Catfight – and it’s US vs EU

Lovers of turbo-neoliberalism, rejoice – and take your bottles of Moet to a prime ringside seat; there won’t be a nastier catfight this summer than the opening rounds opposing two Western giants. Forget about the Pentagon “pivoting” to Asia without ever abandoning the Middle East; nothing compares with this voyage in the entrails of turbo-capitalism, worthy of a neo-Balzac.

We’re talking about a new Holy Grail – a free-market deal between the United States and the European Union; the advent of a giant, internal transatlantic market (25% of global exports, 31% of global imports, 57% of foreign investment), where goods and services
(but not people) will “freely” circulate, something that in theory will lead Europe out of its current funk.

The problem is that to reach this Brave New World presided by the Market Goddess, Europe will have to renounce some of its quite complex juridical, environmental, cultural and health norms.

In that Kafkaesque/Orwellian bureaucratic paradise also known as Brussels, hordes of faceless equivalents of the bowler hat men in a Magritte painting openly complain about this “adventure”; there’s a growing consensus Europe has everything to lose and little to gain out of it, in contrast with the much-derided enemies of the European integration, as in the fanatics of an “pro-American” and “ultra-liberal” Europe.

Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online, Hong Kong

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Why sanctions on Iran are not working

As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact.

In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful – by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering.

The current sanctions policy is based on a shaky assumption – the belief that economic pain and dissatisfaction among political elites automatically will result in pressure on the Iranian regime to change its nuclear course. This assumption does not hold. The economic pain imposed on Iran is intense – but directionless.

Trita Parsi & Reza Marashi

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Political corruption and the ‘free trade’ racket

In polite circles in the United States, support for free trade is a bit like proper bathing habits: It is taken for granted. Only the hopelessly crude and unwashed would not support free trade.

There is some ground for this attitude. Certainly, the US has benefited enormously by being able to buy a wide range of items at lower cost from other countries. However, this does not mean that most people in the country have always benefited from every opening to greater trade.

And it certainly does not mean that the country will benefit from everything that those in power label as “free trade”. That is the story we are seeing now as the Obama administration is pursuing two major “free trade” agreements that in fact have very little to do with free trade and are likely to hurt those without the money and power to be part of the game.

The deals in questions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both being pushed as major openings to trade that will increase growth and create jobs. In fact, eliminating trade restrictions is a relatively small part of both agreements, since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated.

Dean Baker

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Serbia rejects EU-brokered Kosovo deal

Serbia has rejected a European Union-brokered plan to tackle the ethnic partition of its breakaway province of Kosovo, a move that could hurt Balkan country’s EU membership aspirations and fuel tensions in the region.

The EU had given Serbia until Tuesday to say whether it would relinquish its effective control over northern Kosovo in exchange for the start of membership negotiations.

“The government of Serbia cannot accept principles verbally presented to its negotiating team in Brussels, since they do not guarantee full security and protection of human rights to the Serb people in Kosovo,” Ivica Dacic, Serbian prime minister, told reporters.

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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