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International Organizations and the Suppression of Dissent by Pieter Cleppe

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International Organizations and the Suppression of Dissent

The Château de la Muette in Paris, constructed ca. 1920, it was built near the site of a former 16th century hunting lodge—later, becoming a small royal château for Charles IX—was used by the French kings. It seems quite fitting that members of the supranational ruling class—today’s mandarins—would use such a place as their headquarters.

Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Janicek, licensed under CCA 2.0 Generic.

Last month, 136 countries agreed to maintain a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. Ireland and Hungary, who had resisted such an agreement, eventually acquiesced, while the UK negotiated a ‘carve-out’ (i.e., opt-out) for their powerful financial sector. It is not clear whether the United States will ultimately be bound by the agreement, as it is unlikely to be passed by the U.S. Congress. But make no mistake: the arrangement reduces tax competition, preventing smaller economies—such as Hungary, which has a 9% corporate tax rate—from offering lower tax rates in order to stimulate domestic innovation or attract international investors.

The international discussions leading to this misguided agreement have been held over the past decade under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But surprisingly, they have not asked for much input from industry leaders. 

Isabelle Verlinden, lead corporate tax strategy expert at multinational accounting firm PwC, is just one of several experts who has many questions about the agreement to have an international minimum tax rate. She says these include “how to treat tax credits and tax deductions—[which are] different in every country—in the same way … to calculate a 15% tax rate?” She adds: “I have never seen so much of a threat of chaos in the whole of my career.” Unfortunately, listening to business experts or industry specialists wasn’t really a priority at the OECD, where officials seemed to have known better than the rest of us—and so here we are today.

This kind of arrogance seems to be commonplace among the world’s other international organizations and multilaterals. The World Health Organization (WHO) is no exception. Its Director-General is currentlyEthiopian politician Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who emerged from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in the 1990s. (It is worth mentioning, the TPLF is currently threatening to attack Ethiopia’s capital, eager to take on the government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed—who, ironically, has been anything but peaceful himself.) Later, Ghebreyesus served as Ethiopian Minister of Health from 2002 to 2012, a notorious period during which the regime with which he was cozy reportedly covered up a 2007 cholera outbreak.

© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone that under Ghebreyesus’ watch, rather than investigating and adopting a more objective stance during the early stages of the COVID outbreak in early 2020, the WHO simply repeated China’s hollow assurances that there was nothing to worry about. In fact, the WHO seems to have willfully ignored the warnings it had received from Taiwan as early as late December 2020 that a new disease had appeared in Wuhan, China.

Herman Goossens, a Belgian microbiologist and coordinator of the EU’s Platform for European Preparedness Against Emerging Epidemics, has expressed regret over the approach taken by the WHO. In May 2020, he said: “We should have looked at other countries. At Taiwan or South Korea. Countries that have kept the virus under control. … Already at the beginning of January, Taiwan put infected persons in quarantine. But it isn’t a member of the WHO and was not on our radar. In a few months, we’ll be complaining that we could have avoided this lockdown.”

Again, the core of the issue was the arrogant, narrow ‘tunnel vision’ too often followed by international organizations like the WHO. And more often than not, they brush aside and dismiss alternative approaches and dissenting opinions—that is, views that do not fit their bureaucratic narrative.

The WHO hasn’t just gotten things wrong with COVID, either. In early November, they hosted an international conference—dubbed “COP9”—in The Hague. “COP9” refers to the “Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties,” who gathered to discuss the WHO’s “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC). The idea behind this boondoggle was to discuss implementation of the FCTC, which would phase out all tobacco consumption. The COP9 took place alongside policy discussions on combatting tobacco smuggling—and how to treat what they see as new emerging health threats like vaping.

Yet again, the WHO wasn’t exactly looking for diverse viewpoints on the matter—even from those with expertise on the issue. Vaping and the whole idea called “harm reduction”—that is, allowing something that may still be damaging but which is clearly less damaging— is a good case in point. The WHO has taken an explicitly negative approach to vaping, refusing to see it in any way as potentially less harmful than tobacco. In doing so, the WHO has completely ignored the celebrated policy admonition, “don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Meanwhile, in countries like the UK, where there has been a much more open debate on the topic, the outcome is that Britain is likely to become the first country in the world to prescribe vaping for medicinal use—to help people quit tobacco.

Due to its hostile and intransigent stance on vaping, as well as its refusal to consider any input from business experts or corporate leaders, the WHO is now unlikely to come to any sound policies based on data or research. They will go ahead with its own ideas without regard for alternative opinions. 

It is well-known that open discussions that allow for contentious and even conflicting opinions are known to deliver far better outcomes in the long-run—even if the UK’s policy stance on vaping turns out to be ‘wrong’ in the end. But international organizations like the WHO cannot abide differences of opinion. At a previous session—dubbed “COP7” held in Delhi—protesting Indian tobacco farmers were even rounded up and takenmiles away from where the conference was taking place. 

While there was no ‘rounding up’ of dissenters at COP9, the narrative there was dominated by the usual suspects from the world of international NGOs and multilaterals, all of whom no doubt influenced the discussions. At the same time, industry representatives—which includes not only tobacco manufacturers or farmers but also retailers and other aligned industries—were not welcome. 

U.S. legal scholar Gregory Jacob, who helped to negotiate the FCTC, recalls in an article titled “Secrecy and Exclusion in the FCTC Implementation Process” published in the Fordham International Law Journal, how the Head of the Convention Secretariat during COP7 in Delhi, Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva, dismissively called small tobacco farmers “malevolent.” Jacob also notes how some of the “most extreme anti-tobacco advocates” demanded during COP7 “that any government official or international organization that has contact of any kind with the tobacco industry must itself be shunned, isolated, and barred from participating in FCTC proceedings.” This would be akin to excluding Brazil from international discussions over the preservation of the rainforest! Whatever position one takes on the issue of tobacco, it’s clear that ignoring or dismissing the views of those closest to the subject isn’t good policymaking—nor is it remotely democratic.

Such instances can and should be viewed as instances of “cancel culture” at the  international and supranational level. In the past—incredibly—even Interpol has been ‘cancelled,’ with its officials being prevented from providing input to the COP on the issue of tobacco smuggling, despite Interpol’s obvious expertise in the matter. At the time, the excuse given by bureaucrats was that Interpol had ‘cooperated’ with the tobacco industry and thus lacked ‘objectivity.’ Never mind that this was only to better track illegal shipments! 

Of course, the real reason for the exclusion of Interpol was to make sure that dissident—yet still eminently knowledgeable voices—were kept as far away as possible from the discussions. It seems that, when it comes to our distant, ruling elites at the world’s multilaterals, they know far better what to do than those with the expertise based on years of data and experience. This is the height of ‘globalist arrogance.’

Pieter Cleppe is the editor-in-chief of BrusselsReport.eu, an online magazine covering EU politics. He is on Twitter @pietercleppe.

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