The election in March 2012 of Joachim Gauck as Germany’s President demonstrates a remarkable achievement of recent German history. For the first time since unification in October 1990, Germany has a Chancellor and President from the former East Germany. Widely admired both for the size of its export oriented economy, Europe’s largest, and for its more enlightened way of doing capitalism, Germany had the capability and the necessary goodwill before the start of the Eurozone crisis to take a positive leadership role during the downturn. Its voice within the EU is very strong, as it has been since the EU’s inception. Yet Germany has squandered these advantages.
An outside observer to the race for Mayor of London could be forgiven for wondering how little has changed since 2008. With the election for what is sometimes said to be the second most powerful role in British politics due to take place on 3 May alongside the election of members to the Greater London Assembly, the three main parties have selected the same candidates who contested the May 2008 Mayoral ballot. Yet, outside of the Mayoral race itself, the UK and London, have faced significant economic and social turbulence since the May 2008 ballot.
The political success of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in recent years, driven by the charisma of its leader, Alex Salmond, has brought into sharp focus the UK’s still nascent devolved authorities, in existence only since 1998. Furthermore, in the Scottish case, repeated public statements by Salmond about possible independence, with a putative referendum on the issue to follow in the next few years, have brought into question whether Scotland, after more than 300 years, will withdraw from the UK.
Europe in 2011 was dominated by domestic politics. Faced with multiple macro-level challenges, from unstable economies to democratic deficits of the polity, leaders have repeatedly prioritised local concerns ahead of the multilateral. Underscoring all of this is a wider malaise. Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, indicating that Brazil overtook the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy by GDP in 2011, appears to confirm that the West in general, and Europe in particular, is rapidly losing influence. The death in December of Václav Havel, a symbol of the remarkable transitions to peace and prosperity of Central and Eastern Europe of the last 20 years, appears to reiterate the wider depression.
The decision to postpone the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates that North America has not yet defined a workable compromise between competing demands to increase energy security, and reduce the negative environmental impacts of energy. The US$7 billion proposal by TransCanada to build a 1,700 mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas has been delayed in the face of strong environmental protests and local opposition within Nebraska along the pipeline’s would-be route. The project, which has been strongly supported by the Canadian government, has now been pushed back until after the next US Presidential election.
Education and development go hand in hand. Educated individuals experience superior personal fulfilment and contribute positively to societal development. Education, as Dr. Florian Kapitza put it, is a crucial “building block”. For Sandy Balfour, it is “liberating”, both for individuals and societies. But the problem facing many African countries is that the resources to provide such education aren’t readily available – at least not locally. Furthermore, many highly qualified professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and academics leave in their thousands every year to advance their careers in the West. This is where aid plays its part.