Sophi.io Named a WordPress VIP Featured Technology Partner

TORONTO, Feb. 18, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — WordPress VIP, the leading provider of enterprise WordPress, has added Sophi.io, an artificial intelligence system by The Globe and Mail, to its prestigious Technology Partnership program. Sophi joins a small group of enterprise technology companies serving VIP clients, and is the first partner to provide AI–powered automated content curation in addition to their predictive analytics and paywall solutions.

"We're excited to welcome Sophi to the growing ecosystem of enterprise integrations available to WordPress VIP customers," said Nick Gernert, CEO of WordPress VIP. "Content is the heart of enterprise growth, and our partners are key players enabling publishers and marketers to create meaningful customer experiences with powerful storytelling tools."

WordPress VIP provides a fully managed WordPress cloud platform for scale, security, performance, and flexibility, as well as end–to–end guidance and hands–on support. Some of their enterprise clients include Capgemini, Facebook, Microsoft, and News Corp, among others.

Greg Doufas, CTO at the Globe and Mail, said "We're excited to bring Sophi to all WordPress VIP users. Content publishers are exactly who Sophi was developed for. This partnership will allow Sophi to transform the way content publishers do business, and how their readers are served their most valuable content – where and how they are most receptive to it. We look forward to a strong relationship with WordPress VIP."

The award–winning Sophi suite of solutions was developed by The Globe and Mail to help content publishers make important strategic and tactical decisions that transform their business. It is a suite of ML and NLP–powered tools that includes Sophi Automation for content curation, Sophi for Paywalls, and Sophi Analytics "" a decision–support system for publishers.

Key criteria for technology partners include clear product expertise and innovative go–to–market strategies. VIP vets every partner to identify companies with a proven track record of successful and forward thinking implementations of WordPress integration at scale.

For more information about Sophi's partnership with WordPress VIP, please visit https://wpvip.com/partner/sophi.

About Sophi.io

Sophi.io (https://www.sophi.io) was developed by The Globe and Mail to help content publishers make important strategic and tactical decisions. It is a suite of AI–powered tools that includes Sophi Automation and Sophi for Paywalls as well as Sophi Analytics, a decision–support system for content publishers. Sophi is designed to improve the metrics that matter most to your business, such as subscriber retention and acquisition, engagement, recency, frequency and volume. Sophi also powers automated laydown of print newspapers and ePapers.

About WordPress VIP

WordPress VIP is the leading provider of enterprise WordPress. VIP's platform provides enterprise–grade digital marketing and publishing platforms with WordPress at their core. VIP supports flagship digital marketing platforms for some of the best–known brands, including Capgemini, Hachette Book Group, and Facebook. Our digital publishing clients span the media landscape, from focused outlets such as Quartz, TechCrunch, and FiveThirtyEight to some of the biggest publishers and sites in the world, like News Corp, Rolling Stone, and Abril.

With its unparalleled power, flexibility, and interoperability, WordPress is the best digital experience solution at scale. Together with VIP's expert support, best–in–class infrastructure, and exceptional partner network, it's an unbeatable combination.


Expereo acquires Videns IT Services, the experts in NextGen SD-WAN & SASE

AMSTERDAM, Feb. 18, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Expereo, the global provider of managed Internet, Cloud access, and SD–WAN solutions, announces the acquisition of nextgen SD–WAN & SASE solutions provider Videns IT Services, bolstering Expereo's SD–WAN network transformation and management capabilities for its multinational enterprise customers.

Videns IT Services is a network independent managed services provider delivering fully managed SD–WAN and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE).

The acquisition illustrates Expereo's ambition and commitment to simplifying global networking and cloud access with flexible, agile and secure network and cloud access solutions for multinational enterprises. Acquiring Videns will strengthen Expereo's SDWAN offering with deep sector experience and know–how in leading SDWAN and SASE solutions, adding depth and breadth to its nextgen global network and cloud access solutions.

“Videns expertise is built upon SD–WAN implementations for numerous multinational as well as domestic enterprise customers. Since 2012 we never stopped investing in good partnerships and technology that enabled us to establish ourselves as one of the leaders in Managed SDWAN and SASE services," says Ruud van Straaten, Managing Director of Videns.

“Expereo's global leadership position in nextgen internet–centric managed network services is the perfect stepping stone for the Videns team to achieve global scale and presence. Joining Expereo will enable us to further invest and scale the development of class leading SDWAN and SASE solutions with our technology partners, continuing to service our customers with our best practice expertise throughout their network transformation journey," van Straaten explains.

“Videns has a rich history and early on established a market–leading position in managed SDWAN and SASE services. The Videns team, capabilities and market recognition fuels our ambition of global leadership in the nextgen SDWAN and SASE market, guiding our enterprise clients through their network transformation challenges and delivering on superior, agile, cost effective cloud access and global network solutions," explains Expereo CEO, Irwin Fouwels. "Videns cuts through the hype, walks the talk, based on a wealth of experience and customer use cases; a great fit in every aspect with Expereo," adds Fouwels.

About Videns IT Services

Founded in 2012, Videns IT Services is the leading network–independent service provider of managed SD–WAN and SASE solutions. Videns is the alternative for enterprises that are looking to replace their traditional telco services with flexible, cost–effective, cloud–enabled and secure WAN services. Videns combines deep customer knowledge with specialist SD–WAN and SASE knowhow. Videns supports more than 45 multinational enterprise customers with 3.500 customer locations across 70 countries.

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About Expereo

Expereo is the leading provider of managed network solutions, including Global internet connectivity, SD–WAN, and Cloud Acceleration services. Expereo is the trusted partner of 30% of Fortune 500 companies and powers enterprise and government sites worldwide, helping to enhance every business' productivity with flexible and optimal Internet performance.

In Feb 2021, Vitruvian Partners international growth capital and buyout firm, acquired a majority stakeholding in Expereo, alongside to the leading European private equity firm Apax Partners sas, and company management.

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Pacific Islanders Turn to Local Economies to Drive Post-pandemic Recovery

A tourist handicraft market in Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, prior to the pandemic. The price for Pacific countries maintaining strict border closures to protect their small highly vulnerable populations is the decimation of the tourism industry. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

A tourist handicraft market in Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, prior to the pandemic. The price for Pacific countries maintaining strict border closures to protect their small highly vulnerable populations is the decimation of the tourism industry. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Feb 18 2021 – While Pacific Island countries have, so far, been spared a catastrophic spread of COVID-19, their economies have been devastated by the effects of border closures, internal lockdowns and the demise of international tourism and trade. With the global pandemic far from over, Pacific Islanders are looking to their local and regional economies to drive resilience and recovery.

In Fiji, the pandemic has led to one in three people losing their jobs. In Vanuatu, in the southwest Pacific, the combined economic losses of COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold, which descended on the Melanesian nation in April last year, are predicted to reach 68.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Meanwhile, extreme poverty across the region could rise to 40 percent, forecasts the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University.

“The development and support of existing and new domestic industries and the private sector is critical to help affected families get through the economic downturn and to maintain income,” Mia Rimon, Regional Manager for Melanesia at the regional development organisation, Pacific Community, in Vanuatu told IPS.

The Pacific Islands region, with a total of 27,215 reported cases of coronavirus, as of Feb. 18, represents a fraction of the more than 100 million cases worldwide. However, the price for countries in the region of maintaining strict border closures to protect their small highly vulnerable populations is the decimation of the tourism industry.  The sector is of huge importance to island countries, such as Vanuatu, where it accounts for 46 percent of GDP, and in Fiji 39 percent of GDP. Between April and September last year, the pandemic caused monthly tourist arrivals in the Pacific Islands to plummet by 99-100 percent.

Trade in the region has also been hit. During the first half of 2020, exports from Tonga dropped by 28.3 percent and from Tuvalu by 71 percent.

Pacific Island governments have, accordingly, seen a decline in revenues. Most governments introduced stimulus packages to support households and businesses during the worst of the crisis, but, in the current economic climate, these costs will be unsustainable over a long or indefinite period.

With the prospect of a ‘travel bubble’ between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island countries unlikely to occur soon, the region will struggle to grow by 1.3 percent this year, forecasts the Asian Development Bank. But output levels in highly exposed Pacific Island countries are unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or beyond, reports the World Bank.

Pacific leaders are now looking to the economic potential within the region. At a virtual meeting in August last year, Pacific Islands Forum Economic Ministers concluded that the crisis offered ‘the opportunity to assert a regional economy that supports Pacific priorities and to consider investments, policies and partnerships required to secure the region’s economic resilience and the wellbeing of its people now and into the future.’

Dr Neelesh Gounder of the School of Accounting, Finance and Economics at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, told IPS that the private sector will be important to recovery, but added that “governments will need to support the private sector with policies and incentives that will reduce the cost of doing business and provide incentives for expansion and growth.”

Some local entrepreneurs are already manoeuvring to gain new skills and adapt their enterprises for a local, rather than international market.

Workers at South Pacific Mozuku cleaning seaweed in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Photo credit: South Pacific Mozuku

Workers at South Pacific Mozuku cleaning seaweed in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Photo credit: South Pacific Mozuku

In the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, a local business, South Pacific Mozuku (SPM), specialised in a luxury range of cosmetics and skincare products incorporating a seaweed, known as ‘Mozuku’, which grows in the waters around Tonga. It was a perfect fit for the international tourist market. Before the pandemic, Tonga received up to 5,000 cruise ship visitors per day. The business also exported raw seaweed to international buyers, mostly in Japan. But then the pandemic hit, tourist visitors evaporated and the export market declined.

“We lost 60 percent of our orders during lockdown in March and April 2020,” Managing Director, Masa Kawaguchi, told IPS. After a strategic rethink, he is now pivoting the business to make fresh food products, still using ‘Mozuku’ seaweed, which possesses nutritious and anti-oxidising properties, as an ingredient. They are now sold through local supermarkets and distributors.

It is a sector of natural strength and expertise in the region. “Almost all Pacific people are coastal people and have their lives entwined with the sea. Significant livelihood opportunities are marine-based. Hence, it is important to continue upskilling to meet changing demands and resources,” Avinash Singh, the Pacific Community’s Aquaculture Officer, told IPS.

SPM, which employs 25 local Tongans, is delivering further benefits to local communities. Its partnership with the Tonga Youth Employment Entrepreneurship (TYEE) scheme has led to local youths being involved in promoting public awareness of ‘Mozuku’ seaweed as a health food and organising tasting events in shops and restaurants in the capital, Nuku’alofa. And ‘Mozuku’ is now on the menu for patients, doctors and nurses at the Vaiola Hospital, also situated in the capital.

Further west in Vanuatu, youths, women and islanders with disabilities are being mobilized in a new income generating initiative, called the 300 Coconut Bag Project, in the main city of Port Vila.

“The impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of Ni-Vanuatu is really sad as people get laid off from their jobs, young people who are recruited in tourism sectors and other trades have to go back home due to limited hours of operation as there are no more tourists,” Project Manager, Sethy Melenamu, told IPS.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that ‘the pandemic is inflicting a triple shock on young people: destroying their employment, disrupting education and training and placing major obstacles in the way of those seeking to enter the labour market.’ These issues are of importance in the Pacific Islands, which is experiencing a youth bulge. Currently half the region’s population of about 11.9 million are aged under 23 years.

The making of recycled and reusable coconut bags is generating employment and incomes for youths, women and disabled people affected by the pandemic in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo credit: 300 Coconut Bag Project

The making of recycled and reusable coconut bags is generating employment and incomes for youths, women and disabled people affected by the pandemic in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo credit: 300 Coconut Bag Project

In Port Vila, about 30 young people are being employed to collect discarded waste plastic, which is then crafted and sewn by local women and disabled people into large reusable carry bags. Each bag, which is designed to hold six heavy coconuts, features an inner lining of recycled plastic and an outer layer of aesthetically woven pandanus leaves.

It is envisaged that, following production, the bags, which are being promoted as waterproof, reversible and fashionable, will be on sale in March in local fresh produce markets, retail shops and online.

The project, which is supported by the Pacific Community in partnership with the Vanuatu Office for Ocean and Maritime Affairs, intends to outlive the pandemic.

“The project is long-term; there will be more prototypes of products to be tested and modified. Also, the beneficiaries will see it as an alternative source of income for the vulnerable. I would like to make it a sustainable social enterprise in the future,” Melenamu said.

The distinctive fashionable and sustainable coconut carry bags will be sold at public venues in Port Vila, such as fresh produce markets, Vanuatu. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The distinctive fashionable and sustainable coconut carry bags will be sold at public venues in Port Vila, such as fresh produce markets, Vanuatu. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 


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The UN: From the Sublime to the Hilarious

Roderic Grigson was Asia Pacific Vice President for Novell, a global networking company, working in Melbourne Australia until he retired from corporate life to become a full-time writer. He worked at the United Nations Secretariat in New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a technology innovations officer, serving in UN peacekeeping forces in the Middle East. He is the author of Sacred Tears, The Sullen Hills and After the Flames, a trilogy of thrillers set in war-torn Sri Lanka, and is currently working on his fourth book.

By Roderic Grigson
MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 18 2021 – The United Nations is an institution mired in politics focusing primarily on military conflicts, civil wars, economic sanctions, peacekeeping, plus sustainable economic development.

But there is also a lighter side to it, which is brilliantly laid out in a new book released last week on Amazon titled “No Comment and Don’t Quote Me on That.”

It takes years to write a good book, and in this insightful memoir, Thalif Deen, a former UN Bureau Chief and Regional Director at Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, gives us a riveting memoir filled with observations that come from 40-years of stalking the halls and corridors of the ‘glasshouse by the East River’.

Told through a series of news stories, interviews, anecdotes, and personal recollections, No Comment is held together by flashes of surprising humour and an overarching third world focus and point of view. It comes as no surprise that some of his stories were picked up at the Delegates Lounge, a well-known watering hole for UN delegates.

He also describes an incident that took place when he was doing a wrap-up of the 1992, two-week-long international conference in Rio de Janeiro. Deen approached Dr Gamani Corea, a former Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and a member of the Sri Lanka delegation, for a final comment.

“We negotiated”, Dr Corea said with a tinge of sarcasm, “the size of the zero”, as he held out his fingers to indicate the zero, describing the response of Western nations who refused to make any concrete commitments to fund a plan for the protection of the global environment.

In his first year as a student at Columbia University, Deen was terrified of the hazards of crime-ridden subway travel in New York and scared of the impending winter. When he complained about his first-ever brutal winter in New York, a wise-cracking American classmate advised him: “The best remedy is to curl up in bed with a good book — or with someone who has read one”.

Though its scenes are scattered, they are individually memorable, evoking amazement and laughter in the same breath. Deen has always been a raconteur, often entertaining guests at various functions and parties with stories from his vast array of yarns, and this comes through his narrative in abundance.

Deen surprises the reader with an unaffected insider view of international reporting, recounting his stories with freshness and colour. A longstanding columnist for the Sunday Times, UN correspondent for Asiaweek, Hong Kong and Jane’s Defence Weekly, London, his firsthand experiences add importance to his common-sense take on global diplomacy.

The book’s title is taken from an encounter Deen had with a diplomat at the UN building. As a general rule, most ambassadors and diplomats do not tell UN correspondents either to go to hell or heaven – but avoid all comments on politically sensitive issues with the standard non-excuse: “Sorry, we have to get clearance from our capital”.

But often that “clearance” from their respective foreign ministries never came. Still, it was hard to beat a response from a tight-lipped Asian diplomat who told him: “No comment” – and as an after-thought, added: “And Don’t Quote Me on That”.

It is a gift that he has now written his long overdue memoir. Blessed with a robust sense of humour, Deen gives us the real scoop on headline stories with both wit and intelligence, a perspective that comes from mining his dog-eared reporter’s notebooks, of which he assures me, there are over a hundred.

It is also the story of how Deen did it. A former information officer at the UN Secretariat in New York in the mid-1970s, Deen has covered virtually every major UN conference on population, human rights, the environment, sustainable development, food security, humanitarian aid, arms control and nuclear disarmament in the past 40-years.

Working at the UN during the most dramatic events of our time — from the pursuit of war and peace in the Middle East to the humanitarian disasters in Africa and Asia, this book provides an insider’s view on what went on behind the ‘glass curtain’ during a period of extraordinary turbulence.

A Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree (MSc) in Journalism from Columbia University in New York, Deen was born and educated in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). A student of Zahira College, Colombo, he graduated with an Economics degree from the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya. He became the first student from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to gain admission to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia.

At Peradeniya in the 1960s, it was the prevalent trend among most undergrads to fancy themselves either as Trotskyites, Communists or Socialists. When asked about his own political leanings, Deen told one of his professors he was a die-hard Marxist. ”But I followed Groucho, not Karl,” he declared.

Speaking at a corporate dinner, sponsored by the International Institute for Education (IIE), during his student days, he said he had arrived in New York with a degree of trepidation because his colleagues at Lake House, the newspaper office where he worked, cautioned him that Fulbright grants were given only to “half-bright students”. Mercifully, it wasn’t so.

Studying for his master’s in the early seventies in New York City, known then as the ‘murder capital’, was not easy. But having been brought up in the unforgiving northern suburbs of Colombo, he successfully navigated the asphalt jungle that was the Big Apple and has lived to tell the tale.

When he was in Iraq’s battle zone in Baghdad during the 1990 Gulf War, he was armed with a military flak jacket with a cautious warning inscribed on the back: “United Nations. Press. Don’t Shoot.” Perhaps it helped. Now, he says, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he occasionally wears it in the mean streets of New York, a city where he has lived for over 45 years, and where a bank robber can get mugged as he flees to a get-a-way car.

He completed his studies before embarking on his remarkable career ‘reporting from the United Nations’, first as a UN Information officer, a UN correspondent for Janes Defence Weekly and finally as a UN correspondent and bureau chief at IPS.

Possessed with the curiosity, nimbleness of mind and openness to change, Deen stands out among veteran correspondents for the range of his experience and his gift as a storyteller. An eyewitness to history being made at the highest levels, with this unique perspective, Deen brings to life scenes from the past and present.

A story he recounts often is after a band of mercenaries tried to oust the Maldives’ government, he asked a Maldivian diplomat about the strength of his country’s standing army. “Standing army?”, the diplomat asked with mock surprise, “We don’t even have a sitting army.”

Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, a sharply-witty, former Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary and a one-time Permanent Representative to the UN, once paid him an ultimate compliment, when he said in an email message: “Permanent representatives are never permanent. Sri Lanka’s only Permanent Representative at the UN is the IPS UN Bureau Chief Thalif Deen.”

He said Deen had survived about 20 Sri Lankan Permanent Representatives (PRUNs) – some of them transiting through New York.

He is a splendid companion as I can personally attest to after working with him in New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s. One thing I most admire about him is that he has always remained true to himself, his principles, career, and origins. He is someone with genuine bona fides as a journalist and an unassailable commitment to the profession’s enduring values.

“No Comment” is a dizzying text, part memoir, part discourse on international reporting reality from a third-world perspective.

The book is available on Amazon. The link follows:
https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/

 


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Corporate Reporting on SDGs: Challenges and Opportunities

‘Conflict trap’ a growing obstacle to sustainable development – UN chief 6 January 2021. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Camila Corradi Bracco
AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands, Feb 18 2021 – Since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016, the role of the private sector in fulfilling the 2030 Agenda has been widely acknowledged, as set out under SDG 12. Yet to assess how companies are actually contributing towards these Global Goals, we need greater transparency on their impacts.

Over the past four years, GRI has championed the participation of companies in measuring their performance on the SDGs. As we look ahead to the Decade of Action needed to achieve the SDGs, it is clear that further progress will be needed, including doing more to increase private sector contributions.

Progress so far

At the end of 2020, a four-year Action Platform for Reporting on the SDGs, from GRI and UN Global Compact, concluded. This included a Corporate Action Group (CAG) that connected business representatives in a peer learning platform, which successfully helped companies define and improve their SDGs reporting.

Research on CAG participants revealed:

    1. Increased clarity on how to engage with the SDGs from a business perspective
    2. Improvements in how they measured SDGs performance
    3. Better prioritization of the most relevant SDGs
    4. More integration of the SDGs into business decision-making processes

However, the findings also indicate that many companies continue to face challenges with understanding and disclosing their SDGs contributions, with opportunities to make corporate reporting more relevant and effective.

Improving data quality and addressing gaps

Reporting on priorities at the SDG target level, within each of the overarching Goals, and linking them to the business strategy, is often missing. Overall, deeper connections between material topics with SDG targets and corporate priorities are needed.

We also see there are opportunities to further explore the links between SDG priorities and the contributions of companies in the countries and jurisdictions where they operate.

Most importantly, corporate reporting on the SDGs often focuses on positive contributions that companies make to the SDGs, with a lack of transparency and accountability for negative impacts. This issue was also highlighted by KPMG research in December.

Reporting that has impact

Identifying SDG priorities throughout the value chain is a complex undertaking, as is demonstrating the cause-and-effect relationship between SDG contributions and business performance.

Moreover, because of the interconnected and interdependent nature of the SDGs, companies need to identify and take account of synergies and trade-offs between positive and negative impacts.

Efforts to quantify impacts on the SDGs and contextualize them (for example, considering the social thresholds and planetary boundaries) needs strengthened. That is why it is necessary to move beyond assessing activities and outputs and focus on how to disclose outcomes and impacts.

This is crucial as it enables businesses to manage their performance and demonstrate accountability for their impacts.

Making SDG reporting relevant to stakeholders

There is increasing interest from a wide range of stakeholders in business contribution to the SDGs, including how companies are aligning products, services and business strategy with the SDGs.

Policy makers, investors, consumers, labor organizations and civil society all increasingly demand that companies show transparency through providing quality data and balanced reporting.

However, different stakeholders have different expectations and data requests. Steps business can take to provide more strategic and relevant information include:

    • Providing aggregated or disaggregated information that allows stakeholders to assess their performance and contribution to the SDGs
    • Setting long-term SDG-related performance targets, and regularly reporting on progress
    • Clearly demonstrating how the business strategy aligns with the SDGs

Proactive communications on the issues that matter most – to both the company and stakeholders – is crucial. Not only does it provide the necessary information to assess corporate sustainability performance and impact, it also allows stakeholders to make decisions that contribute to the SDGs.

Driving business action through reporting

Inspired by the progress to date and the opportunities still to come, GRI is launching a Business Leadership Forum on corporate reporting as a driver for achieving the SDGs. This forum, to commence in March, will offer participating companies with practical insights on sustainability reporting, focusing on how to raise the quality and strategic relevance of their reporting.

The forum is built around a series of online sessions that will bring together corporate reporters and representatives from key stakeholder groups – including the investment community, governments, regulators, members of the supply chain, civil society and academia.

The experiences of the past four years have shown that both businesses and stakeholders benefit from strategic and relevant SDG-related information. Sustainability reporting is an essential driver of the transformational change that is required to achieve the SDGs.

As we look ahead to the Decade of Action and the pandemic recovery phase, the case for meaningful corporate reporting on the SDGs is more compelling than ever before.

*The Global Reporting Initiative is an international independent standards organization that helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights and corruption. With more than 10,000 reporters in over 100 countries, GRI is advancing the practice of sustainability reporting and enabling businesses, investors, policymakers, and civil society to use this information to engage in dialogue and make decisions that support sustainable development.

 


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Elections in Catalonia: What Now?

The elections in Catalonia have been seen for years as the preserve of Catalanism, since the “Castilians” considered the Catalan contests a peculiarity of Catalans. The result was that the Spanish speakers stayed at home. That is why the Catalan socialist candidates usually won in the elections in Spain, while in Catalonia the party developed by then moderate nationalist Jordi Pujol did. This scheme has practically disappeared.

Summary of the 14 February 2021 Parliament of Catalonia election results. Credit: Generalitat de Catalunya

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Feb 18 2021 – The recent result of the elections for the Parliament of Catalonia has presented a mixture of repetition of certain previous aspects and some spectacular novelties. But the everlasting dimension of any parliamentary confrontation of the proportional variant remains unscathed.

Despite the development of the modern polling systems, plus the interpretation of the data facilitated in recent years, a difficult prediction remains. That involves the decisions that the parties have to make in the cases that they must craft alliances to form a government when virtual ties appear.

“And now, what?”. The central question remains unscathed. But it is not only the one presented by anonymous voters, nor by the experts and the leaders themselves who must make precise decisions. It is the general question presented by Gerard Piqué, the star footballer of FC Barcelona who has only been surpassed in popularity by Messi.

Naturally, Piqué does not dare to offer solutions. Therefore it is convenient to face the possible alternatives to solve the complicated panorama of the results.

Although it is not the exclusive result of these elections, a historical aspect of the parliamentary evolution of Catalonia since the recovery of democracy in 1978 is fully established. The Catalan elections are no longer a kind of democratic exercise peculiar to Catalans, with little connection to the rest of Spain, and Europe as whole.

Catalan parliamentarianism has suffered from a European quality. The elections to form the European Parliament have been seen historically as a kind of “national primaries”. European voters glanced inward and voted sometimes as rendering a punishment, and other times as a reward for the domestic behavior of national parties.

It is true, however, that this behavior has recently improved thanks to the tenacious reform of the European legislation that allows, for example, EU national residents in another states to vote in another country. Another remedy is the inclination to propose Europe-wide candidacies. But the burden of the national weight continues to be felt.

In the theater of the Catalan elections, that European has been noticeable. The elections in Catalonia have been seen for years as the preserve of Catalanism, since the “Castilians” considered the Catalan contests a peculiarity of Catalans.

The result was that the Spanish speakers stayed at home. That is why the Catalan socialist candidates usually won in the elections in Spain, while in Catalonia the party developed by then moderate nationalist Jordi Pujol did. This scheme has practically disappeared.

There are sectors, on the right more than on the left, that have tried to insert arguments that insist on the existence of “ethnic” elements (if not “racist”) in the configuration of the voting ideals of pro-independence alternatives,

Joaquín Roy

But this danger has been generally neutralized. Significantly, the bulk of the different arguments prioritize a “civic” nationalism, of choice.

In the current panorama, it is convenient to highlight, first, the news that stands out. In other words, has a man bit a dog? Obviously some facts are worth taking into account because of their obvious novelty and therefore because of their impact on the consequences of the election.

In this dimension, the details that concern the right-wing parties, both extreme and moderate, stand out. Significantly, the changes in this ideological sector have been suffered both by the parties considered as “constitutionalist” and by those that in some way consider themselves as “disruptive” due to their varying degree of loyalty to the independence creed.

In the first dimension, it is advisable to weigh the spectacular setback suffered by Ciudadanos. This formation was created by the centrist leader Albert Rivera in Catalonia as a dam against the tenacious monopoly of Convergence nationalism, later transformed into independence seeking.

It consisted of expanding its theater of operations to the rest of the Spanish territory, leaving the Catalan stage under the direction of Inés Arrimadas, a young woman born in Andalusia, who impressed with her command of Catalan.

In the elections held under the control of the Spanish government due to the application of article 155 of the Constitution, after the suspension of Catalan autonomy as a sanction for holding the independence referendum on October 1, 2017, Arrimadas managed to capture the largest number of seats in the Catalan Parliament. But she could not sublimate the next step, since the pro-independence parties jointly outperformed Ciudadanos in whatever alliance they presented.

Then, temporarily being a kind of referee on the state stage, Rivera found himself rejected in his attempt to neutralize the leading rightist Popular Party. The failure has now been reflected in the disaster received in the Catalan Parliament. Collateral damage could be its annihilation on the Spanish global scene.

This possible scenario has now been dramatized by the appearance of the far-right VOX in the Spanish theater, breaking through the previously reserved area of ​​the Popular Party, and now by its spectacular entry into the Parliament of Catalonia, becoming its fourth most important formation.

For a long time, the Spanish political fabric prided itself on not suffering from the presence of an extreme right. Now, the myth has collapsed. It is pointless to argue that VOX is not the same as the cases of Germany (Alternative), France (Le Pen), Hungary (Orbán) or Poland (Justice and Peace). It was a novelty, feared and latent, without ever being sublimated. Now it is a stark electoral reality.

The weakening of the remnants of moderate nationalism in Catalonia, represented now by the PDCat, testifies that the impact of the official response (trial, conviction, prison) to the independence attempt of the referendum has only reinforced the influence of the parties that prioritize independence through plebiscite insistence.

Naturally, there remains the solid argument of the constitutionalist left presented by the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC), which almost doubled the number of seats by presenting Salvador Illa as a candidate, boosted by the solid publicity of his effective role as Minister of Health of the government of Pedro Sánchez. As mentioned in this context, the centrist parties have not only disappeared in Spain, but in Catalonia they have little to do, unless paradoxically that role is reserved precisely for the PSC itself.

Listed to the left are formations that, without identifying with independence, insist on the support of the urgencies of the most needy sectors. As disparate as Comuns-Podem (the Catalan branch of the populist party of Pablo Iglesias, partner of the PSOE in Madrid) and the anti-capitalist CUP can grant the necessary votes to the pro-independence parties for the formation of a government and the appointment of the President of the Generalitat.

All the formations are aware of the economic problems, derived both from the atrocious impact of the pandemic, and from the structural unemployment dramatized by the confinement decreed as a remedy for the virus.

The interrelation between politics and the economy is also detected at the moment of weighing the evident rise of the economic power of Madrid in the last decade, and its banking concentration, apart from the exodus of the social offices of Catalan companies towards Valencia and other capitals, as a refuge from the independence movement.

The electoral results leave other details, confirmation of the past, or corrections of certain dimensions. For example, the dilemma between independence and constitutionalism is reflected in the continuation of the concentration of the former in the interior areas of the Catalan territory, while constitutionalism (from the right or from the left) populates urban areas, especially Barcelona.

If the elections have not revealed the emergence of an undisputed leader, trying to answer Piqué’s question, it is convenient to weigh the result of a solution that emerges as a favorite: the resignation of Illa and the PSC to opt for the vote of Parliament.

That “gift” would later be rewarded by taking a leap towards Madrid: Esquerra would continue supporting the PSOE in the governorship of the Spanish Congress and the approval of the national budgets.

Returning to Barcelona, ​​would the success of ERC produce the reborn leadership of Oriol Junqueras, for whom Aragonés would be holding the position? This detail would lead us to face the urgent outcome of the issue (problem?) of the imprisonment of the leaders of the “procés” and the referendum.

The present status of partial freedom that the condemned have unusually enjoyed during the elections, therefore, takes on an unusual role. The pressure to approve an amnesty becomes the irreplaceable focus for any consideration of the consequences of the elections. In other words, the simple counting of the votes to configure the executive leadership in Parliament is not the end.

 

Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Center at the University of Miami