership criteria, with the principles of democracy, market economy and human rights on which the European Union is built. Since Peter the Great, Russia has had European ambitions. The European Union should make it clear that these ambitions are realistic and that potentially the true limits of the European Union could be on the Russian Pacific coast. Not tomorrow. Another former superpower, Great Britain, became EU member half a century after it lost its superpower status.

Europe must immediately do whatever it takes to stop the violence in Ukraine. On the longer term, however, the issue is not whether Ukraine should be in the Russian or European sphere of influence. The issue are the European perspectives of Russia, and all the countries at its western borders.

 

Reframing the longevity and ageing

Posted by Žiga Turk on 19/02/14

One of the topics discussed at the ESPAS conference in Brussels this week was about the implications of rapidly rising average longevity in advanced countries for the pension and social security systems. The short answer to that question is simple: our pension and social security systems cannot deal will as many old people as demographers are predicting. But the problem is not unsolvable – we simply need fewer old people. And this is not an impossible task if we dare to re-frame the issue. (more…)

iTunes saga 5.0.1

Posted by Žiga Turk on 15/01/12
I went through a painful iTunes experience. Had to. I try to avoid iTunes as much as possible, but since I wanted to update iOS version on my iPad, it was not possible to avoid it. The bottom line is that it sucks as a device management tool. Here's why:

iTunes is not a device management tool

It is a media management tool. It was made to put music and videos to iPod which started as an MP3 player. Some say it sucks there as well. I don't care. I copy photos as files, I transfer music with MediaMonkey and use mail and Dropbox to manage documents.

iTunes is patched to be a device management tool with key functions obscured by the media-optimized interface.

Sync doesn't

One of the most scary checkboxes in the Apple universe is the "Sync Apps". User is warned that if selected, all apps installed by the user on device will be removed. And they are. The trick is that before one does that, it makes sense to "transfer purchases". So that after "sync apps" removes them all, you can put them back. They get rearranged on the springboard pages but after a few minutes' work things are back to normal. It seems. It is still scary!

What sync should do to justify its name is to really sync - compare content on the device with content in iTunes and allow for both to be the same after the process. Actually I see no point in syncing stuff - apps are installed via WiFi anyway and purchases remembered by the AppStore in case one deletes them by mistake. But I decided to sync, because:

Backup doesn't

Before upgrading to iOS 5.0.1 I backed up the iPad. Upgraded. But when I restored it, there were no apps installed, just some 5 GB of memory was occupied with "other". Some backup! I would expect a backup to backup the device. Perhaps Apple would care to offer a selection of what to back up. Like system settings, apps, apps' settings, apps' data, music, videos ... But no. It seems only the things are backed up that are synced!

So I installed the iPad from scratch. Which is not a bad idea every now and then. Get rid of all the junk and dead wood and start clean.

The Monti Factor

Posted by Žiga Turk on 17/11/11

Plenty has been written about Monti’s taking charge of Italy. But there is another dimension in his appointment. A wise man will be joining the The European Council.

Mario Monti was a member of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe, also known as the Wise Men’s Group of Felpie Gonzales. I have been observing, admiring and learning from “il professore” for almost two years. Not only were his proposals intelligent. Wise was the way in which they were put forward and diplomatic the ways in which he was building support for them.

His main theme at the time was a grand bargain: more single market in exchange for tax harmonization. This was back in 2010 when the debt numbers were small. Today, behind the round table of the European Council, he will need to build alliances for an even grander bargain: More solidarity in resolving the sovereign debt crisis in exchange for less sovereignty of the member states, and, here comes the carrot, greater overall economic growth.

The indebted periphery finally got a voice that the core will have to listen to. But only as long as the members of the Italian parliament will listen to him as well.

Managing the Eurozone

Posted by Žiga Turk on 23/08/11

Reading about Sarkzoy, Merkel to invite Van Rompuy to head Eurozone I must say I liked the idea 18 months ago. From a paper published in European View Volume 9, Number 1, 79-92, DOI: 10.1007/s12290-010-0117-3.
Enhance economic coordination. This is a logical requirement to maintain monetary integration. The crisis has shown its mechanisms should be taken much more seriously. In the enforcement of the Stability and Growth Pact the Commission should take advantage of the new provisions in the Lisbon treaty. The pact should be extended with supervision of private debt and the balance of payments. Because economic coordination calls for measures in the member states, the European Council should take the lead in shaping coordinated economic policy and the Commission in overseeing it. The coordination in the Monetary Union should be particularly strong and take place at a prime ministerial level (underlined today).

At the time (and now as well) the Monetary Union was handled by an almost informal meeting of the finance ministers of the Eurozone the evening before the meeting of ECFIN.
 
Today I would just add that economic policy coordination and budget supervision will solve little on the long run. It is an accounting measure. People will have to flow from regions doing bad to regions doing well, and money - in the form of investments rather than loans - will need to flow from countries with surpluses to countries with deficits. To do so the PIGS (and a few others) will have to set up an attractive business environment, because there are places outside of the EU where one can invest.

The World is Going to Hell and We Call it Magic

Posted by Žiga Turk on 05/02/11
Yesterday, I decided to upgrade my iPhone form iOS 4.1 to iOS 4.2.1. The process nearly bricked it. It would not even restore (Figure 1). It took me some three hours to make it work again. Something to do with the etc/hosts file. The good thing was, I had phone silence for a few hours.

Figure 1: And BTW, it is not an unknown error. It is error 1013!

I do not get intimidated by gadgets

Today, I decided to upgrade my iPad from iOS 3.something to 4.2.1. There are quite a few new apps that want iOS 4.2 and there is a long weekend in Slovenia, Tuesday being the Culture Day. Time to do a complicated and lengthy surgery.

Remembering what happened yesterday, I decided to do a backup of the iPad first. I would really hate to reinstall and reconfigure all the apps or lose documents, slides, magazines, books, movies ... The backup started, but did not look like it was doing anything. The progress bar was not moving at all (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

On a side note: these guys at Apple are supposed to be some kind of GUI fanatics ... would Steve Jobs really kill anyone if the thingy would include some kind of a counter that would say: "Your backup would be finished in three weeks, seven hours, forty five minutes and five seconds". Well, not Steve Jobs.

Seriously, if it wasn't for the animated icon (Figure 3), the iTunes could just as well be frozen. I plead guilty, it is the first time since I bought the iPad in April last year, to do the backup, but what the heck: 11 gigs take 10-15 minutes to push over the USB on my notebook, so how long could this take?

Figure 3.
The answer: 27 hours! Theoretically.
 
I fired up some system tools that showed that the data transfer rate between iTunes and iPad is at some 1 megabit per second. I assumed 8+1 checksum bit per byte and did the math. 99000 seconds to back my 16GB 3/4 full iPad! The beauty of this is that the battery lasts some 10 hours and that the iPad is not charging via MacBook's USB port. Isn't this just great?

But Google is your friend they say.

Lets find some tips how to make the iTunes backup faster. I would not be writing this if it wasn't for those tips. And the wise words from my friends on Twitter. The best advice to speed up backup is to delete the stuff you would like to back up. A whole PhD is written on how to identify which app is the one taking up a lot of space, because there is no iPad/iTunes tool to find out.

Am I the only one to see the idiocy of this advice? I mean, if I would not care about the stuff I want to back up, why back up in the first place? Yes, delete the movies, the books, the magazines, the photos, whatever data you might have ... and then, when your iPad is empty, the backup will be fast. Revolutionary?

It will not be fast, you morons, it would be the same 1 megabit/second, it would just be less of the bits and therefore fewer seconds! It is like an advice for safe sex that would say, don't have sex!

It is amazing what our IT industry gets away with these days. Devices sync at a rate which is slower than the rate at which they empty the battery. They get away with advice that in order to do backup faster, you should first destroy what you want to back up! Enough is enough.

An hour later.
They have the nerve to call this device - the iPad - magical. Indeed, it takes a fool to believe in magic. The IT industry believes we are all fools, and they are making a lot of money on this assumption! The real magic is that we are so enchanted with these gadgets, that after the troubles are over, we again think the iPad is the best thing since the screw off beer bottle top.

PS. While I was doing this, my daughter announced she needs a new external hard disk. I had an old 300M and a new 1T to spare, so I asked, what size she needed, what size are the ones she had. She had no idea except that it is full. She is in the 2nd year of grammar school, they have computing courses, and obviously they are raising good customers for this industry.

Growth, jobs and more rss

Žiga Turk, professor, former minister and secretary general of the Reflection Group writes about the future of growth, innovation, technology, sustainable development, creativity etc. more.



Advertisement