The Good Country Index scores nations on their contribution to the rest of the world. Photo: Getty
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Does your nation free-ride on the planet or benefit humanity?

The Good Country Index scores nations on their beneficent contributions to the world. Its creator hopes it will encourage governments to think globally rather than nationally.

Britain ranks seventh in the world for its contribution to humanity, according to a new global index of “good” nations published for the first time this summer.

The UK claimed the top spot in science and technology and scored highly for its contribution to global health, prosperity and culture, but fell in the bottom quartile of nations for “international peace and security”.

After the results of the Good Country Index were published last month, national media around the world reported on their countries’ respective rankings; Ireland celebrated its premier position, while Doha reflected on its lowly ranking at 110th.

Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands scored the highest marks after the Emerald Isle, while Iraq, Vietnam and Libya were ranked the least “good” nations in the world.

I spoke to the index’s creator Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor, about the aims behind the project.

Speaking over the phone, he explained that it is “the first to measure exactly how much each country contributes to the planet and to humanity.”

The index comprises the “national balance sheets” of 125 countries. They are measured across seven categories, from their contribution to climate change and the planet, through prosperity and equality, to their promotion of world order.

The ambitious goal of the scorecard, said Anholt, is to compel governments to give greater thought to their ultimate responsibility to humanity worldwide, not just citizens at home.

While it may seem a worthwhile aim to encourage voters and politicians to think beyond their national self-interest and about the greater good of the world, his project is undoubtedly ambitious.

Anholt maintains that his research has shown that citizens around the world do care about nations’ benefaction to humanity.

“People like good countries,” he said. “They admire nations that are powerful, beautiful, large, but the thing that counts most of all is the perception that it contributes something to the rest of the world that we all live in. This finding filled me with joy.”

He believes the Great Recession of 2009 has contributed to a collective desire for deeper and more meaningful contributions on the part of states. As the world economy lay in tatters, the hollowness of materialism and selfishness of national interest became increasingly apparent and prompted people to question the foundations of the concepts, he said.

“The Washington consensus and aggressive Anglo-Saxon capitalism has been the presiding model for a very long time. But even before the recession, it was already beginning to get to the stage where people were asking ‘Is this really it? Is this really the best model?’.”

For his index, Anholt harvested data from 35 global, accurate and up-to-date surveys, including from the World Bank, United Nations and other multinational agencies.

“Although it’s theoretically true that the choice of data is subjective, in reality it isn’t a choice, it’s just all there is,” he claims.

He wants the index to serve as more than a piece of research. “It’s more an act of public diplomacy than statistical analysis.  This is not to say I don’t stand by it, I think it’s a good piece of work. But in the end there isn’t enough data to give a definitive account of what every country on earth contributes to humanity – partially because that isn’t really measurable.”

He added: “The reason I wanted to do it is to find every way possible to bring this topic alive to people and make them ask these kinds of questions.”

Anholt contends that globalisation has made our gravest and most complex problems global.

If nations continue to act only in their own interest, then borderless challenges such as climate change, economic instability, pandemics, terrorism, inequality, overpopulation and migration will become insurmountable.

He said: “The United Nations and other multinationals have very little power to solve problems, so unless countries start collaborating more, we’re going to get nowhere.”

One of the most controversial parts of the index is the international peace and security criterion, which is calculated “to everybody’s astonishment and a certain amount of outrage”, said Anholt, by counting the number of people a nation has killed and debiting that number from the country’s scorecard.

It seems a potentially reductive approach. After all, a nation may engage in a military mission to protect civilian populations or maintain peace and security rather than destroy it.

Anholt was unrepentant about his methodology: “I take a simplistic view of this – I think killing people is wrong.”
This method explains why the US ranked only 21st in the index. Americans were outraged. Anholt claims that more than 10,000 emails, blog posts and Tweets were written by Americans in response to the results, all “furious that America doesn’t come out on top”.

A Brit himself, Anholt is ambivalent about the UK’s contribution to humanity: “proud” of some parts and “ashamed” of others.

“We’re like a lot of western democracies,” he said. “We give an awful lot and we steal an awful lot.” Among the UK’s greatest contributions are “the amount of overseas development and aid we do; we accept a lot of migrants and students; our cultural relations are good and active; we send doctors to Médecins Sans Frontières, we pay our dues to the United Nations.”

While Britain scores highly in the Good Country Index, Anholt hopes that delineating the country's contributions to the world will prompt further beneficent action.

His aims, while noble, are highly ambitious to the point of being unrealistic. But perhaps this idealistic project has come at the right time. In a period when the Middle East seems torn by strife, and internal conflict rages in Ukraine, thoughtful consideration of the external impact that countries have can only be a good thing.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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With the Greek summer at an end, the refugee crisis is just beginning

Refugee camps are battling floods – and even arson. With each passing day, the chances of a fatal incident increase.

The Greek summer came to an abrupt end at the start of September. Nowhere was spared the storms or the floods. At the Katsikas refugee camp, near the north-western city of Ioannina, the effects were dramatic. The site, formerly a military airport, flooded. The gravel turned to mud, swamping the floors of tents that were completely unsuitable for this terrain or weather.

Hundreds of people were relocated to hotels in the city. Officials from the municipality and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees scrambled to find families suitable shelter. A former orphanage on the outskirts of the city was supposed to have been renovated to house the refugees, but bureaucracy has held up the work.

Autumn falls heavily in the western region of Epirus. The danger of refugees being caught outside is real.

“We all know that when the morning fog from the lake [of Ioannina] comes in, the tents will rot away,” Filipos Filios, a former mayor of the town and now the co-ordinator between the state and the charities in the region, tells me. “They [Europe] need to relocate 20,000 people from Greece. That would have solved pretty much all of our problems. Instead, they’ve taken 3,000.”

Around Epirus, the facilities available to refugees are in good shape. Empty civil-service buildings have been repurposed to host families or single people separately. Special measures are in place for Yazidi refugees, who are in danger from others in the camps. As at the other centres across Greece, however, the problems here are not organisational.

“We have 500 people living in tents with bathrooms available, grills and cleaners, with a fully stocked food storage space and doctors always present. There’s even a centre for creative activities for the children,” Filios says. “It’s the very existence of the camp, and the need for more like it, that is the difficulty.”

On 19 September, tents at the overcrowded Moria detention centre on the island of Lesbos were set on fire. False rumours had been circulating that large numbers of Afghans were about to be sent to Turkey. Four thousand people were evacuated and a night of anguish followed. Refugees slept on the streets and local people, who oppose the presence of the camp, seized the opportunity to attack refugees and activists.

The Greek far right, led by followers of the Golden Dawn party, is stirring up anti-refugee sentiment. Attacks on journalists on Lesbos and the nearby island of Chios have become more frequent. There is talk of vigilante-style citizen patrols around the camps, staffed by residents worried about their livelihoods.

During an anti-refugee demonstration in Chios on 14 September, Ioannis Stevis, the editor of the Astraparis news website, was attacked.

“No trouble had started when the representative of Golden Dawn attacked me,” he told me. “The invitation [to march] wasn’t from the far right, but the direction of the demo once there was very specific; they had the upper hand. Some who had gone in good faith left when they heard chants like ‘Greece of Christian Greeks’.”

The march in Chios took a nasty turn when extreme elements headed to the Vial refugee camp. There, they were confronted by riot police. The refugees also fought back, throwing stones at the marchers from inside the camp.

“There was no plan to attack the camp and not everybody followed that march,” Stevis says. “We have 3,700 people here in inadequate conditions, and there is some small-scale delinquency – we can’t hide that. But there are people who try to magnify that. There definitely is a desire for citizen patrols, and not just from the far right. Especially in the village near the camp, people want to organise without being [associated with the] far right.”

With every passing day, the chances of a fatal incident increase. It has become clear that the relocation programme, designed to distribute refugees proportionally across European Union member countries according to population, is not working. These refugees are now stuck in Greece. Mere dozens leave every month for other EU countries, and fewer still depart for Turkey.

The rumours that they will be sent back to the places they have fled are no longer just rumours. On 5 October the EU and Afghanistan announced an agreement to repatriate Afghans who have been turned down for asylum. EU data shows that in 2015, 213,000 Afghans arrived in Europe, and 176,900 of those claimed asylum. More than 50 per cent of these applications were rejected. Later, a leaked memo from the negotiations showed that Afghanistan was threatened with a reduction in aid if the country did not commit to accepting at least 80,000 returning refugees.

What does all of this mean in the camps? It is the most vulnerable refugees to whom we must look to understand.

At the Moria detention centre on Lesbos, four teenagers have been arrested for allegedly gang-raping an unaccompanied 16-year-old Pakistani boy. The actions of these children, who are perhaps the ones receiving the most direct support, expose how stretched and inadequate the system is.

Even for unaccompanied children, the focus of much international attention, conditions are terrible. Officials have been saying for months that the Moria camp, which has no private rooms or locks on its doors, is unsuitable for children. An activist there, who didn’t want to be named in order to protect their work, told me that they had witnessed a teenage girl being confined in the same space as 80 boys for weeks on end.

Back at the Katsikas camp, autumn is settling in. Rain, humidity and cold have replaced the warm summer days. There is word that this camp and the others like it might soon be evacuated permanently, though there is no hint where the people might go. If they are deported to the war-torn countries they have escaped, as the EU wishes, there is little to prevent them making the journey back here. They are desperate, and many are barely surviving. Yet the message from the EU governments is clear: we’re hoping they won’t make it. 

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 13 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge