Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 11.08.17

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • NZZ: Regieren statt repräsentieren
  • Sanctions upon Sanctions
  • The Middle East for Russia and the EU: Bone of Contention or Cause for Peace?
  • What are the Implications of Russia-Turkey S-400 Missile Deal?
  • Carnegie Moscow: How the Gulag Lives On in Russia’s Prison Economy.
  • COLUMN-More than meets the eye as China tops U.S. as biggest crude importer: Russell.
  • Chatham House: It’s Far Too Early to Talk of Return for Syrian Refugees
  • Deutsche Bank Research – Packed European agenda for the next (German) government: Numerous challenges, no (easy) answers
  • U.S. Department of State: Communication Regarding Intent To Withdraw From Paris Agreement

Massenbach*NZZ:Regieren statt repräsentieren

von Tom Slater 7.8.2017, 05:30 Uhr

Die etablierten Parteien führender westlicher Staaten haben in letzter Zeit kalte Duschen kassiert.

Das ist der Preis für eine Politik, die sich zunehmend auf sich selbst zurückzieht

Ein prägender Charakterzug moderner politischer Eliten, ob sie nun in Brüssel, in Whitehall oder in Washington sitzen, ist ihre Fähigkeit zur Selbsttäuschung. Das zeigte sich in ihrer Reaktion auf einige Volksentscheide der jüngsten Zeit, die mit der Autorität etablierter politischer Kräfte kurzen Prozess machten.

2016 eroberte ein demagogischer Aussenseiter das Weisse Haus, der seiner eigenen Partei nicht minder verhasst war als der Opposition – dank Wählern, die es satthatten, ständig übergangen zu werden. Frankreichs classe politique wurde heuer beim Wahlgang dezimiert, Sozialisten wie Konservative sahen sich auf den Rücksitz verwiesen. Und beim Brexit-Entscheid votierten die Briten gegen Brüssel wie auch gegen ihre eigenen Führungskräfte, die allesamt den Verbleib in der EU befürwortet hatten.

Diese Ereignisse waren unterschiedlich in ihrer Art und Auswirkung. Das Brexit-Referendum war ein historisches Novum – es war das erste Mal, dass die Briten ihr Stimmrecht dafür einsetzten, dem politischen Establishment und der gesamteuropäischen Ordnung einen Korb zu geben. Die Wahl Trumps war eine Revolte mit dem Vorschlaghammer, getrieben vom Verlangen der Wähler, es einer als abgehoben und arrogant empfundenen Elite einmal so richtig einzutränken. Die Wahl Emmanuel Macrons wiederum war gleichzeitig eine Absage an die etablierte Politik und eine taktische Kapitulation vor ihr. Macron, durch und durch ein Spross des Establishments, wusste zwar, dass er sich von diesem lossagen musste, um zu gewinnen; aber letztlich war er angesichts der Kandidatur Marine Le Pens nur das ungeliebte kleinere Übel.

Nur ein «Wutgeheul»?

Die Reaktionen von Politikern und Meinungsführern fielen insbesondere nach dem Brexit und Trumps Wahlsieg ähnlich aus. Sie weigerten sich, den Tatsachen ins Gesicht zu sehen, und entschieden sich stattdessen dafür, die Wahlentscheide herabzusetzen und zu entpolitisieren. Das Brexit-Votum war ein «Wutgeheul». Trumps Sieg war laut einem Kommentator «das grösste Unglück, das den Westen seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg heimgesucht hat». Es hagelte Nazi-Vergleiche. Indem man die Abstimmungsresultate als abartig, rassistisch, apokalyptisch, als das Werk unwissender, aufgehetzter Massen darstellte, sagte man sich von der eigenen Verantwortung los; ja man konnte vor solchem Hintergrund sogar als Verteidiger der Zivilisation posieren.

Während ein beträchtlicher Teil der Wähler vom politischen Establishment die Nase voll hat, bleibt dieses intakt – und fühlt sich sogar gestärkt.

In Frankreich präsentierte sich die Lage anders. Die Reaktion der etablierten Politiker war sicherlich auch dort realitätsblind, aber ungleich positiver: In Macrons Sieg sahen sie – wie ihre Amtskollegen jenseits von Frankreichs Grenzen – ihre Rettung. Der «Economist» verstieg sich zu einem Cover, das einen auf Wasser wandelnden Macron zeigte; «Willkommen bei der Revolution», hiess es im Leitartikel. «Die Hoffnungen Frankreichs, Europas und der Zentristen in aller Welt ruhen auf [Macron].»

Dabei übersah man allerdings geflissentlich die Tatsache, dass Macrons Siege bei den Präsidentschafts- und den Parlamentswahlen mit rekordhoher Wählerabstinenz einhergegangen waren. «Die Wahlbeteiligung war niedrig, aber sie ist seit Jahren im Abnehmen begriffen», meinte achselzuckend der «Economist». Obwohl Macron nur von einem geringen Anteil der Bevölkerung gestützt wird, obwohl sein opportunistischer Aufstieg sich viel eher der Erschöpfung des politischen Establishments verdankte als seiner diffusen «Blair light»-Politik, wird er als Repräsentant der Erneuerung und Verjüngung wahrgenommen.

Darin liegt die Essenz der derzeitigen politischen Situation. Während ein beträchtlicher Teil der Wähler vom politischen Establishment die Nase voll hat, bleibt dieses intakt – und fühlt sich sogar gestärkt. Nach wie vor sind es seine Vertreter, die im öffentlichen Diskurs den Ton angeben: Sie können den Brexit kleinreden, Trumps Wähler abschreiben und das Leichtgewicht Macron zum grossen Sieger ausrufen. Sie entscheiden, was eine «demokratische Revolution» ist und was blosses «Wutgeheul».

Das sagt einiges über den Status quo der Politik aus. Aber es zeigt auch, auf welch unsicherem Boden das neue Verlangen nach Demokratie steht. Die Revolten der jüngsten Zeit finden keinerlei kulturelle oder politische Affirmation, keine klar definierte Bewegung steht hinter ihnen. Und in diesem Vakuum sieht die alte technokratische Ordnung eine Chance, sich erneut zu etablieren.

Rückzug auf sich selbst

Dass Macrons Hofstaat völlig perplex war angesichts seines dürftigen Erfolgs bei den Wählern, darf nicht überraschen. In den letzten Dekaden haben Politiker zunehmend nicht beim Wahlvolk Bestätigung gesucht, sondern bei ihresgleichen und bei supranationalen Institutionen. Wie Chris Bickerton in «The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide» schreibt, gilt dies ganz besonders für die EU: «Im Lauf der Zeit begannen nationale Regierungen ihre Existenz und ihre Macht als direkt abhängig von der EU-Mitgliedschaft zu sehen.»

Er führt das Beispiel des portugiesischen Präsidenten Anibal Cavaco Silva an, der 2015 deklarierte, dass ein Widerstand gegen die von der EU verhängten Austeritätsmassnahmen «nicht verfassungskonform» und ergo indiskutabel sei. Da braucht man nicht lange zu fragen, warum sich so viele Bürger gegen ihre Regierungen wenden.

Den herbeigerufenen Experten ist mehr an der Erhaltung des Status quo gelegen als daran, im Interesse der Bürger zu handeln.

Peter Mair beschreibt in «Ruling the Void» diesen Rückzug politischer Parteien aus dem öffentlichen, zivilgesellschaftlichen Leben in den Staat. In allen stabilen und fortgeschrittenen Demokratien macht er gegen Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts schrumpfende Parteibasen und sinkende Beteiligung an Wahlen und Abstimmungen aus. Infolgedessen, schreibt Muir, wurden Parteien «zu Kräften, die regieren – im weitesten Sinne des Wortes –, statt zu repräsentieren». Programme und Ideologien welkten dahin, die Parteien lösten sich in einer amorphen politischen Klasse auf.

Die technokratische Wende

Infolge dieser Legitimationskrise begannen die Politiker, die Verantwortung für zentrale politische Bereiche an nicht belangbare Institutionen zu übertragen. Dies geschah im nationalen und supranationalen Bereich und ganz besonders im Rahmen der EU.

So entstanden restriktive, regulatorische Staatswesen, die ängstlich besorgt waren, sich wirtschaftlichen Vorgaben wie etwa dem Euro-Stabilitätspakt zu unterziehen, der den Zielsetzungen einer unabhängigen Institution – der Europäischen Zentralbank – diente. Und wenn gewählte Politiker diese Vorgaben nicht erfüllen oder das Vertrauen der betreffenden Institutionen verlieren, dann steht möglicherweise ihr Amt zur Disposition. So hatte die EU 2011 die Hand im Spiel, als die gewählten Premierminister Italiens und Griechenlands zurücktreten mussten und Technokraten an ihre Stelle traten.

Dies könnte man als eine technokratische Wende bezeichnen, die mit einem tiefen Misstrauen gegenüber der Öffentlichkeit einhergeht. Den herbeigerufenen Experten ist mehr an der Erhaltung des Status quo und der Einhaltung ihrer eigenen unumstösslichen Regeln gelegen als daran, im Interesse der Bürger zu handeln. Der Umgang der EU mit Griechenland im Gefolge der Schuldenkrise ist ein erstklassiges Beispiel hiefür. Das rabiate Sparprogramm liess die griechische Wirtschaft massiv schrumpfen, und das heisst auch, dass die deutschen Wähler – die alles andere als glücklich waren, für Griechenlands Schuldenlast aufkommen zu müssen – weniger Chancen haben, ihr Geld zurückzuerhalten.

Ohne Visionen

Im vergangenen Jahr allerdings haben sich die Vorzeichen gewandelt; die Öffentlichkeit, jahrzehntelang aus der Politik ausgeschlossen, meldet sich zurück. Aber die Technokratie hält einstweilen an ihrer Machtbastion im Zentrum des politischen Lebens fest – und mit ihr eine politische Klasse, die sich an ihrer Position festklammert, obwohl es ihr an Mut und Visionen fehlt. Die bestehenden politischen Parteien haben versucht, dem Hunger nach Veränderung zu begegnen, und sind dabei gescheitert.

Rechtsaussenparteien wie der Front national und die britische Ukip waren lediglich Vehikel für den Unmut der Wähler.

Theresa May etwa zollte dem Geist des Brexit zwar Lippendienst, aber ihre Politik ist uninspiriert, stückwerkhaft, technokratisch. Und obwohl die Begeisterung für Jeremy Corbyn noch nicht allenthalben abgeflaut ist, bleibt seine Anhängerschaft beschränkt – und praktiziert ihrerseits mehrheitlich einen Aktivismus per Mausklick. Auch der Aussenseiter Trump hat sich als politische Null erwiesen. Er ist weder interessiert an innenpolitischen Fragen noch fähig, mit ihnen umzugehen; stattdessen verlegt er sich auf verheerende aussenpolitische Abenteuer, um sich als Präsident in Szene zu setzen.

Die schiere Tatsache, dass Politiker mit derart zweifelhafter demokratischer Legitimation im Amt bleiben können, macht auch das entscheidende Defizit der Gegenbewegungen an der Basis offensichtlich. Es fehlt an realen Alternativen, an einem ausformulierten und konkreten Programm für einen politischen Wandel. Dass Rechtsaussenparteien wie der Front national und die britische Ukip ausgebrannt sind und Stimmen verlieren, deutet darauf hin, dass sie lediglich Vehikel für den Unmut der Wähler waren.

Die politischen Eruptionen der letzten Zeit sollten denn auch nicht in erster Linie als Symptom eines neuen nationalen Chauvinismus verstanden werden – sondern als Signale eines weitverbreiteten Unbehagens, das einstweilen noch keinen kohärenten und zukunftsgerichteten Ausdruck gefunden hat.

Tom Slater ist stellvertretender Chefredaktor des Online-Magazins «spiked», in dem dieser Aufsatz im Original erschien; wir publizieren ihn in leicht gekürzter Form. Aus dem Englischen von as.

https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/politik-in-der-krise-regieren-statt-repraesentieren-ld.1309001

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From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Sanctions upon Sanctions
  • The Middle East for Russia and the EU: Bone of Contention or Cause for Peace?
  • What are the Implications of Russia-Turkey S-400 Missile Deal?

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Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Carnegie Moscow:How the Gulag Lives On in Russia’s Prison Economy.

(Rechtsanwältin in Strafrecht)

By Olga Romanova

When the state has mineral resources, it hires a company like Royal Dutch Shell to extract the oil and share the profits. But when it has an abundant supply of labor, it turns a blind eye to its resources being used in tolling schemes right out of the 1990s. The existing penitentiary system is not in the interests of the state or the prisoners.

The gulag, as the Soviet Union’s Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements was better known, may have been transformed into Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), but its essence arguably remains unchanged.

Russia has by far the biggest proportion of people behind bars in Europe, with an incarceration rate of 434 prisoners per 100,000 people, compared to 143 in the UK, 130 in Spain, 101 in France, 92 in Italy, and 76 in Germany.

The state of Russia’s judicial and criminal justice systems is such that no neutral observer would describe them as just or socially equitable. The obsolete infrastructure, the abysmal level of staff training, the lack of transparency and information, the outdated understanding of the rationale for punishment, and the complete absence of resocialization programs are just some of the flaws inherited from the gulag. However, there is one aspect of the system that has received very little attention: the practice of nationalizing losses and privatizing profits.

The objective of the pervasive violation of prisoners’ rights today is not to force them to build major infrastructure projects for the sake of national interests or industrialization. Nor is it even “reeducation through labor.” The sole raison d’être of the system is to serve the private commercial interests of individuals who draw their salaries from budget funds.

The basic scenario is a tolling scheme. Every correctional facility has its own production unit, such as a sewing factory or a woodworking or metalworking shop. Operating expenses, such as electricity and the salaries and living expenses of the prisoners, are covered by the state. Some funding also comes from the prisoners’ salaries, though the amounts are miniscule. (Under Russian law, prisoners must compensate the state for their food and clothing, and up to 75 percent of their salaries may be deducted for that purpose.)

The lion’s share of profits are either accumulated on the accounts of intermediary companies that buy goods produced by the prisoners, or returned to the heads of the correctional facilities through kickbacks by companies that purchase the goods directly. The facility itself receives only a fraction of the profits after factoring in all of its expenses—or, more precisely, all of the federal budget’s expenses.

This is exactly how many industrial enterprises were bought up in the 1990s in Russia. Back then, trade houses were set up next to Soviet-era plants: the plants would sell goods to the trade houses at incredibly low prices, and the trade houses would then sell the goods at a huge markup. The plants would gradually slide into bankruptcy, while the trade houses would amass the funds to buy up their shares.

In the penitentiary system, this scheme is used to siphon off and privatize profits rather than assets. Profits are collected by specific individuals who run the facility, rather than by the correctional facility itself. The following examples of this corruption occurred at specific correctional facilities, have been covered by the media, and are supported by evidence from individuals who are prepared to vouch for the information.

Alexey Kozlov, a financial expert who served a sentence at a correctional facility in the Tambov region (and who, in the interests of full disclosure, is the author’s husband), described a scheme revolving around the production of woolen socks in the region’s Rasskazovsky district.

“All deputy heads of correctional facilities have their own shops, though they do not control them directly. The relatives of these officials lease shops in the facilities’ industrial zones, where the prisoners sew the socks. There is no ‘going market rate’ for production space in correctional facilities, so any price can be set. It’s the relatives who sell the socks and collect the profits.

“Naturally, it would be more profitable for the correctional facility to produce and sell goods directly. However, then it would be obvious if it was selling the socks at half the market price, and the embezzlement would be exposed. With tolling operations, just as with the leasing of shops, it is difficult to prove the details of the corruption.”

The FSIN has all sorts of excuses to explain why tolling schemes are used. The main argument is that the correctional facility does not have the funds to purchase equipment and materials. However, it will never have the funds if it keeps privatizing profits and nationalizing losses. When the state has mineral resources, it hires a company like Royal Dutch Shell to produce oil and share the profits. But when it has an abundant supply of labor, it turns a blind eye to its resources being used in tolling schemes right out of the 1990s.

In other cases, production is not even the objective of the tolling scheme, but merely a screen for expenses. One good illustration is agricultural production at correctional facilities, such as the findings of Alexey Fedyarov, a retired prosecutor and a coordinator at Rus Sidyashchaya (Russia Behind Bars), a prisoners’ rights organization. The results of his research were published by local media in Novosibirsk and by RFE/RL.

Under this scheme, correctional facilities receive money to farm land. But the agricultural scheme is fictitious: a visit to the fields cited in the state contracts and the addresses of the contract counterparties is enough to show that. Despite this, on paper, the facility puts out a surplus of agricultural produce that it begins to sell off through state procurement contracts. Its sets prices that are too high for anyone else to be interested, so only other correctional facilities “buy” this “produce.”

This is why the goods are sold by the correctional facility itself, and not by the regional FSIN directorate. Other facilities, which are also independent legal entities, cannot purchase products from the FSIN, but they can buy surplus goods from different facilities.

Another scheme exposed by Alexey Kozlov is the sale of prisoners’ labor, the primary asset of most correctional facilities.

“Close to Penal Settlement 13 in the Kokhma settlement of the Ivanovo region, there is a state-owned farm, Sovkhoz Teplichny. The farm has agreements with the minimum-security penitentiary facility under which prisoners work at the farm. The prisoners work ten hours a day, seven days a week, in violation of Russian labor law, which sets a maximum workweek of forty hours, and requires Saturday and Sunday hours to be compensated as overtime at double the hourly rate. Prisoners don’t report these violations, as speaking up can jeopardize their chances of early release, and no one wants to risk that.”

“The money-making scheme is simple. Sovkhoz Teplichny officially pays only for forty hours of labor a week. Payment for the difference between those hours and the actual hours worked is made to the management of the facility ‘under the table.’ If prisoners officially work overtime, the facility would get more money for the prisoners’ salaries—and should deduct up to 75 percent of the amount to compensate for living expenses paid from the federal budget. However, if there is no salary, then there are no deductions. In other words, all expenses are transferred to the state. The state covers room and board for every prisoner, even though the prisoners should be able to compensate a significant share of these expenses from their wages.”

Such schemes are extremely common in the penitentiary system. There are some relatively honest heads of penitentiary facilities (relatively, because their facilities may report and earn large profits, but the directors may still be skimming off small amounts to boost their incomes), but care must be taken not to reveal their identities, because the head of a penitentiary facility who is openly mentioned in a favorable light can get into serious trouble.

An honest and more transparent economy for penitentiary facilities—one that serves the interests of the state and of the prisoners—is possible. However, the existing limited oversight of the system encourages precisely the opposite.

http://carnegie.ru/commentary/?fa=72616&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTURrNVlUbGlZekF5WVRObCIsInQiOiJBRVIwdDBoM0RpSlIwYVZRNnRvWkFwK1I3aFRTM0EwYktMN1Rhcld6WHVQZzVpUmVlc0xxTWhpRUtzV3EzNTJpd1RVUmx5bEpcL0tNdFJyeHlCdFk5Z0NhYUxQN0lITG9jVitYRXZ3YUtaKzc4d2NXRG9ZWnZnMVpFSXdSS0lsN3gifQ%3D%3D

****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat*COLUMN-More than meets the eye as China tops U.S. as biggest crude importer: Russell.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

* Graphic of China and U.S. oil imports: tmsnrt.rs/2fbqTlX

By Clyde Russell

LAUNCESTON, Australia, Aug 7 (Reuters) – How impressed should you be by China overtaking the United States as the world’s largest importer of crude? The answer is quite a bit, but maybe not as much as you thought.

China imported an average 8.55 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first half of 2017, above the 8.12 million bpd by the United States, according to government figures from both countries.

The obvious takeaway from this is that the data highlights the shifting dynamics of the crude oil market, with Asia replacing the United States and Western Europe as the main demand centre, as well as the source of most of the growth in oil consumption.

However, this trend has been in play for several years. All that has changed is we now have a set of numbers that confirm what was already known.

What is more important is trying to understand the underlying drivers of Chinese crude demand and how these may develop in coming years.

There are a few factors that, when taken together, give a slightly different perspective on China’s rise to the top of global crude importers.

These are China’s ongoing, and significant, purchases of crude to fill its strategic reserves, the rise of its refineries as major players in the regional export markets for products, and the decline in China’s domestic oil output.

China doesn’t provide regular numbers for its strategic storage programme, so the best way to estimate how much crude is flowing into tanks is to look at the total amount available from imports and domestic production, and subtract the total processed by refineries.

In the first half China’s imports were 8.55 million bpd and domestic output was 3.89 million bpd, giving a total amount of available crude of 12.44 million bpd.

Refinery throughput in the January-June period was 11.1 million bpd, an increase of 3 percent on the same period in 2016.

This means that the gap between available crude and the amount processed was 1.34 million bpd.

Not all of this will have flowed into strategic storage, some will have been used to fill commercial inventories held by refineries.

But even so, the figure is well above the 830,000 bpd surplus crude recorded in the first half of 2016.

The numbers imply that about 510,000 bpd more was flowing into storage in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

Given that the increase in imports in the first six months in volume terms is 1.07 million bpd, this implies that half of the gain has been added to either commercial or strategic storage.

REFINED PRODUCT EXPORTS SURGE

China’s exports of oil products have also risen sharply in the first half, jumping 10.2 percent to 23.66 million tonnes, according to customs figures.

This equates to about 1.05 million bpd of exports, using the BP Plc conversion factor of 8 barrels to a tonne of refined products.

This is about 106,000 bpd more than the 944,000 bpd of product exported in the first half of 2016, confirming that some of the increase in crude imports this year has made its way out of China as refined fuels.

The third factor is China’s gradually declining domestic crude output, which fell 5.1 percent in the first half of 2017 to 3.89 million bpd.

This is down about 180,000 bpd from the same period last year, meaning some of the additional crude imports have merely replaced declining local production.

This is an important point of difference to the United States, where domestic production has risen strongly in recent years as shale oil became economical to extract.

Adding together the additional crude flowing to storage in the first half of this year, the increase in product exports and the decline in domestic output gives a total of just under 800,000 bpd.

This means that the actual increase in crude oil imports to meet growth in consumption is around 270,000 bpd in the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year.

However, does it really matter for global oil markets how the Chinese use the oil they import?

It does insofar as to how sustainable is the growth rate of imports.

It’s likely that China will continue to fill strategic reserves for several years to come, but at some point purchases for this purpose will taper and then stop altogether.

How much more can Chinese refiners export as products? Probably several hundred thousand bpd more than they do currently as they have spare capacity.

But whether they actually will depends on the ability of regional product markets to absorb additional Chinese supply, and whether the authorities in Beijing continue to increase crude import quotas for smaller, independent refiners.

And the final question is whether China’s domestic output will continue to decline, or whether it will stabilise, or perhaps even recover somewhat as the state-owned majors put more cash into exploration and enhanced recovery.

For the foreseeable future China is likely to maintain its lead over the United States as the top crude importer, but the story is more than just one of strong economic growth in China.

Editing by Richard Pullin

https://uk.reuters.com/article/column-russell-crude-china-idUKL4N1KT1NV

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Middle East

Chatham House: It’s Far Too Early to Talk of Return for Syrian Refugees

Although the Syrian conflict shows no sign of coming to end, governments and aid agencies are already beginning to consider the repatriation of the country’s five million refugees.

Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

Since 2011, some five million Syrians have fled from the armed conflict in their homeland and sought refuge abroad, the largest numbers of them going to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But that massive exodus has now slowed to a trickle, and there are growing signs that some of the refugees may be ready to return to Syria.

In July, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that up to 450,000 uprooted Syrians had returned to their places of origin in the first six months of the year. While the vast majority of this number had been displaced within Syria, the organization said that it had also monitored the return of more than 30,000 refugees from neighbouring countries during the same period. There was, UNHCR concluded, ‘a notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria.’

Other agencies concur with this assessment. According to NGOs working in the region, in June, around 200 refugees were repatriating each day from Turkey to Jarabulus in northern Syria, an area liberated from ISIS by Turkish-backed rebels. In the same month, an additional 30,000 refugees crossed the border into Syria to celebrate the end of Ramadan, most of them then returning to Turkey.

These developments have served the interests of several key stakeholders in the Syrian refugee situation. Jordan and Lebanon have long tired of the refugees’ presence on their territory, citing the unbearable pressure that it places on their economy, environment and infrastructure, as well as the threat that the Syrians allegedly pose to local and national security. Both countries have effectively closed their borders to new arrivals from Syria, and are increasingly anxious to see the day when those who have already been admitted make their way home in large numbers.

Donor states (most notably the EU and US) also have an interest in talking up the potential for repatriation to take place. They have expended enormous amounts of money on providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees, and yet are under constant pressure from the three host states to increase the level of aid they provide and to extend it to local communities affected by the refugees’ presence.

The Trump administration has made it clear that the plight of Syrian refugees will not be resolved by means of their resettlement to the US, thereby placing greater emphasis on repatriation as a solution. And Western powers as a whole are much more ready to contemplate refugees’ return to Syria now that they have effectively dropped the objective of regime change in Damascus.

UNHCR’s response to this situation has been both finely balanced and potentially contradictory. On one hand, and in accordance with its mandate to protect the world’s displaced people, it has continued to assert that ‘conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place’. Given the ‘significant risks’ that remain in Syria, it says, ‘refugee returns can neither be promoted [n]or facilitated by UNHCR.’

One the other hand, UNHCR’S approach has been influenced by three additional considerations: its high level of dependence on Western funding; its recognition of the need to retain the confidence of those states hosting large numbers of Syrians; and an awareness that it will be expected to play a central role in organizing the return of the refugees, if and when it takes place.

UNHCR has consequently been engaged in a discreet repatriation planning process, while raising the funds and recruiting the staff required to scale up its operations inside Syria. In the careful words of one announcement, ‘UNHCR is pursuing a number of preparatory steps in anticipation of the time when conditions for the voluntary repatriation of refugees are in place.’

It seems highly unlikely that those conditions will be attained in the foreseeable future.

First, Syria remains a country at war. Peace talks have stalled and some of the fiercest battles (in the rebel-held area of Idlib, for example) remain to be fought. Recent surveys indicate that while most of the refugees would eventually like to return to their own country, they will do so only when the armed conflict has come to an end.

And while some refugees may have already chosen to return, they have often done so in the absence of accurate information on the situation inside Syria, because they feel exhausted and humiliated by their lives in exile, and because the option of moving on to Europe has become increasingly difficult.

Second, large-scale refugee returns to Syria would not be sustainable because of the destruction and disruption that the country has experienced during six years of war. Around 14 million of the country’s 18 million residents are in need of humanitarian assistance. Eight million are displaced within the country and more than four million are trapped in besieged and inaccessible areas.

Jobs, food, water, shelter, healthcare and education are all in acutely short supply, but none of the key players in the Syria situation – the EU, US, Russia and Iran – seem willing or able to fund the country’s reconstruction, especially if President Assad remains in power. In the words of the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ‘some people speak about a Marshall Plan for Syria, but this will not happen if there is no political consensus.’

Finally, the Assad regime has little interest in the return of the refugees. Indeed, Damascus has manipulated the exodus in order to diminish the Sunni presence in economically and strategically important parts of the country, thereby strengthening the position of the government-supporting Alawites and Christians As one commentator puts it, ‘reducing the size of the Sunni majority looks as if it is the regime’s best shot at creating the conditions to make minority rule more sustainable.’

While host and donor states might wish for a quick solution to the Syrian refugee situation, that is not a realistic option. Until peace returns to the country, it will be necessary to provide refugees with the cash and other forms of assistance that they need to survive, while ensuring that development organizations, financial institutions, the private sector and Syrian diaspora support the economy and infrastructure of those areas where the largest number of refugees have settled.

When refugee returns finally become possible, it must take place in a safe and voluntary manner, as required by international refugee law. In too many other recent repatriation operations, those conditions have not been respected.

https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/it-s-far-too-early-talk-return-syrian-refugees

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*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

Deutsche Bank Research – Packed European agenda for the next government: Numerous challenges, no (easy) answers

The benign economic and public environment allows to fundamentally address shortcomings of the E(M)U. The next German government’s term is faced with numerous challenges ranging from Brexit and its impact on the next EU Budget to migration and the upgrade of the euro area. A revitalised relation with France provides the opportunity for substantive steps to further stabilise the euro area albeit Germany and France need to find common ground on many issues and seek the support of EU partners. European politics is still less of a topic for the German electorate not least as mainstream parties are all various shades of pro-European. However, the next government’s party composition is likely to matter for both speed and scope of changes on European level.

http://www.dbresearch.de/MAIL/DBR_INTERNET_DE-PROD/PROD0000000000448426.pdf

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U.S. Department of State: Communication Regarding Intent To Withdraw From Paris Agreement

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

August 4, 2017

08-03-17 DB Research _Packed_European_Agenda_for_the_next_German_Government_ PROD0448426.pdf

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