Van der Bellen

Alexander Van der Bellen and Independence

“The secret of freedom is courage.”

Even Pericles would have looked favourably upon Alexander Van der Bellen. Van der Bellen is courageous. His inner conviction has led him to stand as a candidate once again for the highest office in the land and to devote his life to public service for the Republic of Austria. He will stand as an independent coming from the Green Party. Or as I would put it as an independent spirit.

The reactions to Van der Bellen’s independent candidacy show once more how little digitization has entered public consciousness. Open innovation, which is increasingly gaining traction in the economy, remains foreign to realm of politics. The idea that someone has stature, is independent, has an inner freedom of spirit and can reach out to others across the political divide giving them courage and is a viable candidate for them, is something that is seldom recognized because of political ignorance. It is attractive to stay comfortably in the “mediocrity trap” (Hengstenschläger) and to risk nothing by putting your head above the parapet. Those people who are stuck in the analogue world of thought and of political unimaginativeness discredit independent candidates, who stand for a new form of society, throw traditional approaches overboard and take new and intellectually novel challenges upon themselves. Social Media reinforces old ways of thinking and behaving.

Van der Bellen’s candidacy: open innovation

The Van der Bellen candidacy represents a turning point:

  • Yes, it is supported by the Greens. Why should the Greens not set such a sign of solidarity?
  • Yes, the word “independent” was not the best one in this case because it was temporally occupied by Irmgard Griss. But how could a person like Alexander van der Bellen otherwise be described?
  • Van der Bellen has always demonstrated in the course of his political career that he is not an apparatchik. His attitude has repeatedly stirred up “his” party. He often made speeches in the National Assembly that support a strong parliamentary system and centre-liberal approaches. Liberalism is freedom and independence. A fact that many choose to ignore and also fear.
  • Van der Bellen is the first political candidate in the sense of open innovation. He is not obliged to follow classic party programmes and leaves much content and many ideas as they are. This approach is immediately attacked as fickleness rather than being seen as Van der Bellen’s open innovation approach.
  • The most important thing for me is that Van der Bellen makes the classic zoon politikon, modelled on Plato and Aristotle, once again  acceptable to the Imperial Palace where the Austrian president resides. Not because President Fischer and his predecessors did also not ascribe to this but because this has completely been lost in the policy making of recent years. This is although it must be said that Van der Bellen does not identify himself as a dedicated follower of Plato in his book “The Art of Freedom”.

His independent spirit, his intellect, his experience in the National Parliament, his support for the European Union, his commitment to parliamentarianism and to the eco-social market economy in his role as farsighted economist have prompted me to join his support committee. This is also because I can once again outwardly be my independent self.

Alexander van der Bellen is the first politician who heads an open innovation campaign and also has a corresponding vision for it. Perhaps he calls open innovation by another name but it stands for change.

Freedom and independence of mind and thinking are essential in such a process. Alexander van der Bellen will accompany us “courageously into these new times.” I trust him and believe that he will make something great out of the change. 

Hoppe - Strategia.Politica. Media.

EU – a fleeting moment in time?

The EU is hogging the headlines – not because it is such an amazing construct with a strong and stable foothold in the global political framework, but paradoxically in connection with national and nationalistic ways of thinking. Diversified rather than united…
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Nina Hoppe - Strategia. Politica. Media.

Europe – to a greater or lesser extent? 

Recent events have uncovered a startling truth: the European Union always fails when it comes to preserving its Enlightenment legacy – that of civil liberties, defence of those freedoms and an open society. The question of how to protect our security, defence and freedoms is an important issue for which the European Union has no answers. Does this raise the threat of renationalisation and spell an end to the tremendous vision of Spinelli, Schuman & Co?

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Nina Hoppe Strategia.Politica. Media, aussenpolitische Beraterin "Public Affairs"

Europe, Europe. 

I didn’t really want to say anything about the current debate over the refugee/political asylum issue: the unqualified, self-satisfied comments on social media, the helplessness of national and EU governments and the blindness to global connections and goings-on. But I have decided to give free rein to my emotions – in my own way.
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Banking separation: separate for the purpose of unity

The current situation in Greece yet again makes it abundantly clear that a European-wide banking separation system is long overdue. It was not until the early summer of 2015 that the lame draft of the EU Economic Committee (ECON) within the European Parliament died a natural death. Yet banking separation is essential to the stability of monetary union and has a strong precedent in the Glass Steagall Act, which is well worth emulating.

A banking separation system was on the agenda of the last EU Commission as part of its central regulation measures. The system is very simple. The principle is that customer business should be separate from high-risk investment banking. The champion of UK banking separation, John Vickers, referred to this as “ring-fencing”. He spoke of protecting the sheep (commercial banking) from the wolves (investment banking) by ring-fencing them. Yet in that very market, representatives of the “too big to fail” banks have succeeded in distancing themselves from any effective banking separation system by a process of constant lobbying.
Michel Barnier, Internal EU Market Commissioner of the Barroso Commission, gave former head of the Finnish National Bank, Erkki Liikanen, the task of investigating possible structural reforms within the EU banking sector. The so-called Liikanen Report on the subject duly appeared in 2012. This was followed by EU member nations agreeing on a two-step approach (full details here), which was then brought to its knees by the Economic Committee of the European Parliament in the early summer of 2015.

Universal rather than separate banks
The reason for this failure was that the draft submitted by Swedish rapporteur Gunnar Hökmark (EPP) highlighted and indeed underlined the importance of universal banks and the need to prevent any strict separation of financial institutions into investment and commercial banks. This runs contrary, for instance, to the German Banking Separation Act, which requires that from 1 July 2015, investment banking and commercial business be divided into separate subsidiaries. If the EU law were to take a laxer stance, German banks would be at a competitive disadvantage within the EU (which would probably be no bad thing from a UK point of view).

Jeremy Corbeyn, a left-wing representative of the Labour Party, has recently re-ignited the Glass Steagall debate. He advocates implementing that particular banking separation model. Corbeyn is predicted to have a good chance of winning election as Leader of the Labour Party. Glass Steagall is a ready-made banking separation model that could be incorporated within the European legislative framework relatively easily.

Glass Steagall in the US election campaign
The Dodd Frank Act, only recently cited by President Barack Obama as a successful example of financial market regulation, has come under heavy fire during the current US primaries, within Obama’s party in particular. Apart from Hillary Clinton, who is thought to have a close relationship with the major Wall Street banks, in terms of financing her election campaign, all other Democratic Presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley advocate re-implementation of Glass Steagall. (It was rescinded under Bill Clinton with disastrous and well-documented consequences for the global financial industry).

The “Glass Steagall Act” was brought before the House of Representatives in 1933 as H.R. 5661 by Henry B. Steagall, approved by the U.S. House Committee on Banking and Currency and enshrined in law on 16 June 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “Glass Steagall Act” provided for the introduction of a banking separation system, or institutional separation of a bank’s deposit and lending operations from its securities business. Banks had to decide whether to operate as business banks, offering classic deposit and lending products and services, such as account management and payment transactions, (commercial banking), or as investment banks dealing in securities (investment banking).  

Following the world economic crisis or Great Depression in the period between 1929 and 1933, banks had to contend with massive losses, thanks to strong integration and networking between investment and commercial banking, both on the securities side (stock exchange falls) and on the lending side (defaults on loans). The idea of separating the two segments was to ensure that such events did not repeat themselves.

Fintechs an example of banking separation in action
Proponents of the banking separation system, and the Glass Steagall model within the European Parliament in particular, led primarily by Philippe Lamberts of the European Greens, Fabio de Mesi of The Left and Jakob von Weizsäcker of the SPD, believe in the merits of a joint trans-Atlantic initiative to implement the Glass Steagall model of banking separation system in both the US and Europe. The latest developments in Greece, (bank suspensions, capital market controls due to the fact that purchase of state assets = domino effect), as well as the increasing threat of a financial collapse from China should give added impetus to this idea of sustainable separation of commercial banking from investment banking.

Not only that, since the current Turkish G20 presidency is focusing on the issue of “Financing SMEs”, a worldwide initiative to implement Glass Steagall or similar models would also be advisable. SMEs are a key economic, employment and economic stability factor, not only in Europe – in many emerging economies (including incidentally Russia and Brazil, as well as members of the BRICS) EMUs form the backbone of the economy. And, as their financial partners, customer banks are essential – whether analogue or digital. Furthermore, thanks to the Fintechs, systems are emerging in the digital world that follow the banking separation model. Fintechs are not universal banks but customer-focused digital banks. They generally offer a service geared to a particular target market, and so far they tend to be targeting classic “bank” customers.

However it will be a great political challenge to integrate this project into the major EU Commission project of Capital Market Union – particularly given the fact that a “Brexit” must be avoided or is undesirable in any event. This takes us right back to the start of my deliberations. We are in for some exciting political times. Stay tuned.


Alexander Hamilton – a role model for the EU?

I am actually a very sceptical observer of American politics – especially its inherent contradictions. The world’s largest democracy still applies the death penalty to a large extent, has yet to develop a functioning healthcare system and shows signs of ever-increasing social tension. Well into the late 1960s, its black people were treated by law as second-class citizens. And as the world’s biggest military power, the US operates via direct or indirect aid as an interventionist force, or self-titled “world police”. Despite all of this, the US has an important role model function for the European Union (EU), in terms of its constitution.
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Nina Hoppe´s analysis on recent results of regional elections in Austria and the "crazyness" on austrian politics.

Crazy politics

Austrian politics are crazy – not in the colloquial sense, but in the ideological sense. Blue is capable of governing – as an anti-system party – because the system is already so off-putting that anything else is preferable. Crazy.
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Father Weber and Mare Nostrum

Only 45.39% of Austrians voted last May in the EU elections, which was a disappointingly low turnout – and no better in the other EU states either. Fascinating to see, then, how the EU is now being called by “its citizens” to act (for Mare Nostrum reasons) in response to the refugee tragedies in the Mediterranean. In actual fact, the EU does not have any majority legitimation from the European population and hasn’t had it for years now.

Media coverage of the massacres by Boko Haram militants has so far been relegated to “other news”. Brief articles about warring factions on the African continent appear from time to time but that is about as far as the coverage goes – no word about who supplies the weapons (usually USA, Russia, China or Germany, for instance). No analysis to suggest it will trigger, or already has unleashed, a wave of threatened or persecuted migrants who, in fear of their lives, are turning to Europe and using the Mediterranean Sea route as their passage to a safer and better future. There is no research into the structures and political regimes that have set themselves up in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. Increasingly, radicalisation within North African countries tends to be treated as isolated events, with no connection being drawn between the removal of unpopular African dictators by major Western powers and their cooperation with local radical militia, (like the jihadists), and the impending tidal wave of asylum seekers, or the (deliberately engendered) political chaos.

Enlightened Europe – where R you?

The Europe I am so proud of is the Europe of Enlightenment, of humanitarian ideals, of the freedom and protection of the personal liberties of ordinary citizens. The EU certainly set itself the task of upholding those values, but it has yet to gain the widespread support of its citizens at the ballot box. Instead, national interests continue to prevail well before those of the Union. Particularly from an economic perspective, close cooperation over the harvesting of raw materials, fishing rights etc. is certainly on the agenda when it comes to Africa. Yet what tends to be overlooked in such cases is that the political partners involved are typically not democratic but rather authoritarian rulers of post-colonial countries. And that is fundamentally wrong. The task for Europe here, as it was more than 200 years ago on its own continent, is to give the African population access to the kind of education and enlightenment that makes individual citizens capable of critical thought – citizens able to economically emancipate themselves to the point where they can afford to live their own lives and engage as equals with their politicians, able ask questions and maintain their personal independence. This will ultimately serve to make their country an enlightened, liberal society.

Father Weber and Karlheinz Böhm

It was Father Weber, amongst others, who in post-1815 Austria laid the foundations for the self-sufficiency and personal responsibility of ordinary citizens with his idea of a bank account for every person. He and many others, who understood that economic security and autonomy lead to a contented and progressive society, are classic examples of protagonists for the social economy. In reality, that is one of the best export items Europe can bring to the African continent. It is not only a vehicle for transporting the approach of an enlightened and humanitarian Europe but also a form of development aid that enables the local people to be spared the prospect of an uncertain, or worse, future.
The EU has enough clout to carry out such a project. And the fact that such ideas can be successful was illustrated by Karlheinz Böhm more than 30 years ago in Ethiopia. He and Father Weber had the same bright idea.

There are not five billion humans, but ONE human being five billion times over, Karlheinz Böhm

Nina Hoppe about Germany that appears to be politically more and more isolated due to its economic strength in the EU. A plea.

Germany – Sine ira et studio*

*without anger or bias

Already in the days of Caesar and Tacitus, the Germanic people have been the subject of interest. In his work Germania, Tacitus praised their strict mores and moral standards in contrast to the degeneracy of Roman life. Nevertheless “the Germans” were always the subject of attack. Till this day, and Angela Merkel. Why?

One point that is interesting to note is that Germany is no longer feared in a political or military sense. This is a result of the European Union and its fathers such as Jacques Delors, Giscard d´Estaing, Helmut Kohl and Hans Dietrich Genscher. Its new power is economic in nature and apparently this is now much more alarming than anything experienced in the past. It is then only a small step further to compare the Germany of today with the atrocities and the policies of the Nazi era. Hence, mixing with a de facto economic position of power is the very emotionally-driven political threat which is supposedly emanating from Germany. This impression is enhanced too by remarks such as that made by Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU): “Europe is speaking German”.

Germany under attack

Yet the question I have is why the largest economy in the European Union should be condemned to perform less successfully than it is doing. Apart from the fact that Austria benefits greatly from this situation or, in other words, is very dependent economically on Germany, I would still like to know why, in a European Union, solidarity and mutual support (as in the example of Greece) are perceived as a threat.

Germany is making the European Union very strong, both politically and economically. The problem is, however, that Angela Merkel is not receiving unconditional support for her efforts to make the European Union an independent, self-assured community. The British and the French are looking more and more often towards America (although for different reasons), parts of Eastern Europe continue to be Russia-oriented. This Russia in turn is in no time at all developing a Eurasian economic area, in which the BRICS countries also find themselves. The sanctions imposed after the annexation of the Crimea, contrary to international law, were pushed for by Angela Merkel, though with the focus on strengthening Europe and not needing the USA as “the eternal big brother”. But the European Union is not finding its proper place in this global order, as the subject of political debate with an almost neurotic fixation is the threat emanating from Germany. However there would in actual fact be important issues to resolve: immigration policy, creating a European Union peace force (and thus independence from NATO), fiscal union, the TTIP debate.

Taking advantage of that, the ECB for instance is not exactly an ideal partner for the former Europe of SMEs and its decentralised customer banks (the strength of which especially in Germany is particularly pronounced). Let me remind you that Jens Weidmann, head of Deutsche Bank, was one of the biggest opponents of the ECB’s quantitative easing plan.

The regulatory requirements from Brussels also seem to be more or less a direct attack on the economically prosperous Germany: the Federal Republic managed to get through the financial crisis relatively unharmed through its regional banks such as savings banks (Sparkassen) and credit unions (Volksbanken) and, for example, gave its assistance to the ESM as the largest donor. Precisely these structures, however, stand in the way of a future EU capital markets union, and also in the way of EC President Jean-Claude Juncker’s investment programme.

Germany endangered

The risk is that, because of the purely power political reasoning and actions of the economic crisis states in the EU and the institutions outside and within the institutional framework, Germany is being made an outsider in the medium term, and thus the EU’s largest national economy is being destabilised. This will also considerably weaken Austria economically, which none of us would wish.

Germany is the opportunity for Europe and not its threat. However, care must be taken that a kind of new national chauvinism is not encouraged through the constant Germany bashing which then, as a self fulfilling prophecy, brings about exactly what everyone currently thinks they are seeing: Germany behaving in an authoritarian manner within the Union. That would be damaging for this wonderful political vision called the EU.


NIna Hoppe about the populistic driven Policy of Tsipras & Co and the danger behind this kind of politics

POPulism vs. POPArt

There is an interesting phenomenon running through the European Union: politics is becoming increasingly more like POP-Art. No-one (neither politicians nor journalists and thus voters) would have listened to POPulists when times were economically strong and politically stable. In these days of social media, however, they are being built up to be POP stars.
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