The Nordics and the US

Back in May 2015, I wrote a post comparing Scandinavia and the US.  Since then, that post has been viewed over 10,000 times, making it the most-read on this site; however, I feel it is time to update it.  A lot has changed since then- the Paris Agreement was signed, the Sustainable Development Goals went into effect, and Donald Trump became President of the United States.

I also want to enlarge the geographical comparison from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) to the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.)  I’ve kept many of the original indicators and have added some as well.

Nordic Flags

UN Human Development Index (Rank out of 187 countries; 2019)
a) Denmark: 11; b) Finland: 12; c) Iceland: 6; d) Norway: 1; e) Sweden: 8; f) USA: 15

Life Expectancy at Birth, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 80.8; b) Finland: 81.7; c) Iceland: 82.9; d) Norway: 82.3; e) Sweden: 82.7; f) USA: 78.9

Government Expenditure on Education, % of GDP (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 7.6; b) Finland: 7.1; c) Iceland: 7.7; d) Norway: 7.6; e) Sweden: 7.6; f) USA: 5.0

Mean Years of Schooling, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 12.6; b) Finland: 12.4; c) Iceland: 12.5; d) Norway: 12.6; e) Sweden: 12.4; f) USA: 13.4

GDP per capita (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: $47,673; b) Finland: $41,899; c) Iceland: $48,606; d) Norway: $65,441; e) Sweden: $47,194; f) USA: $55,681

Income Inequality, Gini Coefficient (100 = Complete Inequality; 2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 28.2; b) Finland: 27.1; c) Iceland: 27.8; d) Norway: 27.5; e) Sweden: 29.2; f) USA: 41.5

Total Unemployment, % of labor force (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.0%; b) Finland: 7.8%; c) Iceland: 2.9%; d) Norway: 3.9%; e) Sweden: 6.4%; f) USA: 3.9%

Carbon Dioxide Emissions per capita, Tonnes (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.9; b) Finland: 8.3; c) Iceland: 6.2; d) Norway: 6.8; e) Sweden: 3.9; f) USA: 15.0

Individual Income Tax Rates, (2019)
a) Denmark: 55.89%; b) Finland: 53.75%; c) Iceland: 46.24%; d) Norway: 38.2%; e) Sweden: 57.19%; f) USA: 37.0%

Public Spending on Family Benefits, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.44%; b) Finland: 3.11%; c) Iceland: 3.40%; d) Norway: 3.38%; e) Sweden: 3.54%; f) USA: 1.12%

Total Paid Leave Available to Mothers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 50; b) Finland: 161; c) Iceland: 26; d) Norway: 91; e) Sweden: 55.7; f) USA: 0

Total Paid Leave Reserved for Fathers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 9; c) Iceland: 13; d) Norway: 10; e) Sweden: 14.3; f) USA: 0

Public Spending on Childcare and Early Education, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.1%; c) Iceland: 1.8%; d) Norway: 1.3%; e) Sweden: 1.6%; f) USA: .3%

Child Relative Income Poverty Rate (2016 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.7%; b) Finland: 3.3%; c) Iceland: 5.8%; d) Norway: 7.7%; e) Sweden: 8.9%; f) USA: 20.9%

Out-of-pocket Childcare Costs for a Two-Earner Couple Family, % of family net income (2015)
a) Denmark: 9.1%; b) Finland: 17.9%; c) Iceland: 4.5%; d) Norway: 5.3%; e) Sweden: 3.9%; f) USA: 22.5%

Best Countries to Raise Kids (rank out of 73 countries, 2020)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 6; c) Iceland: No data; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 18

Environmental Performance Index (rank out of 180 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 3; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 11; d) Norway: 14; e) Sweden: 5; f) USA: 27

Gender Inequality Index (rank out of 189 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 7; c) Iceland: 9; d) Norway: 5; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 42

Gender Gap Index (rank out of 149 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 13; b) Finland: 4; c) Iceland: 1; d) Norway: 2; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 50

Women in Lower or Single House, (% / rank out of 192 countries, as of last elections)
a) Denmark: 39.11% / 23; b) Finland: 47% / 8; c) Iceland: 38.1% / 27; d) Norway: 40.83% / 17; e) Sweden: 47.28% / 7; f) USA: 23.61% / 75

Corruption Perceptions Index (rank out of 180 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 3; c) Iceland: 14; d) Norway: 7; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 22

Freedom in the World, (100 = highest score, 2019)
a) Denmark: 97; b) Finland: 100; c) Iceland: 94; d) Norway: 100; e) Sweden: 100; f) USA: 86

Official Development Assistance, % of GNI (2018)
a) Denmark: .72%; b) Finland: .36%; c) Iceland: .31%; d) Norway: .94%; e) Sweden: 1.04%; f) USA: .17%

Military Expenditure, % of GDP (2018)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.4%; c) Iceland: No Data; d) Norway: 1.6%; e) Sweden: 1.0%; f) USA: 3.2%

Good Country Index (rank out of 153 countries, latest available)
a) Denmark: 6; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 36; d) Norway: 8; e) Sweden: 4; f) USA: 40

Overall Happiness (rank out of 156 countries, 2019)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 4; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 7; f) USA: 19

Life Satisfaction (10 = highest score, latest available)
a) Denmark: 9.7; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 9.5; d) Norway: 9.9; e) Sweden: 8.9; f) USA: 7.4

As I mentioned in the 2015 post, “the list of indicators is not exhaustive and does not give a complete picture of life in these countries.”  That said, these do give us a good idea of a government’s priorities and the extent to which a government uses its wealth to take care of its people and the world.  Don’t get me wrong, people living in the US have a pretty good standard of living; however, given its wealth, the American government should do a much better job of providing for the general welfare, protecting the environment, and helping others.  In this sense, I think we can look to the Nordics for examples of how we can improve.

To learn more about the five Nordic countries, start by visiting their embassy websites:

To learn more about the Nordics as a whole, check out Nordic Co-operation.

Thanks for reading.


Teaching US Students about the Nordics

One of the classes I teach is AP Comparative Government and Politics; so, every May the students take the AP test on what they’ve learned throughout the year.  This leaves us with three weeks after the test until the end of the school year, meaning I have to find something engaging and educational, but not too intense, for my students.  This year I tried something new- a unit on the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden).

Given the nature of the class, I wanted to make sure students learned about each country’s government and policies.  For the policies, we focused on two areas in which the Nordics excel- gender equality and sustainability.  To help them with these policies, I gave them two readings- The Nordic Gender Effect at Work, and A Good Life in a Sustainable Nordic Region: Nordic Strategy for Sustainable Development, 2013-2025.  I also planned on having students learn about each country’s culture, with a focus on language and food.  To help them start their research I gave them the websites for the Nordic Council and the respective embassies, ministries of foreign affairs, and ministries of the environment.

One of the topics we discuss during the year is indicators because they help us learn about a government’s values and priorities.  The textbook we use focuses on four broad categories- 1) measuring wealth, 2) measuring inequality and poverty, 3) the Human Development Index (HDI), and 4) happiness- as such, we looked for a variety of related indicators and included the US just to see how we stack up against the Nordics. (*Note: The first five after the HDI rank are all found on the HDI website)

HDI (rank): Denmark- 11; Finland- 15; Iceland- 6; Norway- 1; Sweden- 7; USA- 13

Life expectancy at birth (years): Denmark- 80.9; Finland- 81.8; Iceland- 82.9; Norway- 82.51; Sweden- 82.6; USA- 78.69

Mean years of schooling (years): Denmark- 12.6; Finland- 17.6; Iceland- 12.4; Norway- 12.6; Sweden- 17.6; USA- 13.2

GDP per capita: Denmark- $56,307.51; Finland- $45,703.33; Iceland- $46,483; Norway- $74,504.57; Sweden- $47,766; USA- $54,225

Income inequality, Gini coefficient (100 equals complete inequality): Denmark- 26; Finland- 27.1; Iceland- 25.6; Norway- 25.8; Sweden- 24.9; USA- 41.5

Carbon dioxide emissions, per capita (tonnes): Denmark- 5.94; Finland- 8.66; Iceland- 6.1; Norway- 9.27; Sweden- 4.5; USA- 16.49

Environmental Performance Index (rank): Denmark- 3; Finland- 10; Iceland- 11; Norway- 14; Sweden- 5; USA- 27

Total paid leave available to mothers (weeks): Denmark- 50; Finland- 161; Iceland- 26; Norway- 91; Sweden- 55.7; USA- 0

Gender Inequality Index (rank): Denmark- 2; Finland- 8; Iceland- 9; Norway- 5; Sweden- 3; USA-41

Global Gender Gap (rank): Denmark- 13; Finland- 4; Iceland- 1; Norway- 2; Sweden- 3; USA- 51

Women in national parliament (percentage and rank): Denmark-37.4%, 26; Finland-41.5%, 12; Iceland-38.1%, 22; Norway-40.8%, 14; Sweden-47.3%, 5; USA-23.5% and 25%, 79

Freedom in the world (score out of 100, 100 being the best): Denmark- 97; Finland- 100; Iceland- 95; Norway- 100; Sweden- 100; USA- 86

World Happiness Report (rank): Denmark- 2; Finland- 1; Iceland- 4; Norway- 3; Sweden- 7; USA- 19

Good Country Index (overall rank): Denmark- 6; Finland- 1; Iceland- 36; Norway- 8; Sweden- 4; USA- 40

Government and Policies
Similar to most teachers, I try to make the topics we discuss in class interesting and  come alive.  One way I’ve done that is through Skype.  In the past we’ve talked with Žygimantas Pavilionis, the former ambassador for Lithuania to the US; Carl Skau,  Ambassador to the Security Council and Spokesperson for Sweden’s Mission to the UN; and Chris Kendall and Jon Worth, experts/analysts on both Brexit and European Union. These experiences are always valuable because the students get to learn from someone who knows way more about the topic than I do and who is not me (as much as the students love seeing my face every day and hearing my voice, they benefit from a “change in scenery”).

One thing that has really impressed me about the Nordic ambassadors is they hold Twitter Q+A sessions (#AskNordicAmbs) on a variety of topics (the most recent one was LGBTQ+ rights).  In that spirit, I reached out to all five embassies via Twitter (and email) seeing if the respective ambassadors or their staff would be interested in Skyping with my students.  As a result, I was able to set up sessions with four of the five embassies:

Denmark: Jeppe Mathias Helsted, Senior Advisor (Climate and Energy)
Finland: Sirpa Nyberg, Head of Political Affairs
Norway: Ambassador Kåre R. Aas
Sweden: Göran Lithell, Deputy Chief of Mission

All four were very informative and gracious in answering my students’ questions.  Besides basic information, they all made sure to discuss the two focus areas of sustainability and gender equality.

Protecting the environment and sustainability are quite important to the Nordic way of life.  In particular, it was a point of pride for two people to mention their countries had achieved economic growth while simultaneously lowering GHG emissions.  Additionally,  Amb. Aas discussed the use of battery powered ferries and even airplanes to combat climate change, as well as the emphasis on protecting the oceans.

When it comes to gender equality, one important reason for their success is their respective social welfare systems.  Subsidized daycare.  Free education.  Paid parental leave (including mandatory leave for fathers).  Universal healthcare.  The list goes on and on.  All of these services help to empower women and girls and give them the same opportunities as men and boys.

My only regret from this part of the unit is that we had a mere forty-five minutes to talk with each of them.

As much as I wanted students to learn a bit of the languages, I was unable to set anything up with people from the university to come and help us.  I guess I’ll just have to be more persistent next year.

To get a taste of the culture of the Nordics, I had students create an itinerary for a week-long trip to their respective countries.  They then had to present their travel guide to the class.  The trip had to include include visits that emphasized the following:

  1. Culture (art, music, language, etc.)
  2. Food
  3. Nature
  4. Innovation
  5. Sustainability

It also had include:

  1. A lot of pictures
  2. Accommodation (where are visitors going to stay?)
  3. Transportation (how are visitors going to go from one place to the next?)
  4. The total cost of the trip

The results were fantastic.  Some groups looked for dates to coincide with festivals or other celebrations.  Others also took advantage of the bicycle-friendly infrastructure and well-established public transportation.  They were also able to make time for trips to picturesque parks and other outdoor areas.  Finally, as to be expected, there were a few museum visits to learn about the Vikings.

One thing I would like to add for next year is movies or tv shows.  I had time to show only one episode of one of my favorite shows on Netflix, “Occupied,” which is set in Norway.  If anybody reads this and has recommendations, please leave a response below.

The students seemed to get a lot out of the unit.  It illustrated the values and priorities of other governments (other than the ones we studied during the year), and it got students thinking about what they want to see from our government here.  Many of them also seemed quite keen to visit the Nordics (or at least one of the countries); in fact, one student asked about immigration policy.   As for me, I have already made it a goal to visit as many of the Nordics as possible and to continue teaching my students about them.

If you have any ideas for next year’s unit on the Nordics, please leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.


Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries

Yesterday, ambassadors from the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) to the US held a “Twitter Town Hall” using the hashtag, #AskNordicAmbs to discuss their policies on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Questions from users included topics such as education, foreign policy, the gender pay gap, parental leave, and political participation.  Just to give you a general idea of where the countries stand in terms of gender equality, here are the top 20 from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report. (Note: The US is ranked 51st out of 149)

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 6.33.06 AM

After the “Town Hall” was over, I thought it would be useful to share information about gender equality in the countries in one place. The information is not comprehensive; instead, it provides more of an introduction and general knowledge.

Act on Gender Equality, 2000
– “The purpose of this Act is to promote gender equality, including equal integration, equal influence and Gender Equality in all functions in society on the basis of women’s and men’s equal status. The purpose of the Act is also to counteract direct and indirect discrimination on the ground of gender and to counteract sexual harassment.”

Denmark’s National Action Plan for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security 2014 – 2019
– “Women are first and foremost a great resource for their communities and countries – and in all efforts to achieve sustainable development and peace.”

European Institute for Gender Equality

Income and Gender Equality in Denmark
– “Women in Denmark generally work outside the home and pursue careers while raising a family, assisted by the country’s generous parental leave and tax-subsidised daycare.”

Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation
– Part of the Minister’s responsibilities is gender equality

Parental Leave
– “In total, parents in Denmark get 52 weeks of paid parental leave.”

Statistics: Gender Equality
– “A series of selected key indicators which illustrate some of the differences and similarities between the current life situation of men and women.”


European Institute for Gender Equality

Finland: Pioneer in Gender Equality
– “Finland was the first country to grant full political rights to women in 1906. For more than 100 years women have had active roles in working life and decision making.”

Gender Equality in Finland, 2018 (Report)
– Includes milestones in gender equality as well as data in eleven different areas.

Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leave
– “Under the Employment Contracts Act, an employee is entitled to a period of leave during which he or she can receive a maternity, special maternity, paternity or parental allowance. Maternity leave is 105 week days.”

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: Gender Equality
– “The MSAH plays a key role in promoting gender equality by preparing legislation, monitoring the situation of gender equality nationwide, coordinating the development of activities on gender equality and promoting the implementation of the objectives of the government’s equality policy.”

National Institute for Health and Welfare: Gender Equality
– “In Finland, the promotion of gender equality has been considered important in many different areas of life.”

Statistics Finland: Gender Equality

Women, Peace, and Security: Finland’s National Action Plan, 2018-2021
– “Through the NAP, Finland aims to contribute effectively to sustainable peace by strengthening women’s participation.”

Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, No. 10/2008
– “The aim of this Act is to establish and maintain equal status and equal opportunities for women and men, and thus promote gender equality in all spheres of the society.”

Gender Equality in Iceland
– “Icelanders takes pride in their fellow Icelanders who do well.”

Iceland’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security
– “Gender equality goes hand in hand with stability and peace in the international community.”

Maternity/Paternity Leave and Parental Leave
– “The parents of a child are entitled to paid leave at childbirth, when adopting a child and when becoming a permanent foster parent. They receive holiday allowance or childbirth allowance, depending on their situation in the labour market.”

Parliamentary Resolution on a Gender Equality Action Programme for the Period 2016-2019


Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020
– “This Action Plan gives priority to education for girls, women’s political and economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. Progress in all these areas is crucial if girls and women are to be empowered and have the freedom and opportunities to shape their own lives.”

Gender Equality Act
– “The purpose of this Act is to promote equality irrespective of gender.”

Gender Equality in Practice: Equal opportunities for women and men
– “In this White Paper, the Government will address challenges to achieving equality between women and men. The Government will focus its efforts on five areas in which equality still faces formidable challenges…These areas are childhood and education, working life, health, business and industry, and protection against violence.”

Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion: Gender Equality
– “The Ministry deals with gender equality in working life, women and power, and men and equality. It is a driving force in the work of developing a gender perspective in the national budget.”

Parental Leave
– “There is no single agreed name for Maternity or Parental leave in Norway.”

Women and Men in Norway, 2018
– “Statistics Norway presents statistics on women and men in Norway within 14 different areas of society.”

Women, Peace, and Security, 2019-2022
– “Norway will have a more systematic focus on women, peace and security in our efforts to support the implementation of peace agreements, strengthen the gender perspective in international operations and missions, and increase our efforts for women and girls in our humanitarian work.”


European Institute for Gender Equality

Feminist Foreign Policy
– “Equality between women and men is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. Ensuring that women and girls can enjoy their fundamental human rights is both an obligation within the framework of our international commitments, and a prerequisite for reaching Sweden’s broader foreign policy goals on peace, and security and sustainable development.”

Gender Equality in Sweden
– “Gender equality is one of the cornerstones of Swedish society. The aim of Sweden’s gender equality policies is to ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.”

Government Policy: Gender Equality
– “Gender equality is equality between women and men, who should have the same opportunities to shape society and their own lives.This area includes issues such as power, influence, finances, education, work and physical integrity.”

Parental Benefits

Sweden’s National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 2016–2020
– “Sweden’s feminist foreign policy has a clear focus on supporting women as actors for peace and security. The influence and meaningful participation of women in peace and security is both about rights and effectiveness.”

Women and Men in Sweden, 2018
– Includes milestones and statistics in ten different areas.

Women in National Parliaments

All five Nordic countries are in the top 25 (out of 193).

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 6.56.15 AM
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union


While each country still has work to do in regards to gender equality and women’s empowerment, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nordic countries continually rank high among the best countries to be a woman.  American policymakers and elected officials would do well to look to the Nordic countries for inspiration.

Finally, if you happen to know of a link that should be added, please leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Help Us, Europe- You’re Our Only Hope

Since his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that American foreign policy will be based on the idea of “America first.”  What that looks like exactly is unclear, given the sometimes contradictory messages from various administration officials.  What we do know, however, is that America’s role as a global leader has now diminished so much that US foreign policy is an example of how NOT to approach global issues.  This is especially evident in a number of areas, including the UN and development assistance, NATO, and climate change.

The UN and Development Assistance
President Trump’s FY2018 budget “proposes that the Department of State examine options to: (a) reduce the levels of international organizations’ budgets, (b) reduce U.S. assessment rates, and/or (c) not pay U.S. assessments in full.” (p. 71 of Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the U.S. Government“)  This would lead to an overall reduction of $786 million for international organizations contributions.

Additionally, in January 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), introduced H.R. 193- American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which called for the US to withdraw from the UN.  While the bill most likely will not become a law, it does illustrate that some members of Congress are taking the “America first” mentality to a whole new level.

If the US does not fulfill its responsibilities with the UN, then it falls upon Europe to fill the void.  On May 17, 2017, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke at the European Parliament and said that “A strong and united Europe is an absolutely fundamental pillar of a strong and effective United Nations.”  This is especially important given the White House’s current attitude.

When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI.  In 2016, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it eighth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $33.59 billion.  Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target.  Unfortunately, the outlook is not promising, as President Trump’s budget would eliminate $2.5 billion in ODA (p. 67 of Major Savings and Reforms).

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 10.41.18 AM

Even though the US fell short, six of our European allies met or exceeded the .7% target, with Norway leading the way at 1.11%.  For those six countries, the total amount adds up to $54.65 billion, well above the US amount.  The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.

As for NATO, President Trump spoke in Brussels on May 25, 2017, at the unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall memorials.  In his remarks, the President pretty much scolded our NATO allies:

“The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders.  These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.

This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.  And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.  Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined.  If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defense and for the financing of additional NATO reserves.

We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even 2 percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces.  We have to make up for the many years lost.  Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.  If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.” 

The picture below sums up the response by the other NATO leaders in attendance.

NATO Leaders Smirk
Photo from Deutsche Welle.

If that wasn’t enough, Trump also pushed the prime minister of Montengro out of the way during the meeting.

A few days after the meeting, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, “The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days… That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”

After the trip, Press Secretary Sean Spicer remarked that “the President is acting to strengthen alliances, to form new partnerships, and to rebuild America’s standing in the world.”  The reality, of course, is that threatening to cut funds to the UN and alienating allies weakens alliances and demolishes America’s standing in the world.

Climate Change
President Trump and the White House also have an abysmal record on climate change.  According to the White House website, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”  His budget calls “to eliminate funding in 2018 related to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)” (p. 75 of Major Savings and Reforms).  Furthermore, the budget reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.4% down to $5.7 billion (p. 42 of Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness).  Additionally, the President has made it clear he is no fan of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate.  As this piece is being written, it is expected Trump will announce the U.S. is withdrawing from the deal.

Across the Atlantic, however, our European allies are committed to fighting climate change.  At a recent UNFCCC conferenceMiguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said, “We came here to Bonn to advance our work on the rules and instruments to implement the Paris Agreement. We leave Bonn with steadfast progress in many areas. And while much work still lies ahead of us, the cooperative talks and the tangible results show once again the unwavering determination of all of us to turn our commitments into real action.”  Quite the opposite from President Trump.  The EU has also adopted a 2020 Climate & Energy Package and a 2030 Climate & Energy Framework.

President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has left a vacuum of global leadership that could potentially be filled by the EU.  This is a perfect opportunity for bodies like the European External Action Service and EuropeAid to step up and show the world what European cooperation and coordination can accomplish.  For the UN to succeed, and for progress to be made on the Sustainable Development Goals (one of which is climate action), Europe is our only hope.

Thanks for reading.

Constitutional Comparison: Germany and the US

As I was going through my RSS feed this morning, I came across this article from Deutsche Welle on Germany’s Basic Law.  As I read through it, the first thing that struck me was the fact that the very first article in Germany’s constitution discusses human dignity.  This led me to take a closer look at the Grundgesetz, and after further reading, I decided to make a lesson out of it for my class on U.S. government and politics.  We had already studied the purposes of constitutions in general and the US Constitution earlier this semester, so I wanted to compare the two constitutions.

Students noticed a number of differences, among them: 1) Germany put basic rights first, whereas the US put them as amendments; 2) Germany’s constitution is much more in depth than than the US’ (Germany has 141 articles, the US has 7); 3) Germany has an article about the flag, the US does not; 4) Germany has “compulsory military and alternative civilian service,” whereas the US military is volunteer.  We also discussed Germany’s electoral system, even though it’s not explicitly described in the Basic Law.  Out of all these ideas, however, we spent the most time discussing Article 1.1 of the Basic Law- “Human dignity shall be inviolable.  To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”  The US constitution has something similar in the Preamble with, “promote the general Welfare.”

We started first by talking about dignity and what that meant.  After that, we looked into the extent to which the governments of both countries fulfilled the idea of human dignity and general welfare.  Since my student charity, VAHSAid, just held an event this weekend to raise awareness of child poverty and food insecurity, we looked for child poverty rates in both countries.  According to the OECD, the latest rate for Germany is 9.8%, and for the US it’s 20.5%.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.10.19 PM

Other indicators we looked at (also from the same OECD page):

Key characteristics of parental leave systems (total paid leave available to mothers)- Germany: 58 weeks; US: 0 weeks

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.30.51 PM

Public spending on family benefits (in per cent of GDP)- Germany: 3.03; US: 1.13

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.31.59 PM

Public spending on early childhood education and care (in per cent of GDP)- Germany: 0.6; US: 0.3

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.32.53 PM

Infant mortality (Deaths per 1,000 live births)- Germany: 3.2; US: 6.0

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.33.45 PM

After all was said and done, a couple of student observations stood out to me: 1) “Germany takes democracy to a whole new level,” 2) “Germany seems much more about community,” and 3) Students felt Germany’s Basic Law was less ambiguous than the US Constitution and wondered if that would lead to less legal battles or political controversy.

While the original purpose of the lesson was to compare the two constitutions, I am pleased that it led to discussions about issues other than the structure of the governments.  This isn’t to say Germany is some sort of utopia*; however, it does illustrate the need for American politicians to begin emphasizing human dignity in our policies.

Thanks for reading.

*Full disclosure: I was stationed in Germany for 2 1/2 years and have a deep appreciation for the German language, food, beer, and soccer (#NurSGE).