Ukraine Overshadows American Arctic Council Takeover

On Friday, Canada handed over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council to the United States in its far northern city of Iqaluit. During its two-year tenure, the physical and geopolitical landscape of the Arctic has changed once again with much focus taken away from the region and put on the tensions between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.

Geopolitically, the Arctic remains important. For the United States, the key challenges are bringing the Arctic Council to the fore of international politics and balancing economic ambition and environmental sustainability.

Specifically, America needs to address its long-standing abstention from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. If the relevant issues of sovereignty can finally be resolved, it would be a significant show of intent by the Americans in respect to not only the Arctic but maritime disputes in general. Failure to do so would see continued exasperation and disunity among the Arctic Council nations.

The United States are also behind in creating concrete policy for the Arctic. Canada used its chairmanship to create a regional oil pollution preparedness and response agreement. The American administrators may expand on this considering Alaska’s proximity to Arctic resources, hopefully sidestepping any environmental landmines along the way. Read more “Ukraine Overshadows American Arctic Council Takeover”

Canada Expands Arctic Claim to Include North Pole

Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, made a remarkable claim this week: that Canada’s extended continental shelf should include the geographical North Pole.

The news came as an end of the year deadline for the country’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf loomed large over its policies toward the Arctic and its neighbors.

Canada has good reason to establish its influence in the Arctic, a region that is believed to hold as much as a quarter of the world’s remaining oil and natural gas resources. The country has always maintained a robust stance in the High North which ranks above all other priorities in its foreign policy. Read more “Canada Expands Arctic Claim to Include North Pole”

Irish Defeat Government’s Proposal to Abolish Senate

Ireland went to the polls on Friday to determine two major issues: whether a new Court of Appeals was needed for the country and whether its higher house of parliament, Seanad Éireann, should be abolished.

In terms of media coverage and public interest, the latter garnered far more attention. Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government was in favor of both referenda passing in accordance to 2010 election manifesto. Yet the Senate vote was defeated by about 32,500 votes or 51.7 to 48.3 percent. This has been seen as a blow to the ruling Fine Gael party which also had to deal with major economic reforms and a debate over abortion laws in the last year. Moves are now being proposed to adjust the body from its current form which is considered outdated and elitist as senators are elected by a paltry 3 percent of the electorate through a series of ballots from senior figures in society and university graduates. Read more “Irish Defeat Government’s Proposal to Abolish Senate”

At Arctic Meeting, European Union Left Out in the Cold

The news from Kiruna, Sweden last week was certainly a game changer for the future of the Arctic region.

As the chairmanship of the Arctic Council forum was passed to Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were formally accepted into the “cold club” as observer members. A binding oil spill prevention agreement for the Arctic was also signed, highlighting the resources that are said to be found in the area. But the postponing of the accession of the European Union and the entry of China dominated proceedings following the ministerial meetings in the northern Swedish town.

The European Union’s bid to be an observer in the body was previously rejected in 2009 due to a dispute with Canada over its trade in seal products, illegal in Europe. The same issue likely prevented the European Union from entering the Arctic forum this year. Read more “At Arctic Meeting, European Union Left Out in the Cold”

Spain Bringing Stormy Economic Weather This Summer

As Europe tries to enjoy its summer amid ever changing weather and bond yield rates, one of its most popular destination is still in the midst of a potentially crippling recession.

According to Spain’s national statistics institute this week, the nation’s economy has contracted for the third straight quarter, shrinking another .4 percent off. Spain’s stubbournly high unemployment rate is not being helped by this, topping the table in terms of those without a job coming close to a quarter of the able working population.

The government have already outlined a forthcoming 3 percent sales tax increase to put it at 21 percent, on a par with Belgium and its potential bailout brother Italy. This move has been dismissed by most economists as a stumbling block to helping kickstart consumer demand which has been especially weak given the poor perfomance of the country’s economy on a domestic level.

Further adding to the fire is the spending cuts. An American style debt ceiling has been put in place at an average of just over 15 percent of gross domestic product across Spanish regions to save the central government in Madrid from bailing them out for an unprecedented fifth time. This in part has led to Spain having limited and almost unsustainable collateral which should sound alarm bells in Brussels and Frankfurt.

However, it may prove to be worse on a domestic front as some of the regions have suspended talks in protest of the continuing cuts across the country.

Despite the largely negative response to austerity measures at home, Spain has showed signs of improvement, albeit a moving slightly along. Spain’s ten year bond yield rate has falling .8 percent in the last week to 6.7 percent but will need a sizable injection of investment from the European Central Bank in order to keep the rates in a sustainable manner.

The head of the Spanish treasury Iñigo Fernandez de Mesa has rejected calls for the central bank to buy up sovereign debt from his country, signaling that it was not currently in the Spanish plans to instigate such a move. The ECB is nevertheless expected to step up in its efforts to prevent Spain from going into the direction that Greece and other bailout nations have found themselves in which would cause additional contagion for the single currency’s woes.

Poland Steams Ahead Amid Eurozone Turmoil

While the world’s attention is mostly focused on bailout territory in the eurozone, there has been quite an economic success story in Eastern Europe. In twenty years since the end of communism there, Poland has climbed to sixth in Europe’s economic standing.

Due to a policy of rapid liberalization, the once desolate country has seen considerable economic growth and industry, especially after its accession to the European Union in 2004.

Poland’s tax regime is highly competitive. The highest income tax rate of 32 percent, low in comparison to Europe’s economic powerhouse next door, Germany, where the rate is 45 percent. Poland’s two tier system is also far simpler. There is no capital gains tax.

The country has an “A” or “A-” credit rating from the major rating agencies, something that countries as Greece and Spain can only dream of. They and other high debt nations in the south of Europe would be hard pressed to not be jealous of Poland’s performance at the moment.

Despite having an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent last year, it is less than half of what several of Poland’s European counterparts are experiencing. Read more “Poland Steams Ahead Amid Eurozone Turmoil”

Spain’s Economic Climate Not Reflecting the Season

With summer fast approaching, millions of holidaymakers will make the annual trip to favored destinations in Spain including the southern region of Andalucia, the Canary Islands and the capital of Madrid. These are just three of the eight places that have been placed for a downgrade by rating agencies across Europe and beyond however. The creditworthiness of some regions now borders on junk status.

Spain has not had the best of luck in the economic game in the last year. It has now become the second main threat to the euro after Greece.

Investors and wealthy Spaniards have been pulling their money out of the banks and moving it to financially more secure countries. The scale of the removal of funds is unprecedented and will do no good to help the country’s public finances.

News that the banking giant Bankia needs a €19 billion bailout has been met by the government with a rescue package but the markets have shut the door on Spanish agencies that need assistance due to the sheer size of the debt buildup and the likely need for further bailouts.

Despite reassuring investors and other countries alike that Spain will maintain its economic sovereignty and not require a bailout that could cripple the single-currency union, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will be hard pressed to get more of his own workers.

Spiraling unemployment has led to a stubbournly high 24.4 percent of the working population being out a job. The figures regarding the youth who cannot find a place of employment is almost double that.

The government will attempt to slash the deficit to a mere 5.3 percent of economic output this year and down further to 3 percent the following year. With the economic climate currently battering Spain’s investment worthiness, this will be an ambitious feat to manage even in what has always been the most financially productive time of the year for the country in a foreign investment context.

Shale Gas Search Divides Romania

Recent discoveries of natural gas deposits have become a disputed issue in Romania. After years of economic slowdown following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many look to the discovery of energy resources as a potential economic boom. Others are hesitant to embrace the news. Critics are concerned about the possible environmental ramifications of such a discovery, specifically in regard to the use of the controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing.

A large percentage of Romania’s energy currently comes from neighboring Russia. Those supportive of domestic gas drilling see this as a means to push the nation toward energy independence. Read more “Shale Gas Search Divides Romania”