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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Santa Claus is coming to terms

Santa Claus is coming to t... You know that already. Whether you are celebrating or not, it is hard to escape the Christmas frenzy. People from Indiana to the Netherlands are struggling to meet their end-of-the-year shopping objectives. Meanwhile, the Dutch economy sends mixed signals, with increased household spending despite lower consumer confidence. The effects of the pre-Christmas lockdown are still to be seen. But it is one painful fact which every youth has to come to terms with upon entry into adulthood, that the world does not (only) revolve around Christmas presents. Let us thus, in classic Sunday Summary manner, take a look at the headlines you may have missed this week.

The move for a global minimum corporate tax, which was backed by world leaders earlier this year in breakthrough accord, now meets its final boss: the implementation phase. The aim of the proposal is to close once and for all the legal loopholes through which many multinational corporations reduce the taxes on their billion dollar revenue to just a few percent, if any. Now, after grandiose annunciations, it is time to write the project to life in the tax codes around the world. Here, real opposition may still await. For the moment, Joe Biden failed to push through the necessary legislation. It stalled in the US Senate at the voting hand of democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. In the EU, the success of the project is likewise anything but certain. It would need unanimous approval by all the Member States, a famously high threshold. Estonia has already voiced concerns over the complication of its tax code, which lobby groups may find a welcome gateway to push back against the minimum tax rate.

Another, uglier, news item from the summer rears its head again (has never stopped, really). The hectic withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan and the rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban left people frustrated, and many in peril. Now, a few months later, the first of those who decided to leave Afghanistan and make their way to Europe, are arriving at the EU external border of Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In cynical continuity of the chaos in Afghanistan, the local authorities in Croatia are not prepared to provide shelter to the arriving refugees, as aid workers warn. Instead, the illegal pushbacks back into non-EU territory appear to have become even more aggressive since August. In sub-zero temperatures, the new year is feared to start with another humanitarian crisis on the EU’s doorstep.

Problems faced in the digital world, from the warmth and comfort of an office chair, seem to pale in comparison. Nevertheless, they can become an existential threat more quickly than expected, such as in cases of cyber bullying. An appeal in the case of the “Drachenlord” (“dragon lord”) sparked renewed controversy in Germany. For years, the YouTuber has been the target of online, but also offline mobbing as members of his anti-fan base pay “visits” to his house in a small Bavarian village. He reacts in his videos and livestreams with rude, at times racist, anti-semitic, or mysogynic slander. This, in turn, attracts more attention, and yet more “visitors”. In October, the “dragon lord” was given a two-year prison sentence for aggravated assault of some of these anti-fans. It is impossible to separate the roles of victim and perpetrator in this impasse. Thus, unsurprisingly, the reactions to the judgment ranged from disappointment at the “mild” punishment to demands of an acquittal.

The case sheds light on the struggle of analogue democracies with the digital world. Around the same time as the “dragon lord’s” prison sentence, the “Facebook papers” hit the news. The trove of internal documents shows how the digital giant – Meta – puts business before human rights and social cohesion. Whether expropriating Facebook [moderate cringe warning] is the way forward?

We will see. Next year.


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