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East-West World Chess Championship Rivalry

December 2, 2016

This past Monday, two grand master chess players, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, and Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the defending World Chess Champion, faced off in downtown Manhattan in a best of twelve games World Chess Championship. Both players went into Monday’s match having won one win each and drawing the other nine games. While this chess match may not be as widely covered as Bobby Fischer’s 1972 “Match of the Century,” where Fischer defeated the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky during the height of the Cold War, becoming the first American to ever win the title; there are similar political undertones of East-West tension and worldly uncertainty.


Karjakin, seen here, has been an outspoken supporter for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Karjakin has publicly supported President Vladimir Putin, particularly in regards to the Russian occupation of Crimea where Karjakin himself is from. Carlsen, fearful of the possibility of Russian hackers giving Karjakin information on his strategy has employed Microsoft Norway to help strengthen his personal cyber security. Furthermore, throughout his campaign, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has openly expressed interest in strengthening relations with Russia and Putin, while simultaneously calling into question current NATO members such as Norway. This has led to wide speculation on security strategies in Europe, and the future of NATO.




Carlsen, pictured here, defeated Karjakin in the overtime match on Wednesday.

After 35 minutes of play and 30 moves, game twelve ended in a draw. Karjakin and Carlsen met again on Wednesday where Carlsen won decisively in a best of four-overtime match. Carlsen’s win was not surprising as he was the heavy favorite to win, however much can be said for the playing style of Karjakin, who consistently forced draws and earned the respect of those watching the match. Carlsen’s defeat over Karjakin, continued the drought of a Russian World Chess Champion, a sport traditionally dominated by Russians,  particularly in the Cold War.

While the world waits to see if the East-West chess rivalry continues on in the future, the world will also have to wait to see how US-Russian relations play out and the future of NATO.




The Future of European-American Relations

November 18, 2016


German Chancellor Merkel speaks with U.S. President Obama outside the Elmau castle in Kruen

© Reuters

United States’ President Barack Obama is in Europe to put the final touches on what he hopes will cement his legacy as one of the most pro-European leaders that the US has seen in decades. One primary goal of Obama’s last foreign trip in office is to assure the United States’ NATO allies of its commitment to the organization.

 President elect Donald Trump lambasted NATO on the campaign trail, calling for major changes to the alliance. Trump ultimately questioned the United States’ commitment to its NATO allies, and called for smaller nations relying heavily on US support to pay for the privilege.  NATO mandates that 2% of GDP must be spent on national defense budgets. However, even some of the biggest, most powerful countries in NATO do not comply with this (Germany only spends about 1.4% on the Bundeswehr.) Increasing military spending in Germany is unpopular across the political spectrum and it is unlikely Germany will make the jump to 2% anytime soon. Poland and Lithuania are two of the more notably European countries complying with the 2% rule. Trump’s relations with Russia could also impact his attitude toward NATO, as NATO and the Kremlin have long been at odds, even now 26+ years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Obama’s choice to visit Europe is a reassurance of the trans-Atlantic relationships he worked so hard to foster during his time in office. Obama met with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who he characterized as, “probably my closest international partner these last eight years,” among other world leaders in Berlin.

Obama’s choice to visit Germany is also a symbolic one. Relations between the two nations have strengthened under the two leaders. In a 2016 Pew poll 57% of Germans had favorable views of the United States, while 86 % of Germans said they have confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Time and time again Obama has reached out to Merkel and Germany in combatting global crises, rather than the United Kingdom and France, which separates him from his predecessors. In a post-Brexit world Germany is the face of the European Union now more than ever. The EU goes as Germany goes. Obama recognized this early in his presidency and made Merkel one of his closest confidants. The two collaborated on the 2008 financial crisis, the situation in Ukraine, Syria and the refugee crisis, among other things.

The election of Donald Trump and the end of Obama’s presidency marks a period of uncertainty for the European Union. Obama’s policy in office was to favor a strong European Union, and for the United States to maintain strong ties to the EU. Obama publicly stated his support for the United Kingdom’s “remain” campaign during the Brexit referendum. Obama emphasized the US’s desire to negotiate trade deals with the UK as part of the EU as a block, rather than individually. During the lead-up to the vote, Obama went as far to say that the UK will, “go to the back of the queue” in negotiating trade deals with the US if they were to go through with Brexit.

So what will a Donald Trump presidency mean for the European Union? For one, Trump has cozied up to a few prominent right-wing European politicians. While there is speculation about his true feelings toward Putin and the nature of the two’s relationship, Trump has met multiple times with the head of the UK Independence Party and one of Brexit’s biggest proponents, Nigel Farage. Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders made an appearance at the GOP convention over the summer in Cleveland to show his support for Donald Trump, not the first meeting of the two like-minded politicians.

For now, it’s all speculation, but changes are on the horizon for Europe. With France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary all set for major elections in 2017, and a Trump presidency looming, the European-American connection Obama spent so hard to build and maintain is hanging in the balance.

Implementing a Brexit Strategy

November 11, 2016

On November 3, 2016, the British High Court halted an expedited withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The High Court ruled in favor of Parliament having a say prior to the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In its ruling, the High Court stated that MPs must vote on the right of the UK to begin the EU withdrawal process. After the High Court’s ruling, the UK government announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal against the High Court’s decision will take place on December 5th in the Supreme Court. Once invoked, Article 50 will allow for formal withdrawal talks for up to two years. British Prime Minister Theresa May believes that talks will commence by the end of March 2017.


The Evening Times


Other UK member states such as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have voiced their opinions. The Scottish government continues to pressure the Holyrood Parliament for its right to a binding vote on Article 50. Moreover, the Scottish government will seek to oppose the UK government to push for its involvement in a decision. Scotland’s most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, will apply to be heard during the appeal to the Supreme Court. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, believes that the Scottish Parliament and other devolved parliaments of the UK should be consulted before the triggering of Article 50. Ms.Sturgeon seeks not to veto the process of England and Wales leaving the EU, but states that, “[the] democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and the national parliament of Scotland cannot be brushed aside […].”

The Welsh government also plans to intervene in the appeals process to clarify possible implications from the judgement. Northern Ireland’s leading lawyer forecasts that a separate legal challenge to Brexit will help bypass the standard legal process to take proceedings to the Supreme Court.


Courtesy of AFP


The Liberal Democrats along with several MPs from the Labour Party are willing to vote against triggering Article 50. Other minister see MPs voting against Article 50 as a ploy to “re-run” the original referendum to gain a more favorable result. Without the Supreme Court overturning the judgement next month, a bill will be created to invoke Article 50 early next year.



Money Forgery: A Reoccurring Problem in the EU

November 4, 2016

This week Bulgarian Officials seized over €13 million worth of forged currency after being tipped off by a member of the public that the fake bills were going to be circulated in the immediate future. The bills were strictly comprised of €500 euro notes, which are set to be phased out in the coming months, but could have had a devastating impact on the European Union economy and value of the EURO.

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A German authority shows the media counterfeited Euro notes seized on a recent police raid.

The problem of counterfeited currency is not a new phenomenon for the European Union. In 2013 Portuguese officials seized €380,000 in counterfeited notes, which lead to a number of arrests. Just recently it was reported that counterfeited money crimes rose by nearly 42% in Germany and is plaguing other nations as well.

Each year Europol releases an official situation report on counterfeiting in the European Union.  In the 2015 report, it was found that most counterfeit goods and forged notes came from China and passed through a number of transit countries before reaching Europe.

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This map from the 2015 Europol Counterfeiting Situation Report shows how far Chinese counterfeiting has spread throughout the world.

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This pie chart from the 2015 Europol Counterfeiting Situation Report depicts the transit countries where Chinese counterfeited goods pass through.

Due to the shear magnitude of this problem, many local police services are unable to do an effective job of rounding up these counterfeit bills.


Is Trade Policy the Next Big Issue facing the European Union?

October 26, 2016


The CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) deal that the European Union and Canada finally came to terms over after seven years of ongoing negotiations is now in jeopardy. The agreement requires ratification from all 28 member states of the European Union. The deal is currently being held up by the regional assembly in Wallonia – the French speaking region of Belgium – who have blocked the ability of the Belgian national government to ratify the agreement.

This type of de-facto veto enacted by Wallonia is a concern for policy-makers in Brussels. It represents a threat to future trade deals with other nations, but it also raises large questions over local and national sovereignty. The European Union negotiates trade as a unified, central bloc, rather than individually state by state.

Trade has become an increasingly central issue for politicians and citizens alike in today’s interconnected, globalized world. It has been a hot-topic issue in the upcoming United States’ presidential election, it was oft-debated in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, and now has become at the center of debate for the European Union. The larger issue of disconnect between policy-makers in Brussels and ordinary British citizens was a primary tactic of the leave campaign during the Brexit referendum. Other right-wing populist parties in Europe, such as the VVD in the Netherlands led by Geert Wilders (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), are looking to the British as an example and exploring the possibility of holding similar referendums about leaving the EU. Wallonia, the region of Belgium holding up CETA, is traditionally industrial region located in Europe’s rust belt with a left-leaning political leadership. The economy has been on the downswing, with 16 percent unemployment. Walloon politicians are concerned over the economic, legal, and environmental implications of CETA on the region.

All of this begs the larger question, how can the European Union maintain a balance of national and regional sovereignty while still negotiating in the best interests of the Union as a whole in matters of trade? Is what’s good for Bavaria or Lombardy also good for Wallonia? Is what’s good for Germany also good for Romania? The answers to these questions are complicated. John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. It’s no secret that Germany and France are the economic engines of the EU and as a result they hold tremendous influence in Brussels. The responsibility of countries such as Germany and France to lead is even greater now that a Brexit is imminent. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande realize this, and have developed an extremely close working relationship, the like of which has not been seen in post-WWII French-German relations.

A two agreement solution has been proposed by politicians in Brussels in order to reach a compromise. This proposal would give the EU the power to negotiate larger, more comprehensive aspects of the deal, such as tariffs and regulations. However, it would maintain national and regional sovereignty by allowing them to negotiate “second-tier” issues such as investment protection and local health and environmental standards. Legally and logistically, this proposal has many hurdles to clear. Trade negotiations and deals take years, sometimes even a decade or more to reach. The two track solution would run the risk of limiting the negotiating power of European Commission. Future trade deals could potentially break down at the national or regional levels, resulting in frustration over the lost time and resources spent negotiating.

Yet, ceding power to Brussels means surrendering key aspects of national sovereignty. Romania and Bulgaria were until recently sceptics over CETA based on the restrictions on visa-free travel for their citizens in Canada. While neither objected CETA based on principle, they saw the negotiations as an opportunity to gain rights for their citizens that all other EU-member state’s citizens previously held. This marks another problem with current EU trade policy, the possibility of internal state politics muddying the process.

The European Union can now add trade policy to its already long list of issues to address. It has become evident that there are rippling effects globally for internal EU politics. CETA represents just one deal with Canada, a large and prosperous nation, but what will happen when the United States, or Japan, or China, come to the negotiating table for new agreements? Will the process again be held up in a region of 3.5 million people? If yes, maybe the United Kingdom was right in leaving, as countries like Canada and the United States will sidestep the long, drawn-out headache of negotiating with the EU in favor of quick, efficient dealings with the UK.

Eurostar Reduces its Services

October 21, 2016


If you have ever travelled from the UK to continental Europe, you may have used Eurostar to get there. Eurostar provides a high speed train service from the UK to France, and to Belgium as well via the Channel Tunnel. Since 1994, more than 130 million passengers have utilized Eurostar trains. Eurostar is considered a better alternative to flying to reach more than 100 destinations across Europe.



Although Eurostar is a fast and convenient method of travelling within Europe, recent attacks in Paris and Brussels have resulted in a reduction of its train services. By the end of 2016, Eurostar plans to cut around 80 jobs along with serval of its daily services. In a recent interview, Eurostar chief executive, Nicolas Petrovic, attributed a 3% decrease in ticket sales to the Paris/Brussels attacks, Brexit, and the migrant crisis.

Eurostar train

Getty Images ©

Eurostar has yet to announce which services it will remove from it schedule. Job removals will come primarily in the form of voluntary redundancy or sabbaticals. Since the recent attacks, visitors are less willing to visit Paris and Brussels where Eurostar has major stops. A reduction in sales has resulted in an annual slide £21 million for the company. In response to a cut in train services, Eurostar hopes to extend the size of its trains. Although Eurostar is going through a turbulent period, the company’s main priority is to protect the interest of its employees.



Is it a Timeout for Possible NFL Expansion in London?

October 13, 2016

Regent Street in Central London was heavily draped in NFL advertising for the recent game between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The National Football League (NFL), under the leadership of Commissioner Roger Goodell, has ambitious goals to double the NFL’s current revenue to $25 billion dollars by 2027. As the NFL has managed to jump from 18th to the 6th most watched sport in the United Kingdom in a matter of a few years, a team in London is becoming more and more of a lucrative option.

However, with the recent Brexit vote causing widespread uncertainty throughout the UK, leading to a drop in the economy, the NFL faces the dilemma of whether or not to continue to pursue establishing a team in London.

Prior to Brexit, a main draw to establishing a team in London was that London is easily accessible to fans living in mainland Europe, thus increasing attendance, expanding global reach and increasing overall revenue. With the uncertainty of how Brexit will affect the movement of people for those individuals holding a EU passport, the NFL might opt to delay establishing a team in London until clear terms are established between the EU and the UK after (if) article 50 is triggered.

Another option for the NFL is to establish a team in an alternative international city. For example, Mexico City, with a strong centralized fan base, has repeatedly been viewed as a viable option to place an NFL team if the Brexit terms are not favorable to the NFL.

In the end, the NFL is just one of the many organizations that has to wait and see how the Brexit vote plays out.