Categories
Education

Fighting misinformation about vaccines by targeting young people

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Baptiste Poupart-Lafarge

Education Analyst

Fighting misinformation about vaccines by targeting young people 

Misinformation, rumours and popular beliefs made life difficult for the vaccination campaign. There are multiple factors of rising fear among the population and it is necessary to make information about the vaccine accessible to all.

For months now, the vaccine has been the number one topic in the media, information is accumulating and contradicting each other. Doctors denounce the dangers of the vaccine with overly complicated and misinterpreted words that are at the origin of conspiracy theories. The latter are very widely disseminated on social media fuelling problematic scepticism. Anti-vax drugs have notably used the deaths of elderly people after having received their dose to confirm their theories, as can be seen on several Facebook posts. All this is supported by many comments like "Murder! Clear and simple!" or "That's why the vaccine is a crime". This is not an isolated phenomenon, according to the IFOP in 2017, 55% of French people agree with the idea that "the Ministry of Health is in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry to hide from the general public the reality about the harmfulness of vaccines".

The essence of fake news is to play on our emotions, to disguise a truth, to give us the feeling of understanding what others do not understand. Social media can be a very powerful influence on young people and unfortunately, due to a lack of critical opinion, young people can spread (false) information at Twitter speed. The arrival of deepfakes could make the situation even worse. A deepfake is a video or audio recording produced or altered using artificial intelligence. These videos aim to deceive the viewer by showing celebrities or ordinary people doing or saying things they did not do or say. If used properly, it can create hyper-realistic results, which are almost impossible to detect as real or fake. Although most of the deepfakes have been removed from the internet, there are still many in circulation.

Moreover, social media are not walking alone, family has also a strong role in the development of our beliefs, and sometimes even legitimises absurd things. Indeed, some popular misconception spread from generation to generation and are still difficult to eradicate,for example, that vaccines are responsible for some cases of autism. 

Recently the BCCDC (BC Centre for Disease Control) based in Canada  offers teachers and parents the opportunity to use an online tool (Kids Boost Immunity) to educate children about the importance of vaccines. The course includes 35 lessons, it is clear, simple, and very accessible. Moreover this action has a double benefit for the population, indeed, at the end of each module, the child is asked to test their knowledge. If they score over 80%, they win a vaccine which is donated to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for children in need around the world. At the moment only a few in England have access to the full course.                                                                                                


Thus, governments and the european Union with their Startup Europe Club can finance amazing ideas.                                                                


It is also possible for governments and local authorities to act on this particularly dangerous phenomenon and especially for young people. For example by launching awareness campaigns such as Good Information Week. This could be characterised by speakers in schools and promoted in traditional media and social networks.These interventions can also be renewed during elections where the dissemination of false information is unfortunately a real issue. For example the 8 march of 2016, the Sun stated that the Queen supported Brexit. The information was widely reported and played, and even history does not tell us whether the outcome would have been different, we know that this false information has played a major role in the final result.

The fight against this phenomenon is particularly difficult and this is partly due to the fact that the borderline between freedom of expression and the dissemination of fake news is very blurred. Governments must therefore develop a genuine public service of information and culture and impose strict measures on broadcasters.             


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Categories
International Relations

Legalisation of abortion in Argentina: a new wave for women’s rights in Latin America?

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Giulia de Nardin

Analyst for the International Relations and Global Governance Department

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Felipe Taylor Murta

Analyst for the International Relations and Global Governance Department

Legalisation of abortion in Argentina: a new wave for women's rights in Latin America?

The year 2020 was a milestone for the women’s rights movement in Argentina. At the end of an extraordinary session in the Argentine Senate on December 30, celebrations began for the supporters of the right to legal, safe, and free abortion also called ‘pañuelos verdes'. Argentina officially decriminalized and legalized abortion within 14 weeks of pregnancy, after which it is allowed only in cases of rape, or if it poses a risk to the woman's life or health. It is thus the third South American country to legalize elective abortions, after Guyana, where the practice is considered legal since 1995, and Uruguay, which decriminalized it in 2012. In Latin America, Cuba legalized abortion in 1965, while part of Mexico (Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca) also allows terminations. Public condemnation through social stigmas, widespread misinformation, taboos, religious opposition (both Catholic and Evangelical), and conservatism has postponed the concrete introduction of this matter in the Argentinian legal framework since the mid-2000s, but the ‘Green Tide’ has now obtained a legal reform.

The year 2020 was a milestone for the women’s rights movement in Argentina. At the end of an extraordinary session in the Argentine Senate on December 30, celebrations began for the supporters of the right to legal, safe, and free abortion also called ‘pañuelos verdes'. Argentina officially decriminalized and legalized abortion within 14 weeks of pregnancy, after which it is allowed only in cases of rape, or if it poses a risk to the woman's life or health. It is thus the third South American country to legalize elective abortions, after Guyana, where the practice is considered legal since 1995, and Uruguay, which decriminalized it in 2012. In Latin America, Cuba legalized abortion in 1965, while part of Mexico (Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca) also allows terminations. Public condemnation through social stigmas, widespread misinformation, taboos, religious opposition (both Catholic and Evangelical), and conservatism has postponed the concrete introduction of this matter in the Argentinian legal framework since the mid-2000s, but the ‘Green Tide’ has now obtained a legal reform.

We are observing a turning point not only for a country’s public health system but for all Latin American women’s rights. Women seeking abortions in restrictive countries are currently facing individual obstacles, such as income poverty and lack of freedom of movement, as well as other barriers that force them to resort to a self-induced practice, like depraved sanitary and safety conditions of facilities with untrained providers. With this reform, they can now hope that a change will also take place in their country, and in the meantime travel to Argentina to have a safe and accessible abortion. This historic landmark would not have been possible without social, economic, and political transitions that occurred in the region, including the rise of durable mass democracies, especially institutionalized partisan left governments, and the increasing number of female political leaders, which influenced the development of heterogeneous feminist activism and made the legislative debate possible, even under an anti-choice president.


In this sense, this article seeks to understand the impacts that the Argentinian reform, and more specifically, the activist movements that contributed to the legalization of abortion, will have at a regional level in Latin America and the Caribbean.


It analyses the main events that led to the creation of the ‘Green Tide’ movement and the framework within which it operates. It argues that previous successful achievements for women's rights in Latin America, the rise of democracies allowing political openness to the abortion debate, and the transversal nature of the feminist movement make the future development of pro-choice legal reforms a reality for other countries in the region. The importance of Argentina’s case in legalizing abortion resides not only in the fact that it is the largest country in Latin America to take the step, but rather considering its ties to the Catholic Church. As seen in scholarships, decriminalization of abortion often appears when a country becomes more secular, has a left majority in the executive and legislature, and becomes more sensitive to public opinion. In this sense, it is not astonishing that Uruguay and Cuba, the least religious countries in the region, were the first two countries to legalize abortion under left-party governments, and that Uruguay was the first democratic country to legalize it. Conversely, in Argentina, in spite of decreasing church attendance, religiosity increased steadily until 2017, and discussions concerning abortion were openly received by Mauricio Macri, former president of the country and representative of a conservative party.

In order to understand this deviant case, it is important to focus on the political action of the feminist movement that has been growing since the democratization in 1983. The Madres y Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, a women-headed movement that incited the condemnation of actions during the military dictatorship, seems to have led the path towards recent strikes, considering that Argentina has since been the stage of contingent politics demonstration through many occasions. In the last two decades, Argentina has shown high levels of citizen engagement in politics, while political institutions have been relatively weak. Specifically, in the case of abortion, it is possible to highlight the creation of the Commission for the Right to Abortion in 1988 and the yearly meeting of Encuentros, a national women’s meeting, that has advanced reproductive discussions since the mid-1990s.

While political mobilization led by Encuentros, especially during their National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion back in 2005, failed to face opposition from conservative groups, the more recent political demonstration of the Ni Una a Menos (“Not a Single Woman Less”) attained good results. Since 2015, the feminist mobilization on the streets has been steady, and relying on the motivating grievance, as a heritage of the Madres and Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo protest, focusing on femicide and the increasing rates of violence against women. Notwithstanding, the inclusion of the abortion matter took place gradually, using the existence of a feminist movement and familiar action framework, making it impossible for the matter not to be included in discussions at the heart of political institutions.

This scenario raises three important questions that require to be considered from a Latin American regional perspective. The debate will flare up in other countries with similarities to Argentina's restrictive legal framework, mainly due to historical precedents, the link between durable democracies and the advancement of pro-choice reforms, and the transnational nature of Latin American activism. Three examples illustrate how women's rights achievements are strongly interlinked and able to influence the regional scene: a) The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) had a profound impact on the development of feminist ideas to reach historical identification and scholars find women's suffrage in the region to be in its wake. Ecuador was the first country to introduce the right to vote for women (1929). In the same year, Puerto Rico allowed women access to education and granted them the right to vote six years later. The same occurred to Uruguay (1932), Cuba (1933), and El Salvador (1939), and after a stagnation of several years, by 1961 every Latin American country had granted women electoral rights. b) After the advent of neo-feminism (1970s), whose perspective translated into mobilizing on issues of abortion, motherhood, sexual autonomy, rape, and abuse, women fought against repression in military regimes as mothers of the ‘desaparecidos’ (‘disappeared people’) at the hands of the state. In this context, several movements with a common aim emerged in different states throughout the region, such as the group ‘Mujeres en Acción Solidaria’ (MAS) in Mexico (1971), the ‘CoMadres’ (‘Comité de Madres’) in El Salvador (1977) and the ‘Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo’ in Argentina (1977). c) National and international conferences contributed to extending the map of feminist politics during the second wave of feminism (1970s–80s). The periodic Latin American and Caribbean ‘Encuentros’, i.e. regional critical forums for debates about feminist politics, were held in Colombia (1981); Perú (1983); Brazil (1985); Mexico (1987); Argentina (1990); El Salvador (1993); Chile (1996); Dominican Republic (1990); Costa Rica (2002); Brazil (2005); Mexico (2009); Colombia (2011); and Peru (2014). Their growth testifies the spread of women’s movements throughout the region and, as Norma Chinchilla adds, they also “were an opportunity to negotiate region-wide policy agendas and mobilizing strategies [since] the tight web of networks that developed among feminists and other women activists [made] cross-national and regional responses to economic and political changes increasingly viable”.

If we focus on more recent events in Latin American history, we might also observe how most countries have undergone a process of democratization that has contributed largely to the development of activist movements. Democracy does not directly entail the approval of pro-choice reforms (as the case of Nicaragua testifies), but it is a necessary condition for shifting social policies towards this previously neglected issue.

The second point that calls for attention relates to how democracy plays a role in the legalization of abortion and which countries it is expected to have political demonstrations next. One can observe an apparent link between democratic institutions and the advancement of abortion legalization laws. One of the three variables supra cited that are related to the decriminalization of abortion is the sensibility to public opinion, which are often related to democratic regimes. Not surprisingly, according to the Congressional Research Service (2020), the highest democracy index rates in Latin America are in Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, respectively. Chile and Argentina have been the epicenters of debates and mobilization around gender, sexuality, and reproductive rights in Latin America. During the vote of the bill in Argentina that would later decriminalize abortion, Chilean’s streets were taken by protesters, and since, the country has seen important advances in the matter. For instance, debates around the decriminalization of abortion have now reached Congress, even though the executive remains steady on its opposition.

Democratic regimes also tend to be more receptive to civil mobilization’s demands. As the political field was opened up to new political actors through democracy, the movements went through a process of fragmentation and specialization at local, national, and regional levels (autónomas-institucionalizados), which is linked to the following third point.

The third question refers to how the decision will affect the region as a whole considering the action of transnational activism. Since liberalization and globalization processes occurred back in the 1990s, transnational activist movements have demanded a place in decision-making, where subjects of mobilization have transborder impacts. As pointed out by Silva (2013), transnational activism studies, namely those conducted by Sydney Tarrow (2005; 2011), show that the influence from activists has been growing since the turn of the 21st century and that it flows both upwards (from a local level to an international level) and downwards (from the international level to the local). In Latin America, these movements have been occurring since the beginning of the century, in which evidence is shown mainly with the “pink tide”, when left-turn governments that were elected all over the region with workers political movements being in the background (CTA in Argentina, CUT and MST in Brazil, CSUTCB in Bolivia).

The same process of integrated social movements having cross-border impacts can be seen now during the expansion of the ‘marea verde’ (‘Green Tide’). In spite of the unfolding of the Coronavirus pandemic, women’s activists’ organizations in the Southern Cone maintain direct liaisons through the internet, with the Argentinian’s decision having a greater impact within its neighbors.

The evidence of the impact of the Argentinian reform is taking place in the growth of the grassroots feminist movement ‘Green Tide’. In light of a restrictive context, various transnational efforts were launched to push for more reproductive rights in all countries and a week after the vote and campaigns for abortion started all over the continent: Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia are following Argentina's example. Among the many organizations that have a growing impact at a regional level and supported the ‘Green Tide’, we will mention the ‘Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights’ (author of the ‘September 28 Campaign’), the ‘Center for Reproductive Rights’, the ‘Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia Y Genero’, the ‘Latin American Consortium Against Unsafe Abortion’, the ‘Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’, and the ‘Safe Abortion Advocacy Initiative – Global South Engagement’. Similarly, many organizations have intensified their work in terms of national campaigns, such as the ‘Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida’ and the ‘Las libres’ movement in Mexico, the ‘Somos Muchas’ collective in Honduras, and the ‘Causa Justa’ movement in Colombia, while the Peruvian Purple Party's political promises depend on its eventual victory in presidential elections.


Categories
Environment, Climate and Urbanism Non classé

How the Covid-19 Pandemic is affecting and reshaping our cities

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Augustin Agabriel

Environmental, Climatic and Urban Research Analyst

How the Covid-19 Pandemic is affecting and  reshaping our cities 

Cities are the heart of exchanges, as the centres of commercial and political relations. It is not  surprising that viruses can easily be transmitted in these urban areas where people live closer together  and meet one another. Cities have historically been the transmission hubs of pandemics (see for  example, the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu). 

Facing those issues, cities have often restructured their infrastructures to improve hygiene conditions and limit virus transmissions. For example, lying at the heart of London, the Victoria  Embankment was built in the middle of the 19th century during a cholera epidemic to carry wastewater  out of the city down the Thames. It successfully managed to flow away wastewater from water  pumping sites and avoided any mix of potentially infected water with drinkable one. From another  perspective, New York’s Central Park was designed on the premise that it would improve human health  conditions during a cholera pandemic in the 1850s.

As many previous epidemics, Covid-19 has had an impact on cities, both directly and indirectly.  The first impact is the most direct one, as Covid-19 underlined or revealed already existing issues in  cities: “COVID-19 has laid bare existing fault lines in cities that are impossible to ignore,” (Ani Dasgupta, director of the WRI Ross Centre For Sustainable Cities). One of these issues is air pollution, researchers showed a strong correlation between highly air-polluted cities and mortality with Covid-19. In the  Netherlands for example, the Institute of Labour Economics found that a small increase of air pollution  was associated with a 21.4% increase in death rates.

Other issues are also seen in housing conditions. Neighbourhoods with unhygienic housing  conditions are environments in which it is easier for viruses to be spread because social distancing  cannot be efficiently applied. For example, in New York, in August 2020, the Bronx saw up to 33% of tests coming back positive, while Manhattan “only” suffered 19% of positive tests. This is mainly explained by the fact that poorer neighbourhoods feature more unhygienic housing conditions than  richer ones do, making it easier for the virus to be spread.

Regarding hygienic issues underlined by Covid, it appears necessary for these cities to act, for  the health and life quality of their inhabitants. A 2020 UN Policy brief warned that “there is an urgent  need to rethink and transform cities to respond to the reality of COVID-19 and potential future  pandemics”. To tackle health issues caused by unequal housing, some have decided to be more socially  inclusive to allow people to live in good housing conditions. Bristol has for example developed a “One  City Economic Recovery” plan. The plan has for objective to reduce inequalities, increase the city’s  resilience and the environment by offering loans or IT support to charities, organizations and  associations taking care of minorities in order to reduce inequalities by better integrating habitants in  the city, which would lead to easier accessibility of healthier housings. Concerning air regulation,  initiatives of new environmental directives have been brought to the European Commission to be  debated throughout 2021. 

A second effect that Covid-19 had is more undirect. To tackle the virus, many states have set  up lockdowns: in early April 2020, more than half of the world population was under lockdown  restrictions. By staying at home, citizens were not using anymore public infrastructures, which opened  an opportunity for mayors to use this period to make profound changes into the city structure to be  more “resilient, inclusive and sustainable” (UN directive). With the digitalization of working, the need  for cities to reinvent themselves to avoid losing their population has become a need and this pandemic  is a perfect moment to do so. As Ernesto Ottone (UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture)  declared: “Cities should seize the moment and focus on the new possibilities triggered by the crisis  towards transforming themselves into resilient, socially inclusive and green communities”.  


Tendencies following this line have been seen across the globe to modify urban planning and  designs: there has been a notable emphasis on plans to make city more eco-responsible.


An important  focus is made on the development of bicycle tracks to promote green transportations into the city.  Cities such as Bogota or Paris have added tens of kilometres of new paths to promote this mean of  transportation. The crisis has also underlined the importance of green spaces, with cities such as Dallas  seeing an increase after lockdowns of 135% of use of public parks. To answer this demand, Montreal  presented new plans of developing and building new green spaces in the city. Finally, some cities have  opted to develop “15-min cities”, in which habitants should be able to be offered “services and quality  of life within the space of 15 minutes on foot from home” (Milan’s Mayor, Giuseppe Sala), such as  Milan or Paris. 

As many previous pandemics and epidemics, Covid-19 will lead to major changes in city  planification, both indirectly and directly linked to the pandemic. These will probably affect the way  we move into urban spaces by improving clean transports and developing green spaces but also our  houses, by improving housing conditions, as well as our health, by regulating air pollution for example.  But one thing is sure, the pandemic will certainly affect for on a very long term our way of living.  


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Categories
Education

Students are faced with unprecedented difficulties. Here is what the government can do to help

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Baptiste Poupart-Lafarge

Education Analyst

Students are faced with unprecedented difficulties. And here is what the government can do to help.

The Covid-19 has proved to be one of the most challenging crises of recent world history, causing the death of nearly 2,5 million people according to the WHO on the 22nd February 2021. However, the set up of restrictions to tackle the pandemic did not remain without consequences in many areas of public life. One that has been particularly impacted is the educational sphere, where students that would usually have had lessons together in close spaces, and meet one another between classes, have been sent home to study online.

Distance learning courses caused two-stage damages. The first affected were the underprivileged social classes, and gradually the mental health of young people became a real concern.

Access to digital resources is limited for many families, about 30 to 40% do not have optimal access to materials. Moreover, teacher support has been easily replaced by parents who have the capacity to do so, while others have sometimes found themselves alone in the face of mounting difficulties.

Some never even met other classmates because of online teaching and don’t have a feeling to be part of university… Some still do not realize that they miss going to class!On the other hand, a minority of students found themselves at an advantage in this situation, saving time, being able to shape their timetable, and even some students describe having had an extra motivation to participate in lessons given the virtual absence of the other students’ gaze.


Despite the efforts of most teachers and governments, there are increasing warnings, especially seen on social networks.


Students describe dramatic situations, feeling that their life lost its meaning. The routine is hellish, interactions become exclusively digital. Temptations become the common enemy. Bad news accumulates at Twitter speed and lack of motivation seems to be the second virus. This lockdown has therefore not only revealed inequalities but has also amplified them.

The current solutions implemented by the governments are long and inconclusive. Some teachers stand out for their devotion, while others drop out. The collective movement is struggling to remove its cloak of invisibility.There is an absolute necessity to provide integrality in lessons for students, some of whom could see their ambitions crumble in the absence of a teacher during this period. It is therefore important for the state to centralize education in order to provide a homogeneous education. This can be done in this way.

The first step is to digitize the programs, for example, to provide video clips available everywhere and for everyone and used by teachers. We can also involve psychologists in classes to give advice to students on how to take care of their mental health. It is also possible to imagine television channels broadcasting lessons by subject and level.

Teachers would therefore no longer have to give lessons, but only concentrate on accompanying students, explaining the content, and also improve their personalized follow-up for the students. The second step is obviously access to digital technology, it is necessary to open libraries, as well as workrooms for students having trouble with their IT equipment. It is also necessary to speed up the distribution of material, as well as computer training for students and teachers.

To the extent that many students struggle to pay their fees (rent, tuition fees, daily charges), It becomes complicated for students to invest in computer equipment. Thus, I propose that the local authorities provide computer grants for all families in difficulty. If the situation is experienced differently for each individual, the collective suffers, and the young people pay for it. Increasing school dropouts, rising depression, and extreme solitude, when are we going to help the students out of the nightmare in which they are locked up and don’t seem ready to come out?


Categories
European Affairs

The EU faces its current challenges: will its fragility precede a renewed vitality?

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Petra Pakodzi

European Affairs Analyst

The EU faces its current challenges: will its fragility precede a renewed vitality?

Challenges from inner institutions, member states and external threats have always had an impactful role in the history of the European Union. Being aware of these current affairs is a key in becoming a responsible citizen.

Generally speaking as the coronavirus pandemic started in 2019, the EU had to share its attention towards equally important issues-facing economic, social hardship and the largest health crisis of the new century. The availability, amount, schedule of vaccination was the main question throughout 2020 which is trying to be resolved. What about this pandemic’s financial, mental and educational aspects? A crisis is in progress as people are losing their job, struggling with mental health, youngsters and students are missing their experiences from education. This mechanism has started to test the eurozone and its institutions, which system has been standing on weak legs since its formation because Europe has failed to address it.

Moreover, 2020 contained many more sensitive debates: the first country left the Union a Brexit deal had to be reached. This phenomenon illustrates the fragmentation of the strongest economic and social bond ever existed. Besides, two key countries of the union have tense uncertainty towards their future-Can Mario Draghi solve Italy’s crisis? Who is going to be the next leader of Germany?


Threats to democracy are coming from in- and outside of Europe.


For example, Russian influence could have been observed since the establishment of the Soviet Union. This still impacts countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary and Poland. Not just European values, but human rights and dignity are being threatened by populist leaders of member states. In the inner circle of the EU, Hungary and Poland have been implementing laws limiting LGBTQ+ people’s life, abortion concerns, free press and education. As this process is taking place in other leading countries-such as China-the EU has a major role in intervening and standing up for human rights. By the development of the information technology industry the risk comes from a new part of checks and balances-the medium and via this-the influence of Big Tech. As the process has already started in the US, the European Union is also starting to regulate the tech giants . Furthermore, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressed the willingness of the EU to work strongly together with the new Biden administration, slightly articulating the new bond with the US, leaving aside the departing UK.

All these cases have to be dealt with sensitivity, by putting emphasis on the impacts on the climate. The EU can indicate its countries preferences by negotiating international treaties, funding projects and encouraging member states to a new green direction. As the European Green Deal is the first of its type people tend to be ambitious about its goals and significance. This aims to improve people’s quality of life by making the union a low carbon economy. Every aspect of the new world order has to be altered such as consumption, energy generation and transport. The target for the Union is to create a bloc of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Besides, the EU as a leading actor in the economy, has to promote green transition to other players of the international game.

In conclusion, with the beginning of the pandemic the EU started to face many more problems than before. Problems that were not resolved and which have to be shed light on to create a diverse, tight economic and social bond in Europe.


Categories
Business and Economics

The GameStop phenomenon taught us the Wall Street titans will almost always come out on top

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Dinh Nguyen

Business and Economics Analyst

The GameStop phenomenon taught us the Wall Street titans will almost always come out on top

The Reddit versus Wallstreet drama that drove GameStop prices to inconceivable heights last month might first seem like a modern-day David and Goliath story where the little guys gave Wall Street a run for their money, but ultimately just proved how large hedge funds will seem to win every single time.

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For those unacquainted, GameStop, a brick-and-mortar videogame retail chain that saw its finances dwindle both due to game producers releasing products digitally as well as the impacts of COVID-19 on its stores became the number one target for hedge fund short sellers. Short selling is essentially betting on a company to fail, borrowing the company’s stocks from a broker to sell it, then re-buying once the price had crashed to return and make a profit. The Redditors from a popular financial subreddit, r/wallstreetbets, got wind of this, and decided en masse to all buy GameStop shares in what could only be described as a nihilistically induced frenzy — or as they call it- YOLOing. Reddit plan worked; GME rose from under $40/share to shy of $350/share within a week, causing huge losses to those who were shorting the stocks.

Melvin Capital, the main short seller in the saga and the Public Enemy Number One under the eyes of Redditors came out of the race with huge losses. The hedge fund entered 2021 with $12.5 billion in managed assets but ended up with only $8 billion at the end of January, even with a massive $2.75 billion injection from other hedge funds. Melvin capital ended up losing 53% of its asset when closing its positions on GameStop on January 27th. Some Redditors, consequently, benefitted and was able to afford their pet’s healthcare or even paid off the entirety of their student loan. Redditor Keith Gills became a multi-millionaire after seeing his $50 000 in GME stock turn into over $44 million at its height.


However, Robinhood and similar stock brokers restricted trading on GameStop stocks and caused its price to fall rapidly.


The hugely unpopular move to restrict trade was explained away by Robinhood’s managements as simply to help keep the company’s finances under control, but with having Citadel, a large hedge funds whose billions helped to bail Melvin Capital out earlier in the week, as one of their main business partners, the move couldn’t help but be seen as blatant collusion between hedge funds and brokers. The restrictions, while landing Robinhood in hot water between a class-action lawsuit and a congressional hearing, also managed to prevent the public from buying GME and drive up the price. What started as a revolt against the financial institutions of Wall Street turned into just another opportunity for massive hedge funds to cash out. Everyone knows the exorbitant price of GameStop is unsustainable, a failing company’s stock cannot be worth $350/share. The winner of the GameStop buying frenzy is neither the Redditors nor Melvin Capital, but the various hedge funds that take short positions when GME was at its highest on January 27th. GME fell 86.4% from $347.51 down to $53.50 in a week and with buying restrictions from brokers like Robinhood, prices seem unlikely to go up. This was a massive loss to the personal finances of thousands of Redditors who invested in the stock, all the while being a golden opportunity for hedge funds’ short-sellers.

What the GameStop phenomenon taught us was the Wall Street titans, with their colossal capitals, access to information and research groups as well as deep ties with both politicians and private companies, will almost always come out on top and maintain the status quo. Robinhood restricting trades and Discord’s r/wallstreetbets server ban demonstrates the extent of the financial institutions’ power. Regular people, with limited buying capacity, could only go along for the ride and hope to turn a small profit. This is not to say, however, that the people, don’t hold any tangible power. The mass buying of GME by Redditors still strike a blow into the pocket of Melvin Capitals, and from now on, hedge funds would have to think twice before taking a short position again.


Categories
Defence and Security

Operation Barkhane in the Sahel should focus on peace and stability despite limitations

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Allan Ohene MA fCMgr

Director of the Defence and Security Research Department

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Alexandre Dupont-Sinhsattanak

Defence and Security Analyst

Operation Barkhane in the Sahel should focus on peace and stability despite limitations

A French led multinational intervention within the Sahel, a vast desert area in northern Africa, was launched in 2013 as a result of Islamic militant activity which likely posed a greater threat to the political stability of the region and possibly the West. A first operation, named Serval, succeeded in driving back the Jihadists within a month. In August 2014, a new operation, codenamed Operation Barkhane and based in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, was set as a counterterrorist military operation which sought to target Islamic extremists in Mali, Chad and Niger. The stability of this region was seen to be essential to the peace and security needs of France and its allies in Europe and America. The UN and the EU deployed peacekeeping and training missions, MINUSMA, EUTM Mali and EUCAT Sahel Mali. Most of these Sahel States were once colonized by France and this drive to achieve political stability was seen to be crucial for the continuity of the alliance between France and its former colonies. It was essentially in the interest of the French to take an active lead on this intervention.

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In military terms, the French intervention has been highly successful in pushing back these Islamic militant activities to a larger extent, but more areas are still being infiltrated by different groups. Over 100 jihadists have been killed in a close collaboration between French and Malian forces in the month of January 2021 and more progress continues to be made despite the lack of infrastructure and the climate conditions in the Sahel. France and its European allies have strategically utilized this mission to afford regional groups such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adequate training and support to ensure a standby security readiness. The formation of the G5 Sahel coalition is also a step toward collective security in the region, with the participation of Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad.

The success of this intervention should not be criticised on a large scale but needs to be seen as an effort to rid the Sahel of extremists who take advantage of the poor socio-economic background of these deprived communities around the region. Arguments have remained that it contributes to instability within the Sahel as a result of the French governments support to repressive governments.


The government of Mali has been quite unresponsive to the terror threat due to inadequate financial commitments and lack of resources to regions badly suppressed by the jihadist groups.


The French mission has also been compared to the forever wars of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight with support from America seen not to be particularly strong due to other threats to its own interests from China and Russia. Logistics and skills required may be found lacking within African States to confront this threat, but it is vital for the full cooperation of France and its major partners within the region: namely ECOWAS, G5 Sahel and African Union (AU). French self-interests and legitimacy within the Sahel region have been called into question as a result of the multitude of companies benefiting from its rich resources. Large swathes of recent protests in capitals such as Bamako, Mali, have also led to anti-French sentiments which in turn led the French President, Macron, to demand assurances from some heads of state at a G5 Sahel Summit organized in Pau, south-west of France, in January 2020 in which his tone of ‘summons’ was also criticized by some leaders. It was merely seen as an autocratic gesture. The leadership of these G5 countries have all voiced strong support for the French intervention in order to sustain peace and stability within the region despite the anti-French sentiments felt across their borders. More and more local people embrace an anti-colonial stance, accompanied by some criticisms in France. In fact, the death tolls of French soldiers (55 casualties since 2013) have a negative impact on the public opinion, while the cost of the operation (1 billion euros per year) participates to overstretch the French military. The current operation has limited tactical successes, with few military gains. Some point out to the inefficient use of the military force, due to the asymmetrical nature of the conflict.

Operation Barkhane has a long way to go in terms of its military mission of restoring peace and security in the Sahel against these jihadist groups. It should be given the full political support of all parties concerned to ensure the collective security of the Sahel and wider world in general is not at further risk of violence caused by extremist groups. France and its allies have seen its fair share of terrorism imported from these jihadists groups and the purpose of this mission must be seen to be critical for the pursuance of democracy in the region deeply underpinned by peace and stability. Socio-economic development for these affected states will ultimately thrive on the success of Operation Barkhane should this be given the unconditional legitimacy it fully deserves.


Categories
International Relations

Narva, a city emerging from its identity crisis?

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Maksim Vassin

International Relations and Global Governance Analyst

Narva, a city emerging from its identity crisis?

Perhaps nowhere in the world, it is possible to find two opposing fortresses merely a stone-throw away from each other, other than in Narva, Estonia and Ivangorod, Russia. Separated geographically by the river, they share common history and culture — Ivangorod used to be a suburb of much richer and larger Narva; Narva itself is ethnically almost fully Russian, despite being an Estonian city.

The history of Narva — my hometown — has always been connected to the situation across the border and the relationship between Estonia and its giant neighbour to the East — and these relations have rarely been particularly easy. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated in early 2013-late 2014, with the development of the Ukrainian crisis and Russian occupation of Crimea. Many foreign policy journalists and experts started looking for another potential conflict hotspot. “Is Narva next?” was the question for many.

And it is not hard to see why. Narva is essentially a Russian enclave in Estonia — only 1,8% of the population are native Estonian speakers; less than a half of the population (48,5%) are Estonian citizens, compared to 36% of Russian citizens and 13,6% stateless persons (Source: Narva City Council). It has not always been this way, after all, before the Second World War, Narva was a majority Estonian town. However, the new Soviet occupation authority banned previous residents from returning to the city, razed it to the ground, and re-populated it with the migrant workforce from other parts of the Union to transform Narva from once one of the most beautiful cities of Northern Europe to the ultimate Soviet industrial powerhouse.

Fast-forward fifty years, many of the relocated workforce found themselves in a newly independent country, without any sense of attachment to it, knowledge of the language nor culture. Drug and crime problems plagued the city, and ethnic divisions were acutely felt. With the deterioration of relations in 2013–2014, many locals feared a conflict might ensue. This triggered an identity crisis for those living in Narva, including myself — since we speak Russian, are we a part of the Russian cultural space? Or are we politically and economically Estonian? This identity crisis manifests itself even now, with the recent political turmoil in Russia and the division between Putin and Navalny supporters. Many fear that sanctions imposed by the EU would harm the relations between Estonia and Russia even more, creating numerous problems for the city, in turn. While the initial forecast was that the quickly deteriorating relationship between Estonia and Russia in 2014 will harm Narva’s growth (decline in exports and transit through the border), it provided an opposite result and initiated a period of growth for the city.

Before 2014, the government presence in the city was not felt, which proved a breeding ground for such an identity crisis. The city was encapsulated, culturally and linguistically detached from the rest of the country. Narva was seen as a city of decay and crisis, however, owing to the events in Crimea, the narrative towards Narva started to change.

With the support of the government, Narva became a cultural hotspot of the country and a major tourist destination. Overnight, abandoned factories became trendy festival venues, attracting tens of thousands of visitors a year. Besides the immediate economic impact of revitalised tourist streams, citizens of Narva finally had a chance to feel truly connected to Estonian culture and media space — Estonian language could be heard on the streets, the media stopped depicting the city as a crime capital, and the government turned its attention to the city. Even the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, relocated her offices to Narva for a total period of two months in August-November 2018.


At a reception in Narva City Hall, Kersti Kaljulaid announced that the city will compete for the European Capital of Culture in 2024.


However, her most important visit happened at the beginning of 2018 when she travelled to Narva to make the announcement that almost all Narva citizens met with disbelief, surprise and some, even, shock. This was an incredibly bold move. While the city had already started attracting a considerable degree of national attention by the time of the announcement, no one considered it to be a capital of culture, more so, a European Capital of Culture.

The whole candidacy of Narva revolved around its strategic location on the border between the East and the West. When the jury members came to tour Narva, they saw a unique performance. Two choirs stood opposite each other — one in Narva, the other in Ivangorod. Their song could be heard across the river, across the civilisational, geographical, political border. The motto of the candidacy was “Narva is next”, utilising the question raised by journalists in 2014, yet this time giving it a more positive connotation.Tense relations between two countries do not always have to negatively affect the people living on the border between those two countries. For Narva, this proved to be a major success and a turning point in history. While many believed that the downturn in relations between Estonia and Russia would constitute the economic downfall of the city, Narva managed to correctly use its strategic position and international narrative to attract attention, tourists, culture, and boost its economy.


Categories
Technology

Will 2021 be the most critical year regarding the supply problems that hit car manufacturing industry?

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Guillaume Profitt

Technology Analyst

Will 2021 be the most critical year regarding the supply problems that hit car manufacturing industry?

Over the last few weeks, the biggest car manufacturers in the world have been forced to close or slow down the production in some of their factories. One could think that this is due to a lack of demand in the context of the COVID-19 crisis; in fact, the reason is a penury of semiconductors. These chips are everywhere, not only in car manufacturing: essentially, any product that features electronics components uses them to an extent.

While this shortage is due to both an increased demand of IT devices with most companies in the world shifting to remote work, and the temporary closures of the main production sites because of COVID-19, it does highlight a wider problem: Europe is dependent on the rest of the world for its supply in micro conductors. The 10 biggest semiconductor company are American, Korean, Taiwanese or Japanese. Combined, the three biggest European manufacturers only make up the 4th biggest manufacturer. The EU has considered the problem and through the voice of its Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, announced a plan to reduce Europe’s dependency for semiconductors. But Europe must go further than that, and develop a strategy to not only assure its sourcing, but to become a leader in the semiconductors market.


Indeed, European countries have all the factors necessitated for a successful deeper dive into this market.


With the high level of automation of foundries, the biggest part of the workforce in a micro conductor company is now dedicated to engineering; these jobs necessitate highly qualified engineers, that European countries have plenty of. R&D is logically the biggest spending for these companies, and thus require stable and large source of capital to operate efficiently; again, European countries have among the biggest financial markets in the world, able to provide the necessaries liquidities. This is also a level at which the EU can intervene by setting up incentives towards these investments.

Sure, the rest of the productions lines is still located outside of Europe most often, but does that means that modern transportation of relatively compact products wouldn’t be enough to overcome this obstacle? I do not think so: in fact, the EU’s exchanges with China alone amounted for 383.5 billion euros last year, proving yet again the ease of mobility of goods and services in our modern world.

In fact, this distance between the semiconductors production and most of the industries that use them as intermediate consumptions is not in itself definitive. The relocalization of a part of the engineering and industrialization of theses chains of production would work as an incentive for the transfer of other parts in these chains. It is thus reasonable to expect at medium term the emergence of new European actors in many other markets linked to the semiconductor industry, as a side effect of this micro-conductor policy.

In short, this case has a lot in common with the history of Airbus as a European project: a notable industry already present in the member states, but which falls short of dominance; the skilled workforce required for the technical progress on these products and market set to become one of major importance, not only in itself, but also for its symbolic and political impact. It seems therefore reasonable to hope for a comprehensive plan for the development of a stronger semiconductors industry in Europe, be it through an assistance to the current European actors, or by creating a pan-European enterprise, whose objective would fall perfectly in the objectives of the Next generation European Union Plan, agreed upon on the 21st of July 2020.