15 January 2018 - World news for this week

REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

No peace in the Middle East… 

READ MORE: The eclipse of the Shia Crescent Tehran’s

Tunisia and Iran are the hot spots

This week, while the protests in Iran died down (as was to be expected), violent protests broke out and are still taking place in a number of towns in Tunisia, aimed at the new austerity measures recently introduced by the government. The revolts are mainly centred around the capital Tunis and nearby Terouba, but pockets of unrest have also been sprouting up in another twenty or so cities including Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in 2011. The suicide of the 26 year-old street vendor, who sacrificed his life in protest against the economic conditions he was forced to live by, triggered the "Arab springs". Tunisia was the only country in which these protests led to the introduction of a truly democratic system.  However, this hasn't meant that the country has solved all its problems. Over the course of the last seven years, many things have changed: nine different governments have been taken turns in power and around a year ago, the last one of these reached an agreement on a loan of 3 billion dollars (over four years) from the International Monetary Fund in exchange for economic reform. On the first of January the new budget for 2018 became effective with the introduction of the following provisions: 1) a cut to energy subsidies which have led to an immediate increase in fuel costs, in a country where public transport is badly run and very erratic; 2) insurances and services in general have witnessed price hikes, along with first necessity goods such as bread; 3) a one percent increase on VAT has been introduced. These budget measures stand as the hair that broke the camel's back, and have fuelled the rage of the younger population, already exasperated by their marginalisation and lack of job prospects. To top it all, the economic problems have revived the animosity between the various political factions which had only apparently been appeased. A number of the backbenchers of the relative majority party, Nidaa Tounes, are asking for the governmental alliance with the Islamic party Ennahda to be reviewed, and this could be quite a problem: in a weakened country, a united government coalition is essential. In the meantime, in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards (the military force instituted after Khomeini's revolution of 1979), have announced that the protests that erupted on 28 December have been "quelled": the protests had spread very quickly, but they were not backed by any organisation or political party, and the capacity of the demonstrators to communicate among each other was greatly impaired by the government's decision to block access to Telegram. However, the unrest among the Iranian people is not the country's only problem: from an international point of view, the tension between Iran and the United States is growing, and while the Revolutionary Guard is blaming supposed "foreign forces" for the protests, Trump is preparing to reach a decision on the economic sanctions imposed on Iran which had been removed by the historic agreement on Iranian nuclear power in 2015. There's a great deal of uncertainty as to what the American government may decide: Trump could use the recent anti-regime protests to underline the unreliability of the Iranian government and bolster those who from the very outset had opposed the nuclear agreement, or he could just tread water and find other ways of opposing Tehran. In the meantime, we're keeping our eyes peeled.

EUROPEAN UNION - Bulgaria is the new EU President

From the first of January to the 30th of June 2018, Bulgaria will head the EU Council. According to the system introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the revolving presidency is taken on every six months by a new member state. The states that exercise the presidency collaborate very closely in groups of three, and for this reason they are referred to as a "trio": the current one is comprised of Estonia (1st of July – 31 December 2017) Bulgaria and Austria (1st of July – 31 December 2018). Looking at the last six months, it should be noted that Estonia worked on a total of 377 projects, carrying forward objectives based on: a) an open and innovative European economy; b) international security; c) digitalisation and free circulation of data; d) inclusivity and sustainability. Among the goals achieved by the recently completed presidency, a deserved mention should go to the largest bilateral commercial agreement ever negotiated by the European Union, which opens the Japanese market to the EU's food and agricultural produce, as well as services and public tenders. Potentially, the move should increase exports to Japan by 32%. In the long term, this could add a further 4.9 billion euro to the EU's GDP and improve the area's economic wellbeing. A major stimulus therefore, for the new Bulgarian leadership, which over the next six months has set itself equally ambitious goals: the presidency will in fact be working with its partners in favour of the unity among members states and the EU's institutions, in order to provide tangible solutions to building a stronger, safer and more supportive European Union. The four key sectors are: 1) The future of the EU and its younger population; 2) the Western Balkan states; 3) security and stability; 4) the digital economy. It will be essential that at least until June 30 a future-oriented vision is promoted to guarantee further economic growth and social unity for the European Union. No less important, for Bulgaria, will be retaining a key role in the debate on the European budget after 2020.

Finally the military industry becomes European

The first European Defence tender has been won by the Italian company Leonardo, formerly known as Finmeccanica. It concerns sea safety and will be headed by  the Italian Navy in a move to the introduction of pilot less platforms and drones.

The "OCEAN2020" team, led by Leonardo, with the participation of 15 European countries and 42 partners, including the Defence Ministries of Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Lithuania with the support of the Defence Ministries of Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Holland.

The first field exercise involving these systems will take place in 2019 in the Mediterranean Sea and will be coordinated by the Italian Navy. It will see the participation of naval units from different countries, including Italian units equipped with Leonardo systems which will deploy pilotless helicopters manufactured by the Hero and Solo firms. The second demonstration, planned for 2020 in the  Baltic, will be coordinated by the Swedish Navy. 


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