Friday, August 21, 2020

How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage


Global Views 360

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August 21, 2020


The Eiffel Tower Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower Paris, France | Source: Paul Gaudriault via Unsplash

Brexit is an abbreviation for "British exit," which refers to the decision of the UK to leave European Union (UK). The decision to leave the EU was put to a referendum on June 23, 2016 by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which resulted in a 52% to 48% majority for those who called for the UK to leave the EU.

The UK had joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and later became the founding member of European Union in 1992. The entry of the UK had always generated opposition from a section of the political spectrum in the country. It was earlier opposed by the left wing parties followed by the Eurosceptic parties like UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and later propagated by a section of Conservative party.

After a lot of false starts, the UK Parliament ratified Brexit which specified that the UK will leave  the EU on 31 January 2020. An eleven month long transition period was also specified to enable the UK and EU to negotiate their future relationship. During this transition period the UK will remain subject to EU law, remain part of the EU customs union, and single market, but no longer be part of the EU's political bodies or institutions.

Euro, the currency of European Union | Source: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

The loss of the UK, the largest non-eurozone member of the EU means that the focus shifts towards the eurozone members but more importantly it leaves a 75 billion euro deficit in the EU’s budget and raises questions regarding its future direction. In the absence of the UK, it would be challenging for the EU to continue its commitment towards fiscal responsibility, free trade and enlargement of the block.

A 2019 report from New Financial Aid cited that Britain’s exit from the EU would mean the bloc losing its biggest financial centre, London. It also mentioned that many business hubs and financial organizations had started opening hubs in the EU to cope with Brexit.

As per New Financial Britain accounted for almost one-third of the entire capital market activity of the EU, which is more than France and Germany combined. The report had suggested that France and Germany would have a “duopoly” in most major financial sectors post UK’s exit, with France being the dominant in most of the sectors.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France | Source:  Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Wikimedia

The two biggest economies of post-Brexit EU, France and Germany have taken different public postures on Brexit. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron has termed Brexit as a blessing in disguise for France and an opportunity for “European renaissance.” His German counterpart, Angela Merkel has however, chosen to remain silent on the issue.

France has taken an aggressive stance on attracting business away from the UK ever since the 2016 referendum in the UK was won by the leavers in the UK. France under president Macron has rejigged its tax system and reformed its labour laws to create a more business-friendly environment.

Paris had also initiated a poster campaign with the slogan “Tired of the fog? Try the frogs!” in a bid to drive financial investments from London in the wake of the Brexit developments in late 2016. Officials from Paris had also assured stability to the British businesses citing that Paris would be the only global city left in Europe after the exit of Britain.

Arnaud de Bresson, managing director of Paris Europlace, the organization responsible for promoting the financial sector in France points out that Paris is well ahead of its competitors in the EU-27 bloc with nearly 180,000 employees in the financial sector. The next best figures are from Frankfurt with 70,000 workers from the financial sector as per the report by the organization. Brexit has resulted in nearly 80 to 100 financial businesses from London relocating nearly 4000 jobs to Paris, and as per de Bresson this process is “likely to accelerate”.

The French Economy Minister, Bruno Le maire had said in February 2020 that Paris would become the leading financial centre in Europe in the wake of Brexit. He even went ahead to say that the French economy “must take advantage of Brexit”. However, his statements are not exactly accurate. The UK still remains the undisputed leader in the financial sector with 250,000 employees and 7% contribution to its GDP.

French senator Christian Cambon | Source: Boicaro via Wikimedia

French senator Christian Cambon who serves as the co-chair of the Senate Brexit Committee had warned in 2019 that Brexit could have adverse impacts on a few sectors of France’s economy. "Our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses, and the regions of Normandy and Haute France. It will have consequences for all these areas and for the whole of the EU, it could even give other members some ideas. That’s why we want to follow the process step by step while abiding by the competences of the Senate." French fishing industry members have had concerns over being denied access to British waters post Brexit, considering that 75% of fishing taking place in Haute France is in British territorial waters.

However, President Macron remains as optimistic as ever regarding Brexit’s impact on the nation’s economy and has been actively promoting his nation via a series of reforms to attract businesses and investments. He also launched the 'Choose France' package which provides financial help and English-language support to UK based businesses that want to move to France.

The short-term projections are pointing to be somewhat in favour of France, it remains to be seen if Brexit will have a positive impact on the nation’s economy in the longer run or the UK will have the last laugh.

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February 25, 2021 12:44 PM

Constructing Panopticon: Israeli Surveillance Technology and its Implications for the Palestinians

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist designed ‘Panopticon’ in the late 18th century. The panopticon is an institutional building which Bentham describes as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind in a quantity hitherto without example”. The structure's central observation tower, placed within a circle of prison cells, allows a watchman to monitor the inmates of the building without the dwellers knowing whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for a single watchman to observe all the occupants at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times. Thus, compelling the inmates to regulate their own behaviour.

Michel Foucoault, a French Philosopher, uses panopticon as a metaphor to explore relations between systems of social control and people in a disciplinary situation. For Foucault, the real danger was not that the individuals are repressed by the social order but the fact that when only certain people or groups of people control knowledge, oppression is a possibility. Contemporary society uses technology for the deployment of panoptic structures ‘invisibly’ throughout society.

This article gives an overview of the massive panopticon that is built and operated by Israel in Occupied Palestine.

Israel’s unaccountable military rule over its Palestinian citizens in east Jeruselum, West Bank and Gaza Strip have kept the Palestinians under constant surveillance and control. As per a report by Amitai Ziv on Haaretz, Israel’s surveillance operation against Palestinians is (as of 2019) “among the largest of its kind in the world. It includes monitoring the media, social media and the population as a whole.”

Among various mechanisms of surveillance, the technological mechanisms of surveillance and control deployed or proposed in the region of Gaza Strip is most empowering to Israel in terms of gathering ‘intelligence’. This includes use of biometric identity cards, Israeli access to Palestinian census data, almost complete access to and control of the telecommunication infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, the ability to track individuals via cell phone, large surveillance zeppelins which monitor the entire electromagnetic spectrum and which can usurp control of these from Palestinian operators (for instance sending text messages to subscribers targeting different demographics) as well as optical surveillance, facial recognition technology, remote controlled and robotic machine gun towers guarding the border that are capable of identifying a target and opening fire automatically—without human intervention.

In the context of occupation, the use of biometric ID cards of Israeli citizens is the sharpest seepage of control technologies.  For a long time, Israel has used a system of differentiated ID cards to distinguish between Jewish and Non-Jewish, citizens and residents of Israel, and citizens and residents of the occupied territories.

These ID cards also have a record of ethnic/religious affiliation of the person, and the ID numbers themselves are coded so as to reflect this information. One’s status of whether they are an Israeli or Palestinian, whether they are a citizen or a resident determines their freedom to travel, their ability to find jobs, and even their ability to get married and avail social benefits.  The Palestinians in East Jerusalem—which was annexed after the 1967 war—are considered as “conditional residents” and not citizens. According to a Human Rights Watch report, a resident of Palestine occupied Israel reported that the Israeli authorities refused to issue birth certificates to his five children, all born in Jerusalem. Other Jerusalem residents without residency status, in their testimonials, described being unable to legally work; obtain social welfare benefits; attend weddings and funerals; or visit gravely ill relatives abroad, for fear Israeli authorities would refuse to allow them to return home.

Another significant technological mechanism is the Facial recognition technology which has found its way into use by Israeli police. Facial recognition system, a globally controversial and scientifically flawed system is being used by the police force in Israel to identify protestors and is also implemented at airports and border crossings.

Israel has also ratcheted its social media surveillance, especially Facebook, Palestinians’ preferred platform. In October 2015, Israeli invasion at the Al-Aqsa Mosque angered several Palestinians. Many teenagers who didn’t belong to military wing or the Palestinian political faction orchestrated the attacks. The Israeli government blamed the social media for instigating the attacks and the military intelligence increased the monitoring of Palestinian social media accounts. Consequently, over 800 Palestinians were arrested for their posts on social media, particularly Facebook. It was later revealed that these arrests were a result of a policing system which uses algorithms to build profiles of supposed Palestinian attackers. This system proctors thousands of Palestinian Facebook accounts sifting for words like shaheed (martyr), Zionist state, Al Quds (Jerusalem), or Al Aqsa. Further, the algorithm identifies a “suspect” based on ‘prediction’ of violence. These targets are marked suspicious and are a potential target for arrest on the grounds of “incitement to violence”. The term incitement refers to all types of resistance to Israeli practices. The Israeli Army declared Military order 1651 in 2010, according to which, anyone who “attempts, orally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the West Bank area in a manner which may harm public peace or public order” or “publishes words of praise, sympathy or support for a hostile organization, its actions or objectives,” will serve a jail time of 10 years. The order defines this as “incitement”. One notable instance has been the poetry of Dareen Tatour. She is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She expressed her call to “resist” the occupiers through a poem she posted online in October 2015. The video had less than 300 views. But it resulted in nearly three years of house arrest and five months imprisonment. The Israeli government charged Tatour with inciting violence and terrorism while her poem was a call for a non-violent resistance. This incident is a classic demonstration of how Israel uses vague terminology to criminalize online activity when it serves its discriminatory interests.  

Israel’s military industrial complex is a profound enabler of the digital surveillance of Palestinians. The nation not only implements surveillance and control but also manufactures and exports a massive amount of military and cyber security technologies. A report published by Privacy International—an NGO that investigates government surveillance and companies—in 2016—stated that Israel has about 27 surveillance companies which is the highest per capita in terms of surveillance that any country has in the world.

The Guardian collected testimonies from people who worked in the Israeli Intelligence Corps to understand the big brother surveillance of the Palestinians. One of the testimonies revealed that commoners and even completely innocent people were under the radar of surveillance. The attestor stated “As a soldier in Unit 8200, I collected information on people accused of either attacking Israelis, trying to attack Israelis, desiring to harm Israelis, and considering attacking Israelis. I also collected information on people who were completely innocent, and whose only crime was that they interested the Israeli security system for various reasons. For reasons they had absolutely no way of knowing. All Palestinians are exposed to non-stop monitoring without any legal protection. Junior soldiers can decide when someone is a target for the collection of information. There is no procedure in place to determine whether the violation of the individual’s rights is necessarily justifiable. The notion of rights for Palestinians does not exist at all. Not even as an idea to be disregarded.”

Another testimonial exposed that the data collected was hardly in accordance with the security needs. The testimony stated, “Throughout my service, I discovered that many Israeli initiatives within the Palestinian arena are directed at things that are not related to intelligence. I worked a lot on gathering information on political issues. Some could be seen as related to objectives that serve security needs, such as the suppression of Hamas institutions, while others could not. Some were political objectives that did not even fall within the Israeli consensus, such as strengthening Israel’s stance at the expense of the Palestinian position. Such objectives do not serve the security system but rather agendas of certain politicians. One project in particular, was shocking to many of us as we were exposed to it. The information was almost directly transferred to political players and not to other sections of the security system. This made it clear to me that we were dealing with information that was hardly connected to security needs. We knew the detailed medical conditions of some of our targets, and our goals developed around them. I’m not sure what was done with this information. I felt bad knowing each of their precise problems, and that we would talk and laugh about this information freely. Or, for instance, that we knew exactly who was cheating on their wife, with whom, and how often.”

While hidden and unknown surveillance is prominent, Israel has also imposed explicit panopticon surveillance and restrictions on Palestinians in numerous cases. In the village of Beit Ijza, northwest of Jerusalem, the house of Gharib’s family has been enclosed by a 6-meter-high fence, cutting them off from their olive gardens and rest of the village as Israel claimed ownership of the land surrounding the Gharib family's house and created a West Bank settlement over there. The house was built in 1979 on land the family says has belonged to them from as far back as the Ottoman era. “Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank, Jews have been offering my father to sell the house,” Gharib says. “They even brought him a suitcase of money. He refused.” Now, their every move is filmed as cameras have been set up on the bars of the fence. Along with loss of privacy, the panopticon internalized omniscience prevents the Gharib family from taking radical steps to protect their rights. In Israeli military language this is called an “indicative fence” which is also equipped with sensors.  When the fence was built, the family had to negotiate by phone with the police at the nearby Atarot industrial zone every time they wanted to go out and or they had to get the Red Cross to help out. “Sometimes we waited for several hours for them to come and open it” Gharib said.

Constant surveillance in real life as well as digital space is definitely a critical human rights violation. While the case of Palestinians is unique given the Israeli military occupation, the fight for their rights is global. World leaders, governments, civil societies, social media giants and all internet users have an essential role in the battle for a surveillance and censorship free state.

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