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Earlier this year, the European Commission elections shook up the continents politics with the voters’ newfound support for broadly “Euro-skeptic” parties. As a result, the Euro-skeptics now make up about a fourth of the European Parliament. And while the traditional pro-Europe parties still have large majorities and control over the levers of governance, it is up to newly elected European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer Europe through a time of increasing frustration with the European project itself.

A major part of Juncker’s plan is the restructuring and redefining of the European Commission, with the goal of creating an entity more able to rally political support for the EU and its priorities. The Commission college will now be organized around project teams which are streamlined for what Juncker’s administration hopes will be greater government efficiency. To some observers, such a bold reorganization of the college is something that could “make or break” the European experiment.

Indeed, the incoming European Commission is attempting to redefine the tone of what a commission in Europe should strive for.


This article is a contribution from James Le Grice, of our network partner Insight Public Affairs, based in London. Find more about them at http://insightpublicaffairs.com/

Five hundred years ago this August, the Ottoman Empire won a resounding military victory over Safavid Persia in a field near Chaldiran in northwest Iran. Turkish rule was extended into eastern Anatolia and the Persian Empire was gradually boxed into an area roughly corresponding to the borders of modern day Iran. The Turks could credit their victory to a deal they made with Kurdish chieftains in the region, who agreed to shift their allegiances to Istanbul. In return, the Kurds were granted autonomy provided they maintained militias to guard the Ottoman Empire’s eastern frontier from Persian incursion.

And thus the status of the Kurds remained for the next few centuries, until the dawn of the modern Middle East. The post World War One redrawing of the map saw Kurdistan divided between four countries and the independence of the Kurdish people repressed under the banners of Arab and Turkish nationalism. However, the last few years have witnessed something of a Kurdish renaissance, and now Kurdish entities are at a crossroads which may see them regain their historic position as quasi-independent buffer states.

Three conflicts have brought the Kurds to this point.


When US President Barack Obama arrives in Cardiff, Wales, for the upcoming NATO summit, it will be at a time of turmoil for Europe. Indeed, the challenges facing the Alliance are unprecedented since the fall of the Soviet Union. After two decades of enlargement and an ongoing struggle to reorient itself after missions as far afield as Afghanistan and Libya, NATO is now faced with the specter of Russian revanchism in its near abroad.

It is a big moment for the United Kingdom, as the Wales gathering represents the first NATO meeting in the UK since the 1990 London summit – and it will be the largest single gathering of international leaders in the Kingdom’s history. In addition to leaders of NATO’s 28 member countries, including President Obama, Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, and France’s President Hollande, heads of state or senior ministers from some 60 countries will be in attendance.

Wales itself is ramping up to take advantage of the event. From a global positioning standpoint, the territory is hoping to highlight its lesser known advantages within both the UK and the EU – a strong manufacturing sector, growing commercial tech and science industries, and touristic potential.

But the summit, taking place from September 4-5, comes at something of a crossroads for NATO itself.


In 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic declared that the descendants of undocumented Haitian immigrants who were born in the country since 1929 were not legally Dominicans. This left thousands of citizens without a nationality, and led to a series of protests both inside and outside the country. The Dominican government was confronted by a wave of criticism in the international community, which argued that the ruling was a threat to human rights, and was based on racism against those citizens born in the Dominican Republic who are of Haitian descent.

The ruling effectively rendered a huge swathe of people stateless, disenfranchising them and preventing them from participating in their country’s political processes and formal economy. Persons of Haitian descent were denied identity cards, meaning that they could not enter the formal workforce, open bank accounts, apply for universities, marry legally or register the births of their children.

To make matters worse, since many of the people affected by the ruling are Spanish-speakers born in the Dominican Republic, they couldn’t return to their “country of origin” even if they wanted to.


The Scottish Independence movement will come to a crucial referendum vote on September 18th, as Scots answer either “Yes” or “No” to the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” This vote offers an interesting character study of a country that is trying to ensure its voice in an ever globalizing world.

Scotland isn’t alone in balancing greater independence with the advantages of belonging to a world power like the UK. Indeed, this is a question that countries and territories all over the world have grappled with, and it will likely continue be a thorny issue as the world becomes increasingly defined by globalization and interconnected economies.

The example of Scotland is significant for the European Union, especially because it is in many ways a radical departure from the traditional path to secession.


In the wake of the May 25th elections to the European Parliament, the European Union has been struggling with the next step in the continent’s governance: the selection of candidates to fill the most important positions in the bloc.

Indeed, the process of choosing the EU’s leadership has been the most turbulent in decades, demonstrating the still precarious nature of European politics in the aftermath of the economic crisis – and potentially foretelling deeper disagreements on issues such as fiscal integration, economic policy, and a common response to Russian belligerence.

These disagreements – over who should lead the EU’s foreign policy, the European Council, and the European Commission – come just a few months after newcomers shook up Europe’s political scene. An energetic mélange of political forces, by turns nationalist, far-right, proto-populist, anti-immigration, and generally Euro-skeptic, surged to electoral victories – in particular in France and the UK. While the centrist, pro-Union conservatives of the European Peoples’ Party retained their control of the parliament, the rise of extremist parties has pushed previously submerged schisms to the fore.

The starkest example of divisions within the EU became apparent in the fight over the appointment of the next European Commissioner.


Thanks to Alessandro Tommasi of our network partner firm Cattaneo Zanetto in Rome for his insights

This past February, Italian politics were rocked by a series of changes which eventually led to the youngest government in Italy’s history. The changes began last December when the 39 year old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, was elected the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on a platform promoting change and new blood in Italian politics. The PD was also in power at the national level, having replaced Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia led coalition with Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Renzi rose to the top spot through internal turmoil within the PD. In February, Prime Minister Letta’s coalition fell from power after a vote of no confidence. Subsequently, Renzi, who had never been elected to Parliament – and is, in fact, younger than the minimum age of forty required by law to take a seat – received votes of confidence from both the Italian House and Senate. He was then able to put together a somewhat unusual coalition which included members of Berlusconi’s party as well as members of the anti-establishment 5 Star movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo.

Observers both inside and outside of Italy were concerned after Renzi’s rapid ascent to the Palazzo Chigi.


On July 15th, the leaders of the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – met in Fortaleza, Brazil. With Fortaleza already in the spotlight of the World Cup, this summer summit turned the city into a testing ground for the relevance of the BRICS group.

That is due to the long-awaited announcement of a campaign to establish what has been termed a “BRICS bank,” organized and funded by the leaders of the “global south” – in implied contrast to the Bretton Woods institutions. This New Development Bank (“NDB”) is scheduled to begin operations in 2016. The Bank’s mission: to operate as an alternative lender-partner to its member states in the hopes of one day rivaling the IMF and World Bank. It remains to be seen whether the Bank’s mission will be to directly compete with current international lenders – both large development banks and existing national banks.

This New Development Bank has the potential to demonstrate to BRICS skeptics that there are genuine reasons behind the grouping. Its predecessor, “BRIC,” was an acronym coined in a 2001 academic paper, when it first entered the global economic vocabulary. Given that the member states span several continents, very disparate political histories, language families, and social customs, their commonalities are few but important.


On August 4th, the Obama administration will make history. This date marks the first US-Africa Leaders Summit and the first time a US President has held a bilateral meeting with roughly fifty African heads of state. The inaugural Summit’s theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” centers the three day event on building trade and investment relations, the promotion of democratic development, and America’s role in African security.

Many Americans believe that the United States is already committed enough to the social, economic, and security development of Africa. Some argue that little more could be done than what is being done already. To them, this Summit will be just another high profile meet and greet—handshakes, vague resolutions, and a lack of concrete, actionable steps that will all be forgotten when the summit concludes.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case.


This article is a contribution from James Le Grice, of our network partner Insight Public Affairs, based in London. Find more about them at http://insightpublicaffairs.com/

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has left the American and British governments in an awkward balancing act between politics and national security. When polled, the majority of Americans have said they think the Iraq War was a mistake, and overwhelmingly supported President Obama’s troop withdrawal in 2011. Indeed, much of the President’s political capital stemmed from his consistent opposition to what he once labelled a “dumb war.”

Understandably, Mr Obama has been hesitant to deploy anything more than military advisers to confront Iraq’s current crisis. To say it would be a hard sell to American voters in a mid-term election year is a tremendous understatement. Likewise, if President Obama declares the prospect of a terrorist state in Iraq a severe enough threat to merit military action, he would commit the biggest volte-face of any president in recent history.

But if the appetite for intervention is poor in America, it is destitute in America’s main ally, where there is the added perception that Iraq was somebody else’s problem.


Amidst the global pageantry and energy surrounding the World Cup, darker allegations lurk. Specifically, suspicions are swirling of institutional corruption within football’s governing body, FIFA, and of labor violations in Qatar, which was selected to be the host of the 2022 games. The allegedly endemic corruption within the governing body of the world’s most popular sport is concerning to fans, and should concern supporters of human rights given the violations of labor rights that have occurred already in Qatar and which are likely to continue.

While there are allegations of corruption regarding FIFA’s selection of the 2018 World Cup (to be held in Russia) as well, the voting process behind the Qatar decision seems to have led to the most concrete evidence of corruption. To begin with, the choice of Qatar to host the Cup flabbergasted anyone who follows soccer – the nation has never fielded a team in the Cup, there wasn’t a single stadium in the whole country, and temperatures average more than 105 degrees in June and July. 

Since 2010, multiple allegations of corruption have surfaced, which could explain FIFA’s peculiar decision.


Colombia’s recent presidential election pitted current President Juan Manuel Santos against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who was backed by former president Alvaro Uribe Velez. Zuluaga’s candidacy represented a split between Santos and Uribe, his former mentor and boss. Although Santos was Uribe’s hand-picked successor the first time he ran for President, during his presidency Uribe became an increasingly vocal critic of Santos’ policies, in particular the peace negotiations with the left-wing FARC guerrilla group. 

Uribe waged an aggressive campaign against Santos, often standing in for Zuluaga during the campaign and tweeting extensively, lending his significant popularity to the cause. All the same, Santos won the presidential runoff on June 15th with nearly 51 percent, with Zuluaga taking 45 percent.  The election was viewed as free and fair by international observers and Zuluaga conceded immediately once the votes were counted; however, former President Uribe continues to insist that the vote was fraudulent and corrupt, which means that the political drama will continue as long as both Santos and Uribe are in government. 

There are major philosophical differences between a Santos presidency and one backed by Uribe, especially with regards to peace talks and relations with Venezuela.