The World this Week

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The World this Week
EU Parliament elections, Chinese VP receives Nishan-e-Pakistan, Trump-Abe summit, Mueller's new statement on Trump & Israel’s new elections

  GP Team

In this edition, we discuss five major developments during this week: the elections to the European Parliament; Pakistan's conferment of the Nishan-e-Pakistan on Chinese vice-president; meeting of President Donald Trump and President Shinzo Abe in Tokyo ahead of the G20 summit; the statement of US special counsel Robert Mueller refusing to clear Trump and the failure of Netanyahu to form the government in Israel

Sourina Bej, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Harini Madhusudan, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer & Lakshmi V Menon


EU Parliament Elections 2019: Divided Votes, Green Wave and Populism

What happened? 
The elections to the EU Parliament held between 23-26  May 2019 have thrown up new trends that would come to dominate European politics. Voters from across the European Union voted for the parties they want to represent them in the European Parliament, the only one whose members are directly elected by the EU citizens. 

The message from the election has been three. First, the voters have indicated a need for change by neither voting the centre-left and the centre-right to power for the first time since 1979. Second, support has instead been to the EU Green parties (“Greens”) and liberals.  And third, far-right populist and nationalist parties led by the likes of Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen have consolidated their position in the European Parliament.

What is the background? 
Voters directly elect the European Parliament in the European Union. The Parliament, along with the Council of Ministers from the member states, is tasked to make laws and approve budgets. It is responsible for maintaining EU’s external relation with the other countries, including approving the joining of new members. Its members represent the interests of different countries and different regions within the EU. Every five years, EU countries go to the polls to elect members of the European Parliament. Each country is allocated a set number of seats, roughly depending on the size of its population. The smallest, Malta, has six members while the largest, Germany has 96. 

What does it mean?  
The following trends could be identified from the election results. 
First, the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats have mostly ruled the European Parliament since 1979. However, this election has effectively ended their 40-year majority. The reason could be seen as an anti-incumbency sentiment sending a strong signal that an institutional change is needed in the establishment. 

The need for change that dictated the outcome of the result also highlights the fact that the current election was less about EU and more about the national narratives playing out at the international level. The votes from the 28 countries reflected what each country’s voter wants in their respective national political debates that have amplified on a continental scale. 

Secondly, the ‘Green wave’ shouldn't have come as a surprise. The alternative narrative was slowly gaining ground as the centrist parties were losing their popularity. The Greens came in second place in Germany with a whopping 20 per cent of the vote, beating the traditional centre-left Social Democratic Party. The Greens had their best-ever results in Finland, picking up more than 16 per cent of the vote. In France, the Greens came in a third place, with 13 per cent of the vote. In the UK, the pro-EU Greens snagged about 12 per cent of the vote, gaining approximately seven seats and coming in fourth place, in front of the governing Conservative Party. In total, the Greens will take about 70 seats in the 751-member European Parliament, up from 51 in the last election, in 2014. Leaving aside the overriding concern of environment and climate change, what the Greens have managed to do is convey their vision of sustainable socio-economic equality and immigration issues in the aftermath of the Euro crisis. 

However, a more significant trend is yet to be understood as to what is unifying the Greens across the continent into a mainstream political force?  

Thirdly, the number of votes to the far right has increased by five, and they will hold about 25 per cent of seats in the European Parliament. However, it is not an all-European trend because they have performed better in some EU countries compared to others. However, these parties are here to stay. 

Lastly, the maximum impact could be felt in the UK. The UK wasn’t supposed to be participating in the European parliamentary elections; had the Brexit plan worked it would have been out of the EU by now. As a result of the European parliamentary elections, the votes have turned into a referendum on the Brexit debate that’s dividing the country. Nigel Farage, the former head of the UK Independence Party, and his newly formed Brexit Party was placed first in the elections, winning more than 31 per cent of the vote and 29 of the UK’s seats in the European Parliament.

Sino-Pak Relations: Chinese VP receives Nishan-e-Pakistan

What happened?
On 26 May 2019, President Arif Alvi of Pakistan conferred Nishan-e-Pakistan on Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan during an investiture ceremony held at Aiwan-e-Sadar in Islamabad. The award was given to the Chinese dignitary to honor his role in the advancement of bilateral ties between the duo. The ceremony also initiated the launch of a Huawei Technical Support Centre in Pakistan as part of the larger investment projects there.

What is the background?
This event has taken place amid the growing bilateral relations between China and Pakistan. The frequency of high-level visits by both heads of state has only increased since the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China in November last year and his participation in the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April this year. Thus, leading to a more strengthened and cooperative relationship. CPEC, the mega project initiated under the BRI by the Chinese in Pakistan is the foundation of the deep-rooted friendship between the two countries. Both China and Pakistan stand to gain from this as well. 

What does it mean? 
By honouring the Chinese Vice President with this award, it goes to show how the time-tested and all-weather relationship between Pakistan and China who call themselves as an iron friend has only been strengthening over time. It also reiterates the well-established bilateral ties between the two where the incentive of both is to develop and increase the multi-dimensional areas of cooperation that they focus on. It also confirms the deepened levels of exchange at high levels which express the growing mutual trust between the two countries who are willing to cooperate for the development of CPEC and other bilateral engagements.

US and Japan: Trump meets Abe, determined to strengthen relations

What happened?
Known for their close relationship President Donald Trump and President Shinzo Abe met this week in Tokyo ahead of the G20 summit scheduled to be held in Tokyo. This is in the background of their intentions to defuse tensions with Iran and North Korea.  This trip, unlike the several others, stood out with its golf round, sumo tournament appearance, the new ‘Reiwa Era’ and selfies. The highlights were Trump’s meeting with the families of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea, where he promised to do what it takes to bring them back home. 

Trump made two statements one on North Korean missile tests and the other on the war with Iran. He said that the missile tests of North Korea do not violate the UNSC provisions and said there would be no war with Iran; both of these contradict the stance taken by his national security advisor and his administration. What was interesting to note is that there was no mention of China or the trade dispute and the Abe-Trump summit did not produce a joint statement.

What is the background?
Abe is seen as one of the few world leaders in whom the ‘unpredictable’ Trump holds personal trust since taking office in 2017. This one did not see Trump making any drastic statements, a surprise considering his record in the past months.  They did disagree on the Trump spoke for several minutes, possibly out of a prepared document in the news conference. His tweet after the visit was a simple, “Thank you Japan” and a 46-seconds video of everything he did while in Japan. The US delayed the trade issues and talks with Japan, Mexico and Canada until probably a deal with China was made. It looks like Trump wants to maintain at least a facade of a unified stance. 

What does it mean?
Many experts were quick to conclude that Japan was the only country that gained from this visit. By the looks of it, Trump administration needs Japan on their side, considering the situation with China, their allies in Europe, Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. Japan has shown an intention to mediate in the trade disputes. Trump, on the other hand, has shown active support for the July elections in Japan and spoke about having to do something about the trade gap. One cannot call the visit only ceremonial because it shows, on the outset, despite drastic changes in the strategic environment, there are countries that Trump is capable of retaining good relations with!

The US: Mueller is back, and refuses to clear Trump

What happened?
On 29 May 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller declined to clear President Trump from his obstruction of justice.  During a short press conference, he is noted to have said that “If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” 
This was Mueller’s first public statement on the two-year investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and probably his last as he is reportedly set to resign office.

What is the background?
On 18 April 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had released a 448-page report that established no conspiracy over the Russian interference in Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Also, the report had identified and stated around 10 instances of probable obstructions of justice by Trump. 

Further, in what could be the latest clatter with the Congress, on 08 May 2019, the White House formally asserted its executive authority over Robert Mueller’s report. Thus, terminating the debate over what materials legislators would be allowed to view from the report submitted by Mueller.

What does it mean?
Mueller’s report in many ways felt out of the way with the present political moment as it comes more than a month after Attorney General William Barr released the report. It was a straightforward statement, quite the opposite to Barr who had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice. While reflecting his obligation to investigate potential obstruction, he added that charging the president with a crime was impossible from the beginning due to guidelines from the Department of Justice that barred prosecutors from indicting a sitting president. This might further give a little more fodder to the Democrats who supported impeachment than before.

Mueller has stated what he wanted to say without openly involving in the political face-off and clarified that he had nothing more to add than what’s already in the report. Now, the ball is much more firmly grounded into the Congress’ court as it is certainly up to them to figure out what to do with his findings.

Israel: Netanyahu fails to form the government, leading to fresh elections 

What happened?
On May 30, 2019 Israel’s parliament voted by 74-45 to dissolve itself and hold fresh elections as Israeli PM Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition before the midnight deadline. The new elections are expected to take place in September.

What is the background?
Despite likely indictment in three corruption cases, on April 9, 2019, Netanyahu, became prime minister for a fifth term when Likud Party won 35 of the 120 Parliaments seats. However, he failed to overcome rifts between religious and secular allies. The chief obstruction being a disparity over a military conscription draft law.

What does it mean?
The upcoming election evades Israeli President Reuven Rivlin choosing another candidate to form a government but plunges Israel into another billion-dollar acrimonious campaign which will see fresh US funding and backing for Netanyahu as the upcoming Bahrain Summit and looming Trump-Jared “deal of the century” requires Netanyahu to remain in power. 

Bibi’s hope that September elections will break the impasse will face hitches. First, he will have to appeal to the same politicians for the coalition. Second, the pool of plausible coalition members is dwindling. Third, his manipulation of Israeli laws may boomerang. Fourth, the military draft may remain a discordant issue. All this while the corruption indictment is underway.

Meanwhile, opposition, unhappy with the move, has accused Netanyahu of being "legally incapacitated" by impending indictments. Maybe he is buying time. 



Russia reveals a nuclear-powered Icebreaker
Russia's state nuclear agency unveiled its latest nuclear-powered icebreaker, designed to crack through weakened, thawing sea ice and get natural resources. Russia's Rosatom is known to be commissioning a fleet of absolutely massive, nuclear-powered icebreakers called the Arktika, the Sibir, and its newest vessel the Ural. These three ships are Project 22220 (P2X40) icebreakers, constructed by the St. Petersburg-based Baltic Shipyards, and is the largest class of icebreaker ever built.

US-China Trade War: China reminds the US that there are ‘plenty of cards to play’
Rare earths play an important role in US defence from their computers to aircraft engines. China is the world's largest producer and the biggest exporter to the US because of its low processing costs. Beijing has readied a plan to restrict exports of rare earths to the US if needed as both sides in the trade war dig in for a protracted dispute. Any action on rare earths would deepen a confrontation that’s roiling markets and damaging global growth. 

Venezuela negotiations in Norway
Despite the negotiations in Norway, it seems like both the Maduro regime and the interim constitutional government seek a knockout blow as neither has been able to deliver yet. This status quo is unsustainable and needs a dramatic course correction. Previously, multiple internationally-mediated negotiations have been used by the regime to purchase time, divide the opposition, and consolidate control. Norway may have or may not have been any different. However, the trust factor between the parties is close to non-existent, and without sufficient leverage, Maduro will never offer concessions of value much less quiet. Is Venezuela headed towards a national collapse?

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