Last week’s scenes at the U.S. Capitol sent shockwaves across the world, delighting America’s adversaries and bringing sorrow to those who normally look up to the majesty of American democracy. The rioting and vandalism in the halls of Congress was a shock to Americans, too. Even President Trump, who incited the mob earlier that day, was reportedly displeased with the “low class” imagery of his violent supporters.
The key question facing Americans and America’s allies is seemingly simple. Did 6 January represent a peak, or breaking point, of worrisome trends that accelerated during the Trump presidency – or was it just another iteration of a process that risks escalating further in the coming years?
The fact that the underlying institutions held firm, the soul-searching demonstrated by Republicans, as well as Trump’s own promise (however half-hearted) to ensure a peaceful transition of power all suggest that the worst may be over.
One imaginable parallel is with the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum in June 2016, which came shortly after the heinous murder of Jo Cox. The success of the Leave campaign did not herald the beginning of a new dark age for Britain. If anything, the referendum was a culmination of a frivolous and irresponsible populist era and it was followed by the increasingly intrusive reality of Brexit’s practical implications. Whatever one thinks of the final outcome, or of Boris Johnson’s leadership, British politics today appear – to this observer at least – far more ‘normal’ and sedate than in the spring days of 2016.
Trump’s departure from the scene would increase the odds of a similar outcome in the United States. Last week’s violence did not occur spontaneously. Its causes included weeks of delegitimisation of the election’s outcome, by the President, by his campaign, and by prominent Republican lawmakers– all of that on top of years of toxic, grievance-mongering rhetoric that fuelled Trump’s candidacy and presidency.
After last week, the prospect of Trump’s continued control over the GOP has become weaker. Similarly, because of their close association and open support for Wednesday’s ‘putsch’, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the most unhinged demagogues within the party, have seen their chances of running successfully in the 2024 election take a hit. Maybe, perhaps, the fever is breaking.
Ultimately, it is up to American citizens and American leaders to decide which of the two scenarios – recovery or a continuing crisis of democracy – materialises.
Despite this, neither Americans nor America’s friends should get overly euphoric. The single most dispiriting fact about last week’s events at the Capitol is that after the building was stormed and thrashed by a mob seeking to overturn the election, 138 Republicans in the House – or 65 percent of the GOP caucus – still voted to reject the slate of electors from Pennsylvania. Worryingly, in a YouGov poll conducted on the day of the ‘putsch’, 45% of Republican voters agreed with the storming of the Capitol.
Joe Biden will not be the first president whose claim to power will not be recognised as legitimate by a sizeable chunk of the electorate because of deliberate efforts by his opponents. In fact, one has to go back to George H.W. Bush to find a U.S. president whose legitimacy was not seriously contested by the other side. Bill Clinton faced impeachment. George W. Bush was elected by the narrowest of margins in Florida and numerous conspiracy theories proliferated about his re-election in 2004. Barack Obama was the target of the popular birther conspiracy (propelled, among others, by Donald Trump). And, of course, many ‘explained’ Trump’s election in 2016 by Russia’s interference in the election and cheered on as congressional Democrats sought to impeach and remove Trump from office.
The point is not to relitigate the past nor to draw moral equivalencies. There is no question that the events on Capitol Hill were far worse than essentially any event in modern U.S. politics. Neither is there any doubt about the party and the politicians who bear responsibility for this singular attack on democratic institutions. However, when examined from a historical perspective, this episode is just another escalation in a cycle that has gone on for some time and can be reasonably expected to continue.
Last week’s violence was not without precedent. In April last year, heavily armed men (“very good people,” according to Trump) “protested” inside Michigan’s Capitol building. The FBI later thwarted a far-right plot to kidnap the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. And, of course, incidents that accompanied the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring and summer resulted in at least $1 billion in damage across major US cities. Without drawing any moral equivalencies, there are good reasons to be concerned that escalating street violence may become a periodic fixture of American political life.
Ultimately, it is up to American citizens and American leaders to decide which of the two scenarios – recovery or a continuing crisis of democracy – materialises. Whatever policy disagreements one may have with President-elect Biden, there can be no question about the sincerity of his efforts to de-escalate, heal, and bring Americans together. But turning a page will be neither easy nor immediate, and Europeans have to plan accordingly. Importantly for Europe, as the British writer Ben Judah tweeted on the day of America’s embarrassing ‘putsch’ attempt, “After this the whole of tone of American, yes Biden’s foreign policy, needs to change: humility, a lower voice, less zeal. It is not just credibility. It is on America now to prove to its allies it is a reliable entity before it can host a Summit for Democracy or take on China.”
Dalibor Roháč is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and a research associate at the Martens Centre. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.Dalibor Roháč Elections EU-US Leadership
American Democracy at a Crossroads: a Time for Healing
11 Jan 2021
The images of alt-right rioters breaking into the Capitol, of Congresspeople rushed to safety like on 9/11, of weapons drawn and people killed in the heart of American democracy (and a beacon of the Free World), will remain with us for a long time. They certainly will be the defining visual memory of Donald Trump’s four years in office. But the more pressing question now is whether this is the beginning of the end of American democracy, or rather the beginning of the end of a bad patch in US politics. And on the global scale, whether this is another blow for a West in terminal decline, or a low point for global democracy from which things can only improve. I propose to tackle these questions in three steps: looking at what happened and why, what it means for US politics over the next couple of years, and what the implications are for freedom across the globe.
What this was – and what it wasn’t
Let’s be frank but also precise: This was a riot, not an attempted coup d’état. It was a riot in the worst thinkable place, and the symbolism was devastating, especially in its global implications. But whatever Trump and his supporters may have hoped for, it did not have the slightest chance of succeeding to overturn the election results, let alone abolish American democracy. The fact that the certification of the election results continued until late at night, after and precisely because of the attempted interruption, is actually a sign of health of the rule of law in the US. There is more: The way both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence finally manned up to openly counter Trump’s narrative; also, Pence stepping up to call in the DC National Guard after the President’s initial refusal or hesitation; and, what is too easily forgotten amid the outrage at the Capitol’s storming: the victory of both Democratic Senate candidates in the Georgia runoff, securing the Biden administration a much better chance at governing effectively. All of this indicates that American democracy is intact, despite Trump and his aiders and abettors. Because one thing should be clear: yesterday’s riot was a consequence of years of creating ‘alternate facts’ and vilifying checks and balances.
The future of US politics
While it is still early to predict the impact of the Trump presidency and its ignominious ending, my take is that January 6, 2021, has made it easier for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to reform the United States. That is not only because the Republicans lost their Senate majority, but also because the Republican Party is now more deeply split than just two days ago. Despite the whataboutism (‘…and the BLM violence?’) and the conspiracy theories (about alleged antifa agents provocateurs) of mainstream Republicans: the number of Republican leaders who are finally taking a stand against Trump has multiplied. They will be duly condemned by the Trumpists and their fanbase which, thanks to the President’s lies, will remain strong. The Trump wings will either remain in the Republican Party, or fade into irrelevance because of the American electoral system which makes third parties essentially impossible. While a return to the ‘responsible Republicanism’ of the days of Reagan and (partly) Bush can unfortunately be excluded, also because of recent socioeconomic and demographic changes in the US, a takeover of the party by the Trump clan has become equally unlikely. In any case, the civil war that many European commentators are now fantasising about, is simply not on the cards.
Open society and its enemies
In the global context, at first sight, last night’s images are at least as devastating as they are domestically. Chinese government propaganda and other authoritarians are rejoicing at the opportunity to mock the West and predict its demise. And indeed, the ability of Americans to ‘preach’ democracy to the rest of the world has taken a hit. Now America’s partners have to step up and share more of the burden. Fortunately, with a US government which will actually appreciate allies, listen to and cooperate with them, this will become easier than at any time in the past four years. This is especially true for the concept of a global Alliance of Democracies, designed to counter-balance a global authoritarianism, which increasingly falls under Chinese leadership.
Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 – almost 80 years ago now – this Day of Infamy has shaken the West. This time, the enemy came from within, which is a stark reminder that all democracies are vulnerable from internal radicals and populists, as well as from external authoritarian powers, and most of all from the collusion of both. Which is why they must not tolerate intolerance, to paraphrase Karl Popper. Last night, after a couple of chaotic hours, the American Capitol was successfully defended. Now we all have to defend ours.Roland Freudenstein Elections EU-US Leadership
A Day of Infamy for the West – But a Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel
07 Jan 2021
And so it begins again. The murals, the tales of famine ships and Irish ancestry, the cousins and those awkward renaming ceremonies played out live on Irish TV. President-elect Biden will appoint a high-profile ambassador to Ireland, bowls of shamrock will be exchanged at the White House, and the razzmatazz of a Presidential visit will briefly enliven another Irish summer.
Ireland will gladly re-emerge as the focus of an authentic (and highly personalised) US interest. Irish politicians are already busy displaying their Biden selfies on social media like some weird badge of honour.
Alas, such a childlike embrace of the American dream is not without its consequences for Ireland’s future in the EU. Because in Brussels, Ireland is increasingly seen as a cypher for US business interests, pushing an agenda of lighter regulation, low (or preferably zero) taxes, and minimal data protections.
Unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating.
No more coded messages at diplomatic level. EU policymakers are now explicit. Ireland cannot be trusted on matters which directly impact US business interests, particularly those of US technology companies.
Take the recent confirmation hearings of Commissioner McGuinness at the European Parliament. McGuinness – perhaps Ireland’s most accomplished performer in Brussels over the last decade – was approved overwhelmingly. The only proviso being that she wouldn’t “let her Irish background hold her back on taxation and tax transparency issues”.
In effect, the age of Ireland’s traditional gambit – providing US investment a foothold in the EU while facilitating their more “aggressive” tax policies – has already passed. A combination of the Panama papers, Brexit, and COVID have ensured that the EU is now focused on a tighter, more centralised Union.
In this more continental future, Ireland is a clear outlier. And that’s why Ireland is increasingly shepherded away from the EU’s inner circle on critical digital regulation or data protection issues. Commissioner McGuinness’ portfolio has been carefully crafted by Brussels to avoid all aspects of a wider, more global reach.
The problem is not that Ireland actively pursues strong political and economic relations with the US. Given the shared history, it’s the obvious strategy. It’s also the strategy that has created jobs, boosted tax revenues and built real, global-level expertise across Ireland’s regions.
Rather, the issue is that the goal of protecting US investment in Ireland (and the wider political relationship with Washington) has become so rigid, such an intrinsic part of the establishment consensus, that is has now started to compromise the ability of Ireland to operate successfully in the EU.
This rigidity is reflected in Ireland’s static approach to EU proposals, on everything from digital taxes to business tax harmonisation. In Brussels’ eyes, this rigidity stands in marked contrast to the flexibility Dublin displays whenever Google or Amazon call government offices.
And this is already a huge problem. The European Commission’s continued commitment to challenging Ireland’s taxation agreements with Apple signifies a much more robust and determined EU challenge. It’s the first step, not the final shot.
That is not to say that Ireland needs to pick a side in the vacuous Boston or Berlin debate. Ireland’s membership of the EU and its embrace of US investment are not mutually exclusive goals. Rather, they are complementary ones.
But to succeed in both requires political capital to be expended in Boston and Berlin. It requires that the soothing rhetoric (so beloved by Irish politicians) about the EU’s importance to Ireland be accompanied by a realistic Irish vision for the future of Europe.
A vision which will hopefully be announced by the Irish government in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe which begins at the European Council summit.
Dublin seems to have forgotten that it is Ireland’s membership of the EU’s Single Market that is the biggest magnet for US investment in the Emerald Isle; Not an American President who happens to have Irish heritage.
Ireland’s response to Biden’s election signifies that Mary Harney may have been right in arguing that Ireland is “spiritually” closer to the US than Europe. Even allowing for the relief of a Trump defeat, Ireland’s active engagement in US politics stands in marked contrast to the increasing apathy displayed towards Brussels and continental European politics generally (bailouts, Brexit, and naughty Commissioners notwithstanding).
In many respects, Ireland risks repeating Britain’s mistakes with Europe. In becoming ever more obsessed with a globalised economy (and a perceived “special relationship” with the US), Dublin may inadvertently reduce its relationship with the EU to purely transactional terms.
And that would be a disaster for both Ireland and Europe.
In the leafy Ballsbridge suburb of Dublin stands the old Allied Irish Bank – AIB – office, which is currently being extended to provide for Facebook’s largest European campus. In many ways, the last decade has seen Ireland swap big banks for big tech as the symbol of its economic progress. But while AIB ultimately cost the Irish taxpayer a 20 billion euro bailout, Ireland’s naïve embrace of Facebook and the American dream may end up costing an awful lot more.Eoin Drea Elections EU-US Transatlantic
American Dreams now risk Ireland’s European Future
15 Dec 2020
The social and economic role of cities, regardless of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to remain crucial for global development. However, the importance of cities is not mirrored in the European centre–right political agenda. Over recent years, cities have become increasingly distant— in terms of their residents’ self-perception and voting patterns—from the rural parts of Western countries. In this context, cities are striving for more tangible powers, improved rights of self-governance and new development support tools, which would allow them to better address the challenges they face.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the leading political family in the EU, should acknowledge the importance of cities and the fact that city-based electorates share particular political expectations. The recent string of elections in various European countries has shown that EPP-affiliated parties and candidates can only win in big cities when they adopt a more city-oriented political platform. The EPP cannot afford to lose urban voters; therefore, it should develop a ‘City Agenda’. Urban-related issues should be at the centre of the EPP’s political activity, as is the agricultural policy.
This agenda, drawing on the experience of EPP-affiliated mayors and members of the Committee of the Regions, should identify the challenges cities face and come up with ways to address them. Among the most pressing are climate change–related themes such as public transportation and urban planning, but also the ongoing housing crisis and, more broadly, rising social inequality. This paper suggests that the EPP could promote a new ‘EU Cities Fund’, a city-tailored, directly accessible fund that would add financial heft to the EU’s existing urban policy.Centre-Right Elections Leadership Political Parties
Retaking the Cities: A Plan for the Centre–Right
16 Nov 2020
The US presidential election on 3 November is likely to be consequential for America’s future and leadership on the world stage. However, it will also have implications for the EU as the two main candidates, President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden, have different visions for the future of transatlantic relations and EU-US cooperation.Defence Elections EU-US Transatlantic
Implications of the 2020 US Presidential Election for the EU
27 Oct 2020
1. Which role, if any, does foreign policy play in this election?
Dr. Jana Puglierin, Head of Office and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin: Foreign policy has rarely played a dominant role in American election campaigns, but this time, the topic really has taken a back seat. Due to the conjunction of the COVID-19 pandemic, a huge economic recession, and social tensions in the United States, attention has turned strongly inward in recent months. Relations with China are an exception, however. During the election campaign, both candidates outbid each other on who would take the hardest line against Beijing. Donald Trump has used foreign policy issues during the campaign to show that he is the one who puts “America first” and protects Americans from being ripped off by others. Decisions such as the withdrawal of American troops from Germany were intended to demonstrate that he would no longer stand by and watch America’s wealthy allies freeride.
Erik Brattberg, Director of the Europe Program and Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C.: US presidential elections tend to be dominated by domestic issues, and this year’s election is no exception to this rule. The top issues for American voters in November are the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, and the Supreme Court. To the extent that foreign policy has surfaced in the debate, it is mainly about China, where Trump is touting his own administration’s tough approach, while Biden is criticising Trump’s policy as self-defeating. While most Americans, according to polls, remain interested in the US continuing to play a leading role in the world, Trump’s nationalist agenda is not an aberration, and signals a more fundamental shift in the thinking of Americans about their role in the world.
Dr. Ian O. Lesser, Vice President and Executive Director, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brussels: Traditionally, foreign policy has not played a large role in American presidential elections. This election is unlikely to very different. Domestic issues will be the focus. But above all, the election will be a referendum on Trump and his personality. That said, there are several domestic issues with important external implications. These include economic openness versus economic nationalism, immigration and borders, climate change, and questions of election interference. China and Russia are on the agenda, principally via domestic concerns. Biden will try to highlight the international costs of Trump’s behaviour and policies, of course.
Peter Rough, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C.: It has almost become a banality to observe that the world is interdependent, but that does not make it any less true. Globalisation has eviscerated the division between foreign and domestic issues, just as it has erased former US Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s adage, uttered during the Truman administration, that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The two candidates represent starkly different international profiles, from specific issues like climate change, to regional approaches in the Middle East. Trump is hesitant to involve the US in foreign wars, but he and his party are comfortable in the realm of hard power. By contrast, Biden sits atop a progressive base that has grown hostile to the use of force, but prioritises American leadership in multilateral fora.
2. What would a Trump/Biden victory mean for the EU?
Jana Puglierin: A Trump victory would be a crucial challenge for the EU. Even in his first term, Trump was openly hostile to Brussels. He would try to increase bilateral relations with member states, thereby dividing the EU. While France would strive even harder for European strategic autonomy, the countries on NATO’s eastern flank would try to expand their strategic ties with the US. This would be especially true if Trump conditioned the US security guarantee on economic or political concessions. A Biden victory would give ample room for proactive European initiatives that renew the transatlantic relationship and make Europe a stronger – and, therefore, more attractive – partner for the US. Biden would restore confidence in American security guarantees for Europe, although he would pressure Europeans to invest more in their own defence.
Erik Brattberg: On one level, Trump and Biden couldn’t be more different when it comes to how they view the role of US allies and partners, including the EU. Whereas Trump views the EU as essentially an economic competitor, Biden views Europe as a key partner for the United States. Biden would withdraw Trump’s support for Brexit and populist leaders in Europe, seek to reduce trade tensions, and cooperate more with Europe on issues such as China. However, transatlantic relations are unlikely to bounce back to their pre-2016 level – European distrust in US leadership will remain high and divisive transatlantic issues, such as defence spending and burden-sharing, or digital taxation, will remain complicated, even under Biden.
Ian O. Lesser: It would mean a great deal. I do not agree with those who suggest that the outcome will not change the drift of transatlantic relations. To be sure, there are structural shifts, including the inexorable rise of China as a strategic concern. And Biden could prove less than open on trade matters. But on climate, Iran, NATO affairs, and the general approach to the transatlantic partnership, there would be a big change. The style would change overnight, and that will make a difference. The cadre of foreign policy officials coming into a Biden administration would certainly be a return to the “known world” for EU leaders. Above all, the EU, as an institution, would be taken more seriously in Washington.
Peter Rough: By now, the world has grown accustomed to Donald Trump. In the event he wins re-election, we could expect his approach towards Europe to mirror that of his first term: rebalancing trade and defence. Moreover, he and his team will work to forge a common strategic approach towards the major state-based challenges of the day, from Venezuela in South America, to Iran in the Middle East, and to China worldwide. In all areas, Brussels would face a series of choices, sometimes painful, on how to proceed.
If Joe Biden takes the White House, he will launch a charm offensive towards Europe, including a summit of the world’s democracies in the first year. There will be obvious areas of overlap in regulating our economies, for example, and how to approach Iran—even if our distinct political traditions, geographies, and responsibilities will ensure our share of differences. No matter who wins the White House, however, Europe must recognise that the costs of defending the liberal international order have gone up.
3. What should be the number one item on the transatlantic agenda after the elections?
Jana Puglierin: No matter who wins the presidential election, there is plenty of room for transatlantic cooperation and joint initiatives when it comes to dealing with China. In terms of substance, the EU and its member states share most of the United States’ concerns, such as its trade policy – especially subsidies and forced technology transfers – and its military build-up and destabilising policies in Asia, as well as the further promotion of its authoritarian model in the rest of the world. Europeans should pro-actively approach the Americans with proposals, and not wait until they are confronted with American demands. However, they should make clear that they are not extended instruments of US external policy.
Erik Brattberg: It is not enough to simply aim to restore the traditional transatlantic agenda. Instead, the goal must be to reinvent US-European cooperation to deal with the most pressing future challenges. Key among these are China and the role of technology. In this regard, the establishment of a new EU-US strategic dialogue for cooperation on shared challenges related to China is a welcome development and should be put to good use next year. In addition, EU and US policymakers also need to redouble their effort to forge a more common approach towards emerging technologies – both through establishing a bilateral technological EU-US high-level dialogue, but also through engaging together in new initiatives, such as the British idea of establishing a D-10 format to work on 5G and global supply chain issues.
Ian O. Lesser: A return to trust should be item number one. A stylistic priority, perhaps. But it’s an essential pre-condition for a return to closer cooperation in multiple areas – and the management of differences where they will surely continue to exist.
Peter Rough: The number one issue is China. The US and Europe have a host of issues to sort through, but all of them should be refracted through the ongoing competition with China and its partners, especially Russia and Iran.Democracy Elections Transatlantic
Trump, Biden, and the Future of Transatlantic Relations: The Impact of the 2020 US Presidential Election
12 Oct 2020
Dalibor Rohac is today’s surprise guest! Don’t miss his 7 answers to Roland Freudenstein questions on the White House Coronavirus scandal, the US Presidential Election 2020, and Transatlantic Relations.Roland Freudenstein Dalibor Roháč Elections EU-US Transatlantic
The Week in 7 Questions with Dalibor Roháč
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
09 Oct 2020
With over 51% of the vote, the incumbent Andrzej Duda of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has won the presidential election against Rafał Trzaskowski from the Civic Platform (PO). This is a narrow victory, but the country’s descent into authoritarianism will continue nonetheless. This result will be taken as a sign of encouragement by all autocrats in Europe. But they shouldn’t rejoice too soon. A closer look at the result, and especially at the dynamics of recent weeks, reveals some cracks in their narrative.
1. These elections were free, but not fair
This contest was David against Goliath. Andrzej Duda not only had at his disposal the government (very important during the pandemic), but also state media. During the pandemic, he could de facto campaign while exercising his office, travelling around the country, whereas opposition candidates were literally confined to social media for much of the campaign. What is more, Polish public media, especially television, overtly and consistently endorsed his campaign. True, most governments – in Poland and other formerly communist countries in the last 30 years – have ensured that public media were rather government-friendly. But that is nothing compared to the relentless transformation of Polish public TV into an Orwellian propaganda instrument for PiS since 2015. Another example of the unequal playing field was the deliberately bureaucratic and inefficient treatment of expatriate voters by consulates in those countries where past elections had been unfavourable for PiS.
2. Rafał Trzaskowski has put himself and his party firmly back on Europe’s political map
Rafał Trzaskowski will now return to his post as Mayor of Warsaw. But he has left his mark, and sooner or later, will return to national and European politics. Among younger voters, and in medium-sized and larger cities, he clearly beat Andrzej Duda. Two months ago, when PO decided to change their candidate and nominate Trzaskowski, no one would have predicted that he could come even close to half of the electorate. Between the first and the second round, he gained an additional 18 percentage points, meaning he swept up practically the entire left-wing vote, and most of those voters who rejected both him and Duda two weeks ago because they both represented the establishment. Against such overwhelming odds, Trzaskowski, in a breathtaking impromptu campaign, inspired and mobilised half of the electorate in Central Europe’s biggest nation.
3. The authoritarian narrative about East and West in Europe is a myth
Europe’s autocrats like to state that not only are Central European societies more socially conservative (which is true to an extent), but also have fundamentally different approaches to liberal democracy, to the rule of law, and checks and balances. Rafał Trzaskowski received almost half of the votes, mainly because so many Poles were fed up with the way PiS has usurped the Polish state, the judiciary, and the public media. Equally aggravating is the party’s use of hatred and bigotry in its treatment of the opposition, and how its actions have isolated Poland in Europe. The culture war narrative about a wealthy, liberal, decadent, overbearing, and Soros-controlled West that wants to lecture a young, dynamically growing, and conservative East about the rule of law has been proven wrong in this election. The insistence of EU institutions, such as the Parliament, the Commission, and the majority of EU Council members on the rule of law is not Western arrogance. It is the insistence on implementing what every country signed up for upon accession to the Union – in terms of values, but also in terms of procedures to safeguard them. To present this effort as a West European or Brussels-based politicised witch-hunt against conservative governments is a distortion that has been exposed by this Polish election.
The immediate future for Poland is predictable: PiS will expand its control over the judiciary, go after private media and push out foreign owners, and curtail local and regional governments’ power. The European People’s Party should raise its voice against such efforts to destroy liberal democracy, no matter which member state they are taking place in. It should expose authoritarian narratives no matter who voices them. And, as importantly, it should recognise who its real future talents are.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Elections EU Member States European People's Party
Poland: A hollow victory for authoritarianism
14 Jul 2020
Without a doubt, 2020 will be a year the world will remember. So will Andrej Plenković. Croatia’s Prime Minister just got re-elected and secured 66 parliamentary seats for his conservative HDZ party, in a surprising outcome to the election. Moreover, this historical win comes only five days after the European Union’s youngest member state passed the Council leadership baton to Germany, not to mention the ongoing fierce pandemic, which Plenković’s government had to combat in its own backyard and on the European level.
Ambitious priorities based on the slogan “A Strong Europe in a world of challenges” had to be reconsidered during the Croatian EU Presidency. Andrej Plenković’s government had to react quickly in order to adapt to conditions brought on by COVID-19.
Firstly, high-level meetings in Croatia and Brussels were replaced by video-conferences, and cultural events, geared towards serving the nation’s branding purposes, had to be adapted for social media promotion.
Secondly, relating to the allocation of the EU budget, Plenković’s government intended to shape the final draft of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in order to serve all EU 27. At the same time, it advocated for additional funds for Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy, two items which the current MFF draft proposes to reduce. Due to the pandemic and short timeframe, when the conversation shifted towards money, an agreement was reached on an EU Recovery and Resilience Facility worth €560 billion, and three safety nets, including €540 billion in loans in response to the coronavirus’ consequences.
Thirdly, one of the central aspects of the Croatian Presidency was enlargement policy, and the Presidency’s commitment to opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, which culminated in the EU-Western Balkans Summit. The Zagreb Summit was the crowning achievement of the Croatian Presidency. In March, EU Heads of State not only gave their green light for the opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, but they also sent a clear political signal to the region and emphasised its importance for Europe. Although the summit’s initial aim was to address the rule of law and the fight against organised crime, it focused on the coronavirus and €3.3 billion in financial assistance that the EU pledged to the Western Balkans region to help it recover from the pandemic.
If Member States were to be given marks at the end of each six-month EU Presidency, the criterion for assessment could be the fulfilment of the tasks set out in the Presidency programme, in coherence with the EU agenda. Despite the very ambitious programme and the government’s thorough preparation, not all the objectives set out could be achieved due to the previously mentioned conditions. However, according to Charles Darwin, it is not the strongest that survive, but those most adaptable to changes. And Croatia deserves a petica (meaning an excellent mark) in that regard, because not only did the country adapt well to unforeseen circumstances, but it simultaneously sent out a message of solidarity, unity, and a bright vision of a stronger EU.
Simultaneously, Andrej Plenković had to fight battles on home court. During a full-blown crisis, he had to reappoint a new health minister, which proved to be one of the key moves for the upcoming elections. Croatia’s National Civil Protection Headquarters, composed of Health minister Vili Beroš and Interior minister Davor Božinović, are perceived as superheroes, who put feelings of trust and safety in the minds of Croats when they needed it the most. It was precisely the term ‘safety’ that was the motto of Plenkovic’s campaign #SigurnaHrvatska, which motivated voters to elect a party that can lead them to brighter days, come hell or high water.
Even though this was the third time in the past 14 months that Croats went to the polls, and while previous results did not play out well for HDZ, Andrej Plenković took the correct conclusions out of earlier mistakes, choosing the right time and the right people. His newly composed electoral list left nothing to be desired. A balance of experienced politicians with a dash of competent and promising youth, running an election called immediately after a very successful management of the pandemic, and before the incoming economic downturn, was the magic formula. Croats had their say, and they voted for a safe, proven, and ambitious option.
Nevertheless, there are still five more months until the end of the year, and there are already new problems on the horizon. According to experts, the upcoming economic crisis should hit harder than in 2008. This threat, paired with coronavirus, climate change, existing migration challenges, and growing populism, will cause a lot of sleepless nights in Zagreb.Sandra Pasarić Elections EU Member States European People's Party European Union
Finding security in uncertain times: A ‘petica’ for Andrej Plenković
07 Jul 2020
Last time when the Spitzenkandidaten succeeded, many people believed that it was a kind of miracle. But of course we know that miracles are normally relatively rare and even in the Catholic church, before they decide that something was a miracle they have some expert groups or scientific advice.
It takes a year, sometimes it takes decades, sometimes it takes centuries. So we should not be too quick to assume that it was a miracle. I rather believe that there were some objective preconditions, but also some subjective preconditions for that success. And I think that it is useful to remember them also in view of where we are right now for the 2019 European elections.
The objective preconditions were that the Treaty had been changed in three critical parts. First, it asked the European Council to make a proposal taking into account the outcome of the European Elections. Secondly, the European Council was requested, before it made that proposal, to consult with Parliament to see which candidate would have the chance of a qualified majority.
And thirdly, the language for what Parliament is doing was changed: it is now saying the European Parliament “elects”. The key moment as foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty is now the election of the European Commission President by Parliament. The Treaty was changed in three crucial parts and therefore it would have been very strange if the procedure would have been exactly the same as before.
I think objectively there was also a special situation because there was a higher need for legitimacy. Remember the 2008 financial crisis. We said 2008, but in fact it was not limited to a year, it was a long stretched-out process. In the course of that crisis, the EU needed to take a lot of decisions which sometimes were perceived as extremely tough by citizens.
Think about Greece, think later about Cyprus, think about some other countries. Objectively the need to improve the degree of legitimation in the system had become higher. People wanted to know that they had a say on somebody who can impose those kind of decisions. Also objectively, I think the Parliament decided early to invest.
We decided one and a half year before the European elections, so roughly in January 2013, that the motto for the elections should be “This time it’s different, choose who’s in charge”. If you say “choose who’s in charge” it is the offer to determine through European Parliament Elections who should lead the executive.
And we followed-up with invitations to 1000 journalists in Brussels, we ran our whole campaign on it. We did something administrations are normally not doing. Normally administrations go for “low risk, low return” strategies. Think a moment about it: low risk, low return. Instead we decided to go for “high risk, high return”.
We took a high risk, because if it had gone wrong, people would have said “they are stupid, they did not understand, they could have known in advance”. But if successful, the positive outcome for democracy in the European Union would be strong and that is what we went for.
It has been said already that this success was not a foregone conclusion, but the degree to which there was doubt in the system nevertheless should be remembered. It was regarded as so unlikely that ambassadors decided collectively to remain deeply asleep. Because it would not happen anyhow. So no need to alert capitals. It would not happen. The general disbelief was enormous.
I was invited to numerous discussion fora to present, and normally the outcome was “very interesting idea, of course it’s not going to happen”. There was a sense of general disbelief that this could ever come into being. But it’s equally true that there is also no guarantee today. Therefore, I would like to mention the critical informal preconditions of success 2014 we have to be aware of.
There were formal preconditions for success, objective preconditions for success, but there were also informal, subjective preconditions for success. I would like to name five. First point, the principle of the European Council, which was applied ever since Jacques Delors left office, which is that the office should go to one of us, which means not one of us, one of them, one of the heads of state or government. Jean-Claude Juncker was, I think, the ultimate Council insider.
Nobody around the table had so many years in the European Council. Before he was Minister for Finances and Minister for Labour and probably Minister for half of the other cabinet posts in Luxembourg as well. Nobody was so much a Council insider and the principle they had applied after Jacques Delors, that it should be one of us, was respected with the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker.
The candidate’s, the successful candidate’s cross-party appeal was very strong. If I read it correctly in the newspapers, Juncker is saying from time to time “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. So if I were to be a Social Democrat that would be a message which would not make me very unhappy.
So he is saying I’m a Christian Social Democrat. Of course he could say I’m a Christian democrat, but he likes to say I’m a Christian Social Democrat. So from the point of view of Social Democrats, he was surely the most acceptable EPP candidate for Commission President. Because of where he positioned himself.
Thirdly, the core groups in the Parliament were absolutely united in this institutional battle. And fourth point, some of the key actors concentrated the decision making power in the final phase which made coordination needs much less heavy. Martin Schulz was Group President and lead candidate and outgoing President of the European Parliament. Joseph Daul was outgoing Group President and EPP President.
Which means that Joseph Daul had to coordinate with himself and Martin Schulz had to coordinate with himself and then they had to coordinate with each other. It is a slight simplification, but not too much. Of course coordination among themselves was not so difficult because that is exactly what they had been doing the last five years. So that means the decision making process in the critical phase could be based on trust and could be based on concentration of key decision making functions.
The fifth point was that there was already the spirit, others would say the demon, of the big coalition in the room. I would have said the spirit, but others maybe would have had a less positive view of this. So there was this idea of a big coalition in the room. I strongly believe that these were five informal preconditions, subjective preconditions which made success in 2014 not only more likely, but in the end, possible.
None of those informal preconditions exist anymore. None of the candidates is former Prime Minister or Head of State and Government. It’s true that some had government responsibility, but nobody has been a member of the European Council. This time we are asking from the European Council to abandon the principle of “one of us” which they have insisted on ever since Jacques Delors left.
Secondly, these are all very strong candidates, but on the EPP side there is no candidate who is saying “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. Of course he is coming from the Christian Social Union – so that’s getting close, right? – These are normal candidates from their parties, but whether they have specific cross-party appeal remains to be seen, but I would dare to say not to the degree of Jean-Claude Juncker.
Thirdly, we have a kind of question mark in the liberal family behind the concept, where Macron has insisted that he would not join anything or anybody or support anybody who has been in favour of the lead candidates. We can clearly see that the posts of responsibilities are more divided between different persons. So that means after the elections and already before the elections, but especially in the crucial hours and days after the election, the need for coordination between different and independent actors will be much higher.
And five, the big coalition is broken. We do not have a big coalition. We could see that already at half-term there was no longer an alliance to elect the President of the European Parliament. So those five elements, informal preconditions for success, which made it easier last time, will not be available this time. If it is to be successful the core forces will have to come together very quickly.
Between the parties and inside the parties, between the groups and inside the groups, and between the Spitzenkandidaten, there has to be an effort, stronger than last time, to come together and to ensure that the Spitzenkandidaten principle is again applied.
On the other hand, there are positive elements for the Spitzenkandidaten which were not present last time. First, I think we have learned in the meantime that there is strong public support for the fact that citizens should have a say in who is running the executive. That was one of the key learning points last time round. When some of the Prime Ministers were wavering, the reaction they got, especially from the press, was extremely harsh. So they have learned, that this does not come cost free, but that it has a political price.
Secondly, we know from the last election that the Spitzenkandidaten system has the potential to increase participation in elections for at least about 12%. We know that last time in the countries where the Spitzenkandidaten were the most present, in after-election opinion polling 12% of the voters said they voted because of the Spitzenkandidat. If you take for example Germany where they were very active, we had a participation rate which was clearly going up, the same for Austria, the same for Luxembourg. So the potential is there.
Third, we had and we will have an even stronger media engagement which will also restrain politically afterwards. Forth, we have a much longer campaign, we have a better financed campaign, we have a better organised campaign. Last time Jean-Claude Juncker came to his position a little bit to his own surprise, very last minute. Nowadays all the political parties are planning this for months, conducting their campaigns for months, are present all over Europe for months. The outreach this campaign is having is much bigger and more important.
And fifth, all the Prime Ministers this time have been very solidly involved in the selection process of their candidates. None of them can say he didn’t know, he was not consulted, he is not in agreement.
We are expecting a Parliament which will be more divided because of developments in national party systems. This also means that the potentially available majority to carry a candidate will be smaller than last time. If that majority is smaller, it also means that the space for the European Council to disregard the Spitzenkandidaten is shrinking massively.
Because if only you lose one of the three major groups, or if only you lose an important part of one of the three major groups, you are losing any potential majority for a Spitzenkandidat in that system. Therefore, the European Council will also have to realise that in fact its own choice is limited.
There are many definitions of democracy. I like the one which is “democracy is if you can change your government without bloodshed”. I know it is a very basic definition, but it is important and until very recently, there were some question marks whether as a citizen in Europe you could change your executive without bloodshed.
How should you do that? You were not asked that question. You were just asked the question to elect members of Parliament. So with the Spitzenkandidaten, under the existing Treaties, we have established a clear relationship between citizens, parliamentary majority and the head of the executive. I think, and I fear, that for quite some time we will have to work with the existing Treaty, small changes here or there not to be excluded.
Which means that our systematic approach has to be to maximise the unused potential under the Treaty. The Spitzenkandidaten is the prime example how this can be a very successful strategy, changing the constitutional nature of the EU.
Speech delivered at the Martens Centre event “25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What does the Future hold?”, Brussels, 5 March 2019Klaus Welle Elections EU Institutions Leadership
25 years of Spitzenkandidaten: what does the future hold?
03 May 2020
The Slovak parliamentary election brought a change. A major change.
The fact that this pivotal change has been at all possible represents the best outcome of this election. It demonstrates a high level of democracy and pluralism in our country. This is no empty phrase or statement of the obvious, especially in the light of developments in some, including European, countries. Fair political competition, free media, active civil society, a record-high turnout of Slovaks working and living abroad, made Slovakia score highly for the quality of its democracy and its level of pluralism.
The level of pluralism is an extremely important factor in the health of society. It enables the citizens’ active participation in public life and a smooth transition of power between governments with different programmes, leanings or ideologies. Such changes have regularly taken place in Slovakia since the revolution of 1989, and this is good. If pluralism prevailed in, for instance, the Middle East or in several African countries, there would be fewer wars, violence and ultimately, less migration to Europe.
The new Slovak government will be broad. But the government in 1998 was even broader. Nobody should be a priori excluded. In more than one instance I was reaffirmed in my belief that opportunity creates leaders. Such an opportunity has opened up for the new generation of Slovak politicians. It will not be easy. The parties of the future coalition have raised high expectations. They promised they would replace kleptocracy with Samaritarianism, oligarchy with altruism. We should keep our fingers crossed for them in that ambition. Not forgetting that, in a democratic state, the judiciary is independent of political power. It will thus be important not only to watch the government’s actions, but also to continue maintaining civil society’s attention and pressure on the judiciary so as to prevent it from confusing independence with arbitrariness.
In this electoral campaign centred on corruption, not much space was given to tackling economic issues. Yet, economic problems are considerable. Slovakia did not make use of its years of good economic performance to create savings, carry out structural reforms, and make improvements in the quality of education, science, and healthcare. After a period of gradually catching up with the most advanced countries, the Slovak economy feels like it is stagnating when compared with the leading European countries.
The new Slovak government will be broad. But the government in 1998 was even broader. Nobody should be a priori excluded.
The course towards convergence has halted, the economy lost its momentum, and it is again facing the risk of falling behind. Even though the political parties did not stress these themes in their campaigns, they know all too well that it will be difficult to restart the economy and provide it with new, sustainable and forward-looking incentives. All the more so given that external factors are not as favourable for Slovakia as they were in “our” years.
New resources are needed for defence and security, environmental protection, new technologies, and for the reform of a heavily indebted Europe, and not least for responding to coronavirus.
What I missed even more in the campaign was the European context of Slovakia. Looking at Slovakia through the European optics is not a cliché, nostalgia or a customary phrase. The developments in Europe in our nearer or more distant neighbourhood have an increasing impact on us. Greek islands protest against the construction of immigration detention centres, worried Greek inhabitants of Lesbos and other islands are leaving their homes and moving inland. Turkey threatens to open the gates and send new migrants to Europe.
Looking at what’s happening these days in Syrian Idlib, there will clearly be no shortages of new asylum seekers. And the pressure on Slovakia to contribute to finding a solution will keep growing. Do we have solutions? If so, what are they? Are they solutions that will contribute to forging European unity, or solutions that will contribute to deepening its divisions?
What I perceive as a great risk for the future government is the attempt to rule by surveys or polls among the citizens. This is nothing new in Europe. Italian comedian Beppe Grillo established his Five Star Movement in 2010. He founded his programme (and largely also his candidate roster) on the Internet and through opinion polls. He wanted to rule based on the wishes of the citizens. When the movement first ran in parliamentary elections in 2013, it ranked second and ended up in opposition. In 2018, running already on the independent ticket, it obtained the highest share of votes – close to 33%. However, in February 2020, after less than two years in government, its poll numbers were down to 14%. And after years of a Five Star Movement government, Italy is not in good shape.
It is no doubt necessary to know how to listen to people. It is necessary to feel for and empathise with them. But, at the same time, making decisions and taking responsibility for their decisions is not only a privilege, but also the elementary duty of politicians in whom the citizens vested their trust.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Elections EU Member States
Slovakia’s bloodless Waterloo: A historic opportunity
06 Mar 2020
Although the final number of seats obtained by each political party won’t be finalized for several days, the results of the Irish election indicate a marked shift in Ireland’s staid political landscape. Dominated by two centrist political parties since the foundation of the state in 1922 – Fine Gael (EPP) and Fianna Fáil (Renew Europe) – the recent election marks a significant milestone in Irish politics.
Although Europe was almost entirely absent from the recent campaign, Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL) represents a clear challenge to Ireland’s traditional, pro-European stance at a policy and decision-making level. While Sinn Féin’s historic “anti-Europe” policy has moderated in recent years, this is mostly attributable to very high Irish public support for Brussels and to the EU’s support for Ireland during the Brexit process. However, Sinn Féin remains a deeply Eurosceptic party far removed from positions of influence in the European institutions. After a very disappointing European election campaign in 2019, Sinn Féin retains only one MEP in the European Parliament. Their 2020 election manifesto retains a commitment to “radically reform” the EU.
The policies of Sinn Féin in power – likely as an equal partner (almost) in coalition with the more centrist Fianna Fáil – sets an uncertain context for Ireland’s future relationship with the EU. In particular, there are three areas – the Eurozone, taxation and trade – where Sinn Féin’s priorities could seriously impact on Ireland’s traditional national consensus (and relationship with Brussels).
Sinn Féin’s policies regarding the Eurozone are copied from the standard hard left response to the global financial crisis starting in 2008. They are based around vague notions of ending “the Eurozone straitjacket” through flouting European fiscal rules and reforming the European Central Bank. The overall objective appears to be the “direct transfer of newly created money to governments so they can engage in green investment and by quantitative easing for the people”. These proposals highlight a party completely out of touch with both the realities of Brussels based decision making and the operational structure of the Eurozone (not to mention the pro-market economics which underpin it). They also evidence scant understanding with the complexities of Ireland’s existing public debt and its obligations under existing agreements.
It is in the areas of the Eurozone and Trade policy that Sinn Féin’s policies have the potential to seriously undermine Ireland’s position in Brussels
On taxation, Sinn Féin’s positions are more nuanced and not completely out of tune with the Brussels establishment or companies investing (or invested) in Ireland. Although, they call for the continuation of national vetoes on taxation matters in the European Council and the retention of the 12.5% Corporation Tax rate, they support global efforts (presumably at OECD level) to update the global tax system. Sinn Féin wants Ireland to adopt a more transparent approach to dealing with foreign multinationals including ending the appeal against the European Commission’s Apple ruling on alleged unlawful tax arrangements with Ireland.
In recent years Sinn Féin’s policies on the Irish economic model (and its attraction of FDI) has moderated considerably. As noted, they now support both national tax vetoes at EU level and Ireland’s present rate of Corporation Tax. Their focus lies more on their traditional wish to create a state agency “to support the growth of indigenous small businesses”. Sinn Féin’s policies, in this area, will continue the longstanding Irish consensus of advocating for national competence on tax matters (including Corporation Tax) while helping to alleviate some EU (predominantly French) concerns regarding the transparency of the Irish tax system.
On trade, Sinn Féin’s policies conflict directly with both EU objectives and traditional Irish policymaking. Their plan to veto the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) follows the example of other hard-left movements throughout Europe. As with their disjointed Eurozone policies, their promise to promote “fair global trade rules and policies” seems to deliberately ignore the fact that the EU has emerged as the global leader in delivering transparent and accountable trade deals since 2014. Sinn Féin’s stance could also prove problematic given the ongoing negotiations between the EU-UK on future trading arrangements given that it’s Sinn Féin’s raison d’être to achieve a United Ireland.
This brief analysis highlights that it is in the areas of the Eurozone and Trade policy that Sinn Féin’s policies have the potential to seriously undermine Ireland’s position in Brussels. However, a number of factors mitigate these dangers.
First, Sinn Féin will, at best, form just half a coalition government. Its ability to deliver its more extreme policy pledges will be significantly constrained by the political realities. Second, and as noted, Sinn Féin’s overarching objectives are national – namely trying to attain a United Ireland and increasing public involvement in housing to remedy the current domestic crisis – so its primary gaze will be fixed in places other than Brussels. Third, Ireland remains a very pro-EU country and Sinn Féin understands this explicitly. This limits their potential to adopt anti-Brussels positions consistently. Fourth, the recent example of Syriza in Greece highlights the real constraints imposed on radical left parties that assume political power. The compromise of power will challenge directly Sinn Féin’s mantra of being the radical alternative.Eoin Drea Brexit Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Eurozone Trade
Much ado about nothing? What Sinn Féin in power will mean for Ireland in the EU
11 Feb 2020
A closely watched trial was opened last Monday against suspects in the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The police have yet to identify who commissioned the murder and on what motive, but the investigation is gradually unravelling the kleptocratic functioning of the state apparatus, which uses mafia-style practices for its enrichment. The still incomplete facts that the investigation has revealed show a gruesome picture of linkages between mafia-type oligarchs and the justice system, police and the ruling social democrats’ party. This is the picture of contemporary Slovakia, which was considered until recently to be one of the better democracies of the Visegrad Group. However, its reality today is rather reminiscent of the Balkans in the darker period of the 1990s.
The brutal murder of two innocent people two years ago triggered an unprecedented wave of citizens’ protests whose pressure resulted in a partial government and police reshuffle and replacements at the top of the police force. People’s fervent desire for change and the struggle for a decent Slovakia found their positive reflection in last year’s presidential and European elections. However, it cannot be said today that the same positive wave has survived in the run-up to the parliamentary elections at the end of February. Just the opposite, it risks being transformed into a devastating tsunami, as Slovakia could become another EU member state with a far-right government.
In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal.
This risk can be explained by the fact that the street protests grew silent over time and the hope for change has been replaced by skepticism in the wake of political developments. The main reason is the fragmentation, lack of readiness to cooperate and strong egos, as well as the lack of political experience among the leaders of the democratic opposition.
The opposition consists of Christian democrats, liberals, the party of independent personalities, and three new parties which all compete for leadership of the opposition camp, more so than for voters. The latter group of parties includes that of former President Kiska – Za ľudí (For the People), which has no clear-cut party profile, and over which hangs a shadow of unclear financing of its founder’s presidential campaign. Then there is a conservative-liberal party SPOLU (Together), which will run together with another new party, Progresívne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia), the party on whose ticket President Zuzana Čaputová initially ran. Their programmes are almost identical, calling for a fair and functioning judiciary, better education and health care. All of them declare support for the EU and NATO. However, looking at the demands for strengthening the nation-state at the expense of EU institutions which have been trending in Central Europe and elsewhere, concrete initiatives are missing.
Three scenarios are possible:
1. A government composed of socialists and neo-Nazis
In this scenario, the Social Democrats (SMER) remain the strongest party. Their chairman, former prime minister Robert Fico, plays the gamble and toughens the tone of the campaign by raising fears of immigration and smearing political opponents. His negative rhetoric is close to that of the increasingly stronger neo-Nazi party of Marian Kotleba. They use the motto of restoring order in the country, which implies spreading fear and hostility towards minorities. A possible coalition partner is also the nationalist Slovak National Party whose chairman is a great admirer of the Kremlin and who, as the speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, has long represented a security threat to Slovakia’s interests. To secure a majority, they could be helped by the populist party Sme Rodina (We Are Family), a member of the Identity and Democracy Party. It seems that this party could be tipping the scales in the formation of the coalition. Needless to say, such a government would be a disaster for both Slovakia and the EU.
2. A government of change
In this scenario, the democratic opposition somehow manages to achieve a majority and overcome its differences. That would mean a chance for real change in Slovakia. But the problem is that this opposition is fragmented and focuses more on its internal matters than on the real problems of the country. It lacks a leader capable of unifying six prospective coalition parties. It is former president Kiska who styles himself into that role, reminiscent of the anti-corruption President of Romania, Johannis. However, Kiska’s problem is his inability to convince voters that he is serious about making a transition from the office of the President to that of a Prime Minister. And there is also the question of whether the rest of the opposition would accept him as their leader.
There is a real danger of a standoff if neither side achieves a majority. This is also because of the possibility that, for the first time since the 1989 revolution, no ethnic Hungarian party would cross the parliamentary threshold. This is due to the fragmentation of the Hungarian community, but also to the punishment of the MOST-Hid party for participating in the current coalition alongside nationalists and socialists. This would mean a period of increased turbulence and uncertainty for Slovakia, as well as further fragmentation of the political spectrum. It would also mean a costly waste of time for the country which has been plunged into a deep political and moral crisis. The country needs to rebuild its democratic institutions and return to the reform path of the first decade of this millennium.
But what Slovakia needs most at this moment, is a return to morality and decency on all levels of public life. In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal. This is a unique chance. It is also an obligation for all democrats towards Ján and Martina. Their tragic deaths should not have been in vain. They should, at last, help bring about a wind of change.Viktória Jančošeková Crisis Democracy Elections Political Parties
Elections in Slovakia: More of the same kleptocracy or wind of change?
24 Jan 2020
Ukraine has been making the front page of newspapers all over the world for a couple of weeks now, due to an incriminating phone call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky on 25th July. This conversation, the transcript of which was released on 25th September, led to the launch of an impeachment inquiry of President Trump and to the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. But what have been the consequences for the Ukrainian President? To quote the character of Anatoly Dyatlov from the famous TV series Chernobyl, “not great, not terrible”.
Zelensky has scored an unprecedented victory in the history of Ukraine, being elected President with 73,2%. A popular comedian, with no experience in politics, he has been chosen to lead the country instead of Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky campaigned on memes and irony, promising to free Ukraine from corruption and transform it into a thriving democracy.
However, his gains did not end there. One day after his inauguration as President of Ukraine, Zelensky dissolved the Verkhovna Rada calling for parliamentary snap elections on 21st July. Despite the fact that there was no policy content in most messages during Zelensky’s presidential campaign, Ukrainians rewarded him once again, by giving his party, Servant of the People, an absolute majority in the Parliament – 254 out of 450 seats.
Zelensky is in the most favourable position to turn the country around, controlling all levels of power and having massive support from his electorate. He already delivered on some of his promises made during the campaign, by signing a bill creating the procedure to impeach a president and simplifying the firing of government officials as part of his fight against corruption.
President Zelensky is determined also to lift a longstanding ban on the sale of farmland and start a process of privatization of state-owned enterprises to boost investments and move on with the economic reforms that the country really needs.
And of course one of his biggest accomplishments in his few months of holding the presidency has been the prisoner swap between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, trading 35 prisoners each. Zelensky is undoubtedly more open towards dialogue with Putin than his predecessor and wants to show progress on the conflict resolution in Donbas. Even though the Minsk II Agreement is still far from being implemented the prisoner exchange gave hope to Ukrainians that there might be an end to this war.
However, Zelensky’s presidency is not all fun and games. His reputation is overshadowed by his close relationship with the oligarch Kolomoisky, owner of the 1+1 Channel, where Zelensky’s show was aired, and his alleged sponsor in the elections. Also troubling, the reconfirmation of Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister, an obstructionist to legal reforms who is tainted by numerous corruption allegations that he denies.
The real trouble on the international scene though, began for Zelensky only on September 25, when the White House released a memorandum of a phone conversation between President Trump and Zelensky himself, in late July. Apparently, shortly before this call, Trump had ordered $391.5 million in military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, to then pressure Zelensky to look into the case of Joe Biden’s son in relation to his position on the Board of the oil and gas company Burisma.
The speaker for the US House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump immediately after the release of the memorandum and the first head to fly was that of Kurt Volker. He was appointed as a special envoy on Ukraine in July 2017 and was involved in negotiations over the conflict in Donbas.
Volker has facilitated a meeting between Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Zelensky’s advisor Andriy Yermak, which made him look involved in the scandal. However, Ukraine considers Volker’s resignation a big loss as he was highly regarded in the country and seemed to be the “voice of reason” in the U.S. -Ukraine relations.
This situation, however, did not have a terrible impact on the Ukrainian President. For sure he will have some explaining to do to France and Germany, after openly criticising Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in the incriminating phone call. Zelensky complained about the lack of support to Ukraine from the EU while praising all the United States is doing for his country. However, in the age of unaccountability for what one says, and considering his lack of political experience, he will most likely be quickly forgiven.
With regards to Ukrainian population, if Volodymyr Zelensky brings peace to Donbas, creates better economic conditions for the country and takes even some tiny steps in eradicating corruption, they will not withdraw their support for the new President. According to the Rating Group poll, 71% of Ukrainians are satisfied with Zelensky’s work.
Recent developments in the conflict resolution will gain him even more support among people who feel the war fatigue. On October 1st, Zelensky agreed to the “Steinmeier Formula”, allowing local elections in the Eastern regions of Ukraine under the control of the separatist supported by Russia. One has to agree that with this decision he got back into EU’s good graces quite quickly paving also the way for the Normandy Four meeting.
Even with some missteps along the way, for now, Zelensky is still being given the benefit of the doubt by both the international community and his electorate and at least for the time being his support in the country is likely to stay at 70%.Anna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections Leadership Transatlantic
Not great, not terrible –the repercussions of Ukrainegate
08 Oct 2019
After President Putin came to power in 2000, western Russia experts tried to find hopeful signs that would indicate that Putin’s intention was to make Russia more democratic. However, the Russo-Georgian War crushed these hopes. Since then, for almost ten years, western political scientists have analysed Russia’s developments and any signs of Putin’s problems as a potential end of his political reign.
Despite challenges and economic difficulties, Putin has successfully held onto power. For the past few years many analysts have again changed their views and now predict that Putin will have the potential ability to hold onto power for decades, or maybe even as long as he physically can. For many, the change of leadership in Russia is just wishful thinking.
However, for a considerable amount of time, various opposition representatives have claimed that something is changing in Russia. Western experts, having already been disappointed by unmet expectations, were suspicious if something substantive could change in Russia. Yet Putin’s problems are growing. To start with, Putin is decreasing in popularity.
Various incidents indicate trouble, such as the sudden massive support of the Russian press when journalist Ivan Golunov was arrested, as well as the current strong public reaction after the arrest of Pavel Ustinov, an innocent bystander close to the demonstrations, not to mention the lost positions in local and city elections.
We are still a long way from the fall of Putin. Nevertheless, since Putin’s second presidential term is ending, the question of how he will continue to rule and undermine the constitutional two-term limit of the presidential mandate is still unanswered. Nerves are already growing in Moscow. What will happen after the second term if Putin wants to keep the power, will he be able to protect the interests of the current establishment who have the most at stake?
Even though there would be a regime change, chances are someone that represents the current power establishment would replace Putin. But surprising changes have taken place in Russia before, and might also in the future. It could be that all of a sudden, the West could be facing a Russian government with a truly democratic core. The question for the West, especially after the lessons learned of the Yeltsin era, is how to react in such a situation.
Support both democracy and economy
Vladimir Milov, former Deputy Energy Minister and opposition leader emphasises that both the US and the EU in the early 2000s (when Russia was in transition) failed to deliver a clear message and to offer the carrot and stick approach to Russia. The domestic crackdown of the media during 2000-2004, the consolidation of power and turning elections into a totally government-controlled process, not to mention Russia’s increasing aggression abroad were all issues that the West should have reacted to, but it did not.
According to Milov, in a situation of true regime change in Russia, a good idea would be to establish a system of “autocratic restoration monitoring”, with clear criteria triggering immediate policy reactions in case of new backward trends emerging, for example in conjunction with free trade agreements.
Also according to him, time would be of the essence to achieve strong and quick economic growth, so that Russians would be content with the reforms, and the revisionist sentiment will have less of a chance to reappear. In this, free trade will be essential. Russia’s own domestic market is too small to count on national demand as the driving force behind the potential of quick economic growth.
What will be Russia’s future? From a Western point of view, even the best-case scenario will be complicated.
Milov also points out that in the 1990s and 2000s, slow progress in opening Western markets to Russian goods, tough WTO accession negotiations and protectionist measures by Western governments (including EU agricultural subsidies) were important in cultivating anti-Western sentiment among the Russian elite.
However, a direct comparison of the current situation with the Yeltsin years is not relevant, because during that time Russia was coming out of the Soviet system. Today’s challenges are very different. Milov believes that Russia does not need aid; economic growth and increasing foreign direct investments are enough for progress – Russia needs open markets.
What will be Russia’s future? From a Western point of view, even the best-case scenario will be complicated. Even with the current Russian opposition in power, the road to success will be challenging.
If a more positive government supported by the West and led by democrats takes over, the West needs to be ready to engage their support to make sure that positive political developments are combined with encouraging economic developments. A vocal debate on what the EU can offer democratic Russia will support the Russian opposition forces and could potentially add a positive element to the current state of EU-Russia relations.Tomi Huhtanen Elections EU-Russia
What can the EU offer to democratic Russia?
24 Sep 2019
5 things to remember from the last four weeks:
1. OMG. Turnout increased, for the first time in years, reversing decades of decline. In some member states, like Germany and Poland, the increase in the number of voters going to the polls was spectacular. With more than 50% turnout, the European Parliament elections performed better than the US midterm elections.
This will certainly give a boost to the legitimacy of the European Parliament, but the effect will be short-lived, as in half a year nobody will talk about it anymore. If you’re not convinced of this, ask yourself: did the low turnout in 2009 affect the European Parliament, except for in the immediate post-election analysis season?
2. Wow. The opinion polls were right. A Green wave was expected, but only in the North-West of the Union. Similarly, the Liberals grew, but only because of electoral doping, not because of winning the elections: the extra seats won by the LibDems (a temporary effect that will wear off once Brexit has taken place) and the alliance with Macron’s Renaissance.
Also as predicted, the Grand Coalition of EPP and S&D is not so grand anymore, since it lost its absolute majority for the first time since the direct elections of the Parliament in 1979. But here too there is more continuity than change, as the Grand Coalition already ceased to exist in the second half of the 2014-2019 legislature. Remember that Antonio Tajani was elected President without the support of the S&D Group.
3. Relax. The populists caused a wave, but not a tidal wave. Matteo Salvini and his friends gained seats but have not been able to put together the 3rd largest EP Group. This is basically because of internal disagreements in the ‘populist’ family and because of the decreased popularity of parties like FPÖ and the Danish People’s Party. In other words: the populists are here to stay, but with winners and losers, like everyone else.
4. More representative? Seriously? Some claimed the new European Parliament is more representative. Fine, but wait, more representative vis-à-vis what or whom? Thanks to the Green and the populist wave, the new Parliament is certainly differently composed – and much more fragmented – compared with the outgoing Parliament; but that is exactly what elections are for.
Or are some claiming that the votes in 2014 were not representative? Or that voters in 2014 did not vote for the right parties? If it means that a new parliament is more up to date with the voters’ opinion, then it applies to every election, not only this one, and as such the statement is meaningless.
5. Stability versus change. During the campaign, but also when the votes are cast and the battle for interpretation starts, some favour stability, while some favour change. Interestingly, on election night EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made a plea for stability, stating that now it is not the time for revolution.
ALDE Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager, by contrast, reminded the audience that as the Commissioner responsible for Competition Policy, she worked to break corporate monopolies, and announced her intention to do the same with political monopolies. Clearly, Vestager wants to oust the EPP from the Commission Presidency.
PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans was much more diplomatic – after all, that is his profession. He had probably already foreseen that an anti-EPP-coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the extreme-left would still narrowly lack a majority.
5 things to look forward in the coming days and weeks:
1. The informal European Council two days after the elections resulted in a draw. Neither the heads of state and government nor the European Parliament group leaders were able to impose something, neither a Spitzenkandidat nor the end of the Spitzenkandidaten system.
While the Europarty delegations meet in order to help forward the search for a package deal (Commission, European Council, Parliament and European Central Bank presidents), Donald Tusk has the formal task of finding a majority within the European Council for the nomination of a new Commission President. If he fails to do so by 20-21 June, there is still some time left for an extra Summit before the new Parliament meets on 2 July.
2. The first thing the European Parliament has to do, however, is to vote on a president. Likely, this will indicate the composition of the working majority for the 2019-2024 legislature.
3. Next, onto the positions, where there is an ongoing battle over content. Formally, the Commission is in charge of setting the agenda for the next five years, given its prerogative of legislative initiative. However, both the European Council and the European Parliament want to have a say on this strategic agenda. In other words: will the new deputies or the member state governments decide what the priorities of the new Commission will be?
4. Once the Commission President-elect is known, national governments will be asked to nominate their Commissioners. This raises the question: what kind of strategy will the governments of Poland, Hungary, etc. follow? Will they oppose the Commission by sending candidates with clear Eurosceptic profiles, relying on these Trojan horses to undermine from within? Or will they accommodate the new Commission President, hoping to receive powerful portfolios for their Commissioners in return?
5. Brexit. Exactly in the same period, the Tories will choose a new leader. He (there are no female candidates left) will become the new UK Prime Minister. In any case, October 31st is the new Brexit deadline. Preparing for a no-deal scenario or granting another extension will be the responsibility of the ancien regime, but whatever the outcome will be, it will be an issue on the table for everyone taking up political responsibility in the EU for the forthcoming 5 years.Steven Van Hecke Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership
Steven Van Hecke
4 weeks after the European Elections: what to remember and what to watch out for?
19 Jun 2019
Now that some of the dust has settled, the European People’s Party should start drawing the lessons of the EP2019 election and define the agenda ahead. The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, at its annual Think-In with its member foundations across the EU in Prague in early June, has developed a list of points to be considered. They are based on the individual reflections of member foundation representatives, and are subdivided into four chapters:
Any deep post-electoral analysis begins with the questions: who are we? Who do we want to be? Much has been made of the obsoleteness of the classical left-right divide in politics. Many claim that in the wake of the crisis of the West, and more specifically the economic and migration crises of the last 10 years, the new paradigm is ‘open vs. closed’, pitting global, liberal thinking and borders open for migration and trade against local, traditional thinking and protectionism in terms of trade and migration. Against that backdrop, it does seem logical to look for a new self-description of the EPP political family. Alas, it is no coincidence that in the open vs. closed paradigm, the EPP has a foot in both camps. If we let that rift grow, it will weaken and eventually destroy us.
But if we turn this weakness into a strength, by maintaining and actually reinforcing a common bond beyond and above the new political divide, then we can still remain Europe’s strongest political force. Such a bond is most likely to be found in the combination of Christian Democrat, conservative, liberal and centrist political thought that has already defined our political family in the past decades. If a new term better suits this complex picture than the time-honoured labels ‘people’s party’ and ‘centre right’, then let’s go for it. But it will be no easy task.
Out of the many strategic conundrums for our political family, three stand out:
- Who is the enemy? Until the late 2000s, the answer on the European level was clear: our main competitor (but also permanent cooperation partner in the EP) were the Socialists. Extremists left and right were enemies, but not so relevant. Since the economic crisis after 2008, and especially since the migration crisis after 2015, the populists (mainly from the right) have increased in strength, while social media has helped them garner attention and create echo-chambers. Since 2017, the European Liberals have become more of a competitor, with Macron’s attempt to repeat on the EU level the total remodelling of the party system that he successfully managed in France. Finally, the Greens have now emerged as a serious competitor, at least in North Western member states.
- Copy and original: in the debate about the proper centre right answer to populism, one often repeated statement stands out: If we try to copy the populists, the voters will always prefer the original to the copy. That is as often true as it is false. It just depends on the circumstances in place. But the dilemma can now be extended to our new struggle to come to grips with the popularity of the climate change issue and the rise of the Greens in some important member states. The challenge here is to address climate policy more intensively, but using tools and approaches of the centre right, not trying to copy the regulatory approaches of the Greens.
- Maintaining unity: the EPP political family has seen a constant expansion since the 1980 in terms of member parties, which has automatically led to a wider variety of political standpoints. If this unity has now begun to falter (as in Spain and France, for example), the position of the EPP as the strongest political family is in serious jeopardy. Maintaining unity, however, presupposes defining and strengthening what still binds us together: fundamental values such as freedom/responsibility, subsidiarity etc. But maintaining unity can also mean saying goodbye to member parties which are endangering cohesion.
Europe’s centre right has a number of classical areas of competence: first and foremost, these are security and economics – meaning defence and homeland security as well as fiscal prudence and policies leading to economic growth. Migration, the most important topic for many Europeans 2015-2018, has – to some extent – become an issue of competence for the centre right, at least more than the left. But in #EP2019, a number of new issues have emerged that are calling for more attention from the EPP political family:
- Climate: there is near universal consensus that the climate topic is important, that it is here to stay and that the EPP so far has not excelled in climate policy. Having said that, it is still important to keep in mind that the boost for the Greens has happened only in a North-Western minority of member states: practically the entire South, as well as the East of the EU are not affected for the moment. And of course, climate policy may be replaced by other, even more urgent topics, in a few years, such as migration or the economy.
- City-countryside gap: the growing divergence in lifestyles, socio-economic challenges and political attitudes couldn’t be more obvious. While taking into account the interests of city dwellers, the EPP political family would neglect the countryside at its own peril: France’s Yellow Vests are a case in point.
- Middle class: the ‘squeezed middle’ – in terms of work-life-balance, education, gender equality, income/taxation etc., has been a favoured topic of many member parties in recent years. This should be maintained as a trademark.
- Christian Europe: some member parties strongly favour this as a priority while others believe in a more eclectic message, focusing on a broader array of values, civic rights and an inclusive approach to other religions. It will be a challenge to create consensus on this.
- Digital: the future of the internet, especially the balance between corporate-driven innovation, privacy, freedom and fighting abuse, is another issue that warrants more attention from the EPP.
- Electoral coalitions: several successes (in Poland, for example) have shown that in specific contexts, such as small countries or constituencies with single or few seats, creating joint electoral lists with other political parties may be the only chance for the EPP parties to maintain or expand their strength.
- Communication: a constant challenge for centre right parties, especially when faced with populists and Greens. This goes far beyond the right use of social media, and extends to using less bureaucratic language in general, and be more open to entertainment as a factor in politics. Being less boring and yet maintaining the EPP’s political salience is the challenge here.
- Outreach to the young generation: in several member states (this time not only in the Northwest), the centre right is now risking to lose young voters on a scale last seen in Western Europe in the 1970s. This refers to policy issues (climate change, digital, education) but above all to styles of communication, transparency etc. as well as including more young candidates on electoral lists.
- Personalities: without charismatic leaders appealing to large numbers of voters, the EPP has no future. That’s a so-called no-brainer. And yet, a direct succession from one charismatic leader to the next is the exception rather than the rule. Recruitment of leaders and smooth leadership transitions are areas for the EPP to work on.
After #EP2019: first points for a centre-right roadmap
14 Jun 2019
The aim of the current In Brief is to explore the possible disinformation threats in view of the European elections in May 2019. European voters are exposed to similar negative narratives and strategic disinformation campaigns which managed to influence a large number of citizens in the run-up of the US Presidential election and UK European Union membership referendum in 2016. The analysis also explores ways to tackle future malign information operations by proposing specific policy recommendations for strengthening the European and national institutional capacity and also obliging digital companies to improve their efforts in the fight against disinformation.Elections EU Institutions EU Member States Internet Technology
European Parliament Elections: the Disinformation Challenge
24 May 2019
In the era of populism old ideas are being rolled out again. One of them is the concept of basic income, which has recently been circulating in many political debates in various member countries and international conferences, including Davos and the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this year. Many variations of basic income are on the table, and some have even been translated into electoral promises, for example Five Star’s late proposal on Citizens’ income.
Finland’s former government actually ran a pilot project on basic income, whereby 2,000 people across Finland were paid a tax-exempt income of 560 euros for two years. Participants were unemployed, and no other conditions were required to receive the payment.
The pilot project received much more enthusiasm from outside Finland than within Finland itself. The main reason might be that while outside Finland the pilot project was taken as an indication of structural change to the whole social welfare system, in Finland the project was really seen as just a test, mainly launched to realise a long-standing objective of the Prime Minister’s Centre Party.
The first set of results came out more than a month ago. While more specific studies are yet to be published, these results indicate that while people receiving the income were happier, the income did not have an impact on the employment status of the test group.
In Finland, reactions have not been enthusiastic. Heikki Hiilamo, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki, has commented on the preliminary results of Finland’s basic income experiment, noting that effects on the labour market were minimal, and survey results demonstrating that basic income recipients had better subjective well-being are questionable.
These results indicate that while people receiving the income were happier, the income did not have an impact on the employment status of the test group.
Taking the results into account, it is not surprising that with the Finnish parliamentary elections taking place in just two weeks’ time (on 14 April), and with other reforms taking centre stage of discussions, the basic income topic has faded away totally from the electoral debate. Indeed, while many parties initially made proposals they called ‘basic income’, after it was pointed out that these proposals do not really respect the basic definition, the label was dropped.
Reflecting on the results of the basic income experiment, Finnish politicians Juhanna Vartiainen and Asmo Maaselkä pointed out that basic income is not suitable for a developed country like Finland, especially if it happens to be of large geographical size. Basic income is not able to equalise the cost of living in different parts of the country in the same way as income support can, nor does basic income adapt to the situations of different families.
Basic income would possibly suit countries with low levels of basic security and a low cost of living with a lot of low-skilled work not requiring higher education, i.e. developing countries, not countries in Europe.
Introducing real basic income would mean radical reform of labour market structures
In addition, basic income cannot be debated without speaking about compatibility with labour market structures, starting with incentives for the labour market to target specific groups, such as young people without qualifications.
In order to ensure that getting and applying for a job would remain attractive, the society-wide labour contracts would need to be rethought if basic income were introduced, as would the minimum wage and the prohibition of zero-hour contracts, for example. This was obviously not done in Finland due to the temporary nature of the experiment, and the results speak for themselves: there was no boost in the integration of people into the job market.
If the cost neutrality of introducing basic income is taken as a guideline, the problem of basic income to the political left becomes obvious. Already existing support, allowance and regulatory structures which have been dear to the left would need to be erased. As an example, the Finnish Social Democrats (SDP) oppose the basic income.
The entry of basic income into Finnish political discussions appears temporary based on what we can see from the current debate. However, the debate around basic income is useful; complex social support systems and overlapping unemployment benefit schemes need reform and simplification in most European countries.
The need for simplification most likely means that in many countries some variation of a universal credit system will be debated, but as UK’s experience with the universal credit system shows, simplification of multi-layer system takes a lot of effort.
In a similar way to Finland’s political debate, many proposed models will be called ‘basic income’, but in reality represent only some variation of it. Pure basic income will hardly be introduced in European countries, but simplification of our current social and unemployment allowance systems is absolutely needed.Tomi Huhtanen Economy Elections EU Member States Jobs Social Policy
Basic income is basically unworkable – so let’s drop it
02 Apr 2019
In the last few years, digital platforms and social networks have provided a space for conspiracy theorists and theories to reach thousands of online users. As a consequence, some conspiracy theories have become part of the political debate at both the national and international levels. This policy brief provides a data-driven comparative analysis of a group of conspiracy-oriented Twitter accounts in Spain, Germany and Poland. The analysis suggests that there is a thematic alignment between conspiracy circles and populists.
In particular, the data shows that both have similar positions on the mainstream media, the corrupt nature of governmental institutions and migration. Moreover, the analysis indicates that there are users who are active both nationally and internationally and give a conspiratorial reading of current affairs that influences populist approaches to these same issues.Crisis Democracy Elections Populism Society
Suspicious minds: Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Populism
11 Feb 2019
2019 is an important year for politicians all over Europe: MEPs running for re-election in the European Parliament, Spitzenkandidaten working to secure support for the top floor of Berlaymont, and eurosceptics finding common ground to disrupt the Union.
Another top job is up for grabs in a country which aims to become a member of the EU in the near future – the presidency of Ukraine. With elections scheduled for March 31, 30 candidates registered so far for the highest office of the country.
Candidacies were announced at different moments: the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko came forward only a few days ago, formally announcing that he’ll run for elections on 29 January. His main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko declared her participation on 22 January, even though her slogan “New Course for Ukraine” was everywhere to be seen on billboards alongside Ukrainian roads for already some months.
The actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi broke the news to his audience on 31 January during an appearance on TV. As a follow up, Zelenskyi launched a website, on which he extends an invitation to join his team, putting forward one condition: the applicants must have zero experience in politics.
Every candidate promises something new and pledges to do the job better than his or her opponents. Poroshenko promises to apply for a full membership to the EU in 2024, as well as to lead Ukraine to NATO; Tymoshenko suggests a new constitution, a new economy and a new social system; Zelenskyi is not making any promises, but is gaining traction for being anti-establishment and disconnected from the “old system”.
Other candidates like Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, plays with words such as “decisive change”; Oleh Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party, is travelling across the country to show he is a man of the people; Anatolyi Hrytsenko, the former Defense Minister of Ukraine said he would deal with corruption and the oligarchic system of power in the country.
However, the one thing that is missing in the platforms of all the candidates is a clear plan for achieving peace in Donbass. The war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine is entering in its 6th year and the solution is nowhere to be seen. The Minsk Agreements were revealed to be a failure, trapping the actors in a vicious circle considering Russia’s and Ukraine’s opposite positions and interpretation of the 13 points contained in the document.
The new President of Ukraine will have a tough job in handling the conflict resolution, as one thing that has emerged from polls is that for 72% of Ukrainians peace in Donbass is a number one priority.
While all candidates state that they plan to bring peace to the nation, no one is ready to share technicalities of how they plan to achieve the goal. Tymoshenko suggests a “Budapest+” negotiation format involving the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, skillfully avoiding to explain what she is ready to compromise – although she is thought to be willing to go pretty far to accommodate Putin.
Zelenskyi’s “we’ll meet in the middle” approach also does not say much about what exactly he is ready to give to Putin. For Poroshenko, making any concessions to the Kremlin would be a political suicide, therefore trapping him in the current deadlock.
One thing that is quite clear to all candidates is that the Minsk agreements cannot be fulfilled and that there is a need for a new approach. However, anyone who is open to dialogue with the separatists would be seen as making concessions to Putin and lose public support. In fact, if there is something positive about Russian aggression in Ukraine, is that it strengthened the people’s unity and created a stronger Ukrainian identity.
The lack of openly pro-Russian candidates in the 2019 elections is indeed a major difference from all the other elections ever held in Ukraine. Even Yuryi Boyko, the candidate of the Russian friendly party Opposition Block, is careful in phrasing his campaign, reiterating that he represents interests of all Ukrainians “regardless of what language they speak and what church they go to’’.
Despite the fact that Opposition Block is portraying itself as “the party of peace”, it will be very difficult for Boyko to top the list given that he is perceived as the successor of the Party of Regions, which formally ceased to exist after Yanukovych fled the country in 2014.
The problem is that at the moment there are no meaningful alternatives to Minsk agreements and that at least some compromises have to be made. OSCE is working on a new peace plan which would include the deployment of UN peacekeepers, a provisional international government, and the setting up of a reconstruction agency in the currently Russian-occupied region of Ukraine’s east, but Putin immediately rejected the idea.
One thing to take into account is that Ukrainians do not vote based on party ideology, but rather on the personality of the candidate. The weakness of ideology in political parties and the prominence of party leaders have always characterised the country’s system.
Therefore, for the final result it is not important if the party of the candidate places itself on the right or left of the political spectrum, but rather if the people trust Poroshenko, Tymoshenko and the other names on the presidential list to deliver on what they are promising.
For sure Poroshenko’s eyes are on the West. With his 2019 election slogan “Army, Language, Faith” he managed to score two out of three points so far, making Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools across the country and obtaining autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
According to him, “only full EU and NATO membership would completely and irreversibly guarantee the independence of our Ukrainian state and Ukrainian national security”, so seeking a second mandate could maybe help him fulfil the slogan and lay out a strategy for seeking the light and the end of the tunnel.
Photo by Denys Rodionenko on UnsplashAnna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Leadership
War and Peace: the struggle that awaits the winner of Ukraine’s top job
05 Feb 2019
This paper critically reflects on the development and implications of the Spitzenkandidaten system. It makes three claims. First, it argues that, despite the assertions of many commentators, this system did not appear out of the blue in 2014 but has a much longer history.
Since the Maastricht Treaty, a series of steps have been taken that have clearly led the way to this outcome and, in fact, may even lead beyond it. These steps, including the role of the European People’s Party, are explained here as they cast a different light on the whole process, without which the success of the Spitzenkandidaten system cannot be properly understood.
Second, the paper claims that, from a political–institutional point of view, the system implicitly promotes the parliamentarisation of the EU architecture and might eventually lead to a stronger EU executive and a weaker European Parliament, as is the case in most national parliamentary systems. This would be the opposite of what many of its supporters would like to see.
Third, the paper concludes that, in order to avoid this unintended consequence and fulfil the democratic potential of the Spitzenkandidaten system, the current procedure must be understood as an intermediate step on the road to the direct election of the president of the EU. This, however, requires its success and consolidation in 2019. The paper thus ends with some recommendations that will help to make this happen.Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties
25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What Does the Future Hold?
06 Nov 2018
The information space that is used by voters, politicians and interest groups in Western nations is being contested and challenged by new risks and threats, both from within and from without. The aim of this report is to identify some of the main vulnerabilities with respect to current forms of political subversion, and to propose a set of policy principles to guide ongoing reflections on how best to respond to that challenge.
Four areas of vulnerability are identified, namely individualised political messaging, group dynamics and political polarisation, platform algorithms and self-radicalisation, and falsehood dissemination dynamics. This leads to the formulation of four proposed policy principles, followed by a discussion of the extent to which recent measures, in selected Western nations and at EU level, are sufficient to address the challenge at hand.Democracy Elections Internet Technology
Political Subversion in the Age of Social Media
22 Oct 2018
The outcome of the 2016 British referendum on EU membership will have significant and lasting consequences. For the United Kingdom and its relations with European neighbours, for the constitutional fabric of the British State and for the EU at a time of uncertainty over the future of the European project. The consequences of this decision will have no greater impact however than on the still-fragile peace process known as the ‘Good Friday’ or Belfast Agreement, negotiated in 1998 by parties representing Northern Ireland’s principal cultural communities and the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This historic event brought to an end decades of political violence and centuries of sectarian bitterness, or so it was thought at the time. Brexit has thrown into doubt the future of that peace process.Brexit Elections EU Member States Leadership
Brexit and the Irish question, Part one: Ireland’s Slow Road to Peace
20 Sep 2018
Over the past 15 years, the space for civic engagement in Russia has continuously shrunk, and it looks set to be cut further during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term. Following a wave of repressive measures, it is already more restricted than it has been since 1991. Non-governmental organisations and activists have been stripped of funds as their activities have been criminalised.
They increasingly face a double disconnect: from international partners and within their own society. The clampdown on civil society reflects the growing repression of Russian society as a whole. But growing local initiatives and rising protests across the country undercut the narrative that Russian civil society is dead.
And despite the pressure, Russian civil society is proving to be more active, resilient and diverse than is generally assumed. It continues to have new ideas and the capacity to be a key agent of development and social change in Russia. Many groups and individuals continue to have a vision for the country’s future and are willing to work with Western partners. The example of Ukraine shows that civil society is an indispensable factor in overcoming the authoritarian legacy of post-Soviet societies.Democracy Elections EU-Russia Society Values
Filling the Void: Why the EU Must Step Up Support for Russian Civil Society
27 Apr 2018
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says: I’ll try again tomorrow! Mary Ann Radmacher
In May 2019, about 400 million EU citizens are called to elect a new European Parliament: A Parliament which may seem physically remote from most of them but whose decisions increasingly affect their daily lives, as its decision making powers have consistently grown over recent decades.
In this context, it seems completely logical to me that, as a Dutch citizen, I should be able to elect by direct universal suffrage a Spanish member of the European Parliament, or that a Greek could elect an Estonian – just as in most EU member states, I can elect at least part of the representatives to national or regional legislative assemblies on the basis of values, principles and political programmes, irrespective of where precisely they hail from.
This is why the growing importance of the EU in general, and the growing competences of the European Parliament in particular sooner or later had to lead to a debate about transnational lists in European elections, too. It began in earnest in 2009 with the own initiative report of Andrew Duff (MEP) in the AFCO committee of the European Parliament. At the time, all major political parties applauded the idea of the introduction of a pan-European constituency. The core of his proposal was to create a legal basis for members to be elected to primarily defend European values, not some narrow locally or nationally defined interest.
But at the time, too many questions marks remained open and there was no time also for the national legislations, election lists and national campaigns to adapt to a new proposal. Nevertheless, the underlying logic of the Duff report was perfectly reasonable – and remains so today, even though basic elements such as the Europe-wide constituency have been blocked by the European Council.
Fortunately, after the Duff report failure, most of the European political families, based on an ambitious interpretation of the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted and promoted the so called Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) process without any formal decision by the European Parliament and rules elaborating on this process.
The Spitzenkandidaten are so important in this context because they help to polarise, politicise and personalise the European elections, thereby at the same time increasing the democratic legitimacy of the Commission President and the Parliament. This success story shows that, if the political will exists, ‘Just do it!’ is sometimes the right formula. And learning by doing often really works.
In 2014, the issue of transnational lists resurfaced, with much the same result as before. And sure enough, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, this year the debate started again. The goals were the same as before: Further closing the gap between the citizens and the European Union and fostering democracy by giving more decision making power to the citizens – all long-standing expectations by citizens from the EU institutions.
But the overall situation has changed fundamentally: While the economic and financial crisis is over, populism and anti-European behaviour are still on the rise, fuelled by the migration crisis. Brexit is coming. Again, the same reluctance as in the past has halted progress on transnational lists.
The EPP political family is, in principle, a strong defender of this idea, as we were in the Spitzenkandidaten process that was also new in 2014. But it seems that the incomprehensible technicalities of the difficult and complex proposal were the factor that really made the idea of transnational lists fail again this time round.
The proposal, as it was, threatened to fuel Euroscepticism and parliamentary candidates more known for their harsh, noisy and loud statements than for the European spirit. The proponents of this project also lost the media battle, increasing fears among moderate Europarty candidates of losing the battle against Euroscepticism, endangering their future jobs.
The debate will continue: Europe always needs more time to digest bigger changes. One only needs to remember the debates on a common currency before finally adopting the Euro: They took 17 years. The next proposal, for the 2024 elections, must be better prepared, easier to grasp and tabled in time for national parliaments to adapt their legislation for the European elections.
Most importantly, Europeans need to increase their knowledge of each other and of the EU institutions: More education on Europe in schools, extending the Erasmus programme, introducing free Interrail tickets for 18-year-olds. I believe we will see the day in which it is not only possible, but a normality for European voters that French can vote for Latvians, or Irish people for Swedes.
Meanwhile, it is up to us in the big European party families to maintain and nurture, with a special kind of courage and persistence, the enthusiasm for an ever closer Union – because to that, there is no alternative.Juan Magaz Elections EU Institutions European People's Party Political Parties
Transnational lists: a wonderful idea in an EU without wonders
27 Apr 2018
Many of the outcomes of the March 4 Italian parliamentary elections were highly predictable and, indeed, correctly foreseen. However, the extent to which this vote marked a radical request for change and is a turning point in Italian politics comes – if not as a surprise – as a confrontation with reality. It is now time to make sense of this new reality and try to analyse what is happening in Italy. Here are three points from which to start the analysis.
1. Almost 55% of Italians voted for populist, anti-establishment and euro-sceptic forces
Does this mean that Italian people are radicalising? Hopefully not. Surely, there is a certain degree of anger in the air, but extremism remains a marginal, yet dangerous phenomenon. Actually, many of those who expressed a “protest vote” in this election belong to the so-called “moderate electorate”.
Middle-class households, entrepreneurs, but also factory workers, unemployed people of different ages and social status and young people deprived of opportunities in a country which, unfortunately, seems to have increasingly less to offer. Put simply, these are ordinary people. They feel betrayed and are disappointed in the parties which they traditionally voted for and are hoping to see their conditions improve.
The Five Star Movement, the League and Brothers of Italy (a smaller far-right party belonging to the centre-right coalition) travelled across the country in recent months and years. They met with people and they made them feel heard. They showed empathy to their problems and offered simple (if not unfeasible) solutions.
In the South of Italy, the Five Star Movement presented a platform that prioritised addressing the regions high levels of poverty, unemployment, and corruption. They promised more jobs, a tough approach to corruption and privileges, as well as to introduce a universal basic income that gave everybody the means to conduct a decent life.
They met with people and they made them feel heard. They showed empathy to their problems and offered simple (if not unfeasible) solutions.
In the most productive regions of Italy, especially the North, entrepreneurs are frustrated by bureaucratic burdens and an unsustainable level of taxation. Here, the League proposed a flat tax of 15% in conjunction with a commitment to abolish many of the existing burdensome administrative constraints.
Nationwide, for many years Italy has struggled with issues surrounding migration and security, and the perception of a lack of support from the European Union has resulted in increases in euro-scepticism and anti-European sentiment. There is also an increasingly widespread belief that, all in all, Italian people are not better off within the European Union, which is being criticised for imposing too many constraints without sufficient benefits and solidarity in return.
Under these conditions, it is quite understandable how much the nationalistic recipes of populist parties and their promises to take back control over the country’s policies resonated amongst the ordinary people. Are all of the above promises deliverable? Probably not. However, they included what many Italians needed to hear.
In the most productive regions, especially the North, entrepreneurs are frustrated by bureaucratic burdens and an unsustainable level of taxation.
Hope for radical change and concern for the present and future conditions mobilized a large majority of the 73% of the electorate that voted. On the one hand, the Five Star Movement alone got more than 32% of the votes, becoming the largest political force in Italy.
Another reason for their success was the reassuring tones of its 31-year-old leader Luigi Di Maio. He managed to convince the relative majority of Italian voters to trust the M5S, in spite of emerging scandals surrounding its members and its multiple failures in holding concrete administrative responsibilities (such as the messy situation in Rome).
On the other hand, the League of Matteo Salvini reached around 18%, evolving from a regional movement – the former “Northern” League – to a national party. Brothers of Italy scored around 4%. The three parties – in particular the M5S and the League – represent different types of populism, which makes Italy an interesting case.
2. Unsurprisingly, the big success of populist movements was coupled with the worst results ever of the two mainstream parties
Within the centre-right – which came out of the elections as the winning coalition with around 37% of the vote – the League was larger than Berlusconi’s party for the first time, and Salvini is now laying claim to the leadership of the coalition. Such a result would make it more difficult for the moderate elements of the centre-right to avoid far-right shifts in its internal balances. This is especially true on subjects like migration, security and commitment to the European Union and the Eurozone.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party fell from the 40% achieved in the 2014 European Elections to less than 20%. A massive failure which is worse than anybody (including Renzi himself) could have ever imagined and which is coherent with the general trend that many centre-left, social-democrat parties are currently experiencing across Europe and beyond.
What is the future of mainstream parties in general? Italy is not alone in dealing with this dilemma.
3. Besides the rise of populism and the crisis of traditional parties, the current Italian electoral law delivered a hung Parliament with no clear solutions
Indeed, at present neither the M5S nor the centre-right coalition have the majority required for forming a stable government (estimated to 40%). With so much political fragmentation, it was clear from the beginning that such a system would have not helped in delivering a clear outcome.
What’s next? Nobody knows. According to the Italian Constitution, the situation is now in the hands of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who will meet with all the parties and see if there is a viable solution or if new elections must be called. Among many uncertainties, the only certainty is that both the Five Star Movement – as the winning party – and the League – as the major shareholder in the winning centre-right coalition – will play an important role in what is expected to be a long process of negotiations.
Indeed, Italian voters sent a very clear message that Mattarella will have to take into consideration in the exercise of his constitutional powers. Given the absence of a clear winner and majority, it is possible that the President of the Republic, before taking any decision, decides to wait at least until the election of the Presidents of the two Chambers – scheduled on March 23 – and see if there is clear evidence of a possible stable majority in the Parliament.
Everything will depend on the availability of the main players to make compromises and on their ability to put together a wider majority.
The whole process will probably take some time. In this sense, Italy is facing political challenges that other European democracies have also been facing. It is too early to make more precise predictions and, at this stage, any speculations on possible scenarios could easily prove wrong. Everything will depend on the availability of the main players to make compromises and on their ability to put together a wider majority.
Both the M5S and the League seem open to dialogue: yet, they remain firm in their positions and they cannot take the risk of betraying their respective electorate by consenting to any “inciucio” (deal done under the table, particularly with rivals). The margin of manoeuvre is very narrow. European and international partners are watching Italian developments carefully.
Italy could come up with a solution which keeps populist initiatives under rational control. On the other hand, a deeper focus on national interest and a changed attitude towards external partners could also emerge. Is this the beginning of Italy’s “Third Republic”? It seems that the transition has begun.Margherita Movarelli Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Populism
Three points to make sense of the Italian elections outcome
07 Mar 2018
During the 2018 February plenary session, the European Parliament voted on its future composition after the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided to redistribute 27 of the current 73 UK seats among several EU member states which have been previously under-represented. The full-list of the proposed allocations can be found here.
The house also debated whether some of the remaining available seats should be taken by MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency and through a ‘transnational list’ which would complement the national lists in the 2019 European elections. The European Parliament (EP) eventually voted against the proposal for transnational lists.
What happens to the UK seats if there is no actual Brexit?
The current 73 UK MEPs have been democratically elected for a full mandate until May 2019. These seats will not be available to the UK after the withdrawal from the EU becomes legally effective (expected on 29 March 2019). The EP proposed text specifies that in case the UK is still a member of the EU at the time of the 2019 elections these changes will not take place.
The idea of transnational lists is great because I would be able to vote for candidates who would represent the European Union interests, correct?
Not really. This is already the case with the traditionally elected MEPs who are sworn to represent the European Union’s interests while also remaining accountable to their national constituencies. Current MEPs sit in pan-European political families which are at the centre of the everyday work of the Parliament.
The political engagement of every MEP within his European political family is key for his successful committee and legislative file work. Historically, most traditionally elected MEPs have guarded the Union interest and advanced pro-integration legislation whilst serving as a link between the national electorate and the supranational institution. Why destroy this link with transnational MEPs?
But don’t you want to see a new type of Parliamentarians?
Transnational MEPs would actually have to choose a European political family to align with and sit together with the ‘traditional’ ones or become independent. These ‘new’ Parliamentarians could demand additional legitimacy from their political family due to their allegedly upgraded mandate but would essentially have exactly the same rights and obligations as a traditional MEP. Becoming independent would leave them with limited speaking time, visibility, resources and overall ability to influence legislation which would be the exact opposite of the ideal pan-European delegate.
What about making the MEPs more visible and strengthening the connection between voters and elected Members?
This is precisely why having transnational lists would be a bad idea. The question can be answered with a series of open questions. How would a Member who has been elected with a different number of votes from different member states be held accountable? With which national electorate would they spend time during the weeks designated for constituency work?
In what language would they communicate to their electorate? If the delegate eventually opens offices in his/her native member state and interacts with a local audience, what would be the point of having a transnational mandate?
The old proverb “One who is everywhere is nowhere” would apply fully in this case.
Why not have a truly European race for votes in a European-wide constituency?
The European-wide constituency was previously proposed in 2015 as part of the reform to the Electoral law of the EU. The file is still pending in the Council of the EU which is effectively stopping its development because of a lack of member state support. Even if the EP had voted in favour of transnational lists for 2019, this probably wouldn`t have been implemented in practice as the decision requires the unanimous approval of European heads of state or government (European Council).
Having a single constituency for the 2019 elections which is based on proportional representation remains practically impossible. Such changes would have to be agreed beforehand with national/regional parliaments and implemented in national electoral laws on very short notice. Practical issues remain regarding the feasibility of hundreds of candidates campaigning across the EU in a 30-day time period to audiences with diverse political, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
Globally there is no country or federation with such a huge number of eligible voters which produces proportionally elected Members from a single constituency. One might argue that the Spitzenkandidat process brings about an informal EU-wide constituency which actually works because it produces a single winner (see below).
So I guess being against transnational lists makes you anti-European?
Quite the contrary. Rushing in transnational lists in 15 months would produce an unbalanced process which could achieve an anti-European effect. The system would naturally give an advantage to bigger member states as they would cast the biggest number of ballots and most likely produce additional ‘bonus’ seats for Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
An attempt to balance such a system with national, gender and maximum member quotas would take a lot of time and additionally cause party/voter frustration. Such a hasty top-down decision would backfire and be seen as an elite-driven initiative for institutional legitimacy which would further discourage voters and cement the `second order` status EP elections.
The short time-frame for actual campaigning and communicating such a change would create very polarized voter groups (convinced anti-EU and strong pro-federalist segments) and ultimately produce extremely diverging MEPs who wouldn`t represent true transnational sentiment.
How about engaging more EU citizens and contributing to the formation of a European demos?
The million-euro question about active citizen engagement on a regional, national and European level remains indeed open. However, we shouldn`t expect supranational institutions to be the only inventors and promoters of a European identity which may turn out to be artificial. The European Citizens` Initiative has been operational for more than 5 years and has produced disappointing results. This is a good example of how a top-down idea promising citizen involvement defeats its own purpose.
The sensible goal for the 2019 elections would be to promote the lead candidate process (Spitzenkandidat) in which the European political families campaign their manifestos along with their leading candidate who they nominate for President of the European Commission. This is a workable solution which de facto produces a European-wide constituency as it is best suited to present a single winner from an extremely large number of votes.
The 2014 EP elections were the first in which the new Commission president was elected with the support of the winning party and not appointed after a high-level political compromise behind closed doors. This achievement essentially gives European political parties a campaign face and makes the small but necessary step for politicizing EP election campaigns further.Dimitar Lilkov Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties
Q&A: why introducing transnational lists in the 2019 European elections is a bad idea
15 Feb 2018
The Czech parliamentary election took place on 20-21 October 2017. The election resulted in a victory of protest parties. Their triumph was more resounding than expected. The election outcome is clearly part of the revolt against the established elites that is spreading across the West. Consequences for Czech internal and external policies remain unclear.
Bafflingly, the populist triumph in Czechia occurred amidst economic growth of almost 3 per cent. Unemployment rates are at a historic minimum, 2.9 per cent, currently the lowest in the EU. 200 000 jobs are not filled, and salaries have been rising in line with the increased demand for labour. It was also the issues of salaries, not immigration, that dominated pre-election debates.
Whether an economic protest on that part of the population which feels left behind, or a cultural one against globalisation, or simply better communication by the various protest parties, support for those who profess challenging the establishment has never been so high.
Nine parties were elected to the Chamber of Deputies. This means a highly fragmented parliament. Composing a government that commands at least 101 deputies in a 200-member house will be an exercise fraught with difficulties. The four protest parties that made it to the chamber of deputies received 134 mandates. Astonishingly, they took the first, third, fourth and fifth position among the nine parties.
The ANO (Yes) movement of Andrej Babiš won by a landslide, receiving 78 seats. Babiš is a highly controversial figure. He is a billionaire who came to his riches during the privatisation process in the 1990s. He runs his movement as a private company (some people say he ‘owns’ his movement) and tolerates no internal dissent. He has been able to attract considerable new talent to politics–including a number of capable women–at a time when the other political parties continued complaining that no-one wanted to go into politics any more.
Babiš resembles Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Italian Five Star Movement, by espousing an eclectic, in fact unidentifiable, political programme, and by regularly contradicting himself. Like another Italian politician, Silvio Berlusconi, Babiš has been able to accumulate economic, media and political power. Like Berlusconi, he is a master of marketing, and like Berlusconi, he is being investigated by the police for fraud, a fact that does not disturb his voters.
Like Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, Babiš’s ANO has bulldozed through the middle of the political spectrum, crushing the left parties and damaging the right. But unlike any of these figures, Babiš is suspected as having acted as an agent of the communist secret police before 1989.
Although he served as finance minister in the outgoing centre-left government, Babiš regularly claims that he is not a politician. He prefers handing out doughnuts to writing political programmes. His public rants match, in their tone, anti-establishment rants that you could overhear in any Czech pub on any day or night.
The Pirate Party, a newcomer to the chamber of deputies, ended up as the third party, having obtained 22 mandates. Their political programme is just as unidentifiable as ANO’s, although it does bear marks of multiculturalism and anarchism. The Pirates appealed distinctly to the young voters but their true colours remain a mystery, perhaps even to themselves.
The Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party also received 22 seats. Led by the son of an immigrant, the straight-talking Tomio Okamura, the party takes inspiration from other European far-right movements. It promotes a referendum on Czechia’s membership in the EU, a legal ban on ‘Islamic ideology’ and close ties to Russia.
Finally, the Communists (KSČM), the fourth protest party, received only 15 mandates. This is a historic defeat for the Czech Communist Party who traditionally attracted most of the protest vote.
In a strange way, this defeat for the Communists symbolises the defeat of the political establishment in this election. Ostracised by other parties, the Communists have not taken part in any of the post-communist era governments at the national level. Their stances–an anti-NATO rhetoric and a mix of internationalism and anti-German sentiments–have made the party a predictable anti-systemic force in Czech politics. In this election, many of their supporters moved to the centrist ANO and to the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy.
As for the political mainstream, the eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), linked politically to the British Conservatives and the Polish Law and Justice party, surprised many by taking as many as 25 mandates, a marked increase from the 2013 election. The governing Social Democrats lost 35 mandates and ended up with just 15. This is a horrible defeat for a party that, along the Civic Democrats, used to form the backbone of the Czech post-communist era politics. Like elsewhere in Europe, the Social Democrat vote was swallowed by the far-right and the radical centre.
Also two pro-European centre-right parties linked to the European People’s Party did badly, barely scraping in to the Chamber of Deputies. The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the liberal-conservative TOP09 received 17 mandates in total, as compared to 36 mandates in total in 2013. The Mayors movement, unattached to any EU-wide political movement, received 6 seats in this 2017 election.
Creating a governing coalition will be a gargantuan task, given the level of animosity against and among the protest parties and the rebellious mood in the new chamber of deputies. A lot depends on how Babiš behaves after he, presumably, forms a government with one or more other parties.
He may turn out a constructive figure, accepting responsibility for the country, its anchoring in the EU and NATO and taking a distance from his business and media interests. Or he turns the country’s economy into a branch of his business empire and joins the chorus of national populists who take pleasure in defying ‘the establishment’ and ‘Brussels’ without offering an alternative. It’s an open call.
In the near future, the two Czech EPP parties need to consider again whether they can survive as separate entities. In this election, they were lucky, as both just overcame the 5% threshold necessary to enter the Chamber of Deputies. Such luck may not occur again. Pro-European centre-right forces need to set aside their differences and consider integrating the Mayors movement which has shown willingness to cooperate.
TOP09 might consider widening its appeal beyond urban middle class and entrepreneurs. Finally, both TOP09 and KDU-ČSL need to offer promotion to female politicians in order to appeal to more sections of the electorate.Vít Novotný Elections EU Member States Political Parties Populism
Czech elections: it might not be the economy, stupid!
24 Oct 2017
It has been a challenging year for the European Union. The hangover from Brexit, election fever in a number of European countries, terrorist attacks in European capitals, the perennial existentialist question of quo vadis Europe, and now the Catalan crisis.
After Macron’s victory in France, liberal democratic Europe breathed a sigh of relief. The outcome of the French presidential election and Merkel’s much anticipated victory would restore confidence in liberal democracy, and put the European project back on track. And to a large extent this has happened. It has not been a clean sheet, however.
Germany did not manage to escape the predicament of other European countries: the weakening of traditional democratic parties and the surge of nationalist populism and extremism. The western liberal order has survived for now but the party pillars of the political system have been weakened.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics.
The centre-left, centre-right divide, for many decades, offered European societies a set of different ideological creeds, policy options, and solutions, within the framework of free market-based liberal democracy. Now, we are witnessing the erosion of this post WWII European political divide.
Structural changes such as globalization, the fiscal conformity in preparation for the monetary union, and the monetary union itself created a policy of convergence between parties. The main victims of this fusion were the centre left parties that travelled most of the political distance towards the centre.
The adoption of centre-right elements in economic policies and structural reforms gave them electoral victories in the short run but in the long run was a prologue of their demise. Mainly because it severed the ties with their party base and their traditional electorate. The financial crisis and the backlash against globalization further eroded the political centre.
Exacerbated economic inequalities, blamed on globalization and automation, have altered societal stratification, creating new haves and have-nots. New waves of immigration have created a demographic and cultural panic. Technological advances created a new divide in society between technologically literate and illiterate, and a new kind of technological unemployment.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics. The centre-left parties may have become something of an endangered species, but the centre-right parties have come under pressure as well.
The disdain of politics as usual and political correctness has empowered populist leaders and parties from both ends of the political spectrum. From Beppe Grillo, Tsipras, Podemos, and Die Linke, to Trump, Farage, Le Pen, and Orban, all have run against status quo politics. They have tried to manipulate the anger and disappointment in government, the establishment, corruption and nepotism, stagnating salaries, and rising unemployment.
A new dividing line is being formed: on one side are the traditional political formations, and on the other side is an abrasive, anticonformist populism. A populist surge that is based on economic protectionism, an assertive nationalism, xenophobia, anti-immigration and anti-globalization policies.
The populists have also capitalised on the return of identity politics. When threatened, people tend to resort to fundamental values intrinsic to their identity. Germany managed, in the decades following WWII, to place the debate on identity within the European context. Now, AfD, breaking old taboos, brings back the debate to the national level, exploiting the uneasiness of part of the society from the presence of a million refugees on German soil.
The return of identity politics is interconnected with euroskepticism. The incomplete European project is at a critical juncture. The populist demagogues make a case against Europe as being unable to provide policy responses to the challenges of immigration, border security, homeland security, or economic inequalities.
They are questioning, in essence, the wisdom of transferring authority and sovereignty from the nation states to Brussels. The antiglobalization of the populist left feeds euroskepticsm, while the extreme right of AFD and Le Pen resort to xenophobia, protectionism, and nationalist extremism.
We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
The new political landscape is a minefield for centre-right parties. Populism, extremism and especially right-wing extremism and nationalism have appealed to voters by distorting our ideological agenda. In an effort to repatriate those voters, centre-right parties might be tempted to veer to the right and trail extremism as it sets the agenda. That would be a political folly.
Before repatriating our voters we should repatriate our ideological agenda, reclaim it and project it forcefully. Centre-right parties have to stay the course, defend liberal values, respond to the challenges based on our own ideological arsenal. We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states. We can defend the market economy while addressing inequalities. We can address the inequalities resulting from globalization and automation without becoming protectionist and isolated.
Compromising our values and principles will only present us with short term political gains, if it does. It will hurt, however, our fortunes in the long run, as the socialists have discovered.Constantine Arvanitopoulos Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Centre-right parties: sailing in stormy seas
18 Oct 2017
On April 16, Turkish voters will decide if President Erdogan will maintain the presidential powers he has held in practice since instituting a state of emergency after the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The new constitutional amendment will centralize his power, giving massive authority over legislature and judiciary without a proper checks and balances system. Though NATO and Europe have dealt with autocratic leaders in member states before, the situation with Turkey’s leadership is setting the conditions for a serious security risk to the Alliance.
United by Values?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg continually reiterates the core principles outlined by signatories of the Washington Treaty: “Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary, protection of minorities. These are the values that unite us. They are the values NATO has defended since its foundation in 1949.”
But are these values truly upheld by all Allies? Despite the Turkish government’s promise to foster democratic principles in the last decade, Turkey has drifted sharply away from these values under the rule of President Erdogan. Contrary to Ataturk’s secular Turkey, Erdogan’s government is far from being a bridge between East and West. His new regime is using religion as a political tool to consolidate his internal power and project his authority abroad.
Under his rule, freedom of expression has been eliminated through intimidation, and violation of basic human rights is not a rare phenomenon. As a member nation, Turkey is capable of blocking the decisions on defending critical values — as already evidenced by Turkey’s refusal to allow military training with NATO partner nations due to the political tensions with Austria.
Heightened political tensions between the Turkish government and its NATO Allies are initial indications of the potential future security crisis for Europe. By exploiting this tense situation, the Turkish government has created propaganda material against the West, even going as far as to explicitly threaten European countries to not feel safe in their homelands if the diplomatic row continues.
Erdogan’s attempts to mobilize the considerable Turkish diaspora in Europe with strong rhetoric should not be taken lightly. If Erdogan attains his goals via referendum, he will completely dismantle the foundation of the Turkish secular republic. Thus, post-referendum Turkey would no longer be a true ally but rather an unpredictable one.
Turkey Turns East
Once backed by NATO against Russia during the downed jet crisis in November 2015, the Turkish government initiated the normalization of highly-tensioned relations with Russia after the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
The new partners, Russia and Turkey, have held positive discussions on Syria, on the construction of a nuclear power plant, and likely sale of Russian S-400 long-range air and missile defence system. Additionally, Turkey’s appointment by Russia and China to chair the 2017 Energy Club of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was a significant indication of her divergence from the West. And in the most concerning move toward the East, Turkey signed an intelligence sharing agreement with Russia.
Although European institutions typically analyse this rapprochement as a tactical manoeuvre before the referendum, it seems to have already started providing strategic outcomes.
The methods Erdogan has used against Europe are evolving to be similar to those used by President Putin. Turkey, though, has an additional tool of leverage that can be traced within the Turkish diaspora in Europe. The revealed ill-favoured intelligence activities of Turkish government among the Turkish origin European citizens is similar to Russian intelligence activities in Ukraine.
State-sponsored AK Trolls operate in social media channels very similarly to Putin’s Kremlin Troll Army. Such integration between Russia and Turkey would certainly be a worrying development for NATO’s cohesion.
The EU-Turkey Refugee Deal, as well as the country’s geostrategic location are important points of leverage for President Erdogan. In the fight against ISIS, for example, the West is leaning on Turkey to provide staging areas for equipment and aircraft, and seeks agreement on opposition targets. Particularly for countering the threats and risks emanating from the South, it is important that the cooperation and partnership with Turkey remains solid.
However, there is no doubt that Erdogan’s new Turkey will not maintain a foundation for a feasible alliance with Europe. It is worth remembering that many in the Turkish public are also looking for alternatives to Erdogan’s regime. Current public opinion polls show that around 50 percent of Turkish voters who do not support the constitutional change seem extremely oppressed by fear.
As indications of Turkish deviation from the West are growing each day, Europe needs to set priorities for mitigating this risk. Otherwise, Erdogan’s Turkey will likely turn from a NATO ally to a source of instability for the entire region.Fatih Yilmaz Democracy Elections Foreign Policy Leadership Security
NATO ally or insider threat? How Turkey’s referendum vote will affect European security
11 Apr 2017
The rapid deterioration of relations between European governments and Turkey in recent weeks may come to be seen as a watershed in EU-Turkey relations. The leader of a NATO ally and EU accession candidate country did not hesitate to exploit the vulnerability of European leaderships ahead of crucial electoral battles by mobilizing thousands of people in the heart of Europe.
Given also his role in the refugee issue, his authoritarianism, and his fickle personality, it is time for the EU to start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as nothing less than a long-term security risk.
In the last few years Europe has seen security threats multiplying. The annexation of Crimea heightened anxieties about Russian aggression. Russia also has other levers of pressure, including energy resources, cyber-warfare and, most recently, a multifaceted project of disruption of Western democracies, ranging from support for populist parties to disinformation campaigns. Then, a series of terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 revealed the extent of the jihadist threat.
All these are clearly major threats for Europe, covering a broad range of security challenges: geopolitical and ideological, global and regional, internal and external. But if there is one actor that embodies all these different dimensions of risk at the same time – geopolitical pressure, internal subversion, democratic disruption, and an increasingly erratic behavior of its leadership – it is Turkey.
It is time for the EU to start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as nothing less than a long-term security risk.
Turkey has always been a crucial strategic partner of the West, but the refugee crisis of 2015 severely upset the power relationship between Turkey and the EU, punctuated by Turkey’s desire to accede to the Union. Not unlike Russia with its gas, Turkey found itself controlling the flow of a critical commodity – refugees.
Not unlike Russia, it saw this as an opportunity to extort benefits from the EU, which it promptly did by forcing upon the EU a deal in which it gained various concessions in return for curbing the refugee flows into Europe.
This process took place in parallel with increasing authoritarianism and concentration of power in the hands of President Erdogan internally. After the failed coup of the summer of 2016, Erdogan engaged in sweeping purges of the Turkish state and society.
If his intended constitutional reform goes through in April, Turkey will differ very little from Putin’s Russia, a personal semi-authoritarian nationalist regime with populist overtones, where the main legitimating mechanism of a deeply entrenched leadership is antagonism of the West.
Events of the last few weeks have added a new layer to the difficult geopolitical relationship between Europe and Turkey. The massive rallies in favour of Erdogan in Austria, Germany, Holland and France have highlighted that, while Europeans were agonizing over the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy, they long underestimated Turkish nationalism – an ideology as sticky and potent as any religion – as an obstacle to the integration of thousands of citizens of immigrant descent.
If his intended constitutional reform goes through in April, Turkey will differ very little from Putin’s Russia.
The difficult relationship between Turkish immigrants and their host countries is nothing new of course, but only now has a leader in Turkey shown the intention (and ability) to use these populations as levers of pressure on European governments and to settle domestic scores.
Despite his effort to disrupt European democracy through trolls and hackers, Putin could only dream of commanding the kind of street power in European capitals that Erdogan enjoys.
Erdogan embodies today the sum of all that urope fears: an authoritarian and populist leader (like Putin), with the capacity to strong-arm European leaders thanks to his key position in the refugee problem (akin to Putin and energy), and now with the expressed ambition to use diasporas as a weapon of foreign and domestic policy, disrupting electoral processes and fracturing societies in Europe (thus playing a role akin to that of radical Islamism) and crashing opposition at home.
Instead of an ally, or even a difficult partner, the EU must start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as a multidimensional security risk.
The current standoff with the Netherlands will probably cool off after the Dutch and the Turkish electoral campaigns are over. But with elections in Germany looming, Erdogan will surely be tempted to employ his hybrid (internal and external) geopolitical arsenal again.
The EU is dealing with a leader who understands his relationship with Europe not simply in transactional terms, but as an opportunity for extortion in every available facet.
Instead of an ally, or even a difficult partner, the EU must start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as a multidimensional security risk. Breaking off relations completely of course is not an option, but a serious discussion on a strategic approach to Turkey must now start. This must include a thorough appreciation of how Turkey can challenge European security and democracy internally and externally.
As a multidimensional security risk Turkey requires a holistic approach, including both internal (e.g. addressing the lagging integration of immigrants of Turkish descent in European societies) and external (e.g. effectively securing European) defense.
The EU must remain alert about opportunities to engage Turkey diplomatically. But it must be ready to face up to extortion or internal disruption as well.
Perhaps nothing would work better to rebalance the EU-Turkey relationship than challenging Erdogan on his own turf. As the regime in Turkey is rapidly losing all vestiges of a functional democracy, and given the lack of genuine democratic opposition (opposition parties in Turkey are either secular-nationalist or ethnic-sectarian), the EU must engage in serious bottom-up democracy promotion in Turkey, helping to foster a real liberal democratic culture in Turkish society.
If Erdogan thinks he can turn European societies into a battleground of the EU-Turkey relationship, the EU must answer in kind. Europeans must make the emergence of a genuine Turkish democracy the key strategic goal of their policy towards Turkey, and must be ready to invest resources and time to ensure this outcome comes to fruition.Angelos Chryssogelos Elections Foreign Policy Leadership Security Values
Erdogan: an EU security risk?
16 Mar 2017
What is the alternative to a hard Brexit?
I believe conditions can be created in which the UK voters could decide not to leave the EU at all. Ireland should work to create those conditions. The terms for Brexit set out by Mrs May will do incalculable damage to this island, politically, emotionally and economically. We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May’s chosen hard Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure that there is no Brexit.
Apart from a few open questions, Theresa May has said what she wants. She wants out of the single market, out of the customs union, and “control” over immigration. The open questions she has avoided so far are about the financial terms of the divorce, the status of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and two aspects of a future trade agreement (if there ever is one), namely arbitrating disputes, and third country imports getting into the EU via the UK.
It is unlikely that the Article 50 letter she will send to Donald Tusk next month will tell us much more about the UK negotiating position than the Lancaster House speech did. So it is time now to start thinking about how the EU will respond to Mrs May’s letter.
On the present schedule, the European Council would meet in April to agree the orientation it would give to the EU negotiators for the discussions with the UK that would start in June. These orientations would be agreed by consensus, so every EU head of government would have to be satisfied. For Ireland, this April European Council meeting is potentially the most important European meeting a Taoiseach will ever attend.
In working out the orientation to be given to the negotiators, the crucial thing is for the European Council to work out what would be its ”best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA). It is important to have an alternative ready because there is every possibility that no agreement will be reached within the two year time frame for negotiation, and ratification, of a withdrawal agreement. Mrs May has said that, for her, no deal at all preferable to a bad deal. Her BATNA, so to speak, is no deal at all.
“No deal” would mean the UK simply crashing out of the EU overnight, sometime before the end of March 2019. This “no deal” scenario would be an overnight halt to flights, to trade and to commerce. There would be immediate and massive currency instability.
From the point of view of pure negotiating tactics, maybe it is no surprising that Mrs May would threaten with a “no deal”. But to do so, in the absence of a well-crafted fall-back position, is something the UK cannot really afford. It vindicates Tony Blair’s description of the UK government as “not driving the (Brexit) bus”, but rather “being driven” by partisan and ideological forces it has not tried to control. In the absence of a real alternative to a hard Brexit, it is on auto pilot heading towards a cliff.
The EU country that would be worst affected by the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal is, of course, Ireland. So Ireland must use all its imagination and ingenuity to see if a creative way out for the UK and the EU can be found.
Should the EU offer UK voters another option?
If the UK government is unable or unwilling, because of domestic politics, to work out a responsible “best available alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA), then the EU side should do so for it. It should adopt it alongside its line by line response the UK’s negotiating demands. Having a BATNA would also strengthen the EU’s negotiating position. It would provide something with which an emerging deal could be compared. It would also provide a basis on which the UK could reconsider its decision of 23 June 2016, if it wants to do that.
As Tony Blair said, UK voters have a ”right to change their minds”. After all, politicians are allowed to change their minds, so why not voters? If UK voters, in a referendum, sent their government on a mission towards Brexit, it would be reasonable that the same voters, rather than Parliament, should adjudicate on what will have been achieved (or not) by their delegates.
If UK voters ever do change their minds about Brexit, it will happen slowly and incrementally. Parts of the Brexit scenario, obscured during the Referendum, will become clearer during the negotiation. The unavoidable interconnections between EU freedoms and EU rules will emerge. For this to happen, it will be in the EU side’s interest to ensure that there is maximum public understanding of the unfolding negotiation. Transparency will work in the EU’s interest. A running commentary is exactly what is needed in the interest of public education!
If the alternative to EU rules is no rules at all, citizens in both the EU countries and the UK may come see EU membership in a different light. They may, for the first time in many cases, see the EU as something that simplifies their lives, rather than the reverse. In my view, the best BATNA that the EU side should adopt is an offer of continuing UK membership of the EU broadly on the basis that the UK was a member in 2015, before David Cameron’s ill fated “renegotiation”.
The 2015 terms were generous to the UK. They allowed it to opt out of the euro, of Schengen, of Justice and Policing cooperation, of the Stability and Growth Pact, and of the justiciability in the UK of the European Convention. Furthermore, the UK itself had also decided, without Brexit, that it would have a referendum of any new EU powers. In that sense the UK was already having its cake, while eating it, before it ever decided on Brexit. These 2015 terms should be left on the table by the EU side, but without the unjustifiable UK budget rebate.
Of course, at this stage, the UK would reject such an offer out of hand. But, as the inevitable consequences of Brexit become clearer, UK public opinion might begin to see merit in it, particularly when it is compared with the costs of simply crashing out of the EU, overnight, with no deal at all, which is Mrs May’s fall back negotiating scenario.
The resistance to keeping such an offer on the table is more likely to come from some existing EU member states. Some members will point to the UK’s insatiable demands, when it was a member, for opt outs, rebates, and exceptions. Arlene Foster’s analogy about feeding crocodiles may come to their minds. They will recall General de Gaulle’s original veto of UK membership, and his foresight that the UK would never settle in as a member. They might also argue that offering the UK a way back, after it has triggered Article 50, might encourage others to try it on too.
But if they sit back and think about it, they will, I believe, conclude that a UK that inside the EU is better for the EU than a UK that is outside. This will be so even if a trade deal is eventually concluded with the UK. Keeping the offer of resumed UK membership on the table would be good politics and good economics for the EU.
The terms of the Lisbon Treaty do create some difficulty for this approach. Article 50 (3) says a country that has sought to leave the EU under that article will be automatically excluded from the EU two years after it has triggered Article 50 unless the EU side “unanimously decides to extend the period”. Article 50 (5) says that, if a state, that has withdrawn for the EU, asks to rejoin, it has to do under article 49, where the application would have to be ratified by all existing members.
Others may argue that the UK cannot withdraw its Article 50 letter once it has sent it. This is a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide, but article 6.8 of the Vienna Convention on treaties explicitly allows revocation of a notice of intention to withdraw from a treaty.
These problems are real, but not insurmountable. A political declaration by the EU heads of Government in April in favour of facilitating an eventual UK resumption of EU membership, on its 2015 terms minus the budget rebate, would create a realistic basis for comparison in the debate about Brexit that, in a sense, is only now starting in the UK.John Bruton Brexit Economy Elections EU Member States European Union
Brexit out of the box
28 Feb 2017
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s election to President of the United States are events of historical proportion. In important ways, they challenge assumptions long taken for granted by both sides of the political spectrum. We publish below various contributions on the lessons the European People’s Party should draw from these political developments.
Contributors are broadly connected to the European centre-right and offer a wide range of opinions on the topic under discussion. Some believe that an identitarian agitation is sweeping across the West, and that the centre-right should reclaim identity politics from anti-establishment movements and reconcile it with European integration, after having neglected it for too long. Others reject this analysis, downplay identitarian factors or see the return of identity politics as a purely populist phenomenon that should be opposed by all means.
A Europe of values and results
Director, CEDER Study Centre
The recent developments in the UK and the US are reflections of discontent of large parts of the population with what is going on in their daily lives and their feelings about the future, which led to mistrust in traditional politics and in current leaders. The Brexit referendum is for many people the proof of a failing European Union, while the US presidential elections give rise to fears about the traditional multilateral approach and the strength of our transatlantic relations.
We believe that the EPP must emphasise the importance of delivering tangible results on all levels of government; results that improve the lives of citizens and which take into account the concerns of all EU citizens. For the EPP this will require strong leadership, vision and more unified action and opinions. Deepening and strengthening the European Union is also necessary, on the basis of our common values, such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, solidarity and tolerance.
The confidence and involvement of citizens will be of utmost importance to restore the ‘European Dream’. The dialogue between citizens and the European institutions therefore needs to be strengthened. That is why we believe the work of Luc Van den Brande as Special Adviser to EC Commission President Juncker to further strengthen the dialogue with the EU citizens is so important.
Stay firm and united
Member of the European Parliament
Now it is serious. These are the times that the European Union once was founded to meet. To secure freedom, democracy and peace in Europe. To provide stability in a fragile world. To develop a dynamic economy for prosperity and social cohesion. This is not anymore about ideological speeches but brutal reality.
It is a new world. More risky. More instable. It is the free world that is under threat and it is the world order from the years after the Second World War that is being challenged. The crises of today are not the crisis of the European Union, but it is these kinds of crises the EU was created to deal with. To give stability to Europe and give stability to the free world.
This challenge might be the most difficult we have ever faced. It is more challenging than reforming agricultural policy, establishing the internal market or launching the service directive. It is even more challenging than fighting bureaucracy.
The solution is simple but difficult. We must stand together, side by side. Reform our markets and deepen the internal market. Achieve an Energy union and a Capital Markets Union. Take the lead in the digitalisation of global economies. Stay firm to Russia and clarify that all parts of the Union are the European Union, be it Narva in Estonia or all the ancient capitals of Europe once behind the Iron Curtain.
Control our borders in order to ensure that the processing of asylum procedures is worthy of civilised societies. We must strengthen our military defence capabilities in order to be able to make use of our soft powers and proceed with the enlargement when countries are prepared. Reform Europe rather than create new divisions in the EU by ever new ideas of institutional changes.
Wanted: personalities with attitude and image
Deputy Director for Political Consulting, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Nobody had seen it coming. But within hours of the US presidential elections, many people apparently understood perfectly what had happened. Donald Trump’s election was heralding the start of a ‘global era of populism’, newspapers said.
Taking a more analytical view, it is clear that there are significant differences between the US and Europe. Electoral and party systems, the media and election campaigning, personalities and the topics dominating the debate in the US do not allow any clear conclusions to be drawn for future developments in Europe. And populist parties, which have been gaining ground in Europe for some time, also differ considerably from each other.
However, there appear to be similarities in some of the underlying conditions that have facilitated the strengthening of populist mobilisation. The anxiety of the middle classes about losing status in the course of the processes of social change has increased noticeably in affluent Western societies. Differentiation in lifestyles and individualisation combined with high levels of immigration are causing feelings of one’s culture being under threat and fears of a collective loss of identity.
There is evidently an added factor at play in that the aging section of the affluent society in particular perceives change as an imposition. People develop a defiant stance of rejection in the face of pressures to adapt to the consequences of the global economy. ‘Make America great again’ and ‘Take back control’ are populist responses to this frame of mind, which exert great attraction through the illusion of being able to return to a simpler, more predictable and manageable world.
Instead of shaping the future constructively, this is about recreating an imaginary past that never existed in the first place.
Brexit and Trump clearly illustrate that what we need are personalities with attitude and a good image, who look forward to shaping the future in a positive frame of mind and can develop ‘dynamics of hope’ rather than ‘dynamics of fear’ (Jean Monnet). Trump was only strong because of Clinton’s weakness.
Cultural pessimism, doomsday scenarios and scaremongering have no place in Christian democratic politics. When looking around Europe, one can easily identify the leading populists. On the side of those who want to manage change with a confident outlook, Angela Merkel now stands almost alone.
We need to move beyond political correctness
Professor of History of Philosophy, Università degli Studi del Molise, Italy
From the recent US Presidential election and from Brexit we can learn some useful lessons. First, coalitions between the mainstream centre-right and centre-left do not work. The attempt to put together all ‘responsible’ people who belong to the mainstream intellectual culture of social-democratic values and globalised economic liberalism fails because it excludes the majority of the people. This coalition is doomed because it appears as an elitist project against which everyone else rebels and wins.
Second, we learned that we need a real left-right dialectic in order to fight the so-called ‘populism’. An Italian example will clarify what I mean. In the recent municipal elections, the Five Stars Movement won in Rome and Turin where, at the second round, the race was between their candidate and the mainstream candidate. However, in Milan, where the centre-right and centre-left parties presented two different and credible candidates, the Five Stars Movement did not even qualify for the second round.
Third, we need to reflect about populism. In order to rebuild a successful centre-right one should look at the needs expressed by those who are voting for the so-called ‘populists’ and offer clear centre-right solutions that are distinctly opposed to the centre-left perspective. On Europe, for example, the idea of a ‘slim federalism’ that is strong on security and foreign policy but weak on internal economic regulation (real subsidiarity) should be adopted, together with a recognition of the Christian roots of Western values.
Finally, we should stop talking about populism as if it was an undifferentiated phenomenon. Although he gathered grassroots support from people who did not feel represented by US mainstream politics, Trump is a conservative. He won regular primaries of the GOP defeating 16 candidates. He then won the presidential election with sixty million votes and he has a strong political agenda. One might like or dislike his political platform, but make no mistake, he is not the same as Marine Le Pen or Beppe Grillo.
It’s about communication, too!
Deputy Director, Civic Institute, Poland
Both the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election have demonstrated to what extent large parts of society disapprove of the political, economic and social status quo. One conclusion seems relevant to every liberal democracy: rapidly changing patterns in communication. The total dominance of online media – with the particular importance of social media – is coming.
Only a few years ago many believed that social media would strengthen democracy by allowing people to have a say and freely share information. This year proved that they were wrong. To a large extent, social media have become a source of misinformation, not information. Instead of strengthening public debate, they poisoned it with lies and inflammatory language. Instead of being the harbour of free speech, online-based platforms became the amplifiers of hate.
During the US presidential election, for the first time in history, fake news outpaced real news in terms of public engagement. More voters were exposed to lies than to the truth. Millions of voters were given a false picture of events. It would be foolish to think that this did not influence their voting decisions. In the last century, when new, revolutionary media appeared – the radio and later the TV – democracies decided to regulate them.
Democratic oversight and independent regulatory bodies were established. Laws were enacted to protect the impartiality and truthfulness of the broadcast. Like the printed press, the radio and the TV broadcasters were legally responsible for the content they aired. In case of online-based social media, no such regulations exist. We urgently need to think how to fill this void.
Dr. Žiga Turk,
Professor, University of Ljubljana
The message from the success of Brexit, Trump and some so-called populist movements in Europe is that identity matters. Identity matters, as particularly the US elections demonstrated, not only the minority identities of Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Gays, feminists, etc. Majority identity matters.
The scientific explanation comes from Moral Foundations Theory. It claims that people – voters included – often decide intuitively and not necessarily rationally. We base our intuitive decisions on six different moral foundations: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. The progressives are generally associated with the first three of the six foundations. Conservatives, in addition, are associated with the foundations of loyalty, authority and sanctity as well.
In his campaign Trump successfully addressed the loyalty to America and the need for authority in American leadership. Meanwhile, his running mate Mike Pence covered the issue of sanctity of American Christians.
This is perfectly illustrated in a post-electoral tweet of Mr. Trump, addressed to protesters rioting against him: ‘Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one God saluting one flag.’ To those of us immersed in political correctness this sounds almost like ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’. But Trump’s message is just a warning of what happens if the centrist democratic politicians fail to base their policies firmly on the entire spectrum of people’s moral foundations.
The values of the liberal world order are not only democracy, freedom, respect of law and respect of people regardless of their origin, the colour of their skin, their religion, gender, sexual orientation or their political beliefs. Our common values also include loyalty to our culture, love for our homeland and respect of our traditions and religions.
It is the unique task of conservatives in general and the EPP in particular to bring those values back into the liberal world order in a positive and constructive way. The socialists and the liberals will not accomplish this because they lack intuitive understanding of it. If the EPP does not do it, someone else will. And then it will not be benign.
This balance of values is a unique contribution for preserving the world as we know it, a contribution that only the EPP can and therefore should make.WMCES Editor Brexit Centre-Right Elections EU Member States EU-US Values
Brexit and Trump: lessons for the centre-right
30 Nov 2016
Over the last two years Germany has experienced a significant growth of nationalist, anti-Islamic and xenophobic forces. While the movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, PEGIDA) has been mobilising protest on the ground in the Saxon capital, the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) has continually increased its number of seats in state parliaments, with a fundamental rejection of the refugee policy of the federal government.
Since the election of a new leadership of the AfD in the summer of 2015, one can observe signs of rapprochement between these two organisations. In this paper I argue that the AfD and PEGIDA are two sides of the same coin. Further approximation and collaboration will depend on the outcome of lasting internal power struggles inside the AfD.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Karsten Grabow Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Populism
PEGIDA and the Alternative für Deutschland: two sides of the same coin?
29 Nov 2016
This article analyses the causes of the loss of support suffered by Podemos in the elections held on 26 June 2016. In these elections, the party, led by Pablo Iglesias, ran for office in coalition with the United Left.
The article describes the way the election developed for Podemos, analyses the shaping of its populist rhetoric in line with a radical left-wing view, discusses the social and political conditions that favoured its rise, and finally, notes that the disappearance of these conditions jeopardises its chances of success in the future.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Javier Zarzalejos Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Political Parties Populism
Populism in Spain: an analysis of Podemos
08 Nov 2016
Whatever the result of the 2016 US presidential election, it will signal a new era of political communication. Candidate Donald Trump defeated 16 contenders in the Republican primaries, most of them Republican Party insiders.
There are several reasons for this unexpected turn of events. One of them is the different kind of communication that Trump employs. Trump’s communication method, like that of the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) in Italy, uses a high number of icons (signs that represent objects by their similarity, such as images) instead of the indexes (signs that indicate their object by contiguity, such as tags, labels and proper names) that have characterised the last 20 years of political communication.
This change encourages politicians to focus on communication as a ‘complete gesture’, and as a meaningful action that creates an ambience rather than stressing the role of the leader. This paper deals with the semiotic characteristics of this new kind of communication and explains the consequent key features of successful political communication in the coming years.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Giovanni Maddalena Elections EU-US Political Parties Populism
Political communication in the (iconic) Trump epoch
21 Oct 2016
The paper considers current political challenges encountered by Georgia and the geopolitical framework in which the EU-Georgia relationship develops. While Georgia is apparently better off on the democratic front, clouds are gathering again ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections — a possible game changer.
Economy remain sluggish, political landscape fragmented and unpredictable, and security concerns unabated. Plagued by a multitude of problems and challenges, the West’s interest in the country has been diminishing, while Russia is intensifying its propaganda machine and other dangerous tools at its disposal.
The EU can and should develop a more differentiated approach to the South Caucasus and the Eastern Neighbourhood — and Georgia, in particular— based less on geography and more on democratic achievements and strategic importance. It is also discussed what the EU and other actors such as EuEastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy
What the EU Can, May and Should Do to Support Georgia
30 Sep 2016
Despite deteriorating economic conditions, the Russian business community has remained loyal to the Kremlin. It has not protested or even questioned Vladimir Putin’s main domestic and foreign policies. A state monopolistic model of the economy had already been in deep crisis before Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine started and oil prices collapsed.
However, both the government and business are reluctant to publicly admit this. Instead, the Kremlin has promised to help small and medium-sized businesses with predictable fiscal policy and relaxed regulation, but it has consistently failed to do so.
The entrepreneurs, in turn, have mostly reacted with more austerity and by moving into a shadow economy. As for the oligarchs, the elites have not become divided over the relatively mild Western sanctions, as Putin has managed to keep the wealthiest power brokers at bay through a variety of carrot-and-stick policies.
Large commercial entities continue to rely on state contracts and other government support, while the Kremlin’s business insiders have been finding innovative ways to circumvent Western sanctions. Given the current level of relatively superficial sanctions, the US and the EU will probably have to play a long-term game before the Kremlin changes its aggressive domestic and foreign policies.Business Elections EU-Russia
The Tsar and His Business Serfs: Russian Oligarchs and SMEs Did Not Surprise Putin at the Elections
20 Sep 2016
Yesterday Russia had an election that yet again disappointed hopes for a functional and reasonable parliament instead of “the mad printer” (that adopted all inhumane and reactionary laws given to it by presidential administration), as the previous Duma was commonly known.
Taking a deeper look at the prospects of the Russian business community raising a political voice, or at least a whisper, some myths, popular among certain western policy makers, are revealed: a) there is a possible split of business elites and b) some private businessmen will surely want to defend themselves from crazy Kremlin adventures abroad.
The harsh reality is that an overwhelming majority of Russian business – from oligarchs and large corporations to small and medium entrepreneurs – remain politically loyal to the Kremlin and are therefore self-censored.
Oligarchs depend on contracts and favours from the State and have such a long and compromising history of engagement with the Kremlin’s criminalised bureaucracy that not a single one of them has dared to protest against Putin in the last decade. The bravest they can afford to do is to mildly criticise the puppet government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on its economic policies.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have shown a bit more protest activity. Disparate regional movements of farmers, truckers and owners of small kiosks in the cities have protested against arbitrary use of power by regional authorities and they also went on hunger strikes and marches to Moscow.
But they have never properly – as a movement – dared to criticise Putin or the Kremlin administration or raised any significant political demands. In fact, many of them tried to appeal to a kind Tsar (to be read President). Owners of kiosks even put up portraits of Putin next to icons in shop windows, only to be demolished anyway if those in power decide so one day.
Western sanctions are quite superficial: they merely send the signal that the West is not continuing business as usual.
Western policy-makers should face an inconvenient truth that is difficult to accept: there is not going to be a split of elites. The monopolistic model of the state economy had already been in deep crisis long before Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine started and oil prices collapsed.
However, the Russian government and businesses are reluctant to publicly admit this and they find ways to get by. Western sanctions are quite superficial: they merely send the signal that the West is not continuing business as usual (which would be outright appeasement) and they warn Russia of what more may come if the Kremlin continues to advance in Ukraine.
However, less than ten cronies of Putin feature on the US and EU sanctions lists: that is not enough to seriously change Russia’s aggressive foreign policy or lead to a split of elites. The superficial sanctions can reduce the Kremlin’s ability to execute its policies, but not change its overall course. The West has a choice to expand the individual sanction list to include hundreds of individuals, or introduce large-scale sector-wide sanctions (e.g. a ban on Russian oil and gas exports to Europe, as was with Iran).
However, in doing so, the West would risk seriously escalating the conflict with Russia, and Western policy-makers are currently incapable of this. Instead, it appears that the West is betting on the long-term game of patience and the slow strangling effect of mild sanctions—that are unlikely to bring about a change in the regime’s policies until several years have passed, and perhaps even a decade.
Hence, if stronger sanctions are not an option, then at least the current ones should be maintained for a long time to come.Ilya Zaslavsky Business Elections EU-Russia
Business as usual? Russian oligarchs and Russia’s parliamentary election
19 Sep 2016
The result of the UK’s EU referendum has provided impetus for European political parties to rethink their communication strategies.
The referendum result came as a shock here in Brussels because many of us in the Remain camp probably couldn’t name a single individual who would have voted for Leave. By the same logic, there are likely communities in England I could visit to become the only Remainer in the village.
Once upon a time, in the days before Facebook, we revelled in finding like-minded souls.
It was the British novelist CS Lewis who quipped that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”. Today, however, it has never been easier to connect with people with whom you share common ground.
In the internet age, we are surrounded by like-minded people. We tweet into echo-chambers, we take selfies to ‘get likes’ or we delete the posts if we don’t. We’re increasingly surrounded by Yes Men and Women and we’re unconsciously isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.
As we reverberate in the Brexit aftershock, when we find ourselves asking ‘how did this happen?’ or ‘who voted to Leave?’ it is my opinion that we actually need to ask ourselves why didn’t we see this coming?
Enabled by over-sharing, algorithms and trending topics, the echo-chamber as a concept is flourishing.
To sum it up, it involves like-minded people sharing like-minded views and circulating contentedly and uninterrupted in like-minded circles. Whether espousing moderate centre-right values or advocating for attributes found elsewhere on the political spectrum, as we scroll through our social media feeds, in search of ‘likes’ or distributing them, we find ourselves increasingly unable to distinguish like from maybe too alike.
The UK referendum, in this regard, is a wake-up call. Populist ideas must be addressed and this has to be done not with a giant POPULIST rubber stamp aimed at silencing the conversation, but by listening to the concerns of voters and effectively communicating the positive value of the European project.
By virtue of the very nature of our echo-chambered existence, most of the people reading this blog will probably agree with me. That’s all well and good but ultimately we should seek to employ the echo-chamber to our advantage. There are two things we need to do. The first is instrumental in achieving the second. We need to utilise the circular nature of the echo-chamber in which we revolve to remind ourselves of the following message;
The European construction is exactly that, a construct, and it is ours to build. The remaining 27 member states, their political parties, and our political family in particular, are under no obligation to subscribe to the British motto of Keep Calm and Carry On and to shrug our shoulders in the difficult discussions which will soon take place on the future of Europe and the need for reform. We do not need to ‘take back control’ because we already wield it but we do need to utilise it to strive for the Better Europe called for by Commission President Juncker.
Once we have realised this, and structured our vision for an EU of 27, we need to break the sound barrier and defy the limits of the echo-chamber. This will involve sensible, sensitive discussion and debate. It is the role of everyone from think-tanks and political parties to ordinary citizens to recognise that we do not exist in a vacuum and that the opinions and ideas of others are to be listened to with respect because they serve to better inform us about Europe and our world.
At the individual level, it is easy to break out of the echo-chamber. You can follow those whom you sometimes disagree with on Twitter or pick-up a newspaper different to your regular Sunday read. For political parties and think-tanks, it’s slightly more nuanced. A balance has to be found in order to avoid preaching, propaganda, or worse again, spam.
Communication strategies have to be clever, they need to adapt to new media, embracing visuals, videos and Vines. There’s nothing to say a political party can’t SnapChat or Boomerang either. Aside from adding madness to the method, it is content that remains key. Twitter has grown its empire on the intrinsically human art of storytelling. Today more than ever people are hungry for narratives. Political think-tanks can offer genuine, credible narratives – not only about how we would like our world to be, but also about how it can be achieved. Reaching out to citizens beyond traditional circles can help to create a healthy diversity of narratives on the future of Europe.
The European project has suffered from preaching to the converted for a little too long. Looking forward, the only ‘–exit’ on the horizon should be from the problematic depths of the politically divided echo-chambers. It is imperative that we create one inclusive conversation on the EU, unless we wish to succumb to the same fate of self-interest and repetitiveness that ultimately saw the end of Narcissus, and his estranged lover, Echo.Erica Lee Brexit Democracy Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union
The Brexit Echo: how to break the “echo-chamber” effect in political communication
06 Jul 2016
I don’t need to quote Bill Clinton to impress the importance of economic issues within the wider EU referendum debate. A recent YouGov poll that examined motivation for voting one way or the other showed the economy at the top of the tree in terms of broad policy (albeit behind the idea of the “right to act independently, and the appropriate level of cooperation with other countries”) a finding frankly unsurprising given the level of messaging on the subject by the mainstream media, both campaigns and an alphabet soup of official bodies over the last few weeks.
Twenty-three per cent of voters polled by YouGov cited the topic as more important than any other and the online conversation has long been dominated by finance and business- related opinions. The extent of this domination however, is on the wane, as social media users increasingly find the broad subject of immigration more discussion-worthy.
Immigration, and the distinctive yet linked by many in the debate, discussion of refugees and asylum has risen in prominence since the beginning of June, to become the second most discussed motivation category within the online debate, perhaps prompted by at least two events in the last week: one hugely controversial, one tragic. Figure 1 shows the movement across these motivation areas from May to June.
Figure 2 shows how these motivation areas have tracked since the beginning of May. Lines showing trends for discussion around the economy and immigration, in relation to the wider debate on the EU referendum, clearly converge. We have not reached a tipping point in terms of prominence and it might be interesting to speculate on how long the campaign we need to run before the lines would cross, but we are certainly approaching parity.
The reasons for this are varied. As noted, social media debate does not exist in a vacuum and mainstream media and offline events have certainly helped to nudge immigration to the fore, but this trend existed before last week’s UKIP “Breaking Point” billboard and the murder of MP Jo Cox. It may be that, as both campaigns have upped the ante in the last few weeks and the debate has grown more poisonous, issues that were once the preserve of political extremes have become normalised.
We could look further at the proportion of owned content posted by each official campaign account on the subject of the economy and immigration. To what extent has the nudge become a shove? Has the dog whistle become a foghorn?
We can understand a lot more about the nature of the debate by graphing the conversation. As outlined in my previous piece on Brexit, pro-Leave campaigners have consistently generated the majority of the noise on referendum-related subjects, with this changing little since the end of March when I first measured the subject.
The first blog on the referendum showed the networked conversation in March and at the beginning of May: a vociferous, messy exchange, largely controlled by Brexiteers.
Figures 3 and 4 outline the networks if we isolate economic discussion within the referendum (3) and that about immigration (4). The differences are far from obvious, but we can see a marginally different shape to the maps. Discussion on the economy (3) is more fractured: the bulb to the right predominantly consists of pro-Leave tweeters, while the strands to the left largely pro-Remain, and there are few links (conversations) between them.
When we look more closely at the immigration map (4) we see three areas: a Leave bulb to the right, a loose cluster of Remain campaigners to the left and the Stronger In (@strongerin) neighbourhood in the centre. This, along with the tightness of the Leave community to the right shows both that this is a more combative area of the debate, given the closer links, and that the Leave side is possibly more “unified’ (or perhaps more insular) given the concentration of the community to the right.
Further points of interest come in understanding who is is more conspicuous with each neighbourhood. For example, the former Director of Strategy to the Prime Minister, Steve Hilton (@stevehiltonx) is prominent and central to the debate on the economy, but peripheral amid discourse on immigration, and vice versa for UKIP MP Douglas Carswell (@DouglasCarswell). Louise Mensch is central within both: the most influential contributor to the debate on immigration, according to this methodology, and the fourth-most on economic issues.
Further top-level analysis shows where the graph of the debate deviates from what we might expect. Dan Hannan MEP (@DanHannanMEP) for example, is found on the ‘wrong’ side of the immigration map. Algorithmically, at least, Hannan is closer to Chuka Umunna (@ChukkaUmunna) and The Independent (@independent), despite being a high profile and long-standing Eurosceptic and prominent pro-Leaver, due to his conversational connections with other influential parties in the debate. Hannan is graphed centrally on economic issues; however, closer to grassroots campaigners, deeply inside the cluster with Vote Leave (@vote_leave) at its centre.
Whilst this light scrutiny barely scratches the surface of this online dialogue, we clearly see that there is not one debate, but many pieces, clusters and neighbourhoods, dictated by topics that provide motivation to vote, influential social media users or concentrations of grassroots campaigners. Beyond this blog, we might understand micro-discussions at a local level, around TV debates, political parties or other organisations. In short, there are ways to quickly unravel this mess and isolate the areas of the discussion that best match certain messaging or targeted campaign strategy.
The relative importance of the economy or immigration to the referendum result will quickly become apparent next week, after pollsters have picked through exit polls and dissected motivation. What’s sure at this stage is that control of these conversations will go a long way to determining the outcome and, whilst online conversation is clearly not representative of the sentiment of the electorate at large, it might persuade the many undecided voters that seek guidance on polling day.
On a more personal note, any optimism I once held that the referendum could precipitate a healthy debate on Britain’s relationship with the EU, its future as an outward-looking country and its role in the wider world has long disintegrated, and the hegemony of economic and immigration-related fear in this analysis goes a long way to explaining why.
* A full explanation of the network maps is available here.
This blogpost is the first from an Ogilvy London series analysing the online EU referendum debate from a variety of angles in the weeks before the vote on June 23. You can read the original blogpost here.Gareth Ham Economy Elections EU Member States Immigration
Economy or immigration: which one tops the EU referendum debate?
23 Jun 2016
A recent Guardian ICM opinion poll showed a fascinating difference between the views of participants in phone and online surveys regarding the upcoming EU referendum. Both were relatively divisive, only on different sides of the debate: those polled over the phone were eight percentage points more likely to vote to remain the in EU (47 to 39) whilst voters that contributed to the online poll were four points more likely to leave (47:43).
A range of reasons for this split could exist, but it is a scenario that those of us close to online political campaigning have long foreseen.
For anybody visiting social media platforms to analyse or involve themselves in the debate on Scottish independence, for example, the online reality provided a vastly different message to the one given by traditional polling: strongly in favour of leaving (or dissolving, depending on your point of view) the United Kingdom – a study I ran in August 2014 attributed approximately 90% of all public social media mentions of the referendum to supporters of independence.
Analysis of the online debate on the EU referendum reveals a similar, yet more dramatic pattern to that underscored by the Guardian ICM poll.
The visual in Figure 1 shows the structure of the referendum debate on UK Twitter during the second week of May. The network graph shows the inter-connectivity of the 1000 most influential tweeters in the United Kingdom that discussed the referendum in a variety of ways in the week commencing May 9 (hashtags, responding to campaign accounts, longer form mentions of the referendum or simply expressing views to leave or remain).
Each node (dot) is a Twitter account and each edge (line) is a connection between them. Connections are conversational, rather than a simple look at who follows or @mentions whom, so show retweets, responses and quoted statuses. A full description of the network map is available here.
The bulb-shaped cluster to the right of the map is almost exclusively made up of Twitter users strongly in favour of leaving the EU, whilst the strands to the left are largely accounts supportive of Remain. We can also quickly see that the Leave side of the network is both multi-faceted and tightly clustered: the multiple colours show that several sub-networks exist within this conversation, whilst the high density graph shows that the accounts are highly likely to engage directly with one another.
The largest, most central node on the leave side (red, with thick links to other accounts) is Vote Leave (@vote_leave), perhaps to be expected, whilst the large node to the left of Vote Leave is campaigner Dr Rachel Joyce (@racheljoyce). The latter has only 3,638 followers (at the time of writing) but is crucial to the integrity of this specific conversational network, bringing otherwise disparate accounts together in the debate.
The strands to the left are held together by two large nodes: Stronger In (@StrongerIn, top) and “British and European” (@polnyypesets, bottom). As on the Leave side, @polnyypesets is not an obvious agent of this debate with just 2,857 followers, but is central to networked discussion.
Interestingly, the structure of this Twitter debate has changed little since we ran the same analysis a few weeks previously. Figure 2 shows the network graph of the referendum debate at the end of March.
The shape is the same: largely pro-Brexit accounts dominating the online noise, whilst Remain supporters inhabit the fringes. Twitter accounts on both sides however, are linked in places, occasionally by media or polling accounts but more often by tweeters engaging in active debate.
A key reason for the centrality of @polnyypesets in the network is that the account converses with both sides, providing a bridge between Remain and Leave (albeit having closer links to Remain, hence its location in the network).
When we compare the EU referendum map to the factional, scattered network map of the European political parties (EPP, PES, ALDE etc) during the 2014 Spitzenkandidat race within the European Parliament election (figure 3) we see far higher levels of bipartisan discussion.
In figure 3, each cluster is dominated by official campaign messaging by the European parties, with few connections between rival camps.
The crucial difference between figures 1 and 2 involves the maps’ density. Edges linking Twitter accounts are thinner, meaning fewer interactions between these people, whilst clustering of the map in general is less dense, meaning that fewer of these accounts were conversing with others in March. Bluntly, the online conversation has stepped up, accounts in the EU referendum debate have become more active and conversations between influencers more common.
Figure 4 below shows the volume of public social media mentions per week in the UK about the referendum, and the number of unique authors in the discussion (source: Brandwatch). Contributors on both sides are posting more frequently.
Reasons for the domination of the online debate by Leave advocates can be discussed at length. We may point to a more disparate coalition of groups of the pro-Brexit side in addition to the official Vote Leave campaign, or to an anti-establishment, anti-status quo sentiment of online discussion more broadly.
And whilst this cannot be considered in the same vein as traditional polling as an indicator of the eventual result, its importance should not be underestimated. For the undecided voter that turns to online platforms for guidance or verification of whatever facts exist on either side, this is what they will encounter.
Similarly, the noisy, crowded nature of this discussion highlights the importance of careful navigation and accurate targeting of the right content, to the right voters and the right times, particularly for those encouraging Remain and the official Stronger In campaign.
Whilst the overall structure of the campaign shouldn’t necessarily be of concern to Stronger In, it further highlights that directing messages demographically or geographically is no longer adequate or necessary, and that it is possible to cut through the noise by engaging a relatively small set of influencers.
With less than a month until the vote, understanding the changing nature of this debate structure is crucial to both sides.
With the issue of Turkish accession to the EU entering the campaign in earnest last weekend, and with Sadiq Khan and City Hall diving into the campaign to actively promote Remain in the following days, network graphs provide an excellent way of understanding the impact and prevalence of such messaging, and which accounts are influential within this morass. This series aims to understand some of those facets over the upcoming weeks.
This blogpost is the first from an Ogilvy London series analysing the online EU referendum debate from a variety of angles in the weeks before the vote on June 23. You can read the original blogpost here.Gareth Ham Elections EU Member States European Union Internet
The online debate around the EU referendum: should Remainers be concerned?
13 Jun 2016
Most of the recent commentary around Russian politics has been focused largely on one issue, the high personal approval ratings of Vladimir Putin. But the Russian political system is complicated, and even the ruling force consists of many elements: government, the ruling ‘United Russia’ party, Parliament, regional governors, and so forth.
There are strong indications that, despite Putin’s personal approval rating remaining quite high, approval ratings for all other elements of the system of power are essentially down to pre–Crimea annexation levels and even lower. There are strong and growing signs that the Russian population is deeply unhappy with the current situation, and that discontent has a chance to spill over into the territory of political consequences.
Despite the fact that Putin’s overall hold on the country remains largely unchallenged, authorities run a very serious risk of showing weak results at the upcoming Parliamentary elections in September 2016. The weak result of the ruling party at the previous State Duma elections in 2011 sparked a large-scale political crisis in the country, although the party did not even lose a majority in Parliament.
It is too early to predict specific results of the September 2016 Parliamentary elections, but the weaker the result for United Russia, the more reason to expect some modification of the current system towards power-sharing deals, softening of the ‘vertical of power’, emergence of a more dialogue-based environment and calls for some kind of transformation of the Russian political system.Crisis Elections EU-Russia Security
From Disapproval to Change? Russia’s Population May Surprise Putin at the Next Elections
09 Jun 2016
In recent years mainstream political parties on both the right and the left have been confronted with new challenges. For the centre-right, recent electoral results in Slovakia and, to a much lesser extent, Germany have been disappointing. The centre-right is also facing difficulties in other countries, such as Poland and Italy.
Populists gain popularity, claiming to be capable of cleaning up the Augean stables of political establishment, unashamedly exploiting difficulties that currently haunt Europe and presenting themselves as brave taboo-breakers and genuine defenders of the public interest. Although demagoguery is nothing new– neither is periodic public disappointment in incumbent leaderships – still the question remains: why are mainstream parties struggling so much today?
The world is obviously changing, as are public attitudes and the political landscape. First, the decline of traditional political ideologies has created volatile public opinions and electorates, ultimately fragmenting the ‘core electorate’ of loyal supporters on which traditional parties had always relied. Today on any public policy issue a multitude of opinions often unrelated to official party positions can be heard.
People vote less and less on ideological grounds and rather tend to position themselves based on how they expect specific policies will affect them. Another consequence of the decline of traditional ideologies is a tendency towards increasing fragmentation of our political systems. As a result, mainstream parties have often become broad coalitions representing widely diverging viewpoints on issues such as immigration or foreign policy. This makes them easy targets for populist attacks.
Second, the last decades have witnessed spectacular transformations in communication. The internet fostered a more individualist approach to communication and hugely increased the amount of information available to anyone, thus testing people’s ability to select and judge. A fragmentation and possibly even a polarisation of perspectives seem to have resulted, as the many cases of people who radicalised online in complete solitude show. Social networks have compounded these trends, giving voice to a disorganised wealth of opinions largely devoid of any consistent and comprehensive world-view or value systems.
Third, globalisation brought about revolutionary economic and social changes. We know that in the long run free trade makes us all more prosperous and productive. However, in the short run some people are hurt by this process, some industries are dislocated and inequality may be increased, thus fostering the kind of angry reactions we are seeing in the US and many European countries. Populism breeds in this environment of growing frustration and polarisation.
Tackling such distortions of our democratic systems is obviously impossible without reforming mainstream parties. It is high time for such parties to realise that in order to remain relevant they should adapt to new realities, be open to reform and embrace political innovation. We should also discourage demagogic tendencies within our own ranks. Mainstream parties should not play populist cards and take up radical positions hoping to catch a few additional votes. While political entities should pay heed to public mood and concerns, there need to be certain red lines here, as opportunistic shifting toward radicalism and xenophobia will only demonstrate a lack of moral principles.
Centre-right parties should recognise and take into account the increasing role of emerging political factors such as social movements, non-party politics, and policy-based ad hoc political aggregations. It is also time to consider new types of party membership and political engagement, including for those who feel victimised by the processes of globalisation. Parties in question should use smarter, more flexible and diverse approaches in offering objective information, clear-cut political vision, and effective educational strategies as counters to demagogy and populism.
They should develop new ways of strategic communication focused on simplification of political language and concepts, employing up-to-date technological means, evidence-based planning, and context-determined approaches. This in turn requires educating both the leadership of parties and their members, as well as modernising and democratising intra-party governance, decision-making, and information flows.
Timing often means everything in politics. If party decision-makers wait for too long before taking the necessary steps, demagoguery will proliferate and the European project will suffer. Fundamental party reform may be the only adequate response towards such existential threats. If these threats are not duly acknowledged and countered, basic European values may be at grave risk.Teona Lavrelashvili Centre-Right Elections Globalisation Political Parties Populism
Between a rock and a hard place: challenges ahead for centre-right parties
20 Apr 2016
Yes, he’s vulgar, self-obsessed, sexist, racist and full of lies. He has never held elected office, no governing experience, and no recognisable plan. There’s no question that a Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States, its partners and the world. The question is whether it would be the end of the West as we know it, as Anne Applebaum wrote.
As far as Europe is concerned, much of the apocalyptic warnings we are hearing after Super Tuesday are based on a lack of knowledge about how American democracy actually works. Take an example: A German commentator on 2 March described what he considers Europe’s worst nightmare: being ‘squeezed between Putin, the ice cold cynic, and Trump, the boastful narcissist.’ Now, this statement, first of all, harks back to the time-honoured tradition of many Europeans to place themselves politically somewhere in equal distance between the United States and Russia. So far, so bad. But second, and more importantly, putting Putin and Trump on the same level completely ignores (or willfully sidelines) the powerful checks and balances that the Founding Fathers built into the American polity – and that are completely absent in Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy.
These checks and balances are present on both the formal and informal levels. On the formal side, Congress is arguably the strongest. In case of a narrow victory in November (a landslide can be, frankly speaking, neatly excluded), I consider it very doubtful that a President Trump could amass a Congressional majority – so he would have to constantly negotiate: at which he excels, in his own words, but which means that many of his ‘projects’ would not see the light of day the way he is boasting about them now.
But there is also the Supreme Court and the States. Finally, there are international commitments that would be protected, if push came to shove, by soldiers and public servants disobeying presidential orders should they fly in the face of international law. Add to this the powerful informal checks and balances, such as public opinion, civil society and Wall Street, and you have a strategic difference between a hypothetical US under Trump and the very real Russia under Putin. European commentators too often overlook this.
Having said all that, many moderate Americans, including many conservatives, are also spooked by the prospect of a Trump presidency. Even they invoke the nightmare prospect of a Trump presidency taking an authoritarian turn but the urgency of their appeals may be explained by the fact that they are in the position of actually being able to influence America’s development over the upcoming months, contrary to Europeans whose attempts to help liberal American presidential candidates (for example in 2004) have never been helpful, to put it mildly.
Moreover, the tendency for Europeans to overlook or underestimate the positive role that checks and balances can play against the potentially authoritarian tendencies of a democratically elected executive, should be taken as an incentive: to talk more, and more persistently about the crucial importance of checks and balances and the rule of law in Europe itself. Because in politics, for every ugly American, there are three ugly Europeans, ranging from Nigel Farage to Jarosław Kaczyński to Marine Le Pen, with a bunch of ‘centre right’ and socialist leaders in between.
All these ladies and gentlemen feel uncomfortable with an independent judiciary, free and critical media, an impartial public service and strong and vibrant civil society. Many of them believe that once their government has been democratically elected, checks and balances only help the rich, the strong, the old elites or some strange minorities to continue to ‘impose their will’ upon the hard-working, God-fearing, tax-paying majorities. In other words, strengthening European discourse about making democracy safer against threats from within would be one healthy reaction to the – hopefully hypothetical – prospect of a Trump presidency.
The other one would be for Europe to get its act together – a tall order, admittedly, looking at the unprecedented mess we are facing at the moment. But we should never tire of trying to find the right mixture of subsidiarity (and that can mean devolution, in some cases) and united strength that will be required if we don’t want to give America’s new isolationists (and of these, there are far more than just one Donald Trump) an excuse to withdraw from the Transatlantic alliance.Roland Freudenstein Elections EU-US
Trump – the ugly American and the rule of law
07 Mar 2016
The possibility of a Dail being elected tomorrow where no feasible combination of parties will be able to form a government is unfortunately quite high. Party leaders were incessantly pressed by the media and others during the campaign into ruling out coalition options.
There was no space allowed for “constructive ambiguity”, although Irish people know well that, without “constructive ambiguity” in the short term, we might have had no peace process in the long term. Media interest and public interest are not always identical.
The questions asked by moderators in the leaders’ debates seemed to focus heavily on catching leaders out about things they said or did in the past rather than on their thoughts about the future, which is what is really important now. Some of the issues pursued were trivial, like the appointment of a member to the board of an art gallery.
It is almost as if the moderators wanted to ask questions about the past because they were themselves uncomfortable dealing with challenges about the future, like:
- the ballooning cost of health services, relative to resources available
- the looming pensions crisis, where numbers at work will decline relative to numbers on pension
- the changes required of Ireland to meet its climate change obligations
- what the leaders would do, next June, if the UK leaves the EU
- the shape of the 2017 budget ( all the focus was on what might be possible in 2021!)
- what the leaders would do if, when the Dail meets, no combination of parties, willing to coalesce with one another, could attain a majority
- how long could we go without a government, if one is not elected on 10 March
These are not very original questions, but they are the ones voters should be thinking about.John Bruton Elections EU Member States Leadership
Eve of Irish election prognosis
25 Feb 2016
Next June the people of the UK may vote to leave the European Union. At the moment, a narrow majority favours remaining in the EU, but a large group are undecided. That group could swing towards a “leave” position for a variety of reasons, including what might be temporary EU problems with refugees. However temporary the reasons might be, a decision to leave, once made, would be politically irreversible.
So it would be wise for Ireland to give thought now to how it might react to a decision by UK voters to leave the EU, and how it would play its hand in the subsequent negotiations. A number of scenarios will arise and Ireland needs to identify its red lines in each one of these.
THE NEGOTIATIONS COULD ONLY TAKE 21 MONTHS
The negotiation of a UK withdrawal from the EU will be done under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It will have to be a quick negotiation because Article 50 contains a two year time limit. In practice the negotiation of withdrawal arrangements will all have to be finished in about 21 months.
From the date that the UK Prime Minister informs the European Council of his/her decision to implement the referendum decision, the two year time limit starts to run. Assuming a June 2016 Referendum, I calculate the Withdrawal Treaty would have to been negotiated, ratified, and brought into force by July 2018.
So the negotiations themselves between the EU side and the UK side would probably have to be finished at latest by April 2018, to allow time for parliamentary ratifications. In the event that no agreement had been reached within the deadline, the EU Treaties “would cease to apply” to the UK. The UK would simply be out of the EU, without even a trade agreement.
This would be exceptionally disruptive of the UK economy, and of some, but not all, EU states’ economies. It would be particularly bad for Ireland. Our exports to the UK would be at risk, and the border would be deepened with incalculable consequences.
UNANIMITY OF ALL EU STATES NEEDED TO EXTEND THE TWO YEAR LIMIT
The two year limit could be extended, but only with the consent of all 27 members of the EU. If the negotiations had become contentious, or if the UK demands bore heavily against the interests of one or two states, one could see the required unanimous consent for an extension of negotiating time being withheld.
This risk of a single refusal to extend time for negotiation, adversely affects the dynamics of the negotiation, from a UK point of view, because the UK has more to lose from failure. It is not inconceivable that a populist government in a member state might hold a time extension for the UK hostage to obtain some other unrelated matter, such as debt relief. A European Parliament in election year could also be a source of uncertainty.
While a time extension would require unanimity, the actual negotiation of the terms of withdrawal would need a “Qualified Majority” within the European Council.
NO GUARANTEE OF PROTECTION OF IRISH INTERESTS IN WITHDRAWAL TREATY
That means that the terms of the Withdrawal Treaty would need to support of 72% of the 27 EU governments, collectively representing at least 65% of the total EU population. Ireland, on its own, could not block a Withdrawal Treaty that contained terms that were against Irish interests. Nor could Ireland guarantee it would be agreed on terms that would adequately protect Ireland’s interests. For example, Ireland could not necessarily prevent passport controls or customs posts on the border in Ireland.
While 72% of EU member state governments must agree to the Treaty terms, 100% of the 27 national parliaments must do so, and ratification could become entangled in General Elections in some states in the interim. While our fellow EU member states will undoubtedly recognise the Ireland will suffer more than any other EU state from a UK withdrawal, which does not guarantee that Irish interests will be taken into account in all cases. Quid pro Quo will apply, and that could cause difficulties on vital Irish interests on EU issues that have little direct bearing on the UK Withdrawal as such.
Given the short time involved, the UK will not have the option of pursuing a relaxed post referendum exploration of different types of external association with the EU. It will probably have to decide at the outset what form of relationship it is seeking. It will have to choose among options that do not require the EU itself to change its Treaties. The options were well described in a recent paper by Jean Claude Piris, former legal advisor to the European Council.
SCENARIO 1: UK JOINS THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA
The simplest would be to join the European Economic Area (EEA), while leaving the EU itself. The EEA allows Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to take part in the EU Single Market, but without being in the EU Agricultural, Fisheries, Judicial and Foreign Policies.
In the EEA, the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget, to apply EU Single Market rules without having the say it now has in them, and to allow free movement of EU migrants to work in the UK on the same terms as locals.
Ireland’s problem with this option would be the departure of the UK from the EU Common Agricultural Policy which would raise issues of fair competitive access for Irish farm produce to the UK market. Management of Atlantic Fisheries would also become more contentious.
SCENARIO 2: THE SWISS APPROACH
Less simple would be for the UK to seek to make tailor made agreements with the EU, like Switzerland has. This negotiation would be a very complex process where tradeoffs would have to be sought between different sectors and national interests. The Swiss model has not worked well from an EU point of view, and one could expect EU negotiators to take an exceptionally tough line if this is what the UK seeks. The issue of access to the UK labour market for EU citizens would certainly be a demand from the EU side in such a negotiation.
In practice, if not in theory, the UK would have to implement EU law in all the areas for which it sought access to the EU market. This would be very problematic from the point of view of the financial services exports from London to Europe.
Once such a deal had been concluded, the EU side would be under pressure to tilt its own internal rules to favour financial service providers in the EU itself. If a system of mutual support and mutual supervision of financial service providers existed within the EU, and the UK was not part of that, there would then be valid grounds for objecting to UK financial service providers benefitting from a market they were not supporting on the same basis as EU providers.
This could hurt London, and Dublin could be a beneficiary. Outside the EU, the UK could do little to stop this. The European Banking Authority would have to leave London and there would be a good case for relocating it in Dublin.
SCENARIO 3: A CANADA STYLE AGREEMENT WITH THE EU
Another option would be for UK just to seek a trade agreement with the EU, like Canada has. This option is favoured by some of those who want the UK to leave the EU, so it needs to be studied.
The first thing to say about this is that it would have to be negotiated within the two year time limit applying to a Withdrawal Treaty under Article 50, and would presumably have to be part of the Withdrawal Treaty. The existing Canada Agreement took 6 years to negotiate and dealt with a much less complex relationship than that between the UK and the rest of Europe. It is very hard to see how all this could be done in the time frame. The European Parliament would actively involve itself in the details. The UK would be excluded from the European council discussions on the topic.
A Canada type agreement would not necessarily mean continuing tariff free access to the EU for all UK goods. Some tariffs remain on some Canadian goods for the time being. It is unlikely that a trade agreement like this, or even a Customs Union of the kind Turkey has with the EU, would allow the UK access to the EU financial services market and financial services are one of the UK’s biggest exports.
It is clear that under a Canada style agreement, the UK would have to comply with EU rules on any goods or services it wanted to export to Ireland or to any other EU member state. The UK would have no say in the framing of these rules, but it would still be bound by them.
Of course, the UK would be free to make its own rules for goods and services sold within the UK, but the downside of that would be that UK firms would then have to operate under two different rule books, one for the UK and another for the EU, thereby adding to their costs and damaging their competitiveness.
Once a Canada style agreement had been made, the UK would be out of the EU and would have no control over any further rules on new topics that the EU might need to make. The Canada agreement is clear that it does not restrict the EU making “new laws in areas of interest” to it. If the Canada model was followed there would be a Regulatory Cooperation Forum to cover this sort of thing. In the Canadian model, this Forum would allow:
- “exchange of information and experiences”,
- “only provide suggestions and make no rules”
- “not have decision making powers”.
In other words, the UK would be in a worse position than it is as a voting member of the EU. If, after the UK had withdrawn, the EU deepened its service market further, allowing new access rights across border for service providers within the EU, the UK would miss out on this and would have to negotiate access for its service providers on a case by case basis. The rights of the 1.8 million UK citizens now living in EU countries would also be less secure. UK citizens, living in Ireland or the continent, would enjoy only what Canadians enjoy.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO EXISTING EU TRADE DEALS, AND TO EU LAWS NOW ON THE UK STATUTE BOOK?
Furthermore, the UK would have to start from scratch negotiating trade agreements with countries all over the world, to replace the trade agreements it now has with all those same countries as a member of the EU. The UK Parliament would certainly be busy as well, in that it would have to pass new UK laws to replace all the EU regulations that are now part of UK law.
The only alternative to this would be for the UK to decide to leave all the “acquis” of EU rules and regulations, which are now supposedly so objectionable, on the UK statute book, as they are, for a long time to come. One proponent of UK exit from the EU, Lord Lamont, admitted, in a debate with me recently that this is what they would have to do. Leaving the EU, only to leave EU rules on the UK statute book, seems like a lot of trouble to achieve very little!
A SECOND REFERENDUM?
There would be no second referendum on the final terms of any Withdrawal Treaty. This has been made clear by Chancellor Osborne. That has to be his position because, if there was to be such a referendum, the choice would presumably be either to leave on the basis of the terms of withdrawal Treaty, or stay in on the basis of the EU membership exactly as it is today.
If such a second referendum was formally in prospect, it is hard to see that the EU side would have any incentive at all to offer the UK any concessions at in the Withdrawal Treaty negotiations. They would be mad to do so, because all the concessions would achieve, would be to make withdrawal more attractive.
I believe that the architects of the UK’s renegotiation/referendum strategy did not adequately consider how hazardous the voyage is, on which they have so casually embarked. They may have overestimated the EU’s political capacity to devise yet another special deal for the UK. Ireland, for its part, will have to adopt a very tough, deliberate, and multifaceted negotiating strategy, as long as this avoidable uncertainty prevails.John Bruton Elections EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
29 Jan 2016
The US political party system has displayed remarkable stability, unmatched by any other country. The US has had a two-party system with the same two political parties for over 150 years. Since the 1860s, all presidents and nearly all senators and representatives have been members of one of these two parties.
In recent years, however, dissatisfaction with the parties has been high. A record number of Americans now describe themselves as independents. Certain groups have arisen—for example, the Tea Party—which some believed might evolve into a third political party. All of these developments have led some observers to believe that the time is right for a third party.
These observers are probably wrong. Although a multiplicity of parties is the rule in most European democracies, the hurdles for third parties have always been high in the US. At the moment the two parties are as dominant in winning elections as they have been in any period. However, this electoral dominance does not mean that the American party system has been static.
The parties are in the midst of several dramatic changes: (1) the Republican and Democratic parties have become highly polarised, ideological parties with significant differences in worldview, (2) the two parties have weak discipline and fractures within their ranks, and (3) the two political parties now have significant competition from outside groups in terms of raising and spending funds on political campaigns. All of these developments have made the challenge of governing significantly more difficult.
This article will lay out why, despite evidence to the contrary, there is little prospect of the emergence of a third party and how the above-mentioned developments in the political parties present challenges to effective governance.
The hard road for a third party
US politics has several features that have always made the successful formation of a third party difficult. In all federal and the vast majority of state elections, the country has single-member districts and does not have proportional representation. The extensive size of the country, combined with the winner-take-all aspects of congressional elections and the Electoral College, mean that a party must not only be strong enough to win in individual states and districts, but also have electoral strength in several regions of the US. Add to these systemic factors that many states have erected obstacles to ballot access and it is clear that the road to success for a third party will always be a difficult one.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.John C. Fortier Democracy Elections Party Structures Political Parties Transatlantic
John C. Fortier
Polarised and fractured US political parties and the challenges of governing
09 Sep 2015
Information technology permeates almost every aspect of our lives. The reason is simple. When a system is well designed, it makes everything better: speed, reliability, security, efficiency, convenience and capabilities are all increased, most often by many orders of magnitude.
No one would dream of running a bank without the computers and software that are the central nervous system of any institution. Every time you fly in a plane you put your life in the ‘hands’ of a computer for most of the trip, albeit with some human supervision. If you happen to be in hospital in critical condition, your life-support system is likely to be controlled by software run by a computer.
We twenty-first century humans trust computers with the most difficult, the most critical and the most important tasks of our personal lives. It therefore seems strange that technology is largely absent from important areas of government, which is not taking advantage of the significant benefits that we are now used to everywhere else. One area where developments in technology have been especially slow is in the process of enabling democracy. Enormous opportunities in this area remain unrealised: citizen engagement, real-time participation, communication between government and constituents, and elections.
This article discusses government elections from start to finish. It focuses on polling station voting. All around the world, from the most developed countries to the most challenged ones, running a successful, clean election is the first step towards true democracy. The process of assuring the eligibility and enfranchisement of voters, the voting itself, counting the votes, producing election returns, canvassing and tallying is still mostly done manually in a majority of countries. In each one of these stages, the 2,000-year-old system is unreliable at best and corrupt at worst. This leaves room for all kinds of problems. In many cases these problems are swept under the rug, but they pervert the ideal of democracy, that in elections it is only the will of the people that prevails.
Many people perceive the election process to be straightforward and take for granted that it works. For this reason, very little attention is given to election administration. But as one of the founders of Smartmatic, the largest voting technology company in the world, I can say that the election process is much more complex than most people realise. I am deeply concerned about the election process and consider the convergence of technology and politics a matter of great importance. I invite the reader to join me as I discuss this topic that is so fundamental to our democratic systems.
Election technology: the case for and against
After 11 years conducting thousands of elections on every continent, and working side by side with countless election professionals and volunteers, Smartmatic election specialists have discovered common themes in the challenges faced by those with the difficult jobs of organising, running and managing elections.
Read the FREE full article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Antonio Mugica Elections Technology
The case for election technology
09 Sep 2015
Traditionally, political parties have had a large and fixed membership that they could count on for support. Not only was membership seen as permanent, but it was also passed down from one generation to the next. This relationship was an essential part of political life in our democracies. However, globalisation and technology, amongst other factors, have forever altered this reality. These phenomena have opened up a new world where citizens can engage in politics outside of the framework of political parties.
Western society has changed from a church-centred community to an individualistic society. The ties between its members are weaker—and sometimes missing altogether. At the same time, people feel more connected than ever: via the Internet, reaching out to like-minded people has never been easier and more effortless. This combination of local disconnection and global connection has repercussions for politics as a whole and for political parties in particular.
The free flow of information is vital for a modern, functioning democracy as it helps people to engage with their representatives. We very much encourage this flow, especially as democracy not only gives freedom and rights to citizens, but also gives them the responsibility of proactively engaging with the society in which they live. However, as we can see from Russian propaganda, information can be manipulated or distorted to create false perceptions. In this respect, political parties have an important role to play: not only must they guide citizens through the sea of available information, but they must also act responsibly when engaging with the media.
While people are benefiting from the enlargement of their world, globalisation also seems to have instilled fear in citizens, by bringing previously unknown threats into their living rooms. Moreover, the economic crisis has created discontent among voters, not only about the practices in the financial world but also about how politics and the political establishment have handled the crisis.
This has created the opportunity and made way for protest movements and new types of parties to emerge. Unfortunately, these new parties are strongly populist, lean to either the extreme left or the extreme right, are single-issue based or anti-establishment, and are polarising our society. Moreover, they fail to provide a feasible vision for the future of our community. It is worrying that many voters believe that these political parties are serving our democracy. However, we can do more than sit back and hope that these parties will destruct themselves.
The rise of these parties offers an opportunity for people’s parties to show clear leadership and vision, and prove to our electorate that we do not shy away from taking difficult decisions and explaining them to the people. Established parties with well-elaborated policies are particularly capable of tackling the complexity of today’s challenges. However, such action may require people’s parties to modernise and effectively adapt to the new and empowered society that is emerging. Citizens are demanding results and proper representation. Furthermore, we need to make an effort to win back the hearts and minds of the citizens.
The articles in this issue of the European View provide ample food for thought regarding the modernisation of our people’s parties to meet the needs of our new society. Some authors question whether the representative model of democracy is still valid, and propose the introduction of direct democracy or open source democracy, where citizens use the Internet to tell their representatives how to vote. Others believe that political parties remain the best vehicle for translating citizens’ concerns into policy, but simultaneously argue that the parties need to do more to engage citizens, to explain themselves and to serve voters.
As the president of the European People’s Party, I too believe that the citizens are best served by the representative model and that political parties are the best-developed vehicles for this purpose. We have to make sure that we not only keep pace with developments, but that we also use these changes to engage citizens on the largest scale possible. It is important for democracy that parties behave responsibly and always act in the best interests of the whole of society—and not merely in the interests of those who have voted for them or even in the interests of the current generation. We need to look beyond the present and create sustainable solutions to ensure a secure future for our children and grandchildren.
This editorial was originally published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, Martens Centre’s policy journal.Joseph Daul Democracy Elections EU Member States Political Parties
The future of political parties
08 Sep 2015
The title of this article has positive connotations. It infers that European parties are doing very well and, by taking a few fresh ideas into the 2019 European elections, will be able to do even better. This article will present the current situation of the European political parties and assess the main areas in which improvements can be made to further integration. It is not surprising that this is one of those topics on which researchers have widely divergent opinions.
Do we really need parties in the EU?
The EU has evolved into a fully-fledged political system with public opinion, institutions, regulation, and ordinary and extraordinary decision-making procedures. It deals with critical issues, not always visible to the majority of the citizens. These include areas such as agricultural policy, regional development funding instruments, monetary policy, economic policy coordination, the regulation of the internal market and the establishment of the rules governing trade with the rest of the world, among others.
Although today’s EU is the product of a gradual evolution from the original treaties of the 1950s, much of its current structure is the result of the Maastricht Treaty. The last five years and the enduring financial and sovereign debt crises in the eurozone have further advanced European integration, through the introduction of new institutions and policies to address the design limitations of the monetary union.
The history of the European political parties and of the pro-European movement are mutually bound together. After several years of sluggish progress on integration in the 1960s due to French reluctance, the 1970s saw significant steps being taken in the European project through the preparation for and introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament (EP). The commencement of the preparatory steps for these elections gave impetus to the creation of European federations.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Michalis Peglis Elections European Union Political Parties
How can European political parties maximise their success in the 2019 elections?
08 Sep 2015
The European Union as a whole has seen the share of the elderly population rise progressively. Over 18% of the population is currently aged 65 years or over, a figure that has risen by 2% over the last ten years and is expected to increase to 28% by 2050. This trend holds across all of Europe. Confronted with demographic ageing, the question arises as to whether this changing structure of the population is also having an impact on politics and elections. Despite the increasing share of seniors in society, few if any studies have focused on seniors’ voting behaviour.
This paper aims to examine the voting behaviour of European senior citizens in the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections. It is structured along three main questions. The first part will deal with the question of whether and how the increasing share of seniors in the overall population affects voter turnout in elections, considering age, generational effects and political knowledge and opinion as the main explanations.
The second part deals with the question of whether and how the increasing share of seniors in the overall population affects election results, considering political opinion and party loyalty as main explanations. The third and final part will assess the representation of seniors in the EP,
considering the share of senior Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the inclusion of representation of seniors’ interests.
The paper finds that the seniors’ share in the population is increasing, and that they are also the most active voters. Additionally, they generally vote for centre–right parties that belong to the European People’s Party (EPP) family. Their decision to participate in the elections, however, seems to have been driven more by generational effects-that is, party loyalty and voting habits-than by active campaign mobilisation.Centre-Right Elections European People's Party
Seniors in the 2014 European Parliament Elections: Turnout, Voting Intentions and Representation
01 Jul 2015
The British Governments plan to renegotiate the terms of its membership of the EU do not come at a good time. The EU is tackling the possibility of Greece leaving the euro, and Ukraine going bankrupt while simultaneously being dismantled by force by Russia
Now, while doing all that, the EU has also to address itself to a, yet to be revealed, British re-negotiation agenda. It is likely that this agenda, to some extent, will be shaped around David Cameron’s assessment of what he has a good chance of being conceded. He is touring EU capitals to find that out. That is a sensible and pragmatic approach on his part.
What he gets will probably not satisfy the 100 or so Tory MPs who simply want the UK to leave the EU. And with a majority of only 12, David Cameron cannot ignore these MPs. Other EU leaders will have to judge how close they should go to their bottom line, just to satisfy opinion in a country which may leave the EU anyway.
There is one issue on which David Cameron’s demands are already very explicit and clear…the rights of recent EU immigrants living in the UK. This may, or may not, include Irish immigrants living in Britain, but I expect it could be difficult in EU law for Britain, inside the EU, to discriminate in favour of the Irish against other EU nationals.
The Conservative Manifesto could not be clearer on the position of recent immigrants from other EU countries. It says that: “If (EU) jobseekers have not found a job within 6 months, they will be required to leave.“ This seems to be in direct conflict with Article 20 of the EU Treaty which gives EU citizens a right to “move and reside freely within the territory of (other) member states.”
Furthermore, the Manifesto recalls that the Government has already banned housing benefit for EU immigrants, and goes on to say “We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credit and child benefit must have lived here for five years”. This seems in flat contradiction of Article 45 of the EU Treaty which requires
“the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers as regards employment, remuneration, and other conditions of employment.” Tax credits are a form of negative income tax. If discrimination in respect of tax credits were to be permitted, it would become impossible, within the EU, to resist a proposal to apply different income tax rates, or different tax free allowances, to people of different EU nationalities.
The irony of the UK Governments position is that they want a stronger Single Market, with greater freedom to sell goods and services, and move capital, across boundaries within the EU. But they wish to resist the freedom of movement of workers across EU boundaries ! This will be seen by many in the rest of the EU as ideologically biased, as well as discriminatory.
Angela Merkel, a politician who always looks for hard evidence, will be interested to discover that, between 2005 and 2014, only 33% of immigrants to the UK came from other EU countries, like Ireland. Only 2.5% of all benefit claimants in the UK originate from other EU countries, and EU immigrants to the UK are only half as likely, as native UK subjects, to claim benefit.
Another knotty question, within the UK itself, will be the position of the devolved governments in Scotland , Northern Ireland and Wales. For example, given their electoral support level, how can David Cameron exclude the Scottish Nationalists from the UK negotiating team? Offering to include them could be good politics. Excluding them from the negotiating team, if they requested a place, would make a Scottish exit from the UK more likely
A UK demand is likely to be the repatriation of more powers, from Brussels to the 28 member parliaments, including Westminster. The difficulty here is that a comprehensive “Competence Review” by the UK Foreign Office, across the whole range of EU powers, failed to come up with many concrete suggestions for powers that ought to be repatriated.
The UK may also demand a “red card “ system, whereby EU laws, already approved in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament ,where the UK is already well represented in both, could be derailed by vetoes from a number of national parliaments. This would prolong and delay, the already laborious, process of EU law making.
It would also run directly counter to another UK demand, for completion of the EU Single market. For example, the outstanding matters of creating a Single market in Digital Services, in Energy, and in Capital for lending, all in the UK’s interests, require more new EU laws, not less.
The unintended often happens in politics.
The proposed “red card” would, I believe, be more likely to be used by other EU states to block things the UK wants, than the other way around.
These difficulties all suggest that David Cameron should seek to reframe the entire negotiation, both in the way he presents it at home, and in the rest of the EU.
Rather than looking for exceptions for the UK, he should emphasise Britain’s capacity to take the lead in the EU in clearing away barriers to economic growth across all of Europe, a stance that would play to his country’s strength, and would put others on the back foot.John Bruton Elections EU Member States European Union
Cameron’s renegotiation will not be easy
27 May 2015
The self declared Conservative and Unionist Party won the General Election in England by harnessing English Nationalism, and the Scottish Nationalists did the same in Scotland by harnessing Scottish Nationalism. The two nations, by the rhetoric of their respective election campaigns, have thus set themselves on a collision course.
The Conservative Party scared English voters with the prospect of a Labour Government taking office with parliamentary support from the Scottish National Party. English voters were persuaded that a Labour Government, dependant on Scottish Nationalists, would somehow steal English money for the benefit of Scotland. If there was deep pro Union sentiment in England, this appeal would not have worked, but it did work.
The implication of the successful Conservative ploy was that Scottish Nationalist MPs, although freely elected to and sitting in the United Kingdom Parliament, would not be fit to have influence on the fiscal policies of the government of the UK as a whole, simply because they are Scottish Nationalists. They are thus cast in the role of “second class” MPs.
The Conservative Party was saying that Scottish Nationalists are not welcome as full participants in the Union, at least as far as having a say in the fiscal policy of the Union is concerned. That was a very anti Unionist stance for a self declared” Unionist” party to take.
Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party itself won support in Scotland on the false premise that a Scotland separated from England could avoid austerity, whereas the reality is that an independent Scotland would, on present policies, have a larger proportionate fiscal deficit, than the UK( including Scotland) now has. Arguably, an independent Scotland would have to have more, not less, austerity.
That is not, of itself, a reason for Scotland to reject independence, but if it opts for independence, it should understand, and be willing to pay, the extra cost. This was not teased out because, unlike almost any other country in Europe, Scotland has no serious, centre-right, fiscally conservative , party.
This is not the first time that the Conservative Party has adopted English Nationalism as an electoral tactic.
It did so in the 1911 to 1914 period, when it sought to de-legitimate the minority, Asquith led, Liberal Government of that period, on the ground that the Liberals were dependent for their continuance in office on the Irish Party of John Redmond, and were pursuing a policy of Home Rule for Ireland within the UK. The Conservatives even went so far, at that time, to advocate extra parliamentary methods to defeat the Home Rule policy of their duly elected UK Government.
At that time, the Irish Nationalists, unlike their Scottish brethren today, understood that an independent Irish Exchequer could not afford to introduce some of the fiscal measures then being introduced for the UK, as transpired when an Irish Government in 1924 had to take a shilling off the old age pensions Lloyd George had introduced in 1909. Scottish Nationalists could learn from that.
The difficulty for the Conservatives, in again adopting an overtly English Nationalist stance to win English electoral support, is its effect on Scottish opinion, over the next five years, while Scotland will being governed, as far UK matters are concerned, by a Conservative Party that fought an election on the basis that MPs the Scottish electorate have chosen ought not influence UK fiscal policy.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are committed to a referendum on EU membership which could result in English votes taking both Scotland and England out of the EU, even though Scottish voters might, by majority in the referendum, vote to stay in the EU.
In a Union where England’s population is so much greater than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the use of a simple majority referendum to decide such existential questions as EU membership is unnecessarily crude and divisive.
It reduces subtle and difficult matters to a simple “yes/no” question, and takes no account of the fact that the four components of the UK are not only different in size and population, but also very different in political culture. Imagine what would happen if there had to have been an EU wide referendum of the bailout packages for Ireland and Portugal!
Nationalistic passions are all too easy to stir up, as a means of winning elections, but once kindled they are not easily or quickly extinguished.
Now that the election is over, David Cameron needs to break with Westminster’s confrontational traditions, and adopt a consensual approach towards all the opposition parties and enlist their help in finding a way of devolving more powers to Scotland without aggravating the rest of the UK, and of negotiating with the EU on basis that will not further deepen divisions within the UK itself.John Bruton Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Leadership Political Parties
An expensive victory for English and Scottish nationalism
11 May 2015
For the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, 2014 was a year of significant changes that reflect the organisation’s maturity and its established position on the European think tank scene.Democracy Economy Elections Foreign Policy Transatlantic
Activity Report 2014
19 Mar 2015
Forty rounds of applause celebrated the thirty minute speech given by the new President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, in front of a joint session of both Houses of Parliament.
Mattarella, who is 73 years old, was elected last Saturday, 31 January, with a considerable majority of almost two thirds of the eligible electors. “My thoughts go, above all, and before everything, to the difficulties and hopes of our fellow citizens. That’s enough,” he said right after being elected by the Parliament.
A former professor of Parliamentary Law, the newly-elected President sat as a judge on the Constitutional Court after being a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2008, serving as Minister of Parliamentary Relations from 1987 to 1989, Minister of Education from 1989 to 1990 and as Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2001. From 1998 to 1999 he also had a one-year experience as Deputy Prime Minister. He has a long Christian-Democrat family tradition– his father, Bernardo, was one of the founders of the Italian “Democrazia Cristiana”.Mattarella entered politics after his brother Piersanti, then President of Sicily, was murdered by the Mafia in 1980.
One of his first priorities as the new President will be pushing the process of economic and institutional reforms ahead. Italy is now at a crossroad and reforms constitute the main legacy left by former President Giorgio Napolitano to his successor. A specific focus on the Italian electoral law, which is soon to be voted in the Parliament, is expected due to the expertise of Mattarella in this field (he drafted in 1993 the “Mattarellum”, the electoral law introducing the majority system in Italy).
Mattarella’s agenda will also feature his response to the economic crisis, social exclusion and unemployment. In his inaugural address to Parliament, he pointed out the urgent need for job market reform: efforts to reshape the job market and improve mobility are essential to give hope to workers –especially the young ones – and those that there are looking for jobs. Mattarella has vowed to push ahead with digital innovation in Public Administration, to encourage more participation of citizens in decision making.
Mattarella has also unveiled his plan to fight the spreading frustration with politics in Italy, due also to the high distrust earned by politicians among Italian population. While unemployment rates are increasing and condition of life are generally decreasing, politicians are considered in Italy as a real “casta”, blamed for focusing much more on their own interests than on those of Italian people.. He also referred to “the indignation of younger MPs” in his speech – which was read as a reference to the euro-sceptic 5 Star Movement. These MPs should contribute and support, according to what Mattarella said, a deep change in both society and politics, based on responsibility for the country’s well-being.
Mattarella showed his commitment to fighting crime and corruption – implicitly referring to the scandals that recently hit Rome’s municipality. He vowed to safeguard the natural and historical treasures of Italy. He recognised the value of solidarity, endorsing the integration of ethnic communities. He mentioned the importance of family and traditions.
Mattarella’s speech emphasised that Europe offers a framework for facing tomorrow’s challenges and also the importance of the EU as a political union. Here, reference was made to the growth strategy that the Italian presidency of the Council has tried to pit against the focus on fiscal consolidation dominant in Brussels.
Political observers are still uncertain as to how they should interpret Mattarella’s election, whose name was the only one presented by Prime Minister Renzi and then swiftly approved by Parliament, after a tough round of negotiations with the different political parties. But Mattarella has made it clear that he will remain an impartial referee as Italy strives for structural reforms – to be achieved by parliamentary approval and not through governmental decree.
The high estimation for Mattarella, coming from all corners of Italian political life, could help him in accomplishing his tasks and mission: certainly, it clearly shows the strong link that Italian politics still has with Christian Democratic values and traditions. His respect for the institutions and conscientiousness of duty as head of state reflects his personality: a great defender of the Constitution on which Italians can hopefully rely on.Paolo Brandi Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Sergio Mattarella: the new constitutional “referee”
11 Feb 2015
The response to Syriza’s election in Greece has been marked by much comment on the impending conflict between the new government and the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). ‘Greece and global creditors dig in for fresh struggle over austerity’ headlined the Financial Times. In this narrative, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Sinn Fein in Ireland are new forces in European politics, a left wing phalanx with a harder edge and a radical path to economic rejuvenation. This path to salvation will be achieved, in the short run at least, by increasing public expenditure (everything from pensions to salaries) and casting off the perceived shackles of the existing agreements with the EU, ECB and IMF.
However, as noted recently by my colleague Angelos Angelou, Syriza itself is characterised by deep rooted divisions over its long term economic goals. The recent moderation of Alexis Tsipras is matched by a substantial internal opposition who view the Euro (and the EU) as symbols of capitalist oppression and real impediments to the creation of a fairer Greek society. However, now confronting the realities of power, Syriza is faced with a fundamental choice – engage with the wider economic system as it is, or attempt a full blown restructuring of Greek society based on isolating Athens from her European partners.
These internal contradictions within Syriza also form part of the wider strategic shift to left-wing political movements in many member states, particularly in those states subject to bailout programmes since 2009. For these movements (which are more diffuse than traditional political groupings and generally bring together a diverse range of left wing interest groups) the campaign to end ‘austerity’ represents an opportunity to refashion classic socialist (and even communist) mantras for the twenty first century.
This strategic shift to the left does not just represent a campaign against the bailout agreements Rather, movements like Syriza are acting as lightning rods for public discontent at dire economic conditions, mistrust in centre-right political elites and a sharp decline in the public’s belief in the EU as a mechanism for achieving higher standards of living. The populist appeal of Syriza is based on the classical socialist approach of more public spending. Apart from a laudable commitment to tackle tax evasion the Thessaloniki Programme is very high on aspiration, but very short on hard economic realities or definite timescales.
For the centre-right in Europe the challenge now is to provide a more coherent vision of the social market economic model in the twenty first century: An updated model that places private enterprise at the centre of Europe’s return to growth. A model that gives all people – from start-ups to well established firms – equal opportunities to succeed and flourish. And of course, we need to keep working on the most effective way to provide countries in distress with a sustainable reform path based on our guiding principle of solidarity.Eoin Drea Crisis Elections Euroscepticism Eurozone Growth
The economic realities of Syriza in power
29 Jan 2015
the pension reforms and tax system changes made. These policies would not be advisable in the country’s current economic environment. In fact, they are the same measures that got Greece into trouble in the first place, risking the deepening of the country’s debt burden and economic and social fragility. Pardoning the debt without changing the economic fundamentals will lead Greece into a next crisis soon.
The New Democracy’s programme proposes to continue with economic reforms to boost the country’s growth and competitiveness. Granted, many argue that the party could have done more to reduce the burden of the crisis on the private sector and to protect SMEs from going bust by improving the framework conditions for businesses to be able to continue operations in more efficient ways. However, their promise to support economically sound measures should be given an act of faith.
Greece will stay in the Europzone; sceptics will be proven wrong
Greece needs to elect leaders that have the credibility in front of Member States and towards private investors to govern the country responsibly. If Syriza wins, there is no certainty that the country stays in the Euro area, in spite of what it promises in the elections. Syriza will not be able to deliver only the attractive part of its programme. If they are left to apply economic utopia, people will burden the cost. Since their programme is not realistically able to bring the country back to growth, Greece will become even less credible for international lenders and unattractive to investors.
With the economy in its current state, it is unlikely that a Grexit would devalue the country’s debt; it might actually increase it. An exit of Greece from the euro would create even higher political instability, significant market turbulences and would actually increase borrowing costs for Greek businesses. Ultimately, the society as a whole would have to bear further costs and the sacrifices already made by the people are put at risk.
Therefore, in spite of what Eurosceptics believe, it is in Greece’s interest to stay in Eurozone. Given the current debt situation topping 175% of GDP, the re-scheduling of the debt repayment from 30 to 50 years would be a possible scenario under these circumstances. In addition, Greece would be on track to finalise the current bailout programme and get ready to enter international markets with more favourable interest rates in the longer term.
The population needs to be better informed about the possible consequences of voting for Syriza. Not taking the route of structural reforms, as Syriza proposes by reversing the already achieved results, poses a high risk to the country’s future welfare.Siegfried Mureşan Elections EU Member States Eurozone Political Parties
Greece: Forward not backwards
22 Jan 2015
Greece is heading into what may well be its most important election this decade. I think the real difference between the two major Greek parties vying to lead the next government, New Democracy (ND) and SYRIZA, is not, as often assumed, whether Greece should continue with the economic oversight programme drafted by the Troika. Rather, this is but a symptom of their underlying fundamental divergence in terms of how they perceive European politics and the way they evaluate Greece being a part of the Eurozone.
The party that is currently leading in the polls, SYRIZA, offers a complicated narrative. Given the fact that it began as a coalition of parties positioned at the extreme left of the political spectrum and that it could count on only 4-6 % of the vote before the crisis, this is to be expected. The party has undergone a radical structural and political change the last three years and yet remains different from the monolithic parties that we usually observe in Greece.
There are two observable and differing narratives present within the SYRIZA organisation.
Firstly the narrative sponsored by the internal opposition, meaning the group of party officials that is still very much attached to the idea of a socialistic transformation of the state and society. For these party members, SYRIZA, on its way to power, must keep its radical left credentials intact. Hence, a government led by SYRIZA should inevitably apply policies that are destined to achieve a general redistribution of wealth in favour of lower income earners. Moreover if the Troika is unwilling to accept such a programme, then it is inevitable that a SYRIZA government will break loose from the countries prior commitments leading Greece out of the Eurozone.
All in all, for a substantial minority of SYRIZA’s membership, the Euro is a symbol of capitalistic oppression- a barricade that hinders Greece’s path towards a more just and equal society. Therefore if this hypothesis is ‘proven’, after the elections, then SYRIZA’s left platform will certainly suggest that the country should break ranks from the Eurozone establishment.
On the other hand SYRIZA’s ruling majority is structured around the party’s president, Alexis Tsipras. This faction has been at the forefront of the effort to moderate the party’s position and broaden its base of support. SYRIZA’s leadership has tried to water down its leftist rhetoric by taking moderate positions regarding public order and national security. Nonetheless, SYRIZA’s stance towards the EU remains quite radical and utopian. For SYRIZA’s ruling officials, the EU is considered an entity that needs to be transformed radically in order to serve the people of Europe. Thus they see their ascendance to power as the ideal opportunity to initiate a popular wave that will transform the European establishment.
SYRIZA sees parties like Podemos in Spain and similar social movements in Italy as the first signs of a new order that will start taking over Europe after Tsipra’s election as Greek PM. Driven by this mindset, SYRIZA’s official political stance is that Europe’s popular dynamics will effectively abolish the current austerity programs and that the governance of the Eurozone will be effectively reoriented towards the goal of a fairer society. Within this context, SYRIZA believes that dilemmas like whether Greece will sign a new memorandum in order to stay in the Eurozone will become irrelevant.
The contradictory narratives inside SYRIZA have become more obvious as the election campaign has unfolded. The presidential team around Tsipras has spent much time and energy, during the campaign month, on trying to water down the rhetoric of the most radical members of the party. Given that there are only a few days left to the elections, such an incoherent narrative is very problematic. A party that may soon be called to form a government and take difficult decisions is expected to be more comprehensible when it comes to basic questions of economic and monetary policy. All this is to say that SYRIZA is failing to answer the billion dollar question: what will happen if the social movements, that they predict will unfold after Tsipra’s election, do not surge to power across Europe?
Then Tsipras will find himself having to choose between two distasteful alternatives. He can renege from his previous commitments and sign up for a renewed round of austerity and economic oversight – triggering a series of intra-party rifts that may lead to his eventual ousting from power. Or else, he must act unilaterally and declare his disobedience to the agreements previously signed by the Greek state. Such a decision would, de facto, lead Greece out of the Eurozone and into economic demise. All in all SYRIZA, especially its ruling elite, is once again faced with a fundamental question that has occupied the Left for a prolonged period of time: what if the history is not on their side after all?
Moving forward, the only alternative to SYRIZA and the second party in the polls right now is the centre-right New Democracy (ND) (the Greek EPP member party and the majority coalition partner in government). ND’s position on the above issues is far simpler and clearer. For them having the Euro is not only an economic and political necessity but also an existential one. Thus ND accepts that Greece may have to accept some type of economic oversight in order to ensure its place inside the Euro. All in all the main centre-right party in Greece sees the euro and the country’s European status as non-negotiable assets that grace the country with prestige and benefits and set it apart from the rest of the Balkans.
Such a perception is not limited to the centre-right but shared by the majority of the Greek voters. Although this may not be the major criterion that will decide the winner of the elections it is for sure that the next government will have to guarantee the country’s position inside the European edifice. Whoever fails to do so will certainly have history against him.Angelos Angelou Elections EU Member States Eurozone Political Parties Populism
The real difference between Greece’s main political forces
21 Jan 2015
‘Gouverner, c’est choisir’ (ruling means choosing). It seems that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls abides by this famous saying by Pierre Mendes-France, head of the French government from 1954 to 1955, and has forced it upon President François Hollande.
The government reshuffle of 26 August indeed shows that the illusion of a compromise between two radically diverging political and economic positions within the ruling Socialist Party has been crushed. The leftist Arnaud Montebourg, Benoit Hamon and Aurélie Filipetti (former Ministers of the Economy, Education and Culture respectively) are no longer part of the ruling team; Montebourg because he publicly claimed that the government’s economic policy was wrong and heading for disaster, Hamon and Filipetti because they backed him. The supporter of the ‘made in France’, of a diplomatic confrontation with Angela Merkel and of the ‘démondialisation’ is gone. Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, will replace him. ‘My enemy is the financial world’, Hollande said during his election campaign. But then, the President said many such absurdities in 2012.
What remained of the left wing of the PS has by now (almost) entirely been removed from government. Valls received a standing ovation following his speech before the employers’ union (Medef) on 27 August, where he made his ‘j’aime l’entreprise’ plea. He paid tribute to employees, employers and shareholders. Yes, shareholders. For a moment, I half-expected him to quote Margaret Thatcher’s best lines on popular capitalism.
So is the PS undergoing its ‘Bad Godesberg’, its ‘Clause Four Moment’, before our very eyes? Rhetorically, the right has never dared going that far. I say rhetorically, because Valls resembles more a shady pink Goliath than a French version of the Iron Lady or of Tony Blair. For all the alleged dynamism and decisiveness of the Prime Minister, there is no plan for reform, as the country is set to miss (yet again) its European obligations with regards the deficit. If the old left was killed in government, it survives in Parliament and prospers among the militant base, as the yearly Socialist Congress in La Rochelle has shown.
Already in April, 44 Socialist MPs refused to support the fiscal consolidation programme. The ‘fronde’ (revolt) has grown since then. The Greens can no longer be relied upon. The Communists divorced some time ago. This government has in effect no parliamentary majority, a perilous situation in view of the confidence vote to be held on 16 September. Therefore, however strong the words may sound, the government will have to compromise (rather: mutilate, or at least delay) those reforms which we have heard of so much since 2012. It is the price to pay to keep a centre-left parliamentary majority. The government does not want to beg the support of individual centrist and right-wing MPs. Politically, that would be a dangerous move for both PS and UMP.
Ironically, looking at the polls, one would think that the government has room for manoeuver: over 60% are in favour of cutting expenditure and becoming business-friendly. Moreover, a clear majority of the electorate believes that Hollande and Valls were right in ousting the leftists. Then, one may wonder why three quarters of the country have no trust in Valls’ team. In fact, for months now the prime minister’s popularity has been sliding downwards ever faster. He might enjoy a post-reshuffle boost, but this will be a short-lived relief. This, again, goes to the heart of the relationship that French people have with their politicians. Hollande, Valls, any minister, can claim just about anything; the country hears, but does not listen.
The same is more or less true of the UMP. This is why many right-wing MPs fear dissolution: overall, the UMP does not want to rule the country right now, especially with Hollande as head of state. How could it present itself as an alternative for the 2017 presidential election if the Prime Minister were seen weekly shaking the President’s hand, attending European and world Summits with him and if, as could be predicted, the government lacked any political will in fear of jeopardising the presidential election? It would further fuel Marine Le Pen’s devastating ‘UMPS’ rhetoric and set the picture for a Hollande – Le Pen runoff in 2017 which, according to current poll figures, Le Pen would easily win.
However, there is another option mentioned in the Constitution: should Parliament be dissolved and the UMP win, the party could refuse to govern. This would place the pressure back on Hollande and ultimately force his resignation, thus triggering an early presidential election. Such a move would be a return to the spirit of the Fifth Republic, with a President stepping down when he no longer has the backing of the electorate.
Back in 1953, in his speech to the National Assembly, Pierre Mendes France ended by saying: ‘Let us work together to give [our country] back its faith, its strength and its vigour, thus ensuring its recovery and renovation. Rest assured that once healed, far from blaming you for your thoroughness and courage, [the country] will be grateful that you enlightened it and showed it the way to its revival’. Unfortunately, for now, there is still no Mendes France-like figure on the left side of the French political spectrum.Gerald Gilmore Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
French Socialism: Lost Illusions
12 Sep 2014
Arx tarpeia Capitoli proxima: the Tarpeian Rock is close to the Capitol. In politics, triumph and annihilation are never far apart. Following its stunning success in local elections this March, the right-wing UMP had good reason to believe it was the strongest opposition party, even the largest party altogether of French politics. That the FN won eleven town halls, and performed well in those towns where it had candidates was worrying, but meaningless compared to the ‘vague bleue’ (blue wave). Two months later, the FN cruised to victory while François Hollande’s popularity ratings had sunk so low he could be drilling for shale gas and the UMP held back by an invoices scandal and divisions over Europe. We have to add ‘marine’ to the ‘vague bleue’ this time around, a darker shade of blue has triumphed.
We seem to be heading down an unprecedented track, with a President who may be forced by his own party to give up hope for a second term. Ultimately, even if the unemployment curve did decide to switch course; even if growth somehow returned; even if the deficit stopped increasing, it is doubtful anyone would give Hollande or his government credit for it. The president is now embarking on a rearrangement of local boundaries, merging regions together, probably to show he can actually do something. This is not unlike Louis XVI abolishing serfdom in 1779 although it had been virtually extinct for five centuries, when radical economic reforms were desperately needed.
Why such an outcome? The country is feeling ill. For some part, it might still be a Malade Imaginaire, but the country believes it needs protection, from globalisation, from Europe, from its neighbours, from imports, from immigration, perhaps from the state, maybe even from itself. Part of the country seeks refuge in an impossible isolation. Fear and lack of initiative at all levels paralyse it. What happened to the ‘impossible n’est pas Français’, to the nation who has given to the world the word ‘entrepreneur’, which even the Americans and British have no translation for?
The situation of Hollande should bring joy to the heart of the French right. However, a disappointing second place in the elections washed that away. This came not by surprise since opinion polls consistently showed that the FN would come out on top, with the UMP second and struggling to remain above the waterline. It was as if the electorate had made up its mind a long time ago and had decided to stick to its choice. Although the media and the politicians have talked in the recent weeks as if it had been a huge surprise, the final result ought not to have been such a surprise.
Whether this was a protest vote or a conviction vote is not the point; what does it matter whether 25% of us actually mean ‘we’re sick of the other lot and therefore we’ll try the alternative’ rather than ‘we believe in Marine Le Pen’? After all, François Hollande was elected President largely because of an anti-Sarkozy protest vote. Since 1978, with one exception, France has never returned a parliamentary majority. We don’t vote in favour, we vote against.
On this basis, let us put forward a 2017 presidential election scenario: the Socialists are wiped out, leaving the UMP candidate facing Marine Le Pen in a standoff echoing another standoff, on 21 April 2002, when Jacques Chirac faced Jean-Marie Le Pen. But this time, on 23 April 2017, the FN is ahead and there are no demonstrations, or rather, there is a gathering in Paris, on the Place de l’Opéra: the FN team and some of its voters are celebrating. There is little chance that their candidate will triumph in the standoff, but what do they care? They believe the wave of history is on their side, as most of the country braces itself and gasps for breath before the genuine, yet improbable tsunami.
The classic left vs. right standoff is a less likely scenario. The Socialists, under the leadership of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, could undertake the economic reforms the country requires. It seems that many in his party have already understood that this is the only way to hold on to power in three years’ time.
As for the right, the UMP will hold a Congress this autumn to elect a new leader and a new team, hopefully leaving behind the leadership election of November 2012 after which the party almost split. Whoever becomes the new leader, it will be a new starting point from which to build on.
However, both parties also need a clearly-defined vision, they need to put to the fore what they believe in, we need to see enthusiasm for ideas and ideals, or else 2017 threatens to be a debate between grey-suited, tired men talking about figures and percentages, and a woman talking about France and patriotism.Gerald Gilmore Economy Elections EU Member States
European election results in France: a watershed?
23 Jun 2014
One of the first lessons of a law student is that not only must justice be done; it must be seen to be done. It seems that in recent times this principle has been hijacked by regimes hungry for legitimacy; to create an outward projection of democracy, citizens are asked to vote, thereby putting the regime beyond reproach. Voting and democracy are inextricably linked in the minds of many; yet often we have one without the other. Egypt and Syria are two recent examples of this. Undeniably citizens voted; democracy was seen to be done. However, when we examine events preceding election day and the elections themselves in a broader context, it is clear that there was little democratic about these elections.
In 2013 violence once again broke out on the streets of Cairo in protests against President Morsi, Egypt’s first president after the initial Arab Spring protests. Army General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi delivered an ultimatum to President Morsi’s government in July 2013 that unless reforms were delivered in 48 hours it would be removed. When he deemed them incompliant, al-Sisi removed the government, Morsi supporters were violently repressed and al-Sisi appointed an interim president. The army once again intervened to successfully manoeuvre its candidate into the position of president. Jumping on al-Sisi’s popularity, presidential elections were brought forward and held before parliamentary elections contrary to the programme of Morsi’s government. Al-Sisi and the army sought ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ from a democratic election.
This intervention in 2013 was similar to the army’s intervention in 2011 which was pivotal in toppling the Mubarak regime. These interventions were motivated by self-preservation of the army’s status and position in Egyptian society, not by any sympathy for the demands of the protesters. The Egyptian army has been part of the ruling class since the foundation of the state. It presides over an economic empire of its own, financing and managing major projects in areas such as tourism and agriculture. The election was held at the end of May 2014, originally polling was to take place over two days but the polls were extended to three days when the turnout was lower than desired, thereby jeopardising the army’s quest for legitimacy and democracy.
Observers all report that people were intimidated into voting, threatened with fines and charges of treason if they did not go to a polling station. Al-Sisi was declared the victor of a ‘free but not always fair’ election according to EU observers; he had greater campaign resources and media coverage. Democracy International and the European External Action Service found that state-owned and private media coverage overwhelmingly favoured al-Sisi and real debate was stifled; in fact several journalists were imprisoned in the lead up to the election. With 93% of the vote al-Sisi came in well ahead of his only competitor, Hamdeen Sabahi, who received 3% of the vote. Sabahi previously came third in the presidential elections in 2012 that brought Morsi to office. He has lodged a complaint to the elections committee disputing the votes cast on the third day as well as campaigning at polling stations by al-Sisi’s supporters.
Elections were held in Syria with the same lip service to democracy as in Egypt. The Arab Spring in Syria has led to a complex and multi-strand conflict. The unrest in Syria ranges from calls for greater democracy to all out civil war and the ISIS separatist campaign in the north; the only thing in common is the desire for change from President Bashar al Assad’s government. Voters went to the polls as the government dropped bombs from the sky. As a result of the current conflict millions of Syrians have been internally displaced, over 100,000 have been killed and millions more are in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. This is the first multi-candidate election in Syria in decades. Before this al Assad and his father before him renewed their mandate in single candidate referendums. However, the other candidates in June 2014 were vetted by the government and had expressed support for al Assad in the past— – hardly a competitive election. Al Assad was elected with 88.7% of the votes cast. After his election, he said that his government was given fresh legitimacy by the vote and a message was delivered to the West; proof that the aim of holding the election was to put the administration beyond criticism.
The election was packaged as the route to peace and stability in Syria. Here again, the act of voting was used to create the illusion of democracy; how can a vote bring peace and stability to such a volatile situation? A change in leadership must happen. The US and the EU condemned the Syrian election. In April the UN urged the Syrian government not to hold an election as to do so would go against the spirit of the Geneva Communiqué which calls for a transitional government to lead free and fair elections. Voting only took place in regions under government control. Many displaced people were unable to vote and neither were people in rebel-held areas. The election of al Assad was a foregone conclusion; much like in Egypt, voters were asked only to confirm a decision made by elites to create the image of a legitimate democratic government. In Syria this decision was made by the ruling ethnic group, the Alawites, while in Egypt it is the result of an internal power struggle between many actors where the military currently hold the upper hand.
For Egypt and Syria these elections are just the latest development in their long Arab Spring. Though they can be distinguished by different domestic circumstances in both cases an appearance of democracy was created to quieten protesters. The very ideal they seek was used to appease them and maintain the status quo. The ordinary citizens that called for democracy have themselves become disillusioned; why vote when the outcome is predetermined? The promotion of democracy and human rights are founding principles of the EU and play a central role in its external relations policy. The role and use of soft power by the EU is regularly commented on, but when regimes strive to create the illusion of democracy where there is none, it can be argued that this is an impact of the EU’s soft power.
However, the EU can be criticised for a haphazard approach to the effective promotion of democracy, an example of this is an over emphasis on the importance of elections at the expense of, for example, the importance of political pluralism. If we are to pursue this policy direction in external relations then it must be done in a more even-handed manner with equal focus on all the constituent parts of democracy, as proposed in the 2012 EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. Events in Egypt and Syria prove that elements in isolation are not enough to ensure a democracy.Kathryn O’Donovan Arab Spring Democracy Elections
Elections in Egypt and Syria: two tales of hollow democracy
20 Jun 2014
Official European Parliament data was used to analyse the changes in the number of seats. The data presented in this document reflects the changes in affiliation of national party groups since the elections of 22-25 May 2014. Some political parties under ‘Other’ may join the existing political groups as the final composition of the European Parliament is still taking shape. Individual political parties from some member states may not be properly assigned to the existing political groups due to a lack of accurate information at the present moment. The data in this document was extracted on 04 June 2014. Distribution of seats is visualised per political party and political group to make the comparison between 2009 and 2014 for all EU member states. European Parliament data was also used to analyse voter turnout.Centre-Right Elections EU Institutions EU Member States
Post-electoral Analysis: EP Elections 2014
05 Jun 2014
Ukraine had Presidential elections while Kyiv was electing its mayor and the members of the Kyiv City Council. Preliminary results suggest that Poroshenko is winning with 54%, while Klitschko is on 57%. Both elections represent a major step forward in the stabilisation of an independent and democratic Ukraine. The presidential elections gave Ukraine a long-awaited legitimate president, while the citizens of Kyiv have elected their mayor and Kyiv City Council; for the last two years Kyiv was without permanent leadership.
The elections were significant from both the domestic and the international perspective. Firstly, the election was a factor of domestic consolidation for Ukrainians. The high voter turnout and high percentage of vote given to Poroshenko has reaffirmed the vast support of Ukrainians for the new authorities, as well as their strong support for the course of European integration. Consequently, the election results have destroyed the myth advanced by Russia that the authorities in Kyiv are neither supported by Ukrainians, nor that European integration is a priority. Secondly, Ukraine has got a legitimate president who for the upcoming five years will advance both security and foreign policy. Strong political commitment as well as support of Ukrainians is what the EU, IMF and the World Bank are expecting to see. Therefore the President, with his clear commitment to this agenda, is a reassuring factor. Thirdly, the Russian Federation has a legitimate Ukrainian representative as interlocutor. Previously the negotiations with Ukraine were blocked by Russia, as according to Putin the ‘Kyiv junta’ which took power as a result of a coup d’etat had no legitimacy to represent Ukraine (1).
PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The Central Electoral Commission is still working on the final results. Poroshenko has won in the first round having obtained a majority of votes – 54%. He is followed by Tymoshenko – 13% and Lyashko – 8%. The far-right, such as Tyagnybok (Svoboda) have got only 1,17% and Yarosh less than 1%. This destroys Russia’s argument about a popular fascist movement in Ukraine. Moreover, those two parties have failed to establish any stable cooperation with European far right parties, as the latter have developed close ties with Putin.
The average turnout was 60%, with 77% in Lviv and 14% in Donetsk, 12% in Lugansk and 0% in Crimea, as the ones from Crimea had to go vote on the continental part of Ukraine. The low turnout in the East is clearly explained by the disruptive actions of the separatists. In Donbas there were a number of attacks on the polling stations by the armed separatists. The National Guard was successful in arresting some of the heavily armed terrorists at the polling stations; however, they did not manage to stabilise the situation. Consequently, the elections were massively disrupted in Donbas.
The international community has recognised the elections as fair and democratic. According to the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, the ‘presidential election in Ukraine was characterized by high voter turnout and the clear resolve of the authorities to hold what was a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country’ (2). Consequently, the exit polls have prompted immediate congratulations from world leaders to Poroshenko.
REACTION OF THE RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP
The day of elections in Ukraine was marked with the official visit of Medvedev to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March. This gesture was taken by the Ukrainian side as a provocation. The next day Lavrov expressed an interest to negotiate with official Kyiv representatives stressing that this dialogue needs no intermediary (meaning the EU and US). Nevertheless, the Russian leadership welcomed the participation of the EU and US in the framework of the OSCE Roadmap. Later, both Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk will confirm that they will participate in the meetings only where both the EU and the US will participate.
On Monday, Yanukovych, former president, was quoted by ITAR-TASS saying that he respects the votes given by Ukrainians, but he considers the elections illegitimate. Poroshenko has immediately reacted by saying that Yanukovych could only comment when he returns to Ukraine where he is to assume criminal responsibility.
FIRST COMMENTS BY POROSHENKO
– Preliminary parliamentary elections will be held by the end of the year at the latest.
– His first visit might be paid to Donbas. Preliminary local elections in this region are a possibility. Moreover, he might also hold his inauguration in this region.
– Yatsenyuk will remain Prime Minister.
– The dialogue with Russia will happen in the framework of the EU-UA-Russia-Ukraine negotiations, as previously Russia did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the authorities in Kyiv and refused to deal with the Kyiv authorities.
– Crimea was and is a part of Ukraine. The state will return it with the help of the international legal framework.
POROSHENKO – HOPE FOR STABILITY
Even within the parliamentary-presidential system, the President plays an important role as he is responsible for foreign and security policy. Today Poroshenko has stressed a) the wide support of Ukrainians for the course of European integration, as testified by the elections and b) the importance of changing the approach to the anti-terrorist operation in the East. Being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, his first official visit will be paid to Donbas where he plans to grant full amnesty to the separatists who had guns, but who have not been shooting.
Firstly, Poroshenko is a unique politician who has managed to negotiate and agree with all political parties. In 2000, he was one of the founding fathers of the Party of the Regions and was on friendly terms with Kuchma and Medvechuk. A year later he established his party ‘Solidarnist’, but even in 2004 he became an important ally of Yushchenko.
Both Poroshenko and Tymoshenko were promised the position of Prime Minister, but Tymoshenko and Yushchenko agreed a secret deal. In 2007, Poroshenko headed the council at the National Bank of Ukraine. In 2009, he was FM for one year. In 2012, he was a member of the Azarov government as a Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Therefore, he has access to all political circles in Ukraine; unlike other politicians he has avoided open political confrontation with influential politicians.
Secondly, Poroshenko is seen by many Ukrainians as an apolitical man as he has no party behind him. Even at EuroMaidan, his appearance was not marked by strong speeches or proactive positions; at the same time he was present and from time to time he would give strong comments. An apolitical leader ‘sitting between the different political chairs’ is someone Ukrainians want to see.
Thirdly, Poroshenko is an oligarch and oligarchs are and will be important in the decision-making in Ukraine. According to Forbes, his assets are worth $1600 bln (3), making him the 7th richest man in Ukraine (4). Oligarchs play an important role in both the stabilisation and the destabilisation of Ukraine. The best example is contrasting actions of Kolomojski and Akhmetov. Kolomojski in Dnipropetrovsk has acted against the separatists, chasing them from his region. This is in stark contrast to the near complete lack of involvement by Akhmetov in Donbas. Poroshenko, having access to the club of the richest and the most influential people of Ukraine, will try to bring them together on common terms with regards to national priorities.
Fourthly, Poroshenko has clear priorities. While he has acknowledged the importance of Russia in the context of stability, he has immediately started building credibility based on the election results which have testified obvious support for the European integration course. Therefore he has declared this to be his priority along with the stabilisation of the situation in the East.
Therefore, to conclude, there are many expectations on Poroshenko with regards to stabilising the East as well as making European integration a major agenda point. Being reinforced by Klitschko as the mayor of Kyiv will help these leaders to lay a solid foundation for the parliamentary elections.
Ukrainian elections: hope for change?
30 May 2014
Right-wing and national populist parties have managed to establish themselves as relevant political players throughout virtually the whole of Europe. This rise of right-wing and national populists has come at the expense of all traditional parties. The current strength of right-wing and national populist parties is a result of them supplementing their ‘core themes’ of xenophobia and critique of the elites with a simple mobilising message, namely ‘no to this Europe’.
Note: parts of this text are based on two chapters of the study Exposing the Demagogues. Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe published by the Centre for European Studies and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in June 2013.Elections Euroscepticism Extremism Political Parties Populism
Europe – No, Thanks? Study on the rise of right-wing and national populist parties in Europe
26 Feb 2014
“Capitalism is not a form of spontaneous order or the embodiment of a basic structure of human rights, but one of the great constructions of the human mind”, so says David Sainsbury, former UK Minister in the Blair Government in his book “Progressive Capitalism, how to achieve economic growth, liberty and social justice” published last year by Biteback Publishing. Inevitably, the book does not fully live up to its unrealistically ambitious title, but it makes some really important points and goes beyond putting forward a critique of what wrong, but also some constructive solutions.
Capitalism will only work if politics works. Capitalism allows resources, human and material, to be constantly allocated and reallocated in a way that meets people’s needs, as they express those needs by way of the relative price they will pay for different goods and services. Without stable money in which to set those prices, the system would not work. Money is a promise. One must have a stable political system to underpin those promises if one is to have stable money. Without order and security and laws to prevent theft, fraud and unsafe products, capitalism would collapse. Again one has to have a stable political system if these requirements are to be met.
If capitalism leads to outcomes that are socially, financially or environmentally unstable, or are perceived as grossly unfair, the stable political order on which capitalism itself rests will fail.
These are some of the things that David Sainsbury tackles in this book. He points out that:
1. In 1965, the average US CEO earned 24 times as much as the average worker. But by 2007 he earned 300 times as much. That trend is not socially sustainable.
2. UK pension funds earned a 5% return on capital between 1963 and 1999. But between 2000 and 2009, they earned only 1.1% return. That’s not financially sustainable.
3. Between 1950 and 1973, the western economies grew at twice the rate they had grown during the period from 1800 to 1950. That was not economically or environmentally sustainable. But the West built welfare states during that period on the premise that the 1950-1973 growth rates were permanent.
These problems can only be tackled if the rules governing capitalism are updated. Sainsbury makes some useful suggestions.
Company law and taxation should be changed to require CEO’s to be paid on the basis of longer term goals and achievements, rather that short term share price movements. Remuneration of fund managers should be restructured to reflect a similar philosophy of long term returns and stable investment strategies. The threat of takeover, to the extent to which it incentivises pursuit of purely short term share price gains, may have to be mitigated. Firms should have incentives to use scare materials like energy, water, clean air, metals and chemicals extracted from the earth sustainably and renewably. These things cannot be done by one country acting on its own. They need to be tackled at international level, in the European Union and/or between the EU and the US.
This book may not have all the answers, but it asks all the right questions. They are questions that could usefully be tackled in the forthcoming European Elections which are, after all, the only multinational elections that take place anywhere in the world.John Bruton Crisis Economy Elections European Union
Saving capitalism from itself…a topic for the European elections?
27 Jan 2014
The Centre for European Studies (CES) has launched an exciting new initiative to gather the best ideas from the youth across Europe. The “Up2Youth” public opinion survey is an interactive, online initiative for young Europeans to express and exchange ideas on the issues that matter the most to them. From education to jobs, and from social policy to foreign affairs, the survey allows participants to address a wide range of issues, but in a quick and user-friendly way.
European People’s Party (EPP) President Joseph Daul praised the initiative: “The Up2Youth survey is a fantastic opportunity for young people across Europe to make their voices heard, and the EPP is proud to be the first European political party to offer the youth the chance to share their ideas in this way. In view of the May 2014 European elections, politicians must listen to the youth, hear their concerns, and consider their ideas and solutions to the challenges we face. We look forward to the feedback we will receive and I can assure all participants that their ideas will be taken seriously by leaders throughout the EPP family, especially as we finalise our political platform for the 2014 European elections.”
The President of the CES, Mikuláš Dzurinda, also applauded the Up2Youth project. “This survey will allow Europe’s youth to tell EU leaders what is most important to them. I am confident that there will be no shortage of great ideas, and we are especially pleased to further the political process by serving as a platform for debate and discussion.”
The ten participants offering the best policy ideas will be invited to the EPP Congress in Dublin, Ireland on 6 and 7 March 2014 to meet and share their ideas directly with EU leaders, including the EPP’s candidate for President of the European Commission, who will be chosen in Dublin. Furthermore, the participant offering the very best idea will also be offered a paid, six-month internship at the CES in Brussels.
Visit our brand new Up2Youth page and leave your policy proposals: http://www.up2youth.eu/#!/enEducation Elections Jobs Social Policy Youth
CES launches the exciting ‘Up2Youth’ initiative
11 Dec 2013
At the turn of November and December 2013, I took part at the annual Château Béla Central European Strategic Forum in Belá in Southern Slovakia. This conference brings together leading political and economic figures from the Central European region and beyond.
The conference was remarkable in allowing informal in-depth discussions on current political, economic and security issues. Traditional speaker-participant model was replaced by a model where all guests are direct participants in the debate. This year, focus was on the upcoming European Council on security and defence, transatlantic relations and NATO enlargement. The debates touched also upon the Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership.
I was especially interested in conversations on the future of the European project, democracy and tackling voters’ apathy and political populism (with a focus on Slovakia and Central Europe).
My own contribution was on the need to open up decision-making in the European Parliament by doing away with the mode of voting in the plenary, during which records of individual votes are not kept. I also mentioned the need to increase transparency in the deliberations of the European Council and different Council configurations because the current decision-making regime is too opaque, leaving open questions on how policies are decided by political leaders. I argued that ‘demons thrive in the dark’ and that we should fight anti-European populism by transparency.
Others pointed out ‘the stunning silence of politics’ vis-à-vis the current economic and social challenges in Europe. This vacuum leaves a space for populists who are then more than happy to fill it.
In addition, mainstream political parties are using communication channels that ‘come from the nineteenth century’ (not literally), such as rallies, newspapers, television and radio. Populists and extremists use different, modern, channels such as social media and messaging, to mobilise their supporters.
One discussion during the conference opened up several dilemmas in how to address the populist challenge.
1. Should mainstream politicians and administrators isolate or engage the populists?
Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which a newly elected right-wing populist with an anti-Roma agenda and a recent history of militant neo-fascism asks a European Commissioner for a meeting to discuss ‘the problem of the Roma people’. Should the Commissioner publicly meet with this person, or should the Commissioner refuse?
The argument in favour of the meeting is that the right-wing populist has elected by the people and therefore, has an unquestionable democratic mandate. The Commissioner is not supposed to discriminate in his meetings on the basis of politicians’ political persuasion. And isolating populists and extremists only helps their arguments that the European political elite is detached from the people.
The argument against meeting the right-wing populist is that the populist has demonstrated by his past actions that he is not ready for a dialogue. There are people you do not shake hands with.
2. Should we continue using ‘politically correct’ language in public discourse?
One argument is that political correctness is damaging for mainstream parties: These parties are afraid to describe and address some societal issues, such as the integration of immigrants or the Roma minority, for fear of offending these groups of population. Political correctness militates against a better understanding of the real policy agenda. Populist parties misuse this by breaking public taboos and offering simplistic solutions. We should therefore abandon the politically correct language and give societal problems, such as crime and the “lack of working ethic” within some minority communities their real name. Some centre-parties have actually succeeded, so the argument goes, in adopting populist language, while offering constructive solutions to public policy issues. This resulted in reducing the public support for the populists.
The counter-argument is that we should not abandon political correctness. Doing so would result in generalising about groups of people, such as Jews, immigrants, the rich people or poor people. Europe has had a bad historical experience with such generalisations and using the wrong language brings back the demons of fascism and communism. So, we should continue treating people as individuals, also in the way we speak about public concerns of the day. In addition, how far can we go in emulating the populist rhetoric without also becoming populists?
3. Should we abandon hope when it comes to the integration of the Roma people?
Despite living in Europe for centuries, the Roma are often not well integrated into the majority society in European countries. Populists exploit these problems, offering easy solutions to issues which the existing institutions have not be able to address.
One argument states that government policies are not working. Through their own fault, the Roma are living lives of poverty and crime. Governments have reached a point of ‘no return’. Integration will continue to be more and more difficult. The populists will be able continue spreading their messages of hate and intolerance.
The counter-argument is that a surprising number of private and public policies actually work. They include encouraging entrepreneurship by micro-credits. Companies and public institutions in Slovakia and elsewhere are succeeding in employing Roma workforce. Some schools are very successful in educating Roma children. Governments have made surprisingly little effort concerning Roma integration and from what has been tried, a surprisingly high number of policies, both in the public and the private sectors, are working. If we learn from these good examples, we have a realistic chance of addressing the issues, thus taking wind out of sales of populists.
These dilemmas are far too big to be resolved at any single conference. However, I was glad to participate in the Château Béla discussions, which provided useful avenues of enquiry and argumentation.Vít Novotný Elections EU Member States Integration Populism Society
Populism: how should mainstream politics respond?
06 Dec 2013
A study published by the Centre for European Studies (CES) and the Konrad Adenauer Stifung (KAS) has warned that alliances between populist parties will become a more common occurence leading in to the European Parliament elections taking place in May next year. Despite an unwillingness to cooperate in the past, “Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe” signals that populist parties have found a tentative common direction in order to mobilise a European political grouping. Roland Freudenstein, Deputy Director of the Centre for European Studies said: “The rejection of a strong EU is in the central focus of this cooperation. Other issues such as anti-immigration and anti-globalisation rhetoric, as well as the protection of traditional values fit into this framework very well.”
The CES/KAS study identifies populist alliances as an issue which must be taken seriously by all actors involved in EU politics. “Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe” examines a range of national populist parties across Europe including the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and the French National Front led by Marine La Pen. The study concludes by outlining strategies on how Christian Democratic parties can react to populism rhetoric.Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
CES study warns of more alliances between populist parties
15 Nov 2013
EU summits without Angela Merkel? It sounds somewhat unimaginable. Although there is an off chance that power shifts completely to the Left in Germany’s Bundestag election on 22 September, the likelihood is that she remains Chancellor, albeit maybe in a different coalition.
A lot has been written about the lacklustre campaign, about the lack of palpable alternatives and the focus on domestic policy at the expense of a vision for Europe, and about Germany’s unwillingness to lead. Although it seems that for many of Germany’s partners, German leadership means, above all, Germany doing what its partners want, and this all too often entails underwriting the debts and financing stimulus for troubled Eurozone countries.
True: The style of the campaign was often less than passionate. That is partly typical for Germany, and partly due to the summer holidays and the tendency of German voters to take their decision closer and closer to election day, which causes parties to devote more resources and energy to the very last days of the campaign. Moreover, the CDU has , up to now, adopted a strategy of ‘asymmetrical demobilisation’: a deliberately low key campaign hoping that the opponent will not ‘get out the vote’. That may change now that some fear complacency may actually cost CDU and CSU more votes than the opposition.
On many topics, from minimum wages to the shift from nuclear power to renewables, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have spectacularly moved to the centre and often adopted positions formerly held by the left-of-centre parties, just in order to provide fewer opportunities for attack. And wherever differences did appear, such as in the Greens’ vegetarian initiative, or all three leftist parties’ plans for tax hikes, the governing parties could style themselves as the defenders of individual freedoms and of middle class interests.
Much has also been made of the relative closeness of the core positions of the top candidates: Angela Merkel is a perfect representation of German society’s middle ground, both in substance and in her bland style, while Peer Steinbrück is known as the fiscal conservative he was as finance minister in the CDU/CSU/SPD coalition 2005-2009. This in turn rubs against his current emphasis on social justice. And on top of that, despite – or maybe because of – all his eloquence and brilliance, he comes across as slightly arrogant.
There is indeed an introspective tendency in German politics. But that is nothing new; rarely has foreign policy played a decisive role in German elections (or very few other countries’, for that matter). It is also true that Germans have, in polls, often given the impression of wanting to become a big Switzerland, rather than a leading power. But now that the crisis has catapulted Germany into the pole position, this lack of a strategic debate, of a proper definition of national interests, and of a good communication strategy has become painfully visible. Eventually, Germany will get there, too, but it’s going to take a long time.
So which election scenarios are likely, and what would they mean for Europe? First, but not necessarily most likely, is a continuation of the current coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals. Berlin pundits predict some major reform projects for the years 2013-2017 – largely domestic, such as Germany’s sometimes clumsy federalism. Everyone agrees that Chancellor Merkel would also have to declare herself more clearly on Europe – but it’s very doubtful whether that would entail a full treaty reform, not only because her enthusiasm for a United States of Europe is limited, but also because she knows that the ratification process bears an enormous risk of failure here. On banking union, there will be a compromise with France, and some measures to institutionally strengthen the Eurozone will be adopted, but without creating the two-speed Union so popular with many in Paris and Brussels. And Eurobonds simply won’t happen in this constellation.
But what about a Grand Coalition between CDU/CSU and SPD? Some of the domestic projects would actually be easier to enact because there would be a clear government majority in both chambers of Parliament. On the European level, very little would change. German insistence on fiscal consolidation in the crisis countries might soften a little, but would not disappear. A commitment to Eurobonds is still unlikely because the CDU/CSU’s middle class core electorate is so opposed to them.
What would signify a major shift, however – and send the financial markets southward – is the a coalition with the SPD in the lead, and the Greens and the Left Party on board, the latter possibly remaining outside of the government but rendering support in parliamentary votes. This has been tried on the regional level but so far ruled out by Greens and SPD in Berlin. But many observers would bet that if a left-of-centre majority emerges in Parliament, such a coalition will be made. It would imply huge risks for German’s economy, and cause the Eurocrisis to sharpen again.
The biggest unknown in this election, possibly determining the outcome, is not whether the FDP will enter into Bundestag – that is highly likely. It is whether the eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gets more than 5 %. Because this is a new party, pollsters have problems predicting the size of their electorate. If AfD gets in, a Grand coalition will automatically follow because neither of the two political camps will have a majority. If they stay slightly below 5 %, they may have deprived CDU/CSU and FDP of a good many votes, and handed a majority to the three parties on the Left. If they fail completely, a continuation of the current coalition is likely.
When in 2005, after a cliffhanger election and haranguing coalition negotiations, the journalist Judy Dempsey asked: “Frau Merkel, you are Bundeskanzlerin! Are you happy?”, she answered with a coy smile “I’m in a state of heightened attention!” – which is probably a good description of the mood Europe will be in on the evening of 22 September.
[Originally published in www.euractiv.com]Roland Freudenstein Elections European Union
The German election: What’s in it for Europe?
10 Sep 2013
Europe’s right-wing and national populist parties are on the upswing, even despite some recent electoral setbacks. They have entered parliaments across Europe and some parties are even participating in national governments. What is remarkable is that right-wing and national populist parties have changed their mobilisation tactics. While predominantly xenophobic in the past, right-wing populists now mobilise against further European integration – and not without success.
For all actors involved in EU politics, these developments should be taken seriously. As political think tanks either directly involved in EU politics or deeply committed to the idea of European integration, the Centre for European Studies (CES) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) analyse the reasons behind the advance of Europe’s right–wing populist parties. In addition, this volume discusses possible response strategies for the member parties of the European People’s Party in order to counter the progress of right-wing and national populists.
For a policy brief summarising the main findings of this volume please see our related publication: Europe – No, Thanks? Study on the rise of right-wing and national populist parties in Europe.Elections Euroscepticism Extremism Political Parties Populism
Exposing the Demagogues: Right-wing and National Populist Parties in Europe
04 Sep 2013
Founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is the oldest and most influential modern Islamist movement. As per its motto ‘Islam is the solution’, the MB sees Islam as an all-embracing system governing all aspects of private and public life that, once implemented, constitutes the antidote to all the social, moral, economic and political ills plaguing Muslim societies.
Even though it does not completely eschew the use of violence for political goals, the MB aims to achieve its goal of establishing a purely Islamic system of government as a natural consequence of the peaceful, bottom-up Islamisation of the majority of the population.
The brief analyses the situation of Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-inspired entities throughout the Arab world two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring. In keeping with the flexibility and political opportunism that has characterised the group since its early days, Muslim Brotherhood inspired entities have adopted different positions according to the circumstances. In Tunisia and Egypt, where for the first time in history they have gained power through elections, MB entities are trying to gradually solidify their positions and advance their agendas while avoiding dramatic moves that could undermine their still weak hold on power.
In Arab countries where authoritarian regimes still rule, Muslim Brotherhood entities are adopting positions ranging from participation in government to military confrontation. The brief concludes by analysing potential concerns for Western policymakers and future scenarios.Arab Spring Democracy Elections Foreign Policy Islam
The Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab Spring: Tactics, Challenges and Future Scenarios
29 May 2013
The appearance of political marketing and campaigning on social media is a relatively new phenomenon, which was first introduced in the US before spreading to Europe. The importance of online political marketing can be seen in, among other factors, the major advantages offered by the Internet—namely the rapid transmission of information and the possibilities for large numbers of people to connect. This is especially significant for politics on the EU level, which embraces a body of 375 million voters. Despite the fact that not everyone uses the Internet in Europe, the percentage of those who do is considered to be high enough for its application in politics.
The goal of this paper is to examine the connection between European politics, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the use of social media, and to give suggestions on how the use of social media in political marketing could be further advanced. This paper starts with an explanation of what political marketing is and how it is used in politics. It explains the relevance of the theme of this paper, in the context of the lack of political legitimacy in the European Union and the low turnout in the European Parliament (EP) elections, and discusses the possible reasons for these.
The paper then describes the growth of the use of the Internet, its influence on everyday life and its connection to politics. The paper then describes European Parliament elections and the fall in voter turnout (not only in the EU, but also at the national level). It then focuses on the growing use of the Internet in society – at the first place in electoral campaigns, although we have seen lately its application in social movements (e.g. the Middle Eastern and North African revolutions, political protests, the anti-ACTA campaign, the political riots in the UK, etc.).
The conclusions suggest that, although present on the main social media websites (such as Facebook and Twitter), politicians and campaign managers in Europe need to further develop their use of this type of communication in order to find the right approach for European citizens. While campaign managers and advisors are mostly aware of the advantages the Internet brings to the field of political marketing, understanding of the phenomenon needs to be further developed among politicians.
The paper recommends greater use of social media for the creation of stronger bonds between politicians and citizens in Europe, which could improve electoral participation and consequently contribute to overcoming citizens’ apathy and the lack of democracy at the EU level. Social media sites could be used to mobilise a larger number of EU citizens to vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections.Elections EU Institutions Internet Technology
Members of the European Parliament Online: The Use of Social Media in Political Marketing
15 Apr 2013
Rafał Trzaskowski Democracy Elections EU Institutions European Union
MEP Trzaskowski speaks on redistribution of seats in the EP
13 Mar 2013
On the 29th of January 2013, the CES launched a new research paper titled “All tomorrow’s parties: the Changing Face of European Party Politics”; the study analyses the changes in the political party landscape in Europe and the future challenges that parties can encounter in this transformed environment. Dr. Florian Hartleb, CES Research Associate and lecturer at the University of Bonn and the University of Politics in Munich presented the main conclusions of his report, followed by comments from Dr. Erkka Railo, senior research fellow at the department of Political Science and Contemporary History at the University of Turku, and from Dr. Wojciech Gagatek, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Europe at Warsaw University.
The main conclusions of the discussion were that currently there is a new environment emerging that is changing the face of political parties, forcing the so-called “traditional parties” to adapt in order to survive. Political parties are struggling with a membership in gradual decline, which raises the question if they still represent the general public. Further new types of parties like 2nd generation populist parties or business parties are entering the political landscape throughout countries in Europe. In his remarks, Dr. Hartleb put a particular focus on the new “cyber parties”, in particular the Pirate Parties in Sweden and Germany. Dr. Hartleb concluded that the golden age of “traditional” political parties could soon be over, but that these parties based on values and stable commitments could still maintain their lead, provided they adjust their organisation models by introducing more participatory elements.Elections Party Structures Populism Values
CES Presents New Research on Changed Political Landscape in Europe
29 Jan 2013
For the first time since re-establishment of independence in 1990, Lithuanians had the opportunity to re-elect the same government which served a full four-year term in office. In the neighbouring Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, governments pushing for greater fiscal prudence and pro-growth economic reforms have laid the foundations for economic recovery. However, judging by the results of the Lithuanian parliamentary elections of the 28th of October 2012, and the currently developing coalition scenarios, the picture seems to be different.
Why are left wing and populist opposition parties celebrating such a strong result? The Conservatives and Christian Democrats merged in 2008, creating the strongest Lithuanian political party, the Homeland Union—Lithuanian Christian Democrats (Tevynes sajunga—Lietuvos krikscionys demokratai, TS-LKD). When the 2008 financial crisis hit the Western world, the Lithuanian centre right coalition was just taking over governance from the Social Democrats, who had been in office for 8 years. Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius won praise from economists abroad for slashing the budget deficit and successfully fostering solid economic growth, but was less liked at home as pensions and public wages were cut and unemployment rose. The country’s Central Electoral Commission confirmed the final election results on Sunday. A centre left opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (Lietuvos socialdemokratai) which campaigned on promises to end budget cuts and increase social spending came first in Lithuania’s 2012 parliamentary election with 27% of the vote or 38 seats in the new parliament. The party had planned to form a majority coalition government with two other opposition parties: the populist Labour Party (Darbo partija) and the right-wing populist Order and Justice Party (Partija Tvarka ir teisingumas), which garnered 20.5% and 7.8% respectively. These three parties would control approximately 78 seats in Lithuania’s 141-seat parliament.
Meanwhile, the incumbent party, the Conservative Homeland Union—Christian Democrats, suffered due to austerity-weary voters and finished second with 23% of the vote or 33 seats. Their coalition allies, the Liberals’ Movement (Liberalu sajudis), won 10 seats in the new parliament. Though the Liberals were a fragmented group in the past, they now seem to be a cohesive force and are gaining votes. However, even the greatest oponents of TS-LKD have to admit that these elections have not been a straightforward defeat for the party. Considering the economic and social factors in Lithuania, coming in second place was a good result for the party. It is important to remember that in 2008 TS-LKD got slightly more votes in the first round, but not by a wide margin—about 27% of the vote. That does not compare too badly with the 23% gained this year, after a bruising period in government. In particular, the Conservative party was in favour with urban citizens who understood the ruling majority’s determination to overcome the economic and financial crisis. The left-of-centre parties did best in the countryside, hard-hit by the downturn, as Uspaskich promised to raise the minimum wage by half and cut unemployment to zero. The remaining 8 seats went to the fifth place Polish-ethnic party (Lietuvos lenku rinkimu akcija).
Lithuanian elections often throw up protest parties. This year another populist and anti-establishment newcomer was The Way of Courage (Drasos kelias), which campaigns against a purported pedophile conspiracy. The party won 7 seats. Three independent candidates and a member of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union (Lietuvos valstieciu ir zaliuju sajunga) were also elected. The President’s reaction to controversial coalition partners President Dalia Grybauskaite disrupted the trio’s plans to form a coalition the day after their election victory. Grybauskaite announced to a former Finance Minister, Algirdas Butkevicius, leader of Social Democrats, that she would advise him to form the government, but could not accept the Labour Party as part of the government. The president’s dislike is reminiscent of the Austrian case in 1999/2000 when the president showed hisscepticism about the coalition between ÖVP and the right-wing populist party FPÖ. The left-wing populist party in Lithuania is facing a vote-buying inquiry which caused the first-round results in one constituency to be declared invalid. Furthermore, the leader of the party, Viktor Uspaskich, Member of the European Parliament, is a controversial former refugee to Russia. He and a colleague, Gabsys, are battling criminal charges concerning a supposed role in fraudulent party financing. Under the constitution, the president appoints the prime minister and tasks him or her with naming ministers, who need presidential approval. However, no president has refused to approve the composition of a government in Lithuania’s history, and a 1998 constitutional court ruling said the head of state should not ignore a parliamentary majority. The third possible coalition partner is also controversial. The two left-wing parties want to include the right-wing populist Order and Justice, led by the impeached ex-president Rolandas Paksas, who is not allowed to participate in the elections personally.
There was another surprise after prospective Prime Minister Butkevicius met the head of state to hear her evaluation on the formation of the government coalition. Unusually the Lithuanian President decided to go to the Constitutional Court over the legality of the election results because of some probable violations during the general elections. She refused to consider the coalition formation until the findings from Constructional Court were issued. This presidential step again adjusted the trio’s plans to sign the coalition agreement on Tuesday. Consequences The opinion of the President of Lithuania is greatly respected because of her popularity with citizens and her strong personality. However, a scenario in which a coalition is formed without the Labour Party is unlikely. The most possible outcome is that all current negotiators and the President will agree on a softened scenario—to continue forming a coalition without appointing controversial personalities, such as Uspaskich, Gabsys and Paksas to leading positions. The Polish party with 8 seats, was invited to join the coalition last week. However, its leaders have not shown great interest in cooperation. Therefore the coalition agreement will, most likely, to be signed without them with the possibility to join later according to the formula ‘3+1’.
Finding an alternative coalition is difficult, especially in the complicated case of a minority government, which is usual in the Scandinavian context. However, there are doubts if this scenario is applicable in times of crisis. The Conservatives together with the Liberals’ Movement won insufficient votes to build a government. Sometimes, a great coalition with the Social Democrats, a so called ‘Rainbow Coalition’, is discussed, taking as an example other countries, for instance, Germany. However, grand coalitions are usually formed in cases of major crises or in order to create a solid governing majority. This does not seem to be the case at the moment. Lithuanians have also voted against building a Visaginas nuclear power plant in the country, although that vote did not have the force of law. The power plant would increase the country‘s independence from Russia, which has become an issue also on the European level. Therefore, the Social Democrats remain sceptical about the strategic project as they campaigned for its rejection. Furthermore, they want to deepen the relations with Russia and to postpone accession to the euro zone until 2015. Different leftists’ views towards foreign affairs seem to threaten a smooth Lithuanian presidency of the EU in the second half of 2013. The leftists have pledged to raise the minimum wage and reform taxation to favour the worst-off. Despite this, analysts have said that sweeping changes are unlikely, given the budgetary constraints Lithuania faces in the wake of one of the world’s deepest recessions. In the long-run, at least until the European elections in 2014, voters will be disappointed in a similar way as in France because the leftward swing cannot fulfil the package of promises they made in terms of taxes and social benefits, especially since the left-wing parties have no agenda to stimulate growth.Vesta Ratkeviciute Baltic Elections
Lithuanian elections. Reforms on a roll?
06 Nov 2012
Voting in the ’Hood, a study of immigrant voting behavior, is based on an Internet poll addressed to immigrants in Finland and one-on-one interviews, to recognize the challenges and driving forces behind the movers and shakers in different communities, and to increase political participation as a step towards better social integration. This project was meant to discover possible obstacles to voting amongst immigrants, and to ask our new Finns about their interest in taking part in the next election, and their feedback about the political process to the National Coalition PartyDemocracy Elections Immigration Political Parties Society
Voting in the Hood
18 May 2012
allIt is happening everywhere in Europe: in Italy, a grassroots movement called “Movimento 5 stelle” (“Five Stars Movement”) has coalesced around former comedian and showman Beppe Grillo, who writes one of the world’s most influential political blogs addressed to young people. In Austria, three IT experts founded an online party at a press conference held on 27 March 2012. It follows the principle of direct democracy in that the online community should make the decisions.
Specific topics which are internet-related, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as well as more general issues, can be voted on within pre-set deadlines. Live tweets from Parliament could make the party attractive. A watchdog council is expected to control communications and prevent, for example, extremist discussions. Starting in 2013, the party will open ‘real’ regional branches and create a national unit to participate in elections.
The Pirate parties are a new phenomenon in the European political landscape and are particularly visible in Germany. In the 2011 Berlin state election, the Pirates managed for the first time to exceed the 5% threshold necessary to win seats in the state assembly, winning 8.9% of the votes. Since this turning point, the party has created media hype with positive feedback and has received some international attention, including in The Economist. Many members who flooded into the party after its success in Berlin are not concerned with internet issues. But they share the assumption that disagreements can be resolved by dialogue and voting. In March 2012 the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote and thus won 4 seats in the Landtag of Saarland.
Subsequent polls in 2012 have shown an increase in the popularity of the Party (constantly over 10%). As was the case in Berlin, nearly one quarter of first time voters (23%) in Saarland gave their vote to the Pirate Party. This distinct generational divide indicates that reasons other than protest are important for the Pirate Party’s success. Belonging to the Internet generation and shared concerns over digital issues seem to be more convincing reasons than protest voting. The Pirates also have a new approach to politics. They depict themselves as a real party in which it is possible for everyone to contribute and no one has any privileges. The Pirates have their own software and use the Internet as the medium for internal decision-making. As a new party, it was able, starting in Sweden, to sustain a functioning organisation by means of the Internet. Even critics have to admit that the new form of participation has given new energy to intra-party democracy, although caution should be exercised in taking any revolutionary idea too seriously.
Excessive transparency could open politics to ridicule, for instance through the live streaming of each session. Each slip-up or scandalous incident would not only be monitored, but could overshadow political content. Such openness may serve to promote curiosity, rather than democracy. Furthermore, the notion of participation and thus equality would be limited to the virtual community. And even here there are drawbacks: only a small number of party members are active in online communities. Moreover, the party congresses of the Pirates are conventional in important respects. We have witnessed internal quarrels, even to the level of insults and arguments over internal regulations and statutes—the typical tools also used in debates within established parties. Future discussions about the organisation and structures of parties will focus on the question of membership surveys and decisions as well as on virtualisation. This is especially true after the success of the German Pirate Party has shown that the internal dynamics of the social media community can already be occasionally regarded as agenda-setters for classic media.
European Pirate parties generally define themselves as a new left-wing alternative to the established parties (including the Greens) and share ambitions for the European elections in 2014, vowing to promote a more transparent state and a larger role in decision-making for citizens. In the European elections in 2014, the Internet, data protection and cyber security will be the key issues, at least when it comes to reaching and mobilising the younger generation. The Pirates’ rivals are starting to copy their methods by creating virtual party organisations and internet policy platforms, leading to so-called Facebook parties. Euro parties must use the new tools of interaction for campaigning on the European level in order to increase low turnout and create a European discussion.Florian Hartleb Elections EU Institutions Political Parties Values
Pirates & Co: The Fast Emergence of New Parties in the Virtual Age
03 May 2012
Spanish parliamentary elections were held on the 20th of November 2011. Spanish citizens elected their representatives for both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate.
The results show a clear victory for Partido Popular (PP) and a remarkable defeat for the Spanish socialists (PSOE). Focusing on the outcome of the elections at the Congress, which is the main legislative body in the Spanish bicameral system, the PP won the elections with the 44.62% of the votes, followed by PSOE with the 28.73%. The global turnout of the elections was 71.69%, slightly lower to the latest elections of 2008. We can fairly speak of historic results concerning the PP and the PSOE alike, but for very different reasons though. These constitute the best results ever for Partido Popular,beating both the number of seats and the total number of votes obtained during the absolute majority of former PP government lead at the time by the Prime Minister Aznar, reaching a total of 10.830.693 electorates. Regarding the seats in the Parliament, PP increases its representation from 154 to 186 (+32), being 176 the minimum seats required in order to have an absolute majority.
Obtaining their worst results ever, the PSOE went from 169 seats in the past elections to 110 (-59). Rubalcaba, the defeated socialist candidate, stood up and explain the electoral results while calling for a party congress to discuss the future political strategy, which will likely include a reorganization of the party leadership. In a speech characterized by its prudence, Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP and future Prime Minister of Spain, called for national unity and hard work as the formula to get away from the crisis. “My only enemies will be the unemployment, the deficit, the excessive debt, the economic stagnation and anything which keeps our country in this critical situation”.
Concerning the role of Spain in the European Union, Rajoy claimed for Spain to have a leading voice in Brussels and Frankfurt, being the most loyal of the Member States as well as the most demanding one. “We shall stop being a problem to start being part of the solution once again”. The political spectrum after the elections Beyond the results of the two main parties, these elections produced other data which is worth-mentioning. Izquierda Unida (IU), a collation of leftish parties including the Communist Party, raised its representation from 2 seats to 11, with the 6.92% of the votes. Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD), a party attending the general elections for the second time in its history, with a support of 4.69%, multiplied by 5 its number of seats, going from 1 to 5. Convergència i Unió (CiU), a Catalanist centre-right coalition, with 4.17%, managed to become, for the first time in history, the leading political force in Catalonia with 16 seats, ousting the socialist from the first place. AMAIUR, a leftish nationalist and separatist Basque coalition, with 1.37%, accessed for the first time in history the Congress and will have its own political group, with a total of 7 seats. Finally,Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), a Basque nationalist party centre-right minded, with 1.33% and 5 seats, is no longer the political party with the biggest representation in the Basque Country. The other parties which managed to obtain representation at the Spanish Parliament are Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), Catalan leftish separatist with 1.05 %; Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG), Galician leftish and nationalist party with 0.75%; Coalición Canaria-Nueva Canarias (CC-NC-PNC), a coalition of parties from the Canary Islands, with 0.59%; COMPROMÍS-Q, a regionalist leftish and green coalition from Valencia, with 0.51 %; FAC, a regionalist centre-right party from Asturias, with 0.4%; and GBAI, a Basque nationalist and progressist coalition, with 0.17%. This makes a total amount of 13 parties represented at the Congress, one of the highest numbers in Spanish democracy.
A careful reader would have already realized of the fact that there are some apparent contradictions in the above mentioned data. While not examining in depth this question, let us just highlight the fact that, under the current electoral law, geographically concentrated votes (provinces being the constituencies in Spain) have greater value than disperse votes along the Spanish geography. Therefore those parties whose electorates are concentrated in a reduce space, are comparatively overrepresented at the Parliament if we only look at the absolute number of votes. Analysing the results: what happened to the socialists? Taking into account the fact that the global turnout has only been slightly lower than in the past elections, one could wonder where the votes of the socialists went to. If we have a look at the remarkable increase of IU and UPyD, we may find, at least, part of the explanation. IU would have ‘stolen’ votes from the left-side of the PSOE, while UPyD would have taken some of the most centrist or moderate socialist voters.
There is also a pool of independents that has, to some extent, shifted from PSOE to PP. Another interesting variable to analyse would be the impact of the so-called ‘indignados’ movement (Spanish indignants) on the elections outcome. Even if the movement has been characterized from the beginning precisely by the lack of a clear-cut ideology, many of the mottos the movement has used along their demonstrations suggest disagreement with the decisions that are being taking in Brussels and, in broader terms, with the international financial system (some of the messages being openly anti-capitalist). We could therefore fairly expect that, at least part of these ‘indignados’, have shown their support for the leftish coalition IU.
How could these results influence on the Spanish political and social dynamics? On the one hand, the Partido Popular has earned enough popular support to carry out the necessary measures Spain will have to go through to get away from the crisis. Moreover, taking into account the last movements of PM Zapatero following the line proposed by Angela Merkel, the PSOE is expected to support PP actions taken upon Brussels’ request. On the other hand, however, we should not underestimate the increase of power that IU has experienced in the Parliament. We could expect a reinforced IU to gather support from the trade unions and take actions against the future government through, for example, the call of a general strike. After the elections What are the steps to follow? The intention of the PP is to have a transfer of power as soon as possible taking into account the current economic situation. Contacts have been made already between the two main parties in that sense.
The foreseen timeline is as follows: the 13th December a new Parliament will be constituted and the appointment of the new Prime Minister should take place before Christmas time. Speculations are focused now on who will be the men and women Mariano Rajoy will trust to form the new government. Although there are just a few concrete names on the table, what seems to be very likely is the creation of a double-hatted minister who would take care both of economic issues and the relations with the EU. Rajoy’s first contact with some of the most prominent European leaders will be as soon as the 7th of December. The Spanish leader is expected to attend to the European People’s Party Congress in Marseille as the Spanish Prime Minister in pectore. This will be a good opportunity for a first exchange of views between Rajoy and Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Herman Van Rompuy and Durao Barroso, among others.Rodrigo Castro Nacarino Crisis Elections
Rodrigo Castro Nacarino
Spanish elections dominated by the centre-right
22 Nov 2011
Elections will be held in Egypt between November 28 and January 10 and the political campaign already began at the beginning of this month. Television is a crucial battleground – some figures suggest that TV is the main source of information for as many as 97 percent of Egyptians – but personal popularity will also be vital; Egyptians are brought up to vote not for great policy platforms but for the people they know and like. It seems like the elections will lead to the obvious dominance of Islamists.
Many analysts are convinced that the Islamists are clearly gaining the upper hand against the liberals and some even expect them to dominate the future Egyptian parliament, winning as much as 65 percent of the seats. Some experts also think that a large share of the seats will be won by the more radical Salafists, and to counteract this recommend working with the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood to encourage liberal trends among them, rather than collaborating with the liberals themselves, who have little more than very few supporters and little prospect of electoral success. A strong result for the Salafists would surprise me, given how relatively unimportant and marginalised they appeared to be during my last visit to Egypt.
Having talked to several representatives of various new liberal parties in Cairo, I also disagree with the notion that we should turn our backs on them. They are indeed weak and disorganised at the moment – inexperienced and without powerful structures or resources – but some of them have potential. They are well-educated, articulate, open-minded and motivated. They might not enter parliament after these elections, but they might be able to do so in five or 10 years’ time. Meanwhile, many of them may continue their work building up Civil Society, provided they get support and encouragement. Moreover, even though Islamic political parties are mushrooming at present, not everybody is persuaded that the Islamists really enjoy such popularity.
Some experts believe that they might not win more than 25–30 percent of the seats in parliament. Who is right remains to be seen, but what is clear is that any new rulers who want to keep the democratic transition on track will need to address Egypt’s economic woes immediately and ensure that, at the very least, people’s basic needs are met. Everybody agrees that the Egyptian economy has not been doing well since the revolution; however, some are more optimistic about when the economy will return to its pre-revolutionary state. The greatest optimists believe that the economy be back on track by the end of this year. A slight increase in spending and the gradual return of tourists to the Egyptian coast both favour the optimistic view. However, without reform the Egyptian economy will certainly not emerge from the shadow of its pre-revolutionary path. As long as military permission is required to start up any sort of business, the situation will not change for the better. Inefficient subsidies, for example on benzene 95—a product largely used by the wealthy—, are also not good news for the already considerable Egyptian debt. And the only properly organised force in the country – the Muslim Brotherhood – is not likely to be able to manage this on its own. The Muslim Brothers are well able to discuss morals, values and religion, but the economy is a bit of a blind spot for them.
The liberals, although disorganised, seem to be better suited to solving Egypt’s economic problems. However weak their electoral support at the moment, therefore, they could be vital to their country’s post-election development. But, despite widespread uncertainty about the future direction of their country, Egyptians are fairly positive that Egypt will not return to authoritarian rule and that there is no alternative to a majority government formed on the outcome of free elections. Egyptian fear dissipated with the first drop of blood that fell on Tahrir Square. If they feel that the gains made as a result of the revolution are being destroyed, they will take to the streets for a second revolution.
What useful role, if any, can Europe play in this pre-election positioning? First and foremost, we should not make the mistake of dealing with Islamists as one homogenous group – some of these groups are less democratic than others. Perhaps we should stop talking about democracy and Islamism as an ‘either/or’ issue – which should not keep us form distinguishing between politicians and parties we like more, and those we like less. It is important that free and fair elections take place in Egypt, and that both Egyptians and the West respect the results of those elections. Some assistance from the West might be helpful, for example in guiding and training the nation’s electoral observers to monitor the elections for fairness and transparency. We also should remember one important thing: the Arab Spring was a joyful event; it represented the beginning of the end of the old, undemocratic Middle East. Europe and the West should remember that the situation in Egypt is not about us, and understand that the extent of its influence on the transition is relatively limited. Finally, both Egypt and the West need to show a little more humility and respect for each other’s strategic choices and much more patience over the pace of transition.Katarina Králiková Arab Spring Elections
Egypt’s upcoming elections
21 Nov 2011
On 23 October, Tunisia held the first elections in the region after the Arab Spring. The results put the Islamist Ennahda party in the lead, but with the need to form a coalition with one or more secular centre-left parties. • Ennahda’s supporters see the party as a moderate political force supportive of women’s rights; however, its opponents warn of Ennahda’s double discourse and believe that, once elected, hardliners will impose a more fundamentalist view of Islam on Tunisian society.
Ennahda is likely to remain moderate in the short- and medium-term, especially in order to ensure the support of its coalition partners. However, in the longer term its policies could gradually lead to greater Islamisation of the country. • Contrary to the very well organised Ennahda, there are a number of secular, mainly centreleft parties in Tunisia, which are rather disorganised and significantly fragmented. Nonetheless, these parties hope to soon act together to present a more credible secularopposition to the Islamists.
The West should respect the results as a free and democratic choice of the Tunisian people while striving to be an inclusive partner. This means the West should show more trust and offer practical advice and support in the upcoming democratic processes in Tunisia, including the drafting of the constitution and preparing for the next elections. Background Tunisia is the regional front-runner in a number of aspects – its economy, sizeable middle-class, relatively educated population, greater degree of gender equality, vibrant civil society and overall modernity. It was Tunisia which started the wave of change that has infected other Arab countries with the desire for a more free and democratic Middle East, where human dignity is an indispensable part of society.
Tunisia is the first country to organise elections after the Arab Spring which, according to national and international observers, have been open, fair and conducted in a democratic and transparent way. Tunisia was also the first country in the region to withdraw all its reservations about the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and to guarantee gender parity on the electoral lists of all registered parties. The revolution in Tunisia may have caught the West by surprise, but the same cannot be said about the results of the 23 October elections. The various polls conducted before the elections were right to place the Islamist party Ennahda in the lead. The high turnout in the elections simply confirmed the strong popularity of the party, which, according to unofficial results, show anywhere from 30-40% of the vote and the biggest share of seats in the 217 seat assembly. The rest of the seats in the assembly will be proportionally divided among nine other political parties. Overall, more than 100 political parties across a wide political spectrum – Islamist, nationalist, leftist, communist, green and all imaginable combinations thereof –registered for the elections. Some parties had almost identical platforms, some had no platforms at all and some formed alliances, some of which have been dissolved and others yet to be created.
The results of the elections have provoked some protests in the country, but overall, Tunisians,even those disappointed by Ennahda’s victory, are determined to accept them. The same reaction should come from the West. After all, this result reflects the will of the Tunisian people. Who is the winner? Ennahda, or the Renaissance Party, is described, mainly by its supporters, as a moderate Islamist party; they argue the party is in the centre of the political spectrum, supports economic freedom and opposes radical Islam. It is the best-organised political force in the country and is well-funded with the strong grass roots support in the poorest areas. Its opponents, however, are doubtful of its moderate views and advise caution regarding Ennahda’s so-called ‘double discourse‘; while its leaders say one thing when secularists and the West are listening, local activitsts and imams in the mosques do the other. It is true that in its early stages, Ennahda – originally inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – was aligned with more extreme Islamist movements in the Arab world and was known for the strongly-conservative writings of its leader Rachid Ghanouchi. But this was more than 20 years ago, before the party was banned by the regime and Ghanouchi exiled to London where, according to some observers, he moved from classic conservatism to a more liberal way of thinking. Some observers argue that highlighting their moderate, progressive, rights-based approach to governance was just part of the election campaign, a guise to appeal to voters. These critics believe that, once elected, hardliners will impose a more fundamentalist view of Islam on Tunisia’s society, enforcing the code of morality and revising the code of personal status, thereby creating a negative impact on gender equality.
The election results now give Ennahda the opportunity to demonstrate how religious and how conservative the party really is and whether the Islamist fear, which was often used to support repressive government policies, is justified. Ennahda is in a powerful but precarious situation. It won the elections but cannot rule alone and needs to form a coalition with secular parties. This should be a reassuring aspect for those who fear a complete Islamist takeover.
Ennahda must now move from a protest movement to being the most important player in a coalition government. Another challenge for the party is that despite being a largely one-man show, it needs to work seriously within its lower cadres and with groups beyond the entourage of Rachid Ghannouchi. It also needs to confront ideological divisions within the party which have already led some of the more reflective personalities to leave to form their own groups. If the party wants to prevent further divisions, it does not have the luxury of becoming too conservative. More strategically, Ennahda‘s leaders must realise that women’s rights are very important to the majority of the population and that if they go back on their campaign promises and put limitations on a concrete rights-based legislation (by introducing concepts such as forced veiling, limitations on female education, polygamy, etc.), they will face opposition from within their own party as well as from outside, which would reduce their chances of being re-elected. Therefore, in the short- to medium-term they are only likely to adopt aesthetic modifications such as allowing the hijab or even niqab in universities or overturning the ban on veils in national identity card photographs.However, in the long-term this could lead, step by step, to greater Islamisation of the country.
Another worrying aspect for many Tunisians is that Ennahda’s internal party elections have been postponed until after the national elections, thereby giving Ennahda members a chance to elect a new and potentially more conservative leadership. Members of banned and more radical political groups such as the Salafi Hizb al-Tahrir have expressed interest in participating in the internal elections. If the party’s hard-line conservatives then come to power, there would be significant questions about Ennahda’s commitment to a moderate stance supportive of women’s rights. Who are the others? Since Ennahda has not won a majority of the votes, it will have to create a coalition with one or more secular parties. This means that it will need to promote a more moderate agenda to ensure the support of its coalition members. At the moment it seems like the coalition will be formed with two secular centre-left parties, namely Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol. Congress for the Republic, which came in second in the elections, was legalised after the revolution, while Ettakatol, or the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, existed as an opposition party already under the Ben Ali regime (but was largely marginalised).
The main opposition party is likely to be the secular and centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). The election results were a huge disappointment for this party which, according to preelection polls, was expected to be the runner-up; in the end it only received around 10% of the vote. This could be attributed to the fact that the party was not as marginalised as the others, acting as the biggest opposition party during the Ben Ali regime. This clearly shows that Tunisians want to see a complete break with the past. The PDP will most probably form an alliance with other like-minded parties, including the Democratic Modernist Pole and the Party of Tunisian Workers, to offer a more credible alternative to Ennahda. The PDP’s main centre-left rival, Ettakatol, declined the offer of an alliance, but there are a number of other small parties who may join at a later point. Since there was such strong secular-Islamist polarisation prior to the election, many parties may be willing to make otherwise unlikely alliances within the secular ‘bloc‘ of parties.
Furthermore, a majority of the parties have been formed in the last eight months which, according to some analysts, means that the members – in order to support freedom, peace and development – are more flexible on their beliefs rather than being firm with regard to their individual programmes. Other analysts challenge this argument by saying that the secular liberals are too divided and that it will be difficult to overcome this fragmentation due to ‘massive egos‘ of most of the party leaders. Therefore, they predict that these parties will go into the ‘political wilderness‘ for some months and later realise that they can becomerelatively strong only if they get to acts together. What message for the West? The West should show a little more trust in both the Tunisian Islamists and the Tunisian voters:The Islamists have been democratically elected and therefore will be accountable to the voters.They cannot push an agenda that the majority of the population does not want. Otherwise theirpower could easily have a short life; if they push forward an agenda that is too conservative, they will risk the same end as Ben Ali – an ejection from office. The revolution has simply broken the fear of Tunisian people and if politicians overstep their boundaries, people will take to the streets to protest. Moreover, Tunisia has a relatively developed civil society, the highest literacy rate in the Arab world and a westernised cultural environment, especially in Tunis and the coastal areas.
All this, including the importance of tourism for Tunisia’s economy, constitutes a considerable hedge against extremism. The West should not turn its back on Tunisia’s Islamists, and instead should reach out to them. Analysts by large agree that the more excluded the Islamists are by the international community, the more radicalised they can get. But even if the Islamists in Tunisia remain moderate and take the Turkish AKP as a role model, it does not mean that there is no reason for caution. Looking at the AKP in the last years, the party has shown a growing influence over the judiciary and increasing restrictions on media freedom. On the foreign policy front, Turkey’s intentions in Iran, Israel, Sudan and its stance in NATO raise questions about whether this is the best example for a new Tunisia. Thus, the West should pursue a balanced mixture of trust and caution; it should be a partner who listens carefully and learns fast. The newly elected assembly will draft a new constitution, appoint an interim government and set a date for new elections late next year or in early 2013. There is certainly room for the West to offer practical advice and support in all these democratic processes.
Finally, what about the lack of trust? Such a lack has been proven to be best repaired through people-to-people programmes. Therefore, the West should place a strong emphasis on student exchanges, summer schools and cultural exchanges and internship placements for both Tunisianstudents in the EU and vice-versa.Katarina Králiková Arab Spring Elections Foreign Policy
Tunisia’s first elections after the Arab Spring
27 Oct 2011
There are an estimated 600,000 Finns living abroad. We know surprisingly little of their voting behaviour even though statistical data is available. What drives expats to vote? Tradition, duty? Genuine willingness to influence in the political life of the fatherland? Is there always a strong correlation between time spent away and non-voting? How big an issue is physical distance? Is alienation shown through non-participation? Which would be ways to activate expat voters to participate? Is national election in the old homeland less interesting than, say, local election in the country of residence? Which lessons could we learn concerning the European election? Are the expats happily assimilated or still identifying themselves clearly as Finnish – or do they end up feeling in-betweens? In short, the purpose of this study was to to examine expat Finns’ voting behaviour through case studies in major expat areas, to discover factors behind political participation abroad; obstacles and driving forces, ways to activate voters and fight “expat inertia”; to identify means to activate and engage expatriates politically and to identify networks and opinion leaders among expats affecting voting activism.Democracy Elections Globalisation Political Parties Values
Voting Far Away: Expats Exercising Political Rights Abroad
01 Jul 2011
Finland’s Parliamentary elections were held on Sunday, 17 April. The elections were won by Kokoomus, the National Coalition Party (20,4%), followed by the Social Democrat SDP (19,1%), the True Finns (19,0%), the Centre Party (15,8%), the Left (8,1%), the Greens (7,2%), the Swedish People’s Party (4,3%), and finally, the Christian Democrats (4,0%). All parties experienced weaker results than in the last elections, except the True Finns.
Mr. Jyrki Katainen, the Chair of Kokoomus and Vice-President of the EPP, will, after some formalities, begin negotiations to form a government. It is usually a cliché when election results are referred to as “historic”, labelled mostly by those who won the elections. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the recent Finnish election has elements that make it truly different from all previous Finnish parliamentary elections. The main change is the rise of the True Finns, who increased their share of votes from 4% to 19%. Instead of the three big parties that have ruled for decades, Finland now has four. The second aspect is the massive defeat of the Centre Party, which experienced a loss of 7,3%. These are no doubt significant changes in a country where results tend to change only a few percentage points from one election to another. Kokoomus (National Coalition Party), an EPP Member, also made history by becoming the largest party for the first time in parliamentary elections.
The Finnish elections had extensive international press coverage, particularly due to concerns that the True Finns Party would win and that Mr. Timo Soini, the Chair, founder and driving force of the party, would become Prime Minister. Such a development would have been a major challenge to the EU, given that a declared EU-sceptic would have had the ability to block all consensus-required decisions in the EU. The success of the True Finns has similarities to the recent rise of populist parties elsewhere in Europe. Citizens’ apathy toward the consensus-driven political culture has led to a situation in which even dedicated supporters of other Finnish political parties welcomed the True Finns’ arrival as a shake-up of the system. Moreover, all the ingredients of populist rhetoric found fruitful soil in a post-economic crisis country, where citizens felt that they had done their duty, suffered to keep their economy in shape and were having serious doubts about the European bailout.
Given the relatively low share of votes for the leading parties, the True Finns had the potential to achieve even better electoral results. However, the success of the True Finns had already been set in motion for more than a year, and since much of the True Finns’ popularity came from the newness of their movement rather than the set of concrete policy issues the party is espousing, voters’ enthusiasm started to wane in the last weeks before the election. Also as a result of the growing popularity of the True Finns over the past year, voters in the last weeks started to really consider the possible consequences of voting for the True Finns. Jyrki Katainen demanded that Timo Soini be invited to public TV debates reserved only for the leaders of the three largest parties, and labelled him as a de facto candidate for Prime Minister. As a result, Timo Soini had to re-position himself by converting from a maverick and comedian during TV debates to a real politician. This proved to be a challenge for him. In addition, during the final days before the elections, Soini began to divert from his populist positions in order to increase his chances of being included in a future government. He stated that he agreed with the government’s immigration policy (which he denied when his party members protested) and even hinted that the True Finns could be in a government supporting EU bailouts with certain conditions.
All of this also contributed to the fading popularity of the True Finns just before the election. However, just one day before the election, Portugal declared its need for EU assistance. This significantly changed the dynamic in favour of the opposition’s messaging in very last moment. In the same way that the Portuguese crisis can explain the True Finns’ better election results compared to their position in the polls only some days earlier, the debate surrounding this crisis just before election day can partly explain the sudden fall of Mari Kiviniemi’s Centre Party, despite the fact that in some polls the Centre was close to being in the lead. The Centre party’s core voters, who in essence are less enthusiastic about the EU, were reminded just before voting of the difficult decisions on the European level that the party has had to take. Some of these voters simply stayed home. The Finnish elections—the day after? Given this election result, the Chairman of the National Coalition party and EPP Vice-President Jyrki Katainen is undisputed in his mandate to form a government. However, his challenges start immediately. How should the True Finns be included in the new government? Given the consensual political culture in Finland, it is expected that a party with substantial electoral gains be seriously considered in a government coalition. Moreover, as the second largest party in the country, the Social Democrats have hinted that the True Finns should be a part of the new government. The Centre Party has also declared that they will move to the opposition. As a result, the True Finns are very likely to be a partner in governing.
At this point the most likely composition seems to be Kokoomus and the Social Democrats, the True Finns and, perhaps, the Swedish People’s Party. Including the True Finns in a coalition is problematic not because of the positions they have, but rather because they have none—or, at least, those they do have are always in flux. The anti-immigration tendencies of the True Finns will not be the key question as with some European populist parties, as the True Finns are not in essence a xenophobic party. Timo Soini is a converted Catholic and has been active in the small Catholic community in Finland for decades, which mainly consists of first generation immigrants. But as a party, the True Finns do not discipline their individual members who have anti-immigrant tones. The True Finns’ party programme is actually rather mainstream; the problem is that hardly anyone in the party adheres to it. At the moment the True Finns are unprepared to work within a government; this suddenly significant party has simply not had the time to turn from a group of “Soini and his friends” into an organized entity. Being a government partner means there is a danger that the True Finns will become a loose cannon, especially as their popularity inevitably begins to decrease and their populist habits kick in. A very tight programmatic framework will be set for the True Finns in negations to form a government, and it seems that the True Finns’ will to govern is so strong that they will not allow government negotiations to fail. The main and most difficult questions will involve the concrete consequences of the True Finns’ anti-European stance and position with regard to the bail-outs.
However, a theoretical government not including the True Finns could also result in a risky scenario. Even if the True Finns were to be excluded from the new government despite serious negotiations, the True Finns could easily frame such a decision as the lack of will within the political establishment to “hear the voice of the people”—and the true result of the democratic elections. It also would leave the True Finns in a strong position to reorganize themselves and their crowds of supporters while playing the populist card in opposition—and then perhaps grow even more as a party. This could be further exacerbated by any difficult decision the government might have to take, for instance, in relation to the Euro Crisis. Katainen’s government must start to work on the long term economic challenges Finland is facing, which were not sufficiently underlined, or downplayed, by parties during the campaign.
Soon-to-be former Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi declared during the campaign that in her view, no cost savings are needed in the public sector. These wrong impressions need to be corrected. However, the Social Democrats and the populist True Finns are far from the easiest partners one could have when undertaking challenging reforms. The unfortunate victim of the April elections is the positive attitude Finns generally have toward the EU. In essence, Finland’s commitment to the EU will remain. However, in the midst of the Greek and Portuguese crises, the True Finns’ EU-critical message reached its audience—and one of the victims was the Social Democrat Party. Previously the driving force in EU issues, the Social Democrat Party did in fact listen the siren song of the True Finns and opposed backing the loan to Greece, while shrouding their position with unrealistic demands—a desperate attempt to grab some of the True Finns’ success. The Social Democrats are now challenged with finding a way to return to more responsible positions on EU questions without losing face. In addition, many in the defeated Centre Party, who will move to the opposition, will conclude that a major factor in the electoral catastrophe were the difficult decisions on European issues that the party supported while in government. As a result, the traditionally more EU-sceptical European Centre Party will take more EU-critical positions while in the opposition.
During the last days before the elections, a respected academic demanded in an editorial in a prominent newspaper that Finland abandon the Euro; this is just one example of the new nature of the EU debate in Finland. After the elections, the hope of the Finnish people and the political establishment, like in many European countries who have managed to keep their economy more or less in shape, is this: “No more bad news from Europe, please”. What could help the popular mood are not new sets of declarations and decisions from Council meetings of Brussels, but rather a real story, where a challenged country, thanks to European support, manages to bounce back, take difficult decisions, push through reforms and get its economy back on track. That would also dilute the anti-European case made by the True Finns.
How would the True Finns try to influence Finnish positions on EU issues as a part of the new government? At the moment, even Timo Soini does not know. It all depends on the government negotiations, but more importantly, on how much Timo Soini can, in the long run, compromise on EU issues without losing his popular support.Tomi Huhtanen Elections Political Parties
Finnish Elections: What’s next?
18 Apr 2011
In the last week of March, three European political parties organised separate conferences on political populism. The Centre for European Studies, the official think-tank of the European People’s Party (EPP); the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); and the Greens / European Free Alliance (GEFA) all organised meetings in the European Parliament on the rise of populism and on developing responses to this phenomenon.
Throughout Western Europe, right-wing populist challengers are currently playing on anti-Islam and anti-immigration sentiments. The outstanding example is the charismatic Dutchman Geert Wilders who is managing to dangle the minority government on a string. His one-member party is a new challenger to the established parties. Similar challengers have appeared on the scene in Sweden and Finland. Other, existing right-wing populist parties are showing the ability to reinvent themselves. In Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache has replaced Jörg Haider at the helm of Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria) and in France, Marine Le Pen has stepped in her father?s shoes as the leader the Front national (National Front). In the changing party systems in Central and East Europe, populism is has become visible as a political phenomenon for some time already. The three conferences organised in the European Parliament last week reveal the differing approaches of the EPP, ALDE and GEFA to political populism.
The EPP conference focused specifically on the foreign policy dimension of populism, using a paper by CES Angelos-Stylianos Chryssogelos. It debated the similarities between right-wing and left-wing populism in Europe. Both left and right-wing populists pit „the people? against the elites. For the left-wing populists, the people are defined as against the international capitalist elite. The right-wing populists describe themselves as the protectors of „their? nations against immigrants and the minorities. The populists often appeal to foreign policy issues. These can be transformed to simple mobilising slogans where enemies are clearly defined. These patterns are then used to frame domestic policy issues.
The ongoing „Arab Spring has put the right-wing populists in disarray: The democratic movements in North Africa and the Middle East are damaging the claims that Muslims are inherently incapable of democratic self-government. In contrast to the EPP approach, the Liberals? and the Greens? conferences on populism focused mostly or exclusively on right-wing populism, ignoring parties such as Die Linke (The Left) in Germany and the loose but sometimes violent left-wing populist movement like in the Anti-Globalisation Movement that is on the rise in Greece. At the ALDE Group?s conference, the Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt mentioned that the Perussuomalaiset (True Finns) are likely to be the largest party after the Finnish elections take place in a few weeks. He described other examples of extreme and populist parties in Slovakia, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. He characterised the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats as standing in opposition to these anti-liberal values in politics.
Finally, as was the case in the previous conference, some of the approximately sixty participants lumped different figures together by mentioning Jörg Haider and Viktor Orbán in the same context as former liberals and later radical-populists. The conference of the Greens, moderated by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP, emphasised that right-wing extremist attitudes are already present in the mainstream of European societies. The founder of the Anti-Globalisation movement, French farmer José Bové was present at the Greens? conference. He warned of the new danger of the right-wing forces. Bové, a Member of the European Parliament as of 2009, failed to mention that he has spent time in prison for completely destroying a McDonald’s restaurant in France. At the Greens’ discussion, right-wing populism and right-wing extremism were generally used synonymously.
Participants spoke of a significant danger of “extreme and populist force” in the European Parliament. Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders were lumped together in the same context. The Greens’ conference also featured a highly regarded European expert on this topic, Cas Mudde. Mudde emphasised that it is politically short-sighted to bundle together populist parties, such as the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (New Flemish Alliance, N-VA) in Belgium, winner of the 2010 general elections, and the Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang,) a far-right extremist force. He stressed the need for mainstream parties to tackle and reframe issues that the populists tend to put on the agenda, such as street crime, instead of just vilifying their use. None of the three conferences offered ready-made solutions to the problem of populism. The Liberal and Green conferences – although welcome – did not distinguish between right-wing populism and extremism, and completely neglected left-wing populism. The nature of populism, left and right, is flexible and chameleon-like, not based on a fixed ideology. Populism can radicalise the political discourse and swing the tone of political debates.Florian Hartleb Elections Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
European Political Parties and the rise of Populism
07 Apr 2011
Japan’s devastating earthquake of 11 March has, within 2 weeks, led to a tsunami in German politics. Although Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor of a Christian Democrat – Liberal coalition (CDU/CSU and FDP) with a comfortable majority for another two and a half years, Germany’s political landscape has been altered significantly, and with ominous consequences for the centre right.
As of today, it looks highly unlikely that the current coalition could win another majority in 2013.
State parliament elections in two Southwestern Länder, Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz, have produced Social Democrat-Green coalition governments in both. While the CDU lost 5 percentage points in Baden-Württemberg, it had moderate gains in Rheinland-Pfalz. But what counts is that in the latter it couldn’t wrest power from the Social Democrat incumbent, whereas in the former, it lost power in a traditional stronghold after having been in government for 58 years. And Baden-Württemberg will now be the first German Land governed by a Green Prime Minister, the result of that party doubling its share from 12 to 24 %, which is one percentage point more than the SPD, which will take the junior position.
The Social Democrats lost considerably in both elections, but will be able to stay in power in both states. The Liberals, however, barely got into the state parliament in Baden-Württemberg (which used to be their stronghold as well) and dropped out in Rheinland-Pfalz. Their party is now in an existential crisis. The Greens have had the biggest breakthrough of their 30 year political existence and now reach deep into the societal mainstream. Causes The immediate cause of this result is the specific German reaction to the hazards of nuclear power. Fear of nuclear energy as well as nuclear war was at the root of the environmental and the peace movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, in turn, led to the creation and growing political success of the Greens in German politics. The Social Democrat-Green coalition of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer (1998-2005) had negotiated a phase-out of nuclear power until 2020. This deal was renegotiated and the phase-out extended until 2028 by the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition in power since 2009. For a number of years, there had actually been a slight majority of public opinion in favour of civilian nuclear power. But last year’s phase-out reversal, decided in a deliberate attempt to polarize against the Greens (who were now identified as the main ideological competitor of the CDU/CSU), had already led to a revival of anti-nuclear protests.
From 12 March onwards, the Fukushima accident was relentlessly played up by the German media (TV, press and internet alike), public opinion turned abruptly against nuclear power once again, and an electoral triumph of the Greens seemed within reach. But the Berlin coalition had been troublesome from its start in 2009, with stronger than usual infighting and slow decision making. In the 2nd half of 2010, some dynamism was regained, but the February 2011 crisis surrounding Defence Minister zu Guttenberg had already damaged the coalition again. Nevertheless, the narrow red-green majority suggests that without Fukushima, the local CDU candidate Mr. Mappus would have remained Prime Minister, which would have amounted to a spectacular success for Angela Merkel as well. The UNSC abstention on Libya which has led to much protest in the Berlin security community, and to irritation internationally, seems to have had little effect on the elections. But this was in itself an expression of the fear of taking unpopular decisions,especially in the FDP.
With the Guttenberg crisis and a post-Fukushima acceleration of the phase-out, the CDU/CSU had significantly lost credibility in the eyes of both its own electorate and of swing voters. Voter flows in Baden-Württemberg show that the Greens could not only draw voters from all other parties, but—most spectacularly—from former non-voters who are not normally interested in politics but can be mobilised in situations perceived as dramatic: this is further proof that politics are becoming more volatile and subject to quickly changing moods. Consequences Germany is, at the moment, veering toward a party landscape with one real people’s party, the CDU/CSU, covering about one third of the electorate, and two medium-sized parties, the stagnant Social Democrats slightly above 25 %, and the Greens holding over 20 % and catching up. The Liberals are hovering around 5 % (the minimum required to get into Parliament) and are therefore fighting for their political survival, while the Left Party seems stagnant around 10 %.
In this constellation, the CDU/CSU faces the strategic problem of finding a future coalition partner (without which it will be impossible to get a parliamentary majority). Unless the Liberals recuperate, that partner will have to be either the SPD or the Greens. In the case of the former, any coalition will require major compromises on social and economic policies, in the case of the latter, on environment, technology and infrastructure. But at the same time, an already irritated conservative part of the CDU/CSU electorate will have to be reassured that Germany does not compromise too much in the Euro crisis and on conservative values; meanwhile the liberal wing needs to be reassured that their party still offers market-oriented alternatives to red and green policies for the economy, infrastructure and energy. If anyone can pull this off, it is Angela Merkel, whose role as party chair and Chancellor is undisputed. Moreover, the Greens will soon be in danger of disappointing the now high expectations placed upon them, especially by the more radical parts of theirRoland Freudenstein Elections Political Parties
Regional elections in Germany- the threats to the coalition
28 Mar 2011
Globalization, international tension and security, economic and financial crisis, institutions and integration: these are some of the questions the European Union has to face in this election year for the European Parliament and the renewal of the European Commission. To understand what is at stake now and in the future, the Schuman Report 2009 is a reference work that offers unique analyses and maps along with vital data for everything the reader should know about Europe and the EU.Elections EU Institutions European Union Globalisation
Schuman Report on Europe: State of the Union 2009
01 Apr 2009