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The EU and Russia: Locked into confrontation

28-07-2020

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

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

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

24-07-2020

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

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

Coronavirus in south-east Asia: Health, political and economic impact

19-06-2020

Coronavirus has affected the 10 south-east Asian countries in very different ways. Thanks to quick and decisive action, Vietnam came through relatively unscathed; Singapore also seemed to have the virus under control, before a second wave of infections among migrant labourers took off. Malaysia and Thailand initially struggled, but now seem to have turned the situation around. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the disease continues to spread rapidly. Although weak healthcare systems make Cambodia ...

Coronavirus has affected the 10 south-east Asian countries in very different ways. Thanks to quick and decisive action, Vietnam came through relatively unscathed; Singapore also seemed to have the virus under control, before a second wave of infections among migrant labourers took off. Malaysia and Thailand initially struggled, but now seem to have turned the situation around. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the disease continues to spread rapidly. Although weak healthcare systems make Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, the three poorest countries of the region, highly vulnerable, they have not reported many infections so far. Despite such differences, some of the issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic are common to all countries of the region. For example, pre-existing inequalities have widened, particularly affecting low-paid workers in informal employment, migrants, and refugees. Meanwhile, governments are clamping down on free speech and adopting emergency powers, raising concerns over authoritarian tendencies. Although the countries of the region are cooperating with each other and neighbours such as China, tensions (for example, in the South China Sea) have become more apparent. All south-east Asian economies have been affected, but the impact varies considerably. Vietnam is expected to do relatively well, and several other countries will also see modest growth. Due to a global downturn in trade and tourism, Singapore and Thailand are suffering most. Overall, the region is forecast to see less of an economic impact than Europe or North America, and growth is expected to rebound in 2021.

Constitutional change in Russia: More Putin, or preparing for post-Putin?

27-05-2020

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule ...

In January 2020, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, opened the constitutional debate by outlining a series of amendments that, according to him, aimed to improve the balance of power and adapt the Constitution to the changes that had taken place since 1993, when the original text was adopted. With Putin's fourth and – as it seemed till recently – final presidency due to end in four years, observers speculated that the proposed amendments were intended to give Putin options for continuing to rule the country from behind the scenes, beyond 2024. Events took an unexpected turn in March 2020, when lawmaker and former cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, tabled a last-minute amendment. Her proposal envisaged re-setting the clock for presidential terms, allowing Putin to stay on as president for another 12 years, should he choose to do so. Shortly afterwards, the bill was rubber-stamped by both houses of the federal parliament, and all of Russia's 85 regional parliaments. Altogether, the amendments revise nearly one-third of the Constitution's 137 articles. Apart from presidential term limits, they also clarify the role of Russia's main institutions, with some additional powers for the parliament. Reflecting growing nationalism and suspicions of liberal Western influences, other provisions bar senior government figures from holding foreign citizenship or bank accounts, give the Constitution primacy over decisions made by international bodies, and affirm traditional values. Socioeconomic changes include annual indexation of pensions and a guarantee that the minimum wage will not fall below the poverty threshold. Before they can come into effect, the amendments must first be approved by a nationwide vote on a date yet to be scheduled. Surveys suggest that public opinion is divided on the changes; as the economy deteriorates due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a growing risk of a 'no' vote, which would be an unprecedented setback for Putin.

Coronavirus and international sanctions: Should sanctions be eased during the pandemic?

20-05-2020

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns that international sanctions may be exacerbating the risk of a humanitarian crisis. In March 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to waive restrictions on food and medicines that are affecting the world's most vulnerable countries. Especially since the suffering caused by the international trade embargo against Iraq in the 1990s, the European Union has sought to design its sanctions for maximum effect at the least ...

The coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns that international sanctions may be exacerbating the risk of a humanitarian crisis. In March 2020, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to waive restrictions on food and medicines that are affecting the world's most vulnerable countries. Especially since the suffering caused by the international trade embargo against Iraq in the 1990s, the European Union has sought to design its sanctions for maximum effect at the least possible humanitarian cost. Usually it does this by targeting restrictions at key individuals or organisations, and in some cases sectors, rather than a country's economy as a whole. Critics of sanctions claim that US-imposed trade restrictions have prevented Iran from purchasing essential medical supplies needed to fight the pandemic. They also argue that EU and US sanctions make desperately impoverished Zimbabwe and Sudan even more vulnerable than they would otherwise be. Both the European Union and the United States defend their policies, but acknowledge the importance of humanitarian exceptions. Although the European Union has not said that it will lift any of its restrictive measures, it has offered various forms of support to several sanctions-hit countries.

World Health Organization: Is it fit for purpose?

12-05-2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus SARS-COV2, a pandemic on 11 March 2020, putting the United Nations (UN) agency in the global spotlight. The WHO is coordinating international efforts to fight the virus, for example by issuing guidelines on preventing and treating the disease, and coordinating research into testing and vaccines. Critics argue that the WHO was overly accommodating of China, and as a result failed to handle the pandemic ...

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus SARS-COV2, a pandemic on 11 March 2020, putting the United Nations (UN) agency in the global spotlight. The WHO is coordinating international efforts to fight the virus, for example by issuing guidelines on preventing and treating the disease, and coordinating research into testing and vaccines. Critics argue that the WHO was overly accommodating of China, and as a result failed to handle the pandemic effectively in its early stages. According to them, the WHO too readily accepted Chinese reassurances that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The WHO also failed to hold China to account for its initial cover-up, and even praised its transparency. Even before coronavirus, the WHO already had a mixed track record, including, on the one hand, successful eradication of smallpox, and on the other, a delayed response to the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014, which may have cost thousands of lives. Its failures, both in the Covid-19 pandemic and in previous health crises, highlight long-standing problems: the agency is weak, underfunded, and its complex organisational structure can get in the way of effective action. Underlying such weaknesses is the fact that the WHO is entirely dependent on cooperation from its member states and can only act within the limits set by them. While Covid-19 has highlighted many of the WHO's weaknesses, it is also a reminder that diseases respect no borders, and that the organisation's task of global coordination has become more necessary than ever.

Northern Ireland after Brexit

06-05-2020

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union ('Brexit'), by referendum in June 2016, raised particular concerns in and about Northern Ireland, which had voted by 56 per cent to remain within the European Union. Principal among these concerns was the prospect of a ‘hard’ border, potentially upsetting the delicate balance between the region's status as part of the United Kingdom and its close relationship with Ireland. There were fears that this in turn could disrupt the peace process and ...

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union ('Brexit'), by referendum in June 2016, raised particular concerns in and about Northern Ireland, which had voted by 56 per cent to remain within the European Union. Principal among these concerns was the prospect of a ‘hard’ border, potentially upsetting the delicate balance between the region's status as part of the United Kingdom and its close relationship with Ireland. There were fears that this in turn could disrupt the peace process and the progress made since the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. Given the UK's insistence on leaving the EU’s customs union, the question of avoiding a hard border without introducing new divisions between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was a particular challenge in the withdrawal negotiations. The Withdrawal Agreement eventually adopted in January 2020 envisages that the region will nominally be part of UK customs territory, but retain close ties to the EU customs union and single market regulations on manufactured and agricultural goods, with the aim of enabling unobstructed trade to continue between the two parts of the island of Ireland. Much will depend on the detailed arrangements for implementing the Agreement, to be worked out by a specialised committee of EU and UK representatives, which met for the first time on 30 April 2020. With uncertainty as to how Northern Ireland’s rather ambiguous status under the Withdrawal Agreement will work in practice, trade and investment could see some disruption. Economic effects could also result from migration restrictions – given the large number of EU nationals working in Northern Ireland – and the loss of some EU funding. There are also political implications, with the Brexit process having brought debate on Northern Ireland's status as part of the UK back on to the political agenda.

Russia and the coronavirus crisis

22-04-2020

Official data suggest that Russia has been less affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than most other countries so far. However, the authorities’ slow response and the poor state of the healthcare system risk aggravating the situation. For Vladimir Putin, the crisis has at least made it easier for him to push through constitutional changes potentially giving him 12 more years in power. Moscow is also accused of taking advantage of the crisis for geopolitical ends, for example by spreading destabilising ...

Official data suggest that Russia has been less affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than most other countries so far. However, the authorities’ slow response and the poor state of the healthcare system risk aggravating the situation. For Vladimir Putin, the crisis has at least made it easier for him to push through constitutional changes potentially giving him 12 more years in power. Moscow is also accused of taking advantage of the crisis for geopolitical ends, for example by spreading destabilising disinformation targeted at Western countries.

Energy security in the EU's external policy

13-03-2020

This publication describes the link between energy security and the EU's external policy. The EU imports most of its energy, and its biggest supplier is Russia, a country with very different foreign policy goals to the EU's. Energy is a key aspect of the EU's external relations, not only with energy suppliers such as Russia, but also with neighbouring transit countries. Alongside internal measures to integrate European markets, energy diplomacy is a central part of the EU's efforts to address energy ...

This publication describes the link between energy security and the EU's external policy. The EU imports most of its energy, and its biggest supplier is Russia, a country with very different foreign policy goals to the EU's. Energy is a key aspect of the EU's external relations, not only with energy suppliers such as Russia, but also with neighbouring transit countries. Alongside internal measures to integrate European markets, energy diplomacy is a central part of the EU's efforts to address energy insecurity.

Religion and the EU's external policies: Increasing engagement

12-02-2020

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

Religion has been emerging as a new dimension in the EU's external policies. This paper provides an overview of the principles, institutional set-up and policies underpinning the EU's approach to religious issues in third countries. Nine case studies meanwhile serve to illustrate the important role played by religion in the foreign policies of a number of different countries worldwide.

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