Tag Archives: European Union

On the difficulty of being a world citizen

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

To say the idea of world government gets mixed reviews would be an understatement, to put it mildly. Many people dismiss the idea out of hand as either a utopian fantasy or a recipe for dictatorship by unaccountable elites bent on world domination.

Even those who don’t lie awake at night fretting about black helicopters and what goes on in smoke-filled rooms packed with powerful vested interests quite justifiably worry about democratic accountability.

At an historical moment when democratic institutions around the world are suffering a crisis of legitimacy and being undermined by a rising tide of populism and xenophobia, making the case for world government is consequently getting increasingly difficult.

The most promising example of institutionalised international cooperation we have yet seen – the European Union – is in crisis and has become synonymous with dysfunction. Britain’s ill-advised decision to leave only reinforces the idea that such projects are definitively off the historical agenda.

Paradoxically enough, however, some of the smartest people on the planet continue to argue that not only is world government desirable, it’s actually a functional necessity and one that will inevitably be realised. The only question is when.

The casual observer can be forgiven for feeling somewhat confused. Even those of us who take a professional interest in such matters can succumb to bouts of acute cognitive dissonance as we try to get our heads around what we – in this case the human race – need to do to survive in a civilised fashion.

The reality is that some problems such as climate change simply cannot be addressed by isolated “communities of fate” of a sort that have come to dominate politics and governance over the last four or five hundred years.

The fact that we all live within nationally demarcated boundaries is one of the defining features of modern political life. And it determines the existential variety, too. Those born in Victorian Britain thought they had won life’s lottery – or those in the upper classes did, at least.

Even now, people are willing to risk their lives to get into “the West” with its implicit promise of affluence, peace and social stability. It’s not hard to see why.

Some would say it was ever thus: throughout history, life has always been tough and uncertain for many – perhaps most – of the human race. Indeed, it’s possible to make a plausible argument that we humans have collectively never had so good.

But this rather abstract way of thinking about the human condition is not much consolation to those living in Syria rather than Sydney. For those of us fortunate enough in such privileged enclaves of peace and prosperity the question is whether we have obligations beyond borders.

Are we obliged to care about the fates of strangers we will never meet and whose lives only appear fleetingly, if at all, on our television screens?

At one level, the answer is clearly “no”. Unless you subscribe to some sort of religious belief that obliges you to take an interest in the welfare of your fellow man or woman, no one can compel us to care. True, seeing children getting blown up night after night gets a bit wearing, but you can always literally and metaphorically switch off.

But even if we take this quite understandable approach to problems we can do little to address, they will not disappear from the world’s political agenda or even from our consciousness. The fact is that we are stuck with them.

The world really is much more interconnected, interdependent and interactive than it has ever been before. What happens in one part of the world really can exert an influence elsewhere – even if it’s only in an increasingly futile effort to seal off one part of the world from the problems of another.

It is precisely because of the global nature of many problems that some people think that world government, or at least an increasingly effective process of global governance, has to be part of the way we conduct human affairs, however unlikely that might seem in principle.

It is also becoming ever more apparent that even relatively humdrum policy issues such as taxation are becoming impossible to manage without high levels of international cooperation that transcend national boundaries.

Yet even if we accept that transnational cooperation is a necessity for achieving effective governance in everything from climate change, disaster relief, to the governance of myriad areas of economic and social life, actually doing this effectively and uncontroversially is much easier said than done.

Not only will some actors inevitably benefit more than others from such initiatives, but some states also remain implacably opposed to the very idea of anything that impinges on national sovereignty.

In East Asia where I do most of my research, states have a long history of jealously protecting national sovereignty and little enthusiasm for the sort of cooperation that characterised the European Union in its heyday.

Indeed, many in Asia feel vindicated by what has happened to the EU of late and read it as a cautionary tale of elite level hubris, rather than the most important attempt yet to transcend narrow national interests in pursuit of a more cosmopolitan common cause.

For students of international politics like me this is a real problem at both an intellectual and personal level. Part of me thinks that the arguments for greater international cooperation in the face of global problems are simply overwhelming and self-evident.

But I am also very familiar with Asia’s empirical and historical record; it has created entrenched ideational and institutional obstacles to greater cooperation that are unlikely to be overcome in my lifetime – which is understandably the principal focus of my attention.

So what should those of us who would like to see greater collaboration occur actually do in the face of such seemingly insurmountable institutionalised obstacles? One response might be to follow Antonio Gramsci who said that he was “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

Developing forms of global citizenship, world government and a common consciousness do seem inherently improbable at this historical juncture. Believing in the possibility of change is vital, however, if only for our own psychological well being.

[An earlier version of this article appeared on the World Government Research Networklink text]

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Brexit stage right: what Britain’s decision to leave the EU means for Australia

The Conversation

Ben Wellings, Monash University

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has opened a fundamental crack in the western world. Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom is grounded in the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Given Australia’s strong and enduring ties with the UK and the EU, the shockwaves from this epoch-defining event will be felt in Australia soon enough. Most immediately, the impending Australia-EU Free-Trade Agreement becomes more complicated and at the same time less attractive.

What will happen to trade ties?

The importance of Australia’s relationship with the EU tends to get under-reported in all the excitement about China. We might ascribe such a view to an Australian gold rush mentality. Nevertheless, Australia’s trading ties to the EU are deep and strong.

Such ties looked set to get stronger. In November 2015 an agreement to begin negotiations in 2017 on a free-trade deal was announced at the G20 summit in Turkey. Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said in April 2016 that an Australia-EU free trade agreement:

… would further fuel this important trade and investment relationship.

When considered as a bloc, the EU consistently shows up as one of Australia’s main trading partners. Consider the statistics below:

  • in 2014 the EU was Australia’s largest source of foreign investment and second-largest trading partner, although the European Commission placed it third after China and Japan in 2015;
  • in 2014, the EU’s foreign direct investment in Australia was valued at A$169.6 billion and Australian foreign direct investment in the EU was valued at $83.5 billion. Total two-way merchandise and services trade between Australia and the EU was worth $83.9 billion; and
  • the EU is Australia’s largest services export market, valued at nearly $10 billion in 2014. Services account for 19.7% of Australia’s total trade in goods and services, and will be an important component of any future free trade agreement.

This is all well and good. But when not considered as a bloc, 48% of Australia’s exports in services to the EU were via the UK; of the $169 billion in EU foreign direct investment, 51% came from the UK; and of Australia’s foreign direct investment into the EU, 66% went to the UK.

You get the picture.

The UK was Australia’s eighth-largest export market for 2014; it represented 37.4% of Australia’s total exports to the EU. As Austrade noted:

No other EU country featured in Australia’s top 15 export markets.

In short, the EU is not as attractive to Australia without Britain in it.

Beyond trade numbers

But the Australia-EU-UK relationship cannot be reduced to numbers alone. It also rests on values shared between like-minded powers.

Brexit represents the further fracturing of the West at a moment when that already weakening political identity is in relative decline compared to other regions of the world, notably Asia (or more specifically China).

EU-Australia relations rest on shared concerns such as the fight against terrorism advanced through police collaboration and the sharing of passenger name records. The EU and Australia also collaborated to mitigate climate change at the Paris climate summit. And they work for further trade liberalisation in the World Trade Organisation – but don’t mention agriculture.

Without the UK, these shared political tasks become harder.

Clearly, Australia-UK relations rest on a special historical relationship. However, it has seen efforts at reinvigoration, as British governments buckled under the pressure of the Eurosceptics among the Conservatives.

David Cameron addresses the Australian parliament in 2014.

Beyond everyday trade, historical links have been reinforced through the centenary of the first world war and the UK-Australia commemorative diplomacy that has come with this four-year-long event.

Cultural ties are most regularly and publicly affirmed through sporting rivalries such as netball, rugby and most notably cricket. Expect these ties to be reinforced as the UK seeks trade agreements and political support from its “traditional allies”.

For those with British passports, there will be a two-year period of grace as the UK negotiates its exit. After that, it will be quicker to get into the UK at Heathrow, but this might be small consolation for the loss of a major point of access to the EU.

The vote to leave is a major turning point in Europe’s history. It marks a significant crack in a unified concept of “the West”. It is not in Australia’s interests.

It’s time for Australia to make new friends in Europe.

The ConversationBen Wellings, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Bath milk crisis must prompt better cosmetic safety regulation

The Conversation

By Craig Dalton, University of Newcastle

The death this week of a Victorian toddler after allegedly drinking “bath milk” is a reminder of how dangerous some natural cosmetics can be. The product – Mountain View Organic Dairy’s Organic Bath Milk – was recalled today.

“Bath milk” is raw cow’s milk. It is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption in Australia so raw milk is sold as a cosmetic, labelled “not for human consumption”. While some believe this is a ruse to get around food safety laws, this could be immediately addressed as a cosmetic safety issue.

Under Australian consumer law, products are meant to be safe for consumers. Yet cosmetics accounted for 30% of injury reports to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in the past year.

Bath milk is particularly risky because it may contain the deadly shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC E. coli) bacteria that can cause haemolytic uraemic syndrome. This is a particularly dangerous disease in young children that can cause kidney failure and strokes. STEC E. coli is the bug responsible for the fatal outbreak in South Australia in 1995 which originated from processed meat.

A child accidentally swallowing just a mouthful of bath water conditioned with bath milk could ingest enough bacteria to suffer serious illness. While this bath milk is labelled not for human consumption, children inevitably drink and squirt bath water from their mouth as part of normal bath play (and some of them can’t read warning labels). So this cosmetic needs to be of the highest microbiological safety.

Fortunately the ACCC has been investigating the role of microbiological contamination in cosmetic injuries, which has resulted in recalls in some instances. ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard recently noted that cosmetic surveys revealing microbiological contamination were:

a timely reminder as the trend to produce all natural and all organic products may increase pressure on manufacturers to produce cosmetics with less preservatives or less effective natural preservatives.

Bath milk and drinking milk are sold in similar containers.
val lawless/Flickr

Complicating this issue is that bath milk is often sold in containers that look just like drinking milk containers and may be stored in refrigerators alongside drinking milk. This may provide a false sense of security leading people to believe it is a food or as safe as a food.

We could learn from the European Union’s Cosmetic Regulation No 1223/2009 which states the:

presentation of a cosmetic product and in particular its form, odour, colour, appearance, packaging, labelling, volume or size should not endanger health and safety of consumers due to confusion with foodstuffs.

It is not surprising that consumers would confuse bath milk for a foodstuff, as even a cursory review of bath milk manufacturers’ websites suggest that even they confuse it for a foodstuff.

The European Union’s Cosmetic Regulation No 1223/2009 requires cosmetic manufacturers to produce a product that is not conducive to microbiological growth and defines the antimicrobial preservatives that might be used to prevent bacterial growth. However, the use of preservatives could be a problem in bath milk, as some of them could be dangerous if accidentally ingested.

The bath milk supplier at the centre of this incident reports getting regular tests that find the milk negative for bacteria. This highlights the need for good manufacturing practices and hazard-control interventions as even daily or weekly microbiological testing cannot ensure safety of a potentially hazardous product. End-product testing without a valid microbiological kill step is a hit-and-miss approach to product safety.

The media coverage of the risks of bath milk will hopefully lead to increased reporting of illness incidents to the ACCC leading to greater oversight of the industry. While bath milk suppliers may be reluctant to report illnesses to the ACCC, they risk a fine of up to A$16,650 for failing to comply with the mandatory reporting of serious consumer injury complaints (within two days) to the ACCC.

The history of food-borne disease associated with drinking raw milk will not be lost on the bath milk industry. Their best strategy may be to follow the lead of drinking milk manufacturers and find a method that will treat the product without taking away from its cosmetic qualities – pasteurisation, for example.

Further reading: Explainer: what is raw milk and why is it harmful?

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

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