Matthieu VITEAUAugust 1, 2018
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12min1070

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been on the European Union’s political agenda for more than a decade[1]. European businesses, however, had begun developing business relationships there before the country became a hot topic for security and political staff. Far from being monolithic, Iran is a most complex environment for anyone – including businesses – to evolve in. The agreement reached in 2015 on the Iranian nuclear program[2]  had opened doors for a progressive “normalisation” with the rest of the world. Although Iranians had probably nurtured too high hopes about the outcome of the JCPOA[3] in the first place, the latter was not given the time needed to reach its full effect before the United States withdrew unilaterally.

What however appears obvious is that European reengagement – which had been very quick at political, trade, cultural, scientific levels in the wake of the JCPOA signing – has been swift to unravel since May 2018 as once again[4], the US uses domestic legislation to achieve extraterritorial effects at the cost of the EU’s (and others’) interests.

The hamstringing of EU interests by external actors has gone unabated: the US challenging the EU GDPR[5] with the Cloud Act[6], their intention to proceed with protectionist policies targeting European goods and services, Mr. Trump obviously warming up to the Russian president as the latter’s efforts to weaken the EU go on, etc. However questionable the motives and effects are, the United States follows its own course and interests – as all political entities do –. That course of action runs contrary to the EU’s interests. German Chancellor Merkel plainly spelled the crux of the matter after the May 2018 G7 summit in Canada: Europeans must “take their destiny into their own hands”. However incongruous it may sound, Iran may be providing the EU with the opportunity to build its own resilience in a very tangible yet comprehensive way.

1. Designing an Iran policy would strengthen EU internal cohesion

By coming up with a coherent policy toward Iran, the EU will need to assess its inner contradictions. The EU institutions as well as the Member States will have to address connected topics such as European companies’ dependence on the US domestic legislation, its energy policy as it moves farther away from dependence upon Gazprom, and Europe’s economy and industrial base. Progressively solving each of these tensions using Iran as a “training ground” of sorts could help the EU mature and reach the level of independence needed to improve the resilience of its and territory and Europeans.

Dealing politically with Iran involves each of the 27 EU Member States as it clearly falls under the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The High Representative/Vice President of the Commission coordinates the common positions as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. As chief of the European External Action Service (EEAS), she’s got the tool to genuinely develop and coordinate a common policy toward Iran.

As the US sanctions show, EU-Iran relations can be impacted by 3rd party legislation as well as by the overwhelming influence exerted by a country on the structure of international trade[7]. International trade negotiations are the sole remit of the European Commission as is competition regulation. The Commission also plays a significant role in research and development, innovation, regional development thanks to the programs it funds although it shares that set of competence with the Member States[8]. Those impacted by sanctions, however, are not the Commission or any institutions or States: companies are. These companies have legitimate interests in pursuing trade and business with their Iranian counterparts notwithstanding US interests.

I have written on small and medium size European businesses that have developed business relations with Iran by remaining away from any US levers of influence. This is likely the way to go in the short term pending more refined solutions allowing major European companies to resume doing business with Iran without suffering from US retaliation.

2. Accessing Iran, diversifying strategic options, developing resilience

Iranian and Russian relations are complex and dynamic. Each follows its own path and interests and co-operation can happen when these meet. They do not systematically coincide, though, and Iranians remain wary of any “great power” game, a historical legacy at time when Iran was being assailed by European powers including Russia. Iranians expect tangible acts from partners, whether eastern of western. Iran probably realizes that promises such as the one reportedly made by Russia during the Supreme Leader’s foreign affairs advisor during his trip to Moscow are not tenable.

European Union and Russian interests do not coincide. The EU maintains a train of restrictive measures against specific Russian assets and individuals. Although some Europeans seem to display a more lenient view on Russian influence and activities, these measures have consistently been renewed every six months by the Council of the EU. As unanimity in the Council is needed for these renewals, even the member States who feel better disposed toward Russian influence consider the latter to be ambiguous enough to maintain the sanctions regime. The Union’s territory and European citizens are under continuous disinformation campaign by Russia.

Developing sustained trade and technical co-operation with Iran is one way to bring all Europeans together however diverging their views may be on other subjects. Elaborating a consistent policy for political, trade, technical, cultural relations is a starting point for the design of a common, multi-layered policy[9] that would align words and diplomacy with practical considerations and interests. Not only would such a policy open the doors to Iranian markets, it would also further strengthen the EU’s resilience by diversifying its strategic options. By reconnecting with Iran, the EU may elevate itself both inward and outward.

 

[1] The EU began its formal involvement in the curbing of the Iranian nuclear program in 2004.

[2] The agreement was named “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”. It was signed on July 14, 2015, by Iran, the five members of the United Nations Security Council (United States, the People’s Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom, the Federation of Russia – the P5), Germany and the European Union. On May 8, 2018, the President of the United States decided not only to withdraw from the JCPOA but also ordered the Treasury to reinstate economic sanctions against Iran.

[3] Especially when it came to the timescale of its effects. People in the streets and businesses had seemingly expected the tangible effects of the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions to materialize almost immediately.

[4] The US began designing economic sanctions with the specific aim of extraterritorial effects in the 1990s.

[5] General Data Protection Regulation

[6] The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act became law on March 23, 2018. It extends the jurisdiction of US law over the internet as it allows federal law enforcement agencies to compel U.S.-based technology companies via warrant or subpoena to provide requested data stored on servers regardless of whether the data are stored in the U.S. or on foreign soil.

[7] One example is the status of the US dollar. As it is the default currency for oil trade, Iran is severely limited in its dealing to trade its crude oil and therefore to generate revenue both for the state and the local hydrocarbon industry.

[8] See articles 3, 4 and 6 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union for, respectively, the exclusive, shared and complementary competence of the EU.

[9] For a list of possible co-operation fields between the EU and Iran, see : http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-1368_en.htm


Matthieu VITEAUJuly 13, 2018
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14min980

Les Cahiers de la revue Défense Nationale ont publié en juin 2013 un numéro portant sur le thème “Nouveau monde, nouveaux décideurs?“. Parmi les articles proposés figure un entretien croisé mené par trois stagiaires d’écoles françaises (Ecole Nationale d’Administration et Ecole de Guerre) autour de l’aide à la prise de décision. Ils ont choisi d’interroger deux conseillers politiques et un conseiller juridique qui avait achevé leurs missions quelques mois auparavant.

En voici quelques extraits (l’intégralité de l’entretien se trouve pages 37-44 du numéro et accessible à partir de ce lien: http://0602.nccdn.net//000/000/057/16d/Int-gral-articles-Nouveau-monde–nouveaux-d-cideurs.pdf#page=39).

Qu’appelle-t-on « l’aide à la prise de décision » ?

« L’aide à la prise de décision » renvoie à tout ce qui permet au décideur d’analyser le cadre de son action qu’il s’agisse de ses forces, de ses vulnérabilités, du temps ou du lieu de son action. Deux types de conseillers fournissent cette aide au chef: certains s’inscrivent dans la durée et influent, confortent ou contredisent l’analyse et la décision du chef. Les autres possèdent une connaissance approfondie dans un domaine et sont chargés de traduire en concepts les questions éventuellement imprécises posées par le décideur.

Le preneur de décision doit nécessairement reconnaître qu’il ne dispose pas de l’ensemble des informations pour prendre une décision éclairée. Il doit alors faire appel à un ou plusieurs individus disposant de compétences (méthodologie, connaissances sectorielles, savoir-faire, savoir-être…) susceptibles de lui faire appréhender la complexité des environnements affectés par et affectant sa propre prise de décision.

En quoi les conseillers impliqués dans la prise de décision éclairent-ils le décideur?
Ils interviennent en planification opérationnelle pour enrichir le processus non seulement de leurs compétences et connaissances mais également de leurs perceptions et sensibilités. A ce niveau de prise de décision, les opérations sont par essence complexes et transverses: les spécialistes n’interviennent que s’ils s’enrichissent mutuellement pour créer des ponts et dégager la cohérence de cette complexité. Les généralistes sont capables de faire communiquer les intuitions, les faits (y compris dissociés) et les compétences de manière fluide et itérative. Beaucoup de questions appellent des réponses pluridisciplinaires.

Le chef demeure cependant celui qui décide: les conseillers ne doivent pas se substituer au chef et encore moins décider pour lui.

Un autre rôle des conseillers est celui d’interface avec le monde extérieur de l’organisation que dirige le chef. Ils peuvent interagir avec la presse et les media, les investisseurs et actionnaires, les autorités politiques locales, etc. En plus de maintenir un contact avec la réalité et les environnements dans lesquels évolue le chef, ils peuvent, s’ils ont été autorisés par ce dernier, agir en tant qu’extension de sa volonté. Cela donne au chef une autre perception des réalités, parfois en décalage avec l’esprit de l’organisation qu’il dirige. Cette vision hors de la boîte lui est précieuse.

Le décideur décide-t-il encore avec la part croissante de cette aide à la décision ? Quelle est sa véritable marge de manœuvre ?

Le décideur est toujours amené à agir dans un cadre de contraintes plus ou moins important et rigide. Il doit avoir une vision la plus claire possible de sa marge de manœuvre. Il semble qu’il n’y ait pas de liberté de décision totale. Une prise de décision peut être optimale en fonction des informations nécessaire ment limitées et relatives à un instant « T ».

La marge de manœuvre est une perception que le preneur de décision a vis-à-vis de ses supérieurs, ses subordonnées et des environnements dans lesquels il évolue. Même dans un environnement a priori fortement contraint, il dispose de marges de manœuvre : c’est à lui de les trouver, avec une éventuelle aide à la décision.

Un décideur efficace est celui qui sait trouver l’équilibre entre le recours à l’aide à la décision, entre le moment et la capacité de trancher, et la capacité à justifier/expliquer/persuader en amont comme en aval, sa décision.

Le conseiller n’est pas censé se transformer en organe de décision d’où la nécessité pour lui de proposer diverses options. Le décideur conserve le pouvoir final de décision, éventuellement en prenant un ou plusieurs risques qu’auront préalablement identifiés son état-major et ses conseillers. En revanche, dans certaines situations, il existe un risque que des conseillers prennent une place trop importante et ne présentent pas certaines options car ils les considèrent trop risquées (« impossibles »), ce qui prive effectivement dans ce cas le décideur d’une partie de sa marge d’appréciation.

Trop d’aide à la prise de décision dans trop de domaines ne paralyse-t-elle pas l’action du décideur ?

Il est dans la logique des choses d’aboutir de temps à autre à des avis conflictuels entre « aides à la décision » mais c’est précisément au décideur qu’il appartient de faire prévaloir tel avis sur tel autre.

Cette paralysie est d’autant plus fréquente et importante que l’on fait appel à des « experts » ou « spécialistes » sectoriels qui peinent à envisager leurs missions et leurs positions dans un cadre d’action global. À force de se focaliser sur leur champ d’expertise, ils en oublieraient l’image globale.

L’aide à la décision pourrait être appréhendée comme une équipe de généralistes dont la démarche cognitive et la réflexion serait en perpétuel mouvement, en recherche d’information – y compris, celles pouvant paraître farfelues – mais qui permettraient d’envisager une problématique sous un nouveau jour. Il reviendrait au décideur de déterminer la taille, et si possible, la forme de l’aide dont il estime avoir besoin.

De manière plus générale, le potentiel « négatif » de l’augmentation des outils d’aide à la décision (humains ou informatiques) va grandement dépendre de la personnalité du décideur et sa conception de son rôle. Des ordres généraux qu’il va donner à son état-major et à ses conseillers (et surtout de l’autorité qu’il va leur déléguer) va découler le poids de structures d’aide à la décision.

N’assiste-t-on pas, avec cette aide à la décision, à une forme de dilution de la responsabilité du décideur ?

Le décideur est bien le seul responsable devant l’opinion publique ou la justice. Il se sait pertinemment et constamment observé.

La responsabilité d’un décideur peut être mise en cause parfois avant même qu’elle ne soit établie. La sanction, suite à une éventuelle faute ou erreur perçue (par les médias, les responsables politiques, économiques, la société…) peut être administrée de manière formelle (notamment par la justice selon le code de procédure pertinente) ou bien de manière informelle (attaque informationnelle par le moyen du Net, entre autres).

L’aide à la décision, lorsqu’elle est synonyme de commande à un cabinet « d’aide à la décision », « de stratégie »… peut être le moyen de se prémunir, ou de limiter la mise en cause de la responsabilité en se procurant un bouclier à prix d’or (ex. : « je suis peut-être responsable de cette erreur, mais je ne suis pas le seul : j’avais au préalable fait appel à tels et tels cabinets qui m’ont suggéré d’agir ainsi. Et ces cabinets, ce ne sont pas n’importe qui… »). Le décideur est celui qui prend en dernière instance sa décision. C’est sa volonté qui s’exprime dans le cadre des limites que ses supérieurs et ses environnements lui imposent. Il y a des cas où la dilution de la responsabilité découle du caractère du décideur. Et généralement, cela s’en ressentait à travers toute l’organisation qu’il dirigeait.

L’aide à la décision s’est étoffée justement parce que la responsabilité personnelle du décideur est de plus en plus fréquemment engagée, ce qui nécessite de lui présenter une vision plus globale – et plus précise, que celle qu’il pourrait se créer tout seul afin que l’ensemble des risques soit effectivement pesés. En cas de mise en cause, tous les documents produits par les différents acteurs de l’aide à la décision lui permettront de bâtir sa défense de façon plus efficace.

En termes de rapport au temps, les conseillers sont-ils en mesure d’apporter une véritable aide à la décision du chef des opérations compte tenu des calendriers (temps politique, temps de l’action, temps médiatique) parfois en décalage sinon en contradiction ?

La décision doit s’inscrire dans le moment opportun.

Par conséquent, c’est à l’aide à la prise de décision d’anticiper ! Cela induit nécessairement que l’expert doit savoir se limiter dans l’exercice de sa compétence technique ou en tout cas rester synthétique, s’il veut être au rendez-vous fixé par le chef. Il faut être dans le tempo.

Il faut absolument comprendre les différentes temporalités qui affectent une opération (l’immédiateté d’une opération tactique, la planification opérationnelle, les considérations stratégiques, le temps politique, la longue durée historique) pour comprendre l’environnement humain dans lequel le chef évolue.

Bien que de préférence généraliste, les conseillers au niveau décisionnel n’en sont pas moins différents les uns des autres par leur manière d’envisager une situation, par leur savoir-être…

Ils travaillent néanmoins au sein d’une équipe au service du chef. L’idéal serait qu’ils travaillent en équipe, c’est-à-dire ne perdant pas de vue et l’image générale et le but à atteindre.

Matthieu VITEAU


Matthieu VITEAUJune 21, 2018
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11min1450

Definitions

Resilience is the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about the capacity to use shocks and disturbances (a financial crisis or climate change for instance) to spur renewal and innovative thinking[1]. I would contend that  “continuing to develop” means “continuing to create value to similar levels to the situation preceding the occurance of a shock”.

“Value” here is to be understood as a generic term similar to output: basically anything that a system creates to sustain itself, grow and reproduce before it expands its energy and degenerates. Value can be as obvious as life (manifested in the tendency shown by ecosystems and human beings to survive after the occurrence of, for example, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, industrial accidents, even layoffs to an extent), goods and services. It can also be abstract and far less visible such as personal data, intellectual property, etc.

Systems are a set of elements linked together and interacting according to rules or principles. They can be living (ecosystems, human beings, etc.) or not (supply chains, transportation systems and energy grids); either tangible (human communities including companies and cities) or intangible (computer systems, satellite communication networks, etc.).

A shock is a situation either short (an event in a point in time) or more prolonged (such as war, a long lasting economic crisis, a constant threat etc.) that has a dramatic impact on what is considered by the system elements to be a (their) normal course of action.

A continuum of shocks?

As a consultant in strategy, I’ve been increasingly called upon to help decision makers shape, improve or step up (if not downright create) resiliency in the organisations they manage. Discussions I have when developing such a project usually reach a point where the question of opportunity arises: “how much will the creation of a redundant network of communication, the establishment of an alternate headquarters, the reduction of social tension, etc. cost my organization?”

This is where I believe vision and conviction come in. I have observed that the need to launch resiliency-related projects emerged at about the same time shocks, no matter their nature, were perceived to be occurring in unending strings. Organisations felt they no longer had the time necessary to recover from one shock before the next one occurred. Contingency plans’ purposes appear to not only make organisations better at reacting to a shock but also at inscribing them into a continuum of shocks (or situations perceived as such).

My perception is that an organization is deemed resilient if it is geared to endlessly absorb shocks while still being able to generate an amount of value close to the pre-shock situation. It may just be impossible for systems to sustain such a rhythm over an extended period of time, especially when it comes to living biological systems[2].

Shocks are the brutal confrontation of energies

Each shock entails the brutal encounter of at least two forces. Complex and/or successive shocks within a given timeframe usually involve more than two types of energy. Systems, whether abstract such as organisations or living like human beings, generate energy: this is what keeps them moving forward and generating value. Organisations have goals to meet, constraints to observe, resources to achieve their target objectives. These inputs go through a complex process to meet these objectives and they require energy to be processed, no matter if the objectives are met or not. Once an organization has settled into a rhythm (often noticeable by monthly, biannual and other time-sensitive reports), the amount of efforts needed to deliver on the target objectives decreases. The organization can enter into a sustained rhythm of delivery and work processes, until comes the shock.

The shock will disrupt that “cruising speed” and will endanger, at least momentarily, the organisation’s ability to generate value. The shock may be as radical as wiping a system out (living beings are killed and physical assets are destroyed; durable lack of confidence and reputational loss lead to the disintegration of the customer base and a company goes out of business), or just disruptive to a lesser degree (it may however translate into a temporary or permanent loss of competitiveness for instance).

Drawing upon energies to recover from shocks

As soon as the shock occurs, energy will be taken from inside the system to 1) protect it as much as possible, 2) repair it as quickly as possible.

A resilient professional organisation will have, before a shock occurs, thought of a business continuity plan. The latter contributes to the creation of output at close-to-normal levels while the organization mends itself.

However, no matter how resilient an organization is, it will have to readjust some or all of its internal energies to make it possible to absorb the shock and repair itself. It may also have to resort to external energy (asking for governmental support, for instance, or from its suppliers).

Organisations will require endless amounts of energy and investments if they begin to look at their environments as strings of endless shocks and expect themselves to be resilient over the long term. Their efforts will be commensurate to the degree of complexity and dynamism those environments experience.

In other words: if organizations start wanting to be resilient about everything over the long term, they risk exhausting all their resources. They will not only lose sight of their purpose and vision, but also they’d spend all their energies in into absorbing shocks instead of using it to move forward and fulfill their goals.

Resilience and systems of system

Resilience over the long term can only be achieved if systems evolve in environments that support them. That is, for example, companies can draw constant energies from their suppliers, customers, employees, shareholders, regulators, even competitors. That can only work if the supported organization also supports the other elements in the system of systems (the system of systems being here the fabric of an economy whatever its scale).

Environments are diverse and varied. They can be ecological, social, regulatory, cultural, financial – any nature, as environments are all facets of a single reality. They are everything phenomena that impact an organization’s ability to meet its desired end state. An organisation’s resilience is likely to be stronger when its environments contribute to the absorption of shocks. Resilience is not turned inward but outward: when a shock occurs, the energy needed to absorb it will be shared among various components of the system of systems the organization belongs to. The burden on a shocked organization will be less intense thus.

Resilience within, resilience without

The bottom line of resilience is that it is a systemic notion. It is not so much about an organization but the environments the organisation belongs to, what it contributes to them and what it can draws from it when disaster strikes.

[1] This generic definition is used by the Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. The definition goes however further: “Resilience thinking embraces learning, diversity and above all the belief that humans and nature are strongly coupled to the point that they should be conceived as one social ecological system.” While this position may be seen as somewhat restricted and restrictive for tangible applications, it also has the advantage of considering humans within the physical environment. That is, they generate and are impacted by energies and shocks that may contribute to the unbalance of the ecosystems they live in.

[2] The most obvious and time-tried manifestation of that limit are armies. Military commanders and planners are fully aware that human beings (soldiers) and materiel (jets, ships, weapons systems etc.) need to recover after a given period of time otherwise they will stop “performing”. A soldier’s career follows a rhythm of “training, fighting, recovering”. The same goes for materiel as it is maintained, used in combat and repaired. Not recognizing these constraints and overusing either human beings or materiel leads to critical failures at dire times.


Matthieu VITEAUJune 2, 2018
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14min1180

The 21st century is the world of complex and dynamic change. Investing in the age of disruption is obviously a challenge judging by how often the topic is addressed. John Mauldin and his network of analyst hold an annual conference (the Strategic Investor Conference) entirely dedicated to that issue.

I hold the view that short term asset management, the search for constant high yield and leveraged return on investment have had a destabilising factor for decades on the real economy. My conviction is that it is high time finance and the economy got reconnected, and I believe impact investing is one way to reconcile both.  To make it short, impact investment seeks to generate social and environmental impact as well as financial returns. This is taking place all over the world, and across all asset classes. What I especially appreciate about impact investing is the structuring effects of invesment on businesses, communities and nature.

When considering long term value and investment risk in a rapidly changing world, one needs to look at trends – societal trends – which pave the way to tomorrow’s economic landscape.

Macrotrends underpinning economic realities

  • Demographics: the world population will continue to grow, but with significant differences according to the regions considered[1]. Migratory flows toward cities have been growing and will likely continue to grow over the medium and long term. Migration is driven by economic, social, political, demographic and environmental factors[2]. These factors do not uniformly affect migratory flows, especially when they have an international outreach: some factors can be relatively less important compared to others. Migration has the potential to deeply destabilize societies – both sending and receiving societies – as those who leave do not contribute directly to local empowerment and to the development of the local capacities in their country of origin. They may however indirectly contribute to these endeavours by sending remittances back home [3]. The bottom line of demographics is that they shape economic and broader societal trends.

 

 

  • Sustainable development: a critical mass of humankind seems to have become conscious that it lives in a finite world with finite resources. If the legally-binding objectives of the 2015 COP21 agreement are abided by the 195 signatory parties, 4/5 of fossil fuels should remain in their reservoirs. There is a growing awareness – made manifest by societal demands and the advent of new businesses – that humankind’s footprint on the Earth should lean towards the minimal. This shift in perceptions is yet to be translated into behavioural changes: sustainable development is overwhelmingly seen through the technological lens. The blending of societal wishes, behavioural changes, regulatory frameworks and business practices is necessary to make sustainable development tangible.

 

  • Technology: the 3rd industrial revolution[4] is said not to have reached full maturation yet and still it has profoundly changed societies over the past two decades. That revolution is based on the use of the renewable energies which themselves rely on information society. Looming ahead are artificial “intelligence” and the Internet of Things and all the technologies stemming from these. There is a common element to all these high technologies: they all rely on finite raw components (rare earths) to function. There is a problem though: these rare earths are 1) limited in supply[5], 2) are not renewable[6], 3) restricted in availability[7].

Suggestions of assets for an impact investing portfolio

Investors who seek to create long term sustained value may wish to organize their portfolios according to the macrotrends described above. Here are some proposals for the tangible applications for investments.

1. Local business endeavours: the point about investing in local business endeavours is that they create sense to their local communities. Their resilience is likely to be higher than multinationals whose interests are not necessarily in line with the environments they extract value from. Local businesses – starting with small and medium businesses – form the backbone of an economy. The shorter the supply and value chain, the more resilient a company is – and together with it, the societal fabric it is anchored in. Local employment means a higher likelihood for migrations for economic reasons would decrease. Not only would individuals feel empowered but dynamics would be triggered that local value creation would occur.

2. Low technology businesses: for all the potential bestowed upon artificial “intelligence” and digital technology, they carry the risk of increasing the dependency of communities and businesses toward external suppliers whose interests may not be common to their customers’. For high technology to work (and these are indispensable for renewable energy technologies, smart cities, the digital economy, etc.), energy needs to be constantly supplied to machines. This entails efficient, resilient and redundant infrastructures that are usually fragile and quite sensitive to local climate conditions. Finally, high technology needs robust[8] computer software to ensure confidentiality, integrity and availability of the transmitted data. Low technology ought probably not to be discarded right away as it is often more suitable to some physical environments than high technology. Low technology businesses are likely to be less vulnerable to systemic risks, less energy intensive and require less specialised workforce to maintain[9].

3. Circular economy[10] businesses: this is where technology may meet behavioural change. Because so little raw material are reused globally, these businesses are likely to yield the most unexpected return on investment – including on the short term. As high technology increasingly needs finite materials, the shift of paradigm in production processes, consumption and reuse underpinning the circular economy may make these businesses pivotal for sustainable development.

4. Education businesses: people, however much qualified they are, need to constantly train and retrain to adapt to societal changes – these include the employability skills and job qualifications. As societies progress into the era of sustainable development, new business needs arise, new ways to conceptualizing challenges and complexity are needed. If societies and businesses are becoming more lateral than vertical in their organisations and processes, individuals need to shift their world views in order to find appropriate solutions to the quandaries they face. Education – both academic and vocational – will always be relevant as the need to adapt is continuous.

5. Artistic endeavours, tourism and empathy-based businesses: this last proposal for investors may appear somewhat outlandish as what they produce is very often very arduous to assess. Because they are mostly based on personal experience, attributing an objectively measurable accounting unit to the value they create. Yet, what is increasingly sought by consumers is experience to live rather than products to hoard. The more exotic and unique the experience, the more sought after and valuable it is. The said experience need not be costly to be unique and highly sought after. By the same token, people spending most of their waking hours in front of a screen – either a computer or a smart phone – feel the increasing need to “disconnect” and “reconnect” to real life, emotions, whatever triggers an empathic stimulations that dematerialized processes and relationships cannot bring.

 

Notes:

[1] See the United Nations population division’s website on the world’s population prospects 2017. As a very rough illustration of these differences in population growth, see the two graphs for the “more developed regions” and the “less developed regions”.

[2] For an overview of these factors, see “Migration and Global Environmental Change”, final report, the Government Office for Science, published by the United Nations, pp. 44-45.

[3] See “Migration and Remittances”, World Bank group, 2016

[4] See “the third industrial revolution”, Jeremy Rifkin, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

[5] For instance, the ground holds 1,200 times fewer neodyme and 2,650 times fewer gallium than iron ore.

[6] Almost none of these rare earths see any recycling as the quantities used in batteries, smart phones, computers, turbines, magnets, etc. are so little that processes to reuse these materials are not considered cost-efficient.

[7] Less than 10 states hold the total known supply of rare earths on the planet. Of these 10, China holds the lion’s share. For a map of rare earths deposit locations, see: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sites/growth/files/global_suppliers_of_crms.jpg

[8] Robust here means: resistant to cyberattacks, adaptable to systems upgrade and protective of privacy.

[9] As an illustration, Europe is undergoing a dramatic shortage of information technology qualified labour.

[10] For a brief overview of the circular economy, see Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/overview/concept


Matthieu VITEAUMay 29, 2018
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11min760

Misconceptions and uninformed perceptions about Iran are ongoing. Yet, political, and more broadly, societal dynamics in Iran are no more outlandish or exotic than those unfolding in most countries in the world. The tension betwen the rule of law and politics in Iran are no different than what can be witnessed in other parts of the world. In that regard, what’s happened in Yazd since May 2017 deserves notice in that regard. On November 3, Al-Monitor reported on an ongoing debate surrounding one Yazd city municipal Councilor. One of its members, whose mandate was renewed in the May 2017 municipal elections, stands to be evicted from his office by court order. The legality of the invalidation by the Court of Administrative Justice has been hotly contested since then and the mandate of Sepanta Niknam remains in limbo.

It is to be noted that Mr. Niknam’s victory was not contested by any of the other contenders at the time, is stated to have legally (as per the Constitutional provisions) and legitimately won the seat.

What is worthy of notice is the angle from which the battle is fought. The election of M. Niknam was deemed by the Council of Guardians contrary to what appears to be the spirit of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, most likely Article 4:

“All civil, penal financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political, and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. This principle applies absolutely and generally to all articles of the Constitution as well as to all other laws and regulations, and the fuqaha’ [mujtahids – author’s note] of the Guardian Council are judges in this matter.”

The Council’s move is opposed by those (not least the chairman of Yazd’s City council, Mr. Sefid, and the chairman of Yazd’s Bar) who contend that the Article 99 of the Constitution makes no explicit mention of the Guardians’ role in municipal elections and therefore the legal basis for the Administrative Court’s invalidation of Mr. Niknam’s mandate is not valid.

The Court of Administrative Justice handed down its award basing it on a “letter” written by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Chair of the Guardians Council. This letter (“ نامه“ ), according to Iranian news agency ILNA, was published in the official journal of the Islamic Republic. Therein, Ayatollah Janati refers to Amendment 1 of Article 26 of The Council’s Elections Laws. Article 26, Section D reads: “the nominee must have faith in Islam and has proved in practice his obedience to Islamic values and to the governance of the Jurist”. Yet amendment 1 states that the “minorities recognized in the Constitution (here including Zoroastrians) must have faith in their own religion and prove in practice their obedience to their own religious values”.

From that perspective, the fact that the Court handed down an award using that letter as a legal base may appear as a minor point: whatever the legal value of that letter and no matter how eminent Ayatollah Jannati is, the text of the Constitution does not seem to provide for the Council to intervene in local elections. According to article 173 of the Constitution, it is solely the remit of the Court of Administrative Justice to judge the legality of Mr. Niknam’s election. One may be tempted to say that the Guardian Council’s move is “unconstitutional”.

The dynamics of Iranian politics are not much different from those occurring all over the world: politics are a means to redistribute assets  within a given human community. These assets can be tangible (land, hard money, real estate, jewelry, food, etc.) or intangible (the granting of/appointment to an office, a title of symbolic and/or social significance being bestowed, an alliance of any kind, etc.). The mechanics of redistribution can be more or less transparent, legal or legitimate. Politics is one way to achieve a final end state (whatever it is).

The way this redistribution is carried out, though, is often more impactful than the actual wealth (either material or symbolical) being redistributed. Here, the resource at stake could be the ability to influence the local government’s policies and decisions. One has to recall that the 2017 Iranian elections saw Reformist factions victorious not only at the state level (Presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly/Parliament) but also at the local levels (they notoriously won the Tehran City council and the mayoral office – two different institutions). Over the last few months, the more conservative factions of Iranian powerbrokers have been trying to reconstitute their capacity to influence politics.

The Guardians Council is a bastion of the status quo and principlist factions. It is also a state organ. Half of its members (the mujtahids) are appointment by the Supreme Leader, while the other half (the jurists) are elected by the Consultative Assembly of Iran (the Parliament) from a list drawn by the Head of the Judiciary, himself appointed by the Supreme Leader.

What’s happening in Yazd seems to pit the state – more precisely the ability of the most conservative groups of Iranian politics to influence the country’s political play – against a city council.

Of note: Mr. Niknam is a Zoroastrian. Zoroastrianism is one of the religions indigenous to Iran. It was the official belief of the Sassanid Empire before the Muslim conquest replaced it with Islam. Zoroastrianism holds a specific place in the Iranian Constitution (art. 13, art. 64) and it is a religion recognized by the state. Mr. Niknam was allowed to run, win and carry through his previous mandate (2013-2017) unhindered.

In other words, Ayatollah Jannati considers Mr. Niknam illegitimate to represent a constituency where the vast majority of people are Muslims. Under the guise of upholding the spirit of the Constitution, the conservative factions of the Principalists may be attempting to regain influence at the local level at the cost of the rule of law in Iran. The population of Yazd is one of the more traditional and religious in Iran. Yet a Zoroastrian was elected for a second term. It is perhaps no wonder that some factions that ended up on the losing side in May are anxious about their ability to regain some leverage to legally influence the mechanism of redistribution.

There may be local realities and less obvious dynamics which may have led to the legal and political play currently unfolding in Yazd city. Yet, this can only happen when a critical mass of a population has reached a certain level of political consciousness and economic empowerment. Contrary to what may be perceived from outside, Iranian society, very likely because of its high level of education and its demographic trends, is far more diverse and lively than meets the eye. What is being played out in Yazd is one manifestation of the complexities of Iran.


Matthieu VITEAUMay 29, 2018
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5min711

One of the objectives often sought by companies is to merge. Whathever the reasons presiding over such a decision, it usually results in a larger structure. Global companies have nearly all begun as a small or medium size businesses. Bigger is not necessarily better, especially when doing global business. Medium and small-sized businesses may likely do better business abroad. This assertion may prove more accurate as each day passes and larger corporations become increasingly vulnerable to extra-territorial economic sanctions when doing global businesses.

Bijan Khajehpour, a frequent contributor to al-Monitor reports in this article:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/10/iran-financing-european-banks-japan-china-sanctions.html

foreign banks are slowly reconnecting with their Iranian counterparts and other Iranian economic agents. Amongst those he highlights are two from Iran’s main trading partners (China and South Korea), Russia, but also from Europe.

What is probably worthy of interest is the size of the European banks involved, as well as the countries they operate from. The Danske Bank is Denmark’s largest bank with a very strong regional footprint in the Baltic Sea region and with international outreach. Oberbank is an Austrian bank which capital structure is essentially made up of local and regional Austrian banks.

It is quite likely that this is no surprise for these banks to be amongst the first to venture into Iran-Europe business – and for them to feel to be “allowed” to do so by governments. I suspect the Dankse Bank and Oberbank not to be significant enough – at least not as significant as Barclays, JPMorgan and Société Générale – to warrant the attention and efforts of the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury.

Additionally, although Denmark and Austria are member states of the European Union – and as such are as much instrumental as any other member states in the decision making process relevant to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy -, they are probably perceived to have limited political interest in the eyes of the US State Department and the Treasury.

In short: any activity – be it of business and economic, political, social nature – from these countries are less likely to be noticed and impeded by international constraints.

There is no comparison to the Chinese and South Korean involvement coming with respectively CITIC group and China EXIM bank for the former, KEXIM for the latter. All three are government-owned financial institutions and both countries very likely carry a heavier weight in the US Treasury’s considerations.

Of note are both European banks’ investment policies: these promote and provide prudential services for medium size companies (Oberbank’s capital structure is especially telling in that regard) when doing business abroad and enter into international ventures. These projects do not usually draw anyone’s attention, contribute to the development of the economic fabrics at the local and regional level with possible long term snowball effects on society.

As much as all politics is local, business ties a more likely to be successful if developed at a local scale. Doing so heighten the chances no to draw international politics into deals’ decision making process, attract the attention of (international) competitors and to understand the local dynamics and complexity of the markets.


Matthieu VITEAUMay 29, 2018
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3min840

Since 2009, the year when half of Greece’s main port – Piraeus – was leased out to China’s COSCO, Chinese state-owned enterprises have taken increased stakes in the EU’s economic landscape. China’s economic footprint spreads in Europe. The push to further gain European assets – either physical or intangible – has grow and although not new, the trend rarely reaches headlines. The following Bloomberg article is an attempt to sum it up after roughly 10 years of takeovers or just acquisition of capital shares.

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-china-business-in-europe/

The European Council of Foreign Relations as well as the EU (notably the EU Institute for Strategic Studies, the EEAS) have been keeping an eye in the EU’s eastern member States – yet perhaps not that much in its western half.

Now, 27 ambassadors of EU member States posted in Beijing are taking a stance on the One Belt-One Road strategy. Reflecting the Hungarian government’s policies of the past decade, the Hungarian ambassador to China did not join with the other 28.

https://global.handelsblatt.com/politics/eu-ambassadors-beijing-china-silk-road-912258

Far more than just mere political posturing, the Chinese projects ought to be looked at and in deeper: how sound are the economic fundamentals of Chinese state-owned entreprises (SOEs) – and its broader economy – when figures and data are not transparent, available on a selective basis and shadow banking prevalent?

If SOE can be considered solvent as they are the Chinese state supposedly own them (what if it doesn’t at some point?), do they obey to the rules governing the EU’s markets?

Unbeknownst to many, the EU – namely the Commission – is efficient in increasing the resilience of the EU territory (and therefore, EU citizens) from unwanted geopolitical influence by successfully enforcing competition regulations and enacting the 3rd Energy package (the Energy Union).

The EU is not all powerful: it acts upon the powers conferred onto it by member States and citizens within the framework of the rule of law.

It is high time EU stakeholders – not so much states and public authorities but rather corporate decision-makers and even citizens – realised the more assets both tangible and intangible they sell off to non-EU entities for short term gain, the less options the EU populations will have over the long term to increase the resilience of human communities in the EU.



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