We report the text of the contribution offered by Paolo Raimondi at the 1st BRICS Think-Tank Forum on Pragmatic Cooperation, held May 25 and 26, 2017, at the Fudan University, Shanghai (China). The title of the Forum, organized by the Center for BRICS Studies of Fudan University, was: “Globalization in the Time of Transition: Shared Opportunities, Challenges and Responsibilities for BRICS”
“BRICS and European Union: a needed alliance”
by Paolo Raimondi, economist, EURISPES Research Institute, Laboratory on BRICS, Rome – Italy
I will be happy to follow what is suggested in the title of the 1st BRICS Think Tanks Forum for a “Pragmatic Cooperation” approach, to present here a few ideas and some concrete proposals.
1 – BUILDING A BRIDGE BETWEEN EU AND BRICS
The Eurispes Research Institute in Rome has made one of its priorities the study of the activities of the BRICS alliance as a progressively united working institution to lay down the grounds for more direct collaboration. We are too well aware of the fact that both the institutions of the European Union in Brussels and the national European governments are not looking at the BRICS alliance as a new emerging entity with which to have institutional and other kinds of operational contacts. They prefer to neglect the BRICS and instead to deal with each single government in a bilateral way.
This position was expressed fro example in the 2012 statement of the EU Parliament in the “Proposal for a Resolution of the European Parliament on National Policies of the EU towards the BRICS Countries and other Emerging Powers: Objectives and Strategies” (2011/2111 (INI), online at www.europarl.europa.eu). While acknowledging the importance of collaborating with the emerging economies to face the great international challenges, it is stated that “in view of the major divergences with BRICS regarding their policies and economic systems, demographic and social trends and foreign policies perspectives” it is suggested that Europe ”adopt a nuanced foreign policy, involving separate partnership and agreement with such countries to build synergies with single BRICS and other emerging countries and discourage the consolidation of alternative groupings of potentially colluding states in terms of foreign policy.”
This position is not only ambivalent but simply wrong and short sighted. It fails to understand the ongoing strategic changes on the geopolitical scene and to orient the future of Europe on the basis of independence and sovereignty to carry forward European interests with a variety of new allies and institutions.
Proposal: Eurispes is working to correct this failing European orientation, naturally beginning within Italy. With the support and the participation of the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry, our BRICS working group initiated a research project on the BRICS activities in the Mediterranean which resulted in a special report. Besides the elements of analysis, our main objective is to activate Rome to become a bridge between the EU and the BRICS and between the Mediterranean and the BRICS. In this context, in collaboration with the Rete Italiana per il Dialogo Euro–Mediterraneo (RIDE), an organization for the Euro-Mediterranean dialogue supported by the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry, we approached the Union for Mediterranean, an institution based in Barcelona created by the governments of the European states together with all countries living on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, intending to bring it closer to the BRICS alliance for discussions, exchanges and possible collaboration on a number of issues like labor, education, culture and communication, in which both sides are very much involved.
You can be sure that in the coming months such activities on the side of Eurispes and other friendly organizations will be carried forward with even more energy, with the aim of realizing, at the first possible and agreed upon opportunity, some discussions at the institutional level in Italy and in Europe involving BRICS representatives.
2 – INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS, A NEW INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
At the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, the BBC presented a very far reaching program of continental infrastructure development centered on some mega projects. Among them the Integration Priority Project Agenda (API) in Latin America, the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in China and Eurasia, the Trans Eurasian Belt Razvitie (TEBR) in Russia and Eurasia and large infrastructure programs in India.
Since that time, gigantic steps have been taken in the creation of both banking and credit infrastructure, in particular the New Development Bank, to sustain and finance the large investments required for the realization of the continental development programs.
New multilateral financial institutions have been realized to support the same effort, in primis the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), with a very diversified participation. The recent Beijing international conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project saw a very large international participation and presented a plan for over 1,000 billion dollars investments.
For sure the realization of such gigantic continental projects might present new and important challenges, as well as new relevant Geo-political and Geo-economic questions, and even disputes, which will require well balanced and collective solutions.
But at the pragmatic level the above mentioned projects could represent and initiate a fundamentally new industrial and social revolution. After the devastating effect of the global crisis of 2007-8, we would finally see the sectors of the real, physical economy becoming the engines of a much needed recovery. For too long the world gave to finance, speculation and deregulation the central stage in the economy. At this point of history, only the BRICS development can become the true locomotive to pull the entire world out of the quick sands of economic depression. And this will give back to credit and finance their fundamental and essential role of supporting investments and the real economy.
In this context it is noteworthy to report that in the entire system, particularly in the so called advanced economies, the threat of a new financial bubble has emerged: the corporate debt bubble. According to latest studies this bubble amounts to more than 30 trillion dollars, twice that of 2008. Half of it is in the USA. Corporate bonds increased dramatically following the zero interest rate policy of the Central banks. According to studies prepared by the Institute of International Finance, the private organization of international banks headquartered in Washington, 97% of the funds collected through corporate bonds has been used for operations of “financial engineering” (M&A, shares buy back, dividends distributions, etc) and only 3% has gone to buy new machinery or to real long term investments.
What is urgently needed is a coordinated approach to define new means and initiatives to promote a finance for development. It is known that international institutional investors, like insurance companies , pension funds, investment funds, without the banking sector, have assets equivalent to $70 trillion to manage and to invest. So far only a very small percentage goes into financing of infrastructure. At the same time several studies have underlined that the worldwide requirement of investments in new infrastructure and in improving the already existing infrastructure is about $3.7 trillion per year and about 50 trillion in the period 2016-2030.
What is needed is a scientific study on how to make a Private Public Program (PPP) realizable in the required dimension. Besides the much needed Project Bonds, there is the necessity to define new financial instruments for development which should combine, in a balanced way, a long term approach, the guarantees and a realistic profitability. On these matters much work has been done by the economists of the Long Term Investors Club, created by the German, French, Italian state controlled development institutions and the European Investment Bank. It is worth noting that in the meantime most of the development banks of other countries, including the BRICS countries, have joined the Club.
The required international technological and industrial participation will give new vitality to the industrial corporations and could become the most effective antidote also to the renewed winds of protectionism and national egoism.
Proposal: In this regard Eurispes is considering creating an economists working group, at the Italian and European level, that could share expertise, proposals and initiatives with a BRICS counterpart.
It would be extremely effective if the BRICS Think Tanks would promote a study to show how the realization of the BRICS continental projects might impact global growth, increase in productivity and employment, overcoming economic and income disequilibrium and inequality in the world and significantly reducing poverty. It would be also a way to emphasize the contrary negative effect on the economy and employment of the protectionist policies and of any other form of trade warfare.
3 – A BASKET OF CURRENCIES
After the 2007-8 global financial and economic crisis and its lasting effects also on the currency and trade systems, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before the world will inevitably redefine the international monetary system. We believe that the new arrangement will be based on a “basket of currencies system” with the progressive involvement of all the major national and regional currencies. It is inevitable and welcome that also the BRICS currencies should be part of the new basket, together with the dollar, the euro and other important currencies.
In this context great importance is attributed to the growing tendency to use national currencies in the infra BRICS trade and investments agreements. For many reasons: to preserve currency sovereignty bypassing the dollar inter-mediation which could also be a cause of monetary instabilities and destabilization; to test the new system by certifying, first of all to the BRICS, that it can work effectively and smoothly; to prove to the other countries, in primis to those of the European Union, that new arrangements can be organized and that a new monetary system is possible.
On these grounds several other important initiatives could follow: the creation of an independent international system of payments; a new international mechanism of payment to operate in parallel to the SWIFT one; a significantly better diversification of currency reserves; the creation of a network of alternative rating agencies to independently evaluate risks; the creation of a research center of economic information similar and parallel to the OECD.
In this context we attribute great importance to the recent change in the IMF quota system and the inclusion of the Chinese renminbi in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket. They are steps in the direction of a profound modification of the international economic and monetary institutions and of global economic governance.
Proposal: Eurispes, with the support of my commitment, could create a working group of Italian and European economists and experts to collaborate with the BTTF on these matters.
4 – THE PUBLIC DEBT INITIATIVE
I would like to share with you an important initiative the Holy See is promoting at the General Assembly of the UNO. I am involved in this initiative, together with other international colleagues, economists as well as experts from the legal and various other sectors, to raise the question of legitimacy in relation to the payment of public debt-foreign debt of the poor countries and of the countries which have been impoverished by the global crisis and are at risk of default.
The UN General Assembly should approve the necessary procedures to request the opinion of the International Court of Justice of The Hague regarding the coherence between the rules which regulate the public and the foreign debt of the developing countries and the newly impoverished countries, and the general principles of law and of the rights of man and of peoples.
The proposal has opened a very relevant discussion on some aspects regarding the payment and the cancellation of public debt. One of these is related to the notion of “state of force majeure”, when major unforeseeable events render debt payment impossible. New and more intriguing is the concept of “state of necessity” which, on the contrary, would justify non-fulfillment when payment would entail an excessively burden for the population.
The Holy See’s proposal is not a pie in the sky but is something concrete which also stands on the shoulders of another very important precedent, the 2015 UN Resolution 63/319 against the so called “vultures funds”, the highly speculative financial funds which act in a very aggressive way on the debt of countries in strong economic difficulties.
The initiative is also inspired by the moral, ethical and economic principles contained in the historical “Charta of Sant’Agata dei Goti” (from the town in the center of Italy where international religious and lay experts gathered in 1997 to formulate it), which condemned “usury contract”, “excessive debt burden” and instead stated its support for the “self determination of peoples.”
These questions are even more urgent when we consider that since 2007, world public debt has more than doubled, moving from $28,7 to over $61 trillion today. This represents a renewed threat of a systemic crisis. And the poorest countries are always the most exposed to be affected by such a burden.
Proposal: Considering that the Holy See has the status of Observer at the UN General Assembly, it is required that a member State present officially the initiative at the UNO. There are already intensive discussions between the Holy See and important representatives of the Italian government to have Italy to take up the issue.
It could be an important argument also for the State members of the BRICS alliance. Indeed the BRICS has always presented itself as the promoter of the interests of the poor and emerging economies. It is a commitment reiterated in all the summits and in their final declarations, particularly, for example, at Durban in South Africa or in the fundamental commitments of the New Development Bank.
On the other side the poorest countries of the South of the world are looking to the BRICS countries as their older brothers who could help them and protect them.
For this a manifestation of increasing attention and interest in the initiative on public debt would match both the spirit of cooperation of the BRICS countries and the expectations of the other countries of the South.
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