Will populism turn out to be one of the ‘victims’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many commentators have claimed?
Angelos Chryssogelos, Assistant Professor in Politics and International Relations, London Metropolitan University:
“I don’t think the question of populism should be treated in binary terms, i.e. will it go up or down after the crisis. The pandemic will be bad for certain populists while providing opportunities for others. We need only think back ten years to the Great Recession: the economic crisis boosted left-wing populism – up until then a marginal force – in countries like Spain and Greece, while established populist parties like the FN in France failed to capitalise on it. It now appears that the pandemic will be bad for some populists like Trump while others, like Erdoğan in Turkey and PiS in Poland, may overcome it. I think that Europe dodged a major bullet with the Five Star Movement in Italy. The pandemic crisis would be an ideal event for a non-ideological populist party dominated by conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and generally unstable characters. Luckily, the 5SM is in government during this crisis, so it no longer has the credibility to express these feelings. Nevertheless, I think this provides a blueprint for anti-establishment politics in an era when vaccines and tracing apps will be major policy issues, and I expect this will be replicated elsewhere. Unfortunately, this brand of populism is much more dangerous and corrosive than the typical populist radical right, who at least has a core of identifiable ideological beliefs that make it more predictable and conventional.”
Dalibor Roháč, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute:
“So far, I have seen little evidence of that. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the crisis might end up strengthening populist, anti-establishment forces. The mechanisms for this are manifold. Firstly, given the inherent uncertainty about the virus, especially at the early stages of the pandemic, public health officials and experts were inevitably making mistakes. The seasonal flu is more dangerous than COVID-19, we were told. In America, President Trump’s ban on travel from China (which included a variety of loopholes) was decried as fomenting Sinophobia. Experts initially advised against wearing facemasks. Worse yet, while many of these judgement errors were made in good faith, some seem correlated with political ideology, such as the muted reaction of experts to the wave of Black Lives Matter protests, which swept across the Western world. Secondly, we have yet to assess the magnitude of the economic fallout from the lockdowns –past experience suggests that support for populism rises in periods of financial distress. Moreover, the costs of lockdown might very well affect people unevenly. Individuals in ‘elite’, high-education occupations might be in a better position to work from home for extended periods of time than those in blue-collar professions. The combination of perceptions of the inadequate, self-serving expert class, and the uneven material impact of the pandemic, makes for a potentially toxic political mix.”
What are the stakes of the extraordinary European Council called on 17-18 July from the point of view of the EU’s political legitimacy? In what ways will its results (or lack thereof) matter?
Angelos Chryssogelos: “How many ‘make-or-break’ European Councils have there been in the last decade? I’m sure they number in the dozens at this point. I’ve long been sceptical that any singular EU decision truly affects the long-term legitimacy or sustainability of the European project. As the economic and refugee crisis demonstrated, national political elites (because this is what we ultimately mean when we say ‘the EU’) are very much interlocked together as they navigate major policy crises on the one hand, and restive public opinions on the other. The setting of EU institutions provides them with opportunities to blow steam through the theatricality of ‘tough negotiations’, while finding ways to tame the effects of crises that no country on its own could cope with. If no solution is found in one Council, then you quite simply move on to the next one. In this sense, preoccupation with high-minded ideas, like the ‘legitimacy of the European project’ is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Should polls be accurate, and the majority of European citizens are indeed unconcerned about the EU either way, why elevate it to a major stake of European politics? Succeeding in taming the pandemic crisis’ economic effects will not vindicate an abstract ‘Europe’, any more than failure to come to an agreement in the July Council will prove that European integration has been a failure. If a deal is found in July for the recovery fund, great. If not, move on to the next meeting. The show will go on either way.”
Dalibor Roháč: “The EU’s political legitimacy does not stand and fall with one summit. However, the gravity of this moment cannot be underestimated, as the pandemic has hit European economies at a time when many were already carrying a large debt overhang. Unless mitigated through action at the EU level, the solvency of some member states would be threatened. Fundamentally, the principles underpinning the single market themselves would be in danger. With the relaxation of state aid rules, some countries are in a much better position to help domestic businesses that find themselves in distress. The crisis could thus leave Europe with a dramatically uneven playing field. The longer the implementation of the recovery package takes, the greater the risks. At a basic level, the summit is therefore a test of whether European leaders are genuinely committed to the European project. To be sure, bargaining and seeking the best deal for voters in their respective countries is expected. The final product will necessarily be a compromise, ridden with imperfections. But the question is whether European leaders will be able to rise above the more parochial questions of who gets how much and with what strings attached, and to approach the exercise as one that will set a precedent for years to come.”Crisis EU Institutions EU Member States Euroscepticism
How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting EU legitimacy?
08 Jul 2020
The current emergency might be the most challenging test for the EU. COVID-19 has huge implications, not only from a social, economic and healthcare perspective, it is also questioning the role of the European Union and its relationship with its citizens. This is particularly evident in Italy, the worst-affected country in the bloc, where the crisis is exacerbating an already widespread disaffection towards the EU. This loss of enthusiasm started more than a decade ago. Italy, as a founding member state, has typically enjoyed high levels of support for the European project. However recently, the negative impact of the economic crisis, and later the mismanagement of the migratory challenge, have negatively affected the sentiment towards Europe.
As a consequence, in Italy, since 2010, trust in the EU has decreased by about 20 points. Europe has failed to demonstrate real solidarity, and at the same time has been used as a scapegoat for the country’s weaknesses. The 2019 Eurobarometer showed evidence of growing Euroscepticism: Italy emerged as the most pessimistic among EU member states, with less than half of Italians thinking that their country benefits from the EU (42%, 26 points below the EU average). Moreover, only 38% of Italians thought that Italy’s voice counts in Europe, this time 18 points below the EU average. Italian citizens have felt shamefully neglected by the EU, and they expressed this frustration at the most recent European elections, bringing victory to the Lega party, which has never spared criticism and hostility towards the EU. This has been interpreted as a desire to obtain responses and a request for change at the EU level, rather than a deeper identity or belonging issue against Europe. However, it was certainly a clear reaction, and a signal of a troubled relationship.
This loss of confidence in the EU has also partially affected the more fervent pro-Europeans.
As Italy is now facing a severe crisis, with more than 23.000 deaths from coronavirus, and its already weak economy is terribly at risk of a deep recession, there is a rising feeling that the country is being abandoned by its European brothers. The Union’s response to this emergency has been perceived as late and inadequate, and the expectations of a rapid demonstration of solidarity and support from the rest of the EU were not met. COVID-19, therefore, becomes another occasion to test the EU and to blame it for not doing enough. Even if the EU has subsequently made up for this, launching significant initiatives to deal with the emergency, its hesitation at the onset of the pandemic, the attitude of some member states, and the ongoing arm-wrestle the Italian government finds itself in on the use of the ESM and Coronabonds are leaving their mark.
According to a few surveys conducted in recent weeks in Italy, 67% of Italians believe that being part of the EU is a disadvantage, up from 47% in November 2018. 77% of respondents believe that, at the moment, the EU has not contributed to face the current health crisis. The decrease of people who claim to feel European should not be a surprise, from 66% before the pandemic to 49% today. This loss of confidence in the EU has also partially affected the more fervent pro-Europeans. However, a considerable minority, 35%, would vote to exit the EU. Although this is clearly an expression of the current frustration and fear for the future, it is still a striking assessment of the loss of confidence that has happened in the past few weeks, and its reflection on a generally pessimistic view on the uncertain future of jobs and the economy.
Public debates and social media are contributing to damaging faith in the EU, spreading criticism of the European model, and not sufficiently highlighting what the EU is actually doing. Misinformation and political instrumentalisation are also part of this game, with the risk of rising the popularity of nationalist and sovereigntist forces. If the EU is not perceived as a safe bet, Italians will start considering other potential alliances. Indeed, according to a recent poll, Italians consider China, probably as an effect of the aid they supplied to face the health emergency, as the friendliest country, followed by Russia and the US. Germany, however, stands among Italy’s biggest enemies, reflecting the current negotiations at EU level, which are exacerbating divergences and frictions among EU countries.
Restoring Italians’ faith in the EU will not be a simple task at this point, but it’s not too late.
The decline of trust in the EU is a clear countertrend with the support for national institutions. Italians expressed their agreement on the measures adopted at the national level to face the emergency; 75% appreciate President Mattarella; 58% expressed their confidence in Prime Minister Conte, up a good 15 points compared to the beginning of the year. A favourable opinion is also addressed towards the politicians at the local level. What has generated a more significant frustration towards the EU is the feeling of a lack of empathy and a confusing and uncoordinated communication, symbolised by the strong reaction to the frigidness of the Dutch Finance Minister’s words and the President of the European Central Bank’s message. Last month, in one of his few TV appearances addressing millions of Italians, even Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s Head of State, warned the future of Europe was at stake if its institutions did not show solidarity with their country.
The massive shift happening in Italy has not gone unnoticed. The Financial Times published an article a few days ago entitled “Is Europe losing Italy?”, highlighting how Italians’ sense of betrayal deepens as their plight remains ignored. Numerous calls for European unity and solidarity have spread, and some prominent politicians have expressed the need for collective action. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen officially apologised to Italy on behalf of Europe for its failure to do more to help at the onset of the pandemic. Restoring Italians’ faith in the EU will not be a simple task at this point, but it’s not too late. Reacting to a global pandemic solely with national measures is not possible, nor rationally desirable. It is time for the EU to show that it can live up to expectations and ambitions. Besides technical decisions, it is also important to convey a clear reassuring message as a united and responsive Europe. The ball is now in the hands of the Heads of States and Governments, gathering in the upcoming European Council. The EU cannot afford to miss this crucial opportunity to prove that its institutions are close to its citizens and can protect them, deliver concrete answers, and spread the right messages. What will be decided in the next few weeks is crucial for the future of the EU, but also for its relations with its citizens, starting in one of its founding members.Loredana Teodorescu COVID-19 Euroscepticism
Italy calling the EU as Euroscepticism rises in times of Coronavirus
21 Apr 2020
Brexit has consumed, humiliated and frustrated Britain and its political leaders. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed it is easy to overlook some of the longer-term trends and changes it represents, not least how European the UK is and how Brexit is not a one-way movement of the UK away from the rest of Europe but in many ways has actually moved Britain closer to European norms.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. That reality is that the past forty years has seen the UK’s politics, constitution, economy, society and place in the world grow more European. This is a reality many UK governments have accepted and quietly worked with in searching to build and shape the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU.
It’s also a reality that has been on display in a General Election defined by European-style multi-party politics; commitments to welfare spending that would put the UK closer to European norms than US ones; and a growing realisation – if not acceptance – of Britain’s economic and security interdependences with the rest of Europe.
Many of the formal EU-centred links might now be severed or altered by a UK withdrawal. However, future negotiations about the UK-EU relationship mean those links could once again be formalized or reconstituted in new ways. Calls for this will be helped by Britain’s new-found pro-European voices who have been created, or in some cases brought out of the shadows, by the UK’s vote to leave.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity.
Close alignment between Britain and the EU, however, should not be taken for granted in a post-Brexit environment. As recent debates about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted, on both the Right and Left some continue to hope that withdrawal will allow the UK to diverge significantly from European standards.
Such efforts, however, will run into the problem of the Europeanised state of Britain and the ever-present strategic need on the part of the UK’s government, businesses and civil society to engage closely with the continent to which the country is forever bound. The success of the EU and the UK’s need to shape it will therefore remain two of Britain’s leading concerns.
Does this mean the departure of a Europeanised Britain will inevitably lead to it rejoining? This is unlikely because the UK’s terms of membership would not be the same as now. Opt-outs from the Euro, Schengen, some areas of Justice and Home Affairs matters, and the British rebate are unlikely to be offered. The feelings of regret this creates could boost pro-European sentiments. But accepting such conditions will make for a very difficult sell in any referendum on rejoining.
As the Norway and Switzerland examples also show, support can also decline if the EU’s approach to future negotiations and relations appears abrasive, bullying or overbearing. It is important not to overlook how corrosive this could be on UK public support for links with the EU.
This should not be taken to mean that the UK and EU cannot negotiate a new relationship where the UK can continue to come to terms with its overlapping European and global identities. Negotiations have so far focused on the UK’s withdrawal. The future relationship remains an undiscovered country.
Nor does this mean the UK has to withdraw to become more European or recognise how European it is. Our forthcoming research into whether Brexit has made Britain more European might be taken to mean a non-EU Europeanised UK will pose no problems and that Brexit should not be resisted or regretted.
However, in an emerging multipolar world Brexit carries significant economic, political, constitutional, security, defence, social and diplomatic risks for the UK. It will also cause significant ongoing problems for the EU to have to manage relations with a Europeanised but estranged UK struggling to come to terms with the fallout of Brexit. Far easier to face this with the UK inside the EU.Tim Oliver Garvan Walshe Brexit Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Political Parties
The Brexit election and the making of a European Britain
12 Dec 2019
For those seeking to understand the debate in Britain about leaving the EU, it is important to understand that history—or rather a certain Eurosceptic Tory interpretation of British and Imperial history—played a key role in building and sustaining the momentum for Brexit, both during and after the 2016 referendum. In this context, the process of Britain leaving the EU can be seen as the triumph of a misrepresented and selective view of British Imperial history and an unbending view of the primacy of the nation state. This narrative was combined (quite quickly and unpredictably) with a rise in economic nationalism and populism stimulated by the global economic crisis that commenced in 2007. This combination, in turn, challenged long-established political norms such as Britain’s membership of the EU. These were challenges that were largely based on a mutated form of British declinism and a fatalist view of the EU.
Ultimately, this paper concludes that it is not in the interests of Brussels that Britain should either seek to remain (or gain re-admittance in the future) as a full member of the EU. Rather, Britain’s historical self-conception is more conducive to a looser, yet clearly defined relationship with Brussels, based on shared political, economic and security interests. Such an arrangement—a bespoke Anglo-Continental compact—is more consistent with Britain’s political realities and accepted historical narratives. It will also better preserve the integrity of the EU’s internal cohesiveness, which since 2016 has become unavoidably intertwined with Britain’s search for relevance in this post-colonial age.Brexit Economy EU Member States Euroscepticism Macroeconomics
The Empire Strikes Back: Brexit, History and the Decline of Global Britain
12 Mar 2019
Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.
The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.
So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.
Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.
The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.
So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.
A strong European Union benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale.
The EU started as a project to safeguard peace across the continent. But over the years it became so much more, it became an ever-closer union. A Union of unprecedented economic and social welfare and shared values. Christian democrats have been the driving force behind that evolution, and the EPP remains the driving force to this day.
We continue to ensure that the European Union is being democratically governed. Through the member states in the Council, through the representatives elected to the European Parliament by our people and through Commissioners who are delegated by the governments of their home nation.
A strong European Union benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale. We live in an era of fundamental geopolitical and economic shifts. The reality of today, the outside world in turmoil scares people, which is understandable. But capitalizing on those fears for electoral reasons and making protectionist pleas for a return to separate, individual nation states with closed borders, is reprehensible. In a world that is dominated by competing superpowers, even countries like France and Germany are small players.
The European Union, representing 25% of the global economy, must speak with one voice on the global stage. It is the only way to defend our interests. Only in the Bible does David triumph over Goliath. If US President Donald Trump hasn’t yet implemented import tariffs on European steel, it is because the EU is taken seriously as a large trade block. I am sure he’d much rather negotiate directly and separately with Belgium or Italy or Hungary.
Is this a plea for that infamous European “super state”? No, of course it isn’t. Our citizens aren’t interested in those kinds of institutional theologies that all too often dominate the debate on Europe. They don’t care about the colour of the cat, as long as it catches mice.
Which mice should Europe catch?
The EU is an economic success story. The internal market brings growth and prosperity, especially so for a very open economy such as Belgium’s. But the benefits and the added value become even clearer when things go wrong. With one member state preparing to leave the EU, the dark economic picture is getting clearer: for Belgium alone this may cost 2.2 billion euros in tariffs as well as the loss of 42,000 jobs.
Yet I do not believe that Brexit will be the beginning of the end of the European Union. On the contrary, we already see that Brexit is bringing the remaining 27 members closer together.
So, the European story is unfinished. We should get on with the creation of an Energy Union and a Digital Union because this is where tomorrow’s economic challenges lie. At the same time, we should recognize that Europe is more than a market. The European Union should protect its citizens. It should provide security and a level playing field.
So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally.
Under the guidance of Commissioner Thyssen and with the active support of the Belgian Government, we have taken significant steps towards a stronger social Europe and in the fight against social dumping. Equal pay for equal work in the same place has become a reality. We should build on this: before the European elections of 2019 we should reach an agreement on the creation of a European Labour Authority and on the Work-Life Balance Directive.
In addition, the Union should continue its work in shaping a coherent migration policy and better protection of our external borders. A European Union that is built on the rule of law and shared values owes it to itself to provide decent and humane assistance to refugees. We can manage this. But we cannot welcome the entire world to Europe.
This is why we should focus more strongly on timely, quality assistance in the immediate vicinity of conflicts. And we need to know who is entering the EU. Controls at the European external borders need to be strengthened. That is why I plead for a further reinforcing of the European Coast and Border Guard and an increase in EU Border Guards from 1,200 to 10,000.
Who will foot the bill?
The EU Budget has for years amounted to more or less 1% of GNI. So, just 1% of our overall income goes to the EU; the other 99% is spent on other things. This is the order of magnitude and it will not change significantly. So let us not turn the 1% threshold into an obsession. I prefer 1.1% spent well, over 0.9% spent poorly. The proposal of the European Commission for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework seems a good basis to me.
I do not welcome every aspect of course: in the context of Brexit and increasing pressure on Customs services in frontline countries like Belgium, the proposed decrease of the retention of Customs collection costs from 20% to 10% is simply unacceptable. But I also find a lot of interesting ideas in this future-oriented budget: the increase in spending on innovation, investments in human capital and the doubling of the Erasmus+ program.
And yes, new own resources should be a possibility in my view. The proposal of a tax on non-recycled plastic waste is a creative proposal that can help the EU achieve its climate and environmental goals and create a better world for our children and grandchildren.
The limits of the nation state
So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally. The notion that we cannot be Flemish if we want to be Belgian, or Belgian if we want to be European, is completely outdated.
Today’s reality is that we have a multi-layered identity. We can feel Flemish, Belgian and European at the same time. Because in all of those identities we find a common past and we see a joint future. And that multi-layered identity requires multilevel governance, with real competencies and the necessary striking force. European democracy coincides with local democracy. It is the only way the European Union can strengthen our nations and vice versa.Kris Peeters Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
Let’s speak the truth about the European Union
29 May 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
Last Friday, the Czechs and the Slovaks commemorated the fall of Communist totalitarianism and the advent of a new era of freedom and democracy. We reflect on the events of November 17th and ask ourselves: was it all worth it? Are we living the life we imagined? Some go further and question whether we are really better off than we were under totalitarianism.
While these questions may be disconcerting, we should not be afraid of asking them. Instead, we should worry about our unwillingness to address them. Why is it that the post-November development often leaves a bad taste in our mouths? Why is it that we sometimes experience disappointment, or even fear and regret?
One of the reasons is that we have not yet met the expectations of 28 years ago. Euphoria over the fall of totalitarianism coupled with our lack of experience with the free world meant we were ill-prepared for the obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to integrate ourselves into this new reality.
Another reason for this frustration is the turbulence that the free world itself has experienced over the last quarter of a century. This turbulence has forced us to re-think many of the things we took for granted about the Free World. That the 2008 Economic and Financial Crisis had its origins in the USA is significant.
For decades, the US had stood as a symbol of freedom, civil liberties and prosperity for the freedom-loving people behind the Iron Curtain. Central to this was the belief that the President of the United States stood as the natural leader of the democratic world. Today we are confronted with the reality that this may no longer be the case.
We wanted the world to be open to us, and for borders to become a thing of the past. But massive waves of migration and numerous terrorist attacks are leading people to demand that borders be closed once more and new fences be built. Throughout its existence, the EU has expanded and its membership has grown. Now, as we are faced with the exit of the United Kingdom we must acknowledge that this too is no longer guaranteed.
How do we find our bearings in this maze of tumultuous, often unforeseen, developments? In the past, we had a clear idea: to free ourselves from totalitarianism and plan our economy we joined the OECD, NATO and the EU. The goal was clear, and so was the way. Today, when we are facing truly unprecedented challenges, when unrest and instability are so present in our European neighborhood, we seem to be losing our bearings. Today the goal is not as clear.
Last week, I had a peculiar experience. I got lost on my way to a conference I was due to open. After walking in the wrong direction for close to an hour, it transpired that I had inadvertently inserted the wrong hotel name into my smartphone. I believe my experience helps me to articulate an essential point: the reasons for our dissatisfaction and frustration are usually our own failures and mistakes. It is not the essence of the free world. We feel frustration because, although we cherish freedom, we are avoiding its unshakeable cost – accountability.
We are yet to grasp that the EU is not “them” while Slovakia is “us”. “Us” now includes the EU and NATO. The government is engaged in a war of words with the opposition over whether or not we should be part of the core of the EU. However, neither side has said that it is also up to us: the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Poles, and the Hungarians to proactively shape such a core.
In the aftermath of the 2006 General Election, a prominent Slovak political writer stated that “even the losers have a right to their government”. No doubt they do. However, the winners must be aware of their responsibility if they leave the governance to the losers. As liberal-minded people, we must be aware that freedom is inseparable from responsibility and the readiness to assume that responsibility is what we collectively strive for.
Globalisation, the fourth industrial revolution, and the proliferation of social media has expanded the space of our freedoms, but equally it has enhanced the degree of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, the space of these new freedoms can be misused; for instance, by spreading misinformation or by committing cyberattacks.
There is no doubt that the world has changed since November 17th 1989. There is no doubt that it will continue to change in the future. But neither is there any doubt that the best answer to both present and future challenges will be our ability and readiness to safeguard our freedoms, and to assume responsibility. Responsibility for what we stand for and for our decisions.
This is true for us as individuals, this is true for Slovakia, and also for the EU. It is also true for regional cooperation, for the Visegrad Group. Regional groupings can only play a positive role by encouraging inclusive dialogue rather than pursuing individual interests or generating imagined conflicts.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
The Velvet Revolution at 28: from euphoria to responsibility
20 Nov 2017
Federico Ottavio Reho European Union Euroscepticism
The European project: leap forward or restoration?
Europe out Loud - Multimedia
16 Oct 2017
Just as it did seventy years ago, European integration today has four strategic objectives: peace, security, prosperity and identity. However, ‘mainstream Europeanism’—the current European consensus—seems increasingly incapable of providing the right vision for a successful continuation of the European project.
To meet the present challenges of European integration and secure unity across the continent, we should develop a new Europeanism that promotes stronger integration in defence, foreign policy and border control, while putting greater emphasis on decentralisation, national autonomy, economic reforms and cultural traditions.
This would put into practice the EU’s motto ‘Unity in diversity’ and give precise content to the ideal of an EU that is ‘big on big things and small on small things’.Centre-Right EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism Integration
For a New Europeanism
Future of Europe
06 Jun 2017
The EU is losing the battle for Europeans’ hearts and minds. The long economic crisis and the subsequent immigration crisis have frustrated millions of citizens and angered them against the elites—and, unfortunately, against the EU.
Many fear that their material status, the economic security of their families and their ability to fulfil their own expectations and ambitions are slipping out of their hands. Europeans are also suffering from an identity crisis. Many believe that their countries and neighbourhoods are being threatened by mass immigration and that the ruling elites, sealed off in steel and glass towers in their respective countries’ capitals, are not listening.
The EU is facing its biggest communication challenge ever. The EU institutions need to take up the gauntlet and start defending the European project. The purpose of this paper is to analyse potential new ways of ‘advertising the EU’. The key assumption is that, whenever possible, EU institutions should follow best practices from the business sector since these have proved to be more effective in the current communication environment.EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
We Need to Talk about the EU: European Political Advertising in the Post-Truth Era
23 May 2017
From Immanuel Kant and William Penn to Aristide Briand, the idea of European Unity represents something of an age-old dream in Europe.
The early post WWII attempts at European unity, however, were the result of the destructive excesses of nationalism, and war. The motivation was to transcend the tradition of national antagonism, and create a network of economic interdependence that would virtually eliminate the possibility of renewed conflict among European states. So that Europe would not regress to a “dark continent” ever again.
Building a new economic and political structure in Europe, would subordinate national sovereignty to a wider European loyalty and decision-making process. The prospect of European unity also meant enhanced, and quicker economic recovery and eventual prosperity.
There was also the realization on the part of Western European powers that the scale of world politics had radically changed as a result of WWII. None of the great European powers alone would be able to reinstate their global position in the post war era. Only united they stood a chance of reestablishing their influence in world affairs.
European unity also became a major US foreign policy objective after the war. For one reason or another, the US found itself deeply involved in two European wars inside a generation. It became an accepted proposition that the US had a right and an interest to become involved in Europe’s postwar reconstruction. Support in Europe and the US for European unity rose dramatically with the beginning of the cold war.
The Berlin blockade and the communist takeover in Prague, with the backing of the Soviet Union, were a stark evidence of the Soviet threat to European security. In the emerging bipolar structure of the cold war, the strengthening of Western Europe became a vital interest of both western Europeans and Americans.
A further American motivation for unity was the German problem. European unity was seen as a way of addressing the German problem by anchoring Germany in the West. Germany’s economic potential could also be vital for west European recovery. It is no secret that this was a major American motive in proposing the Marshall plan in 1947 and associating W. Germany with it in 1948.
For skeptical members of Congress, European unity was seen as a major means of avoiding a situation of permanent European economic dependence upon the US.
For that reason the Marshall plan intended to rebuild European production capabilities to enable the Europeans to export sufficiently to support their import needs through their export earnings. The US position was that any new dollar aid would have to carry reliable guarantees of getting the Europeans off the US dole within a period of four years. For that reason the Marshall plan was based on a concerted regional basis unlike the earlier UNRRA bilateral aid approaches.
The US made it clear that continuation of Marshall aid funds would depend upon European cooperation and institutional creativity. In that sense the US encouraged the creation of OEEC as an organization, which would encourage West European unity. OEEC would get the questions of who gets what, settled by the Europeans themselves. Then the Europeans would present their agreed upon proposals to Washington for consideration.
OEEC was an intergovernmental organization without any pretension of supranationality or federalizing tendencies. It was an institution for the coordination of nationally determined economic recovery projects. It could not compel states to do anything.
OEEC did, however, contribute greatly to west European economic recovery, which was a precondition for European integration later represented by the ECSC and the EEC. Furthermore, OEEC through the European Payments Union (EPU) stimulated major European trade increases leading to the growth of European assets in the 50s, which was a precondition to allow European currencies to become convertible.
This, in turn, was a precondition for the integration that started with the treaty of Rome. OEEC was also successful in the import quota abolition. It also made an important contribution to the restructuring of the locus of European decision-making in the economic realm. It developed and consolidated a process of consultations among European governments with respect to economic plans and policies, which smoothed the way to the next level of economic cooperation in the context of the EEC.
The conditions of the post war era and the realities of the emerging cold war motivated and rallied a number of European statesmen around the dream of European unity. Exceptional figures such as Schuman, Adenauer, Spaak, Monet, Spinelli, and de Gasperi, seized the moment to promote the vision of a united Europe. They, rightly, came to be called the founding fathers of European unity.
To a large extent, however, the early impulses for European unity in the immediate post war era came from the so called “external federators”. The positive and decisive role of the United States, on the one hand, and the emerging challenges and threats posed by the Soviet Union and the cold war, on the other.
Europe at sixty is facing a similar set of challenges, and the reasons for the continuity of the European project remain as strong as ever. Europe can only united face the challenges of globalization, and cope effectively with its current polycrisis. Its unity remains vital for the West and US interests, even under the Trump administration. While, on the other hand, Putin’s assertive Russia makes unity imperative for its survival.Constantine Arvanitopoulos EU-US European Union Euroscepticism Leadership
Early attempts at European unity: the “External Federators”
19 Apr 2017
There has never been a shortage of thinking about the future of Europe. Last week, the Commission presented its five scenarios. Which is timely, because things are not working as they are. And which could be a distraction for the same reason: from the Commission one would expect to be strong on execution rather than on thinking about the future. Nevertheless, ideas are valuable.
While the scenarios present a complete palette of organisational options for the EU, they are shallow in explaining why do we want the EU in the first place. What is its raison d’etre? This is what the proposed sixth scenario is about. But first let us have a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the original five.
1 – The project goes on
In the first scenario, the EU continues to implement reforms as planned. This “business as usual” scenario is useful because it reveals what the authors understand as problems. The two problems are that the decision-making process is slow, inefficient and complex; and that the EU institutions are not meeting the citizen’s expectations.
To put it shortly, Brussels has no power to meet the expectations of citizens. This is the problem that the other scenarios are supposed to address. And what these scenarios propose, in fact, is either lowering the expectations or increasing the powers of Brussels.
2 – Less Europe
The second scenario assumes that the EU – unable to agree on anything else – is reduced just to a common market. It is unclear if this means abandoning the common currency. In principle, the common market is not so little if it functions properly. Hayek explained that a common market is a sufficient basis for a working interstate federation. It preserves peace, which is touted as the main achievement of the EU, and prevents government meddling with the economy.
In the scheme of the five scenarios, this one has a role of the “bad one”. The writers assume that in order to be competitive in the common market, the member states would “race to the bottom” in the absence of common consumer, environmental, social and tax standards.
This strawman should be approached with caution. Unless the EU does not ensure global standards for consumer protection, environment, social assistance etc. it would as a whole be a victim of a global “race to the bottom”. The solution would assume joining Mr. Donald Trump in limiting the freedom of world trade.
3 – More Europe for some members
The third scenario – multiple speed Europe – acknowledges that some member states may be interested in doing more together. While there may be many new interesting topics of collaboration, one is present as the elephant in the room already: the monetary union.
A closer cooperation in the Eurozone is not an option but a necessity. The moment of truth for such a closer cooperation comes when German taxpayers would need to pay, for example, the Greek education system. Which, of course, means that the Germans can have a say in how many teachers you need on a small Greek island with two kids.
This brings us to the core problem of all variants of “more Europe” scenarios: lack of European identity. If anything should be learned from Trump, Brexit and the raise of populism in Europe is that identity matters.
Without people belonging to Europe almost all scenarios are doomed.
West Germans were somehow willing to pay for East German social services. Not because Germany is a democracy and a democratically elected parliament passed a budget that said so. But because East- and West- Germans are one people. They are all Germans. They share history, culture, religion and language. They share identity. They are one demos. And you need a demos for a democracy. You can have a union without a demos, but without democracy. Like the USSR or Yugoslavia.
The European democratic deficit, seen so often as a key European problem, has its root in the European demos deficit. The level of political integration that can be achieved formally is limited by the level of common European identity that is achieved among Europeans intuitively.
4 – More Europe but on fewer topics
This means the EU would need to concentrate on a few important tasks, but those performing well. Hard to find anything wrong with doing good the important stuff. The devil is in the details and the details are on which topics the EU would do more and on which less.
5 – More Europe on all topics
Member states should transfer more power to Brussels and establish common policies for several areas. This is essentially the Verhofstadt scenario and in line with the proposed new European Constitution of the Ljubljana Initiative. The “United States of Europe” scenario has all the problems of the Euro Area of Scenario 3, only worse, because there are more member states involved.
All scenarios above are making one wrong assumption: that the division of power between member states and the union is a rational, technocratic decision to be taken by political elites while pretending to be debating it with “the citizens” on the internet.
6th Scenario – More Europeanism
Democracy needs an identity foundation that binds individuals into the demos. The binding can be a language, a religion, a culture, a race, or a belief in a credo. Europe does not have that. The proof? If something like that existed it could have been exploited by the populists just like the French, American, German, Dutch populists are exploiting the French, American, German, Dutch identities. There are no successful pro-European populists!
The local and particular cannot be based on the general and universal. Local and particular is every state-like entity. Universal concepts of liberal democracy such as human rights, the rule of law and democracy are not a sufficient basis for local communities. There has to be something more in addition to the universal. Huntington explains this in his book Who Are We?
Europe can be saved. But it will take more than technocratic options on how organise relations between Brussels and the member states. The sixth scenario is a scenario of a passionate Europeanism.
Europe lacks a statesman whose platform would be “I am a European”; one who would sell to Europeans the dream of making Europe – not great again – just making Europe. Who could say what great things “we Europeans could do if we stood together”. And say it to the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Slovenians and so on. It seems the founding fathers in the 1950s were able to do so but then this art was lost.
She should sell the idea to the intellectuals that European nations working together is the only way to preserve the European civilization, its culture, its values, its institutions, its creed and its religion. That the reason for existence of the European Union is no more no less than to provide an institutional backbone of European civilization.
And he should sell the idea to everyone that only together can Europeans face the threats from the south and from the east; that the battles of Tours and Vienna were fought and won by Europeans who spoke different languages! If dormant feelings of belonging to a group are to be awakened, let people belong as Europeans too, not just as Germans, French, Dutch..
Europe lacks a statesman […] who would sell to Europeans the dream of making Europe – not great again – just making Europe.
It would take too long to forge this sense of belonging by Interrail tickers, Erasmus exchanges and mobile phone roaming. These are all nice to have but, seriously, train tickets cannot be the foundation of a political union. But an idea can be! An idea of proud Europeanism that is adopted by leaders and communicated with a loud and clear voice, that is. Perhaps communicated to the voters at the next European parliamentary elections!
The division of power between the member states and the union will then depend on how strong is the sense of belonging to the union via-a-vis belonging to the member states. This will determine which options from the menu of the five scenarios above are realistic and which ones are not; and where the Union could and should do more and where not.
Without people belonging to Europe almost all scenarios are doomed.
This op-ed orginally appeared in New Europe.Žiga Turk EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism Values
The sixth scenario and Juncker’s white paper
08 Mar 2017
“Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the new US president have brought the score to 2-0 for populism last year”, according to Member of European Parliament Eva Maydell (Paunova). “The only thing left to figure out is whether we are in the half time or only ten minutes into the game”.
MEP Maydell, together with Martin Mycielski, Founder of the Committee of Defence of Democracy International, and Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director at the Martens Centre, were invited to discuss the resistible rise of populism in Europe, an event named after the title of the latest issue of the European View, the policy journal of the Martens Centre.
The articles gathered under this slightly provocative title, a subtle nod to the brilliant play of Bertolt Brecht, shed light on the interaction between populist parties and conventional parties and make proposals for potential ways forward. They also discuss the role and influence of political communication , as well as the refugee and economic crises, identified as potential breeding grounds for populism.
During the event, the speakers discussed the situation in their respective home countries. According to Martin Mycielski, the disconcerting trend is that populist communication in Poland enforces the perception that “a real Pole cannot be European”. This type of narrative promotes the division of the two identities instead of seeing them intertwined.
In order to tackle the situation, Mycielski proposes to introduce the concept of local ambassadors to the EU. He emphasised the importance of grassroot, local level actions and communication to show people practical and positive examples of what the EU can give them.
Populism is a relatively newer phenomenon in Germany. Freudenstein claimed Germany was “10 to 20 years behind its neighbours when it comes to developing right-wing populism”.
Due to historical reasons rooted in the Second World War, parties such as AfD, the Alternative for Germany, and the PEGIDA movement, have only recently started raising their heads and have rapidly increased in size. Freudenstein, however, thinks it would be unlikely for other parties to form a coalition with AfD after the federal elections later this year.
A problem in tackling populism is that people do not always understand the political solutions offered, as they will benefit Europe and people only in the long-term. When speaking in her home country Bulgaria, Eva Maydell (Paunova) likes to divide her speaking time with experts in certain fields to make the policy actions in those fields more understandable.
Demonstrating concrete outcomes achieved in shorter-term projects is also important, just as well as the established political parties being a little bit more entertaining in their communication, as pointed out by Roland Freudenstein.
MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White gave some sobering final remarks: “Populism is not new in history”, he said, “but today, it is different in its attempts to undermine democracy”. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and its symbiosis with extremism, it is time to fight populism at its roots.Democracy EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
Brexit and Trump: 2-0 for populism, says centre-right MEP
31 Jan 2017
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
The EU is facing its biggest threat yet—a crisis of European identity. As member states fall into the hands of Eurosceptic and nationalist regimes, for many the future of the Union seems hopeless.
People are disillusioned, failing to see the added value in the community of nations they once voted to join. Institutions are struggling, unable to regain their citizens’ trust, or even to reach them at all. This new crisis requires a new way of thinking—instead of supporting the institutional machine, the EU must support the people.
It needs to place trust in the awakening civil society, endorsing and funding grass-roots movements such as the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, which in a matter of days managed to ignite the biggest mass protests in Poland since the fall of Communism.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Martin Mycielski EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
The crisis of European identity and awakening of civil society
11 Nov 2016
‘It would have been easy if it had been a clean break’, stated Gunnar Hökmark MEP (Moderaterna, EPP), opening the discussion. ‘The problem is that we are going to live in the same house’, he added, referring to the global issues of climate change, the need for financial and economic stability and foreign policy with China and Russia, which require European collaboration.
It would have been easy if it had been a clean break
‘How to secure a friendly Brexit?’ was a question asked in an event organised by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and Open Europe on 13 October 2016. Centre-right Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark and industry representatives from both the UK and continental Europe were invited to discuss what is at stake in the negotiations and the UK’s relationship to the Union after the termination of the membership. In order to achieve common goals, establishing good EU-UK relations after Brexit is important, Mr. Hökmark stated.
According to German entrepreneur Kai Büntemeyer, director of a manufacturing company Kolbus with important interests in the UK, the results of the UK referendum can already be seen in the UK’s and EU’s economies. Many investment projects are on hold. In order to prevent further damage, ‘We must help the UK to get the best possible one foot in, one foot out – deal. Anything else would be a complete disaster’, he argued. Britain should not be punished by hard Brexit terms.
The British panellists Parisa Smith (Director of EU Affairs, BBA) and Stephen Booth (Director, Open Europe) agreed that there is a lot at stake when it comes to geopolitics and economic consequences. However, according to Mr. Booth, it is important to remember that ‘the public in the UK has decided to reject political integration, not engagement in wider challenges facing Europe’. The result of the vote should ultimately be respected. The next step is for both parties to establish what kind of relationship they wish to maintain before focusing on the details of the Brexit terms. After that, Ms. Smith noted, the negotiators must stay pragmatic and work together to find a beneficial deal for both sides.
In the Q & A part of the event, the potential model for the post-Brexit EU-UK relationship was discussed. The already existing examples of Iceland and Switzerland were not seen favourably among the panellists, as the UK specificities seem to require an innovative model.
An important conclusion was that Brexit should be understood as the sign of an anti-globalisation trend currently taking hold of Europe and the West. For Mr. Hökmark, the key issue from now on is to fight populism. The success of Britain’s leave campaign demonstrates that appealing to the emotions of the public is a powerful tool. In an effort to come to a friendly Brexit, we should not underestimate the role of emotions and the need for decisive leadership.Economy EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
How to secure a friendly Brexit?
18 Oct 2016
The key problem of Europe is ontological. We are not sure what the European Union actually is. Is it a free trade area, a giant NGO based in Brussels and doing good for Europe and the World, or perhaps a country in the making? The compromise answer, popular in Brussels, is that Europe is a project. The project is something that is not static, which is being developed, and has not yet reached its final form.
Brussels vs. Bratislava
As long as Europe is a project, it is possible to talk about the future of Europe. As long as Europe is a project, it can be illustrated as a bicycle – standing upright until it moves forward. The Euro crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit have slowed down this bicycle or even reversed its direction. One cannot drive a bicycle backwards. This is in fact the problem to be addressed by the leaders of the EU Member States this week in Bratislava: how to get the bicycle going again.
They will, as many times before, debate the future of Europe, more precisely the future of the European Union. The point of this writing is that if the European Union has an ambition to be more than a free trade area or a non-governmental organization, if it will be getting attributes of statehood, it needs a solid foundation for that.
Many agree that the EU should move in the direction of an ever closer union. And everyone agrees that a solid foundation is needed. The disagreement is in what is the essence of this foundation. One disagreement is between the right and the left. The right sees the EU founded on the common market. The left sees it founded on social justice and solidarity.
This article is about another kind of disagreement. I will argue that the future of the European Union cannot be based on an ideology, neither left nor right; that ideology cannot be a foundation of a union with an ambition to get some attributes of a country.
Ideas vs. Feelings
I understand ideology as a rational system of ideas – the product of an enlightened human mind. Examples of such systems of ideas are socialism, free maket, environmentalism, multiculturalism, framework of human rights and the rule of law etc. Ideologies are the results of reflection. Many are good, some are also bad.
That ideology cannot be the foundation of a country is the main message of Samuel P. Huntington’s (of Clash of Civilizations fame) book Who we are. He argues that countries based on ideology failed. For example Czechoslovakia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This author’s former home state of Yugoslavia was held together by the socialist ideology and the ideology of brotherhood and unity of nations. Similarly, Czechoslovakia and the USSR.
Alternative to ideology are feelings, instincts and culture – everything that is pre-rational, subconscious, which is not the result of complex intellectual exercise, but people simply have it in their blood and genes. Those moral foundations provide, according to Jonathan Haidt, the basis for group cohesion and are the basis of nation states. These foundations include kin, religion, language, history, nation.
Therefore, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrans, Macedonians and Bosnians wanted to live in different countries. Stronger than the cohesive effects of the socialist ideology, Yugoslav common market, free movement of people within Yugoslavia and common currency, stronger were the disintegrating feelings based in language, history and religion. In Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union too, instincts trumped ideology, common market and common currency.
Elites vs. the Rest
This superiority of stone age instincts over intellectual achievements is hard to swallow by intellectuals and other reasoning people. It seems impossible that in the 21st century pristine senses of tribe and nation prevail over the achievements of the human mind, such as free market, common currency or social justice. But only to intellectuals. Most people do not bother trying to understand the reasoning how “good” is to have the widest possible community to achieve social justice (or free market). Ideologues of both central left and central right have a common problem.
The majority of people take a shortcut and listen to their instincts. These instincts tell them that Germans will not pay for social justice in Greece, while they may be willing to tolerate taxes to achieve social justice in their German homeland. These instincts tell them to charge customs on imported goods if this helps save German jobs. It does not help much if intellectuals explain that open markets (or social justice) are good for all. Somewhere deep down, people feel something. And there is a limit to how far and how deep political elites can run counties against such feelings.
This divide between the reason of the elites and the instincts of ordinary people explain Brexit, Sanders, Trump and the whole host populist movements in the EU member states. In good times, most people tolerate or largely ignore ideology. The elites may be convinced by the rationality of the arguments even in bad times. But not the rest.
It is intellectually appealing to base the future European Union on the common market, human rights, social justice and solidarity but, in my reading of Huntington, it will not work.
Geography vs. Civilization
If the European Union should become a closer union – and I think in some areas it must become stronger – then this will not be possible only on ideological, rational, enlightened foundations, no matter how much are the intellectuals are fond of them. More Europe is necessary for the protection of external borders, maintaining security, ensuring free market and the rule of law. But the foundation should be the European identity: who we are, how we are, and how we are different from that which is not Europe. Elements of this identity are religion, civilization and culture.
A closer Union can be accepted by the European citizens if this Union is seen as a guardian of European culture and civilization. Or, if is sounds more politically correct, European “values”. It can be only as much closer as much intuitive awareness of European civilization exists within Europeans. Multicultural Europe seems a good idea to those who are not part of European culture and to the enlightened minority that hopes noble ideas can trump basic human instincts.
In reality, however, Europe founded on ideology is bound to fail.Žiga Turk European Union Euroscepticism Values
A European future of Europe?
16 Sep 2016
Most analyses of the Brexit vote agree that immigration played a major role in the outcome of the referendum. What is interesting is that, next to extra-European immigration, the British debate was equally (if not more) preoccupied with intra-EU mobility – EU citizens coming to the UK to live and work.
What can mainstream politicians in Europe learn from the British debate and the ways mobility is instrumentalised by Eurosceptics?
Populist parties have already tried to politicise intra-EU mobility in Italy and the Netherlands, and are expected to do so more pronouncedly in France and Austria.
In these (and other) old member-states, mainstream parties – especially of the centre-right – seem tempted to address free movement as a problem in need of reform. Brexit seems to send the message that this is necessary, lest populists take advantage of popular frustrations.
I believe that the lesson from the UK referendum is exactly the opposite. By accepting the politicisation of free movement, mainstream parties play upon the populists’ strategy to merge their two staple issues, immigration and Europe, and present exit from the EU as a solution to immigration.
The rise and fall of David Cameron should be a cautionary tale about tampering with intra-EU mobility, even if addressing external immigration is something centre-right parties should do.
The story begins with David Cameron’s pre-electoral promise in 2010 to reduce net immigration to the UK to the ‘tens of thousands’, a promise that came back to haunt him. Given that almost half of that net immigration is made up of EU citizens, it was inevitable that EU free movement would acquire political importance.
In the years between Cameron’s entry to power and the calling of the referendum, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories raised the issue of benefits for EU migrants. In 2015 traditional fears with external immigration became entangled with the EU due to the refugee crisis. The Eurosceptic press reproduced ad nauseam images from Calais and explicitly linked them with EU membership.
In response to the social benefits controversy, Cameron made free movement a key aspect of his renegotiation package with the EU in 2013. In the 2015 parliamentary election campaign his implicit promise was that the threat of the referendum would extract concessions from the EU to curtail immigration from the EU. Ultimately Cameron secured mild changes in his deal with the EU that were predictably decried by the Eurosceptic right as too weak to dissuade free movement.
A few months before the renegotiation deal, Cameron had pledged to accept 20000 Syrian refugees, thus intensifying popular concerns that EU membership meant deeper entanglement of the UK in Europe’s refugee woes.
If it is true that Cameron decided to accept Syrian refugees in order to placate Angela Merkel and other Europeans to get a better deal on UK membership, it becomes obvious what kind of mess he had dug himself in with regards to mobility.
In this context, the potential for Eurosceptics to mutualise hostility towards the EU and fear of immigration in the referendum campaign was infinite. Tory Leavers claimed that with European migration reduced the UK could attract more people from the Commonwealth.
Brexiteers of the right and of the left exploited the frustrations of working class people, including many of ethnic background, by promising that reduced immigration from Europe would lighten the burden on public services.
And the populist right could for the first time sound practical when speaking about immigration. The solution was obvious and handy: leave the EU.
What does this mean for the rest of Europe? In the UK, an already difficult situation became impossible when mainstream politicians accepted that EU free movement is a subset of immigration and the sociocultural concerns usually associated with it.
The message to mainstream, and especially centre-right, politicians elsewhere in Europe is that, even if free movement does pose some practical problems, tampering with it offers very few immediate gains and many long-term risks.
For parties that campaign in favour of European integration, nitpicking on the EU legal edifice undermines their credibility. Accepting that ‘something must be done’ about free movement allows populists to present exit from the EU as a magic bullet that can solve immigration.
Calling for reform of free movement politicises and securitises internal borders, while what the EU should be aiming for is strengthening internal unity by building a more secure external border.
Pro-EU parties must delegitimise and neutralise any effort by populists to politicise intra-EU mobility and free movement. Free movement and extra-EU immigration must be presented as two very different things.
Mainstream parties must respond to popular concerns about immigration and security by stressing the need to defend and safeguard the external European border. Strengthening internal borders is inconsistent with effective management of extra-EU immigration because the latter can be effectively handled only if European states cooperate with each other.
The EU is currently perceived as too porous externally and this strengthens the instinct to retrench behind stronger national borders. But solidarity and identity in political systems is created only when there is closure externally and openness internally.
Pro-EU politicians must focus on making the EU external border safer. This is no easy task, but trying to score political points by talking about free movement as ‘immigration’ and by renationalising internal borders is naïve and dangerous.Angelos Chryssogelos Brexit Centre-Right EU Member States Euroscepticism Immigration
Confusing immigration and free movement: lessons from the Brexit case
26 Jul 2016
One of the questions frequently raised after the devastating Brexit vote is on the consequences for the relations between the West and Russia. Vladimir Putin must clearly benefit from the loosening ties between Western powers and the disarray now evident in Europe’s own house.
The situation, however, is not as simple as it may seem, and this new dawn delivers new opportunities for the united European project, which were previously unheard of.
First of all, something that’s evident for most, except the 17 million British who voted “Leave”, Britain will face dire economic consequences. The nation’s trade deficit is at a record high, and about two thirds of it comes from trade with the EU. UK businesses face huge losses from changes in trade rules.
Apart from economics, there’s politics: let’s not rush to make judgments as to whether Scotland, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar may really leave the UK, but there are clear cracks emerging in the British empire with the EU acting as a major center of gravity. It’s quite clear that the “Leave” camp has problems both with its leadership and with viable agenda going forward. The ruling UK conservative party is divided on the Brexit issue. By the time the Conservative party chooses a new Prime Minister in October, the country may well have spiralled into a political mess.
The EU should waste no time in utilising this as a case in point for all the Eurosceptics: a sort of ‘look what happens when you quit’. This is where you’re heading.. The alternative: an incomparably successful project that brought so much freedom, prosperity, market integration and opportunities to its people. The European Union.
As a pro-European outsider, I can’t help but express my regret that EU is so “undersold” globally as a success story. The EU is always portrayed as a bunch of boring bureaucrats who “were never elected” but always want to regulate everything. As a matter of fact, it’s the contrary: EU leaders are elected directly by the European Parliament in a more democratic manner that a lot of European Governments are.
In recent years, the EU has undertaken a globally unprecedented effort to create a common space of freedom, market integration and liberalisation. Contrary to claims by those who label Eurocrats as people thirsty to regulate everything, it was Brussels which pushed forward liberalisation, meeting resistance from national governments and elites (The third energy package is just one example, and it works.). However, Brussels clearly has an image problem, which has been played against itself in the UK campaign, and which should be fixed.
If a United Europe succeeds in seizing the momentum of this opportunity that has opened after the UK referendum, then it has a chance to strengthen the joint European project and take it to new heights. And this challenge in itself is good: Europe rested long enough on the comfortable remains of the Berlin Wall, which is already history – new times are coming.
However, if the EU fails, and the momentum is seized by Eurosceptics – that’s when the global retrograde movement represented by Vladimir Putin and others will truly win. Make no mistake: Putin leads a systemic anti-European revisionist project (and he has a name for it: Eurasianism) whose aim is to dismantle democratic institutions and market freedoms wherever possible. These have already been dismantled in Eurasia, territory under Putin’s influence, and Ukraine, in this case, is just one of the battlegrounds, where people stood against being trampled under Putin’s feet.
If the EU weakens as a result of the UK referendum, Putin will have a much greater space in which to operate – diminished Western unity against Putin’s neo-autocratic offensive at Europe’s Eastern frontiers, emerging “illiberal democracies” replacing yesterday’s democratic states, divided nations, markets, etc. – all left for the taking by that rising non-democratic force in the East.
Despite Putin gaining tactical success, this now lies in the hands of Europe – it shall reassure those who want to resist the advance of resurgent authoritarianism and XIX century politics. Brexit, in this regard, is not only a challenge – it also offers a lot of opportunity to strengthen the united European project and push back Euroscepticism. It will require good leadership and a great deal of saving face, but let’s not waste this opportunity.Vladimir Milov Brexit EU-Russia Euroscepticism
Brexit: consequences for the relations between the West and Russia
04 Jul 2016
Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the first step has to be taken by the UK Government. It must decide what sort of relationship it wants to have, trade wise, with the rest of the world. At the moment, that is governed by agreements negotiated for the UK by the EU.
If the UK simply leaves the EU, all those agreements will fall, as does UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Agreements with dozens of non EU countries will have to be negotiated again, at the same time as negotiating with the EU. A lot of work.
Basically the UK government will have to choose between three options:
- Leave the EU and, like Norway, apply to join the European Economic Area (EEA)
- Negotiate a new special trade agreement, like the agreement Canada or Switzerland have with the EU
- Leave the EU without any trade agreement and apply, as a separate country, to join the WTO
The EEA option
The EEA option could be put in place quickly and would not disrupt trade all that much. The EEA is a readymade model for external association by a non member with the EU. It could be taken down from the shelf, so to speak. But, as an EEA member, the UK would still have to implement EU regulations and contribute to the EU budget. It would not allow curbs on EU immigration. The EEA option has been dismissed by “Leave“ campaigners, but it does involve leaving the EU, and complies with the literal terms of the referendum decision.
If the UK experiences severe balance of payments problems over the summer, the EEA option may become attractive. The UK already has a big balance of payments deficit anyway and capital inflows may be inhibited by the Leave vote. The EEA option would buy time, and would not preclude leaving altogether eventually.
The trade agreement option
The second option, a special trade deal, would be much more difficult. It would require a detailed negotiation on every type of product or service sale between the UK and the 27 member countries of the EU, including across our border.
Such an agreement would take years to negotiate (probably 7 or 8 years), because it would be subject to domestic political constraints, and political blackmail attempts, in all EU countries, each of whom would have to ratify it. If it proposed curbs on immigration from the EU, the EU countries affected would make difficulties with other aspects of the deal, as a bargaining counter.
It is unlikely that a Trade Agreement would allow the UK to sell financial services into the EU. Indeed it would be in the interest of EU countries, that might hope to attract financial services, to make sure the UK got few concessions .
Leave without any deal
The third option, leaving the EU with no agreement, could come about, either because that was what the UK chose, or because the negotiations on a special trade deal broke down or were not ratified by one or two EU states. It would require the application of the EU common external tariff to UK or Northern Irish products crossing the border into the Republic.
Average EU tariffs are around 4%, but on agricultural goods the mean tariff is 18%. The imposition of these tariffs is a key part of the Common Agricultural Policy, which protects the incomes of EU farmers. We would have no option but collect them at customs posts along our border. All forms of food manufacture and distribution within the two islands would be disrupted.
The disruption of the complex supply chain of the modern food industry would be dramatic and the knock on effects impossible to calculate. A similar effect might be felt by the car parts industry, which is subject to tariffs, and is important to some parts of England.
The EU response: more EU democracy
Meanwhile the remaining 27 countries of the EU, and the EU institutions, will have a lot of thinking to do too. They need to respond decisivly to the (false) claim that the EU is not democratic.
All EU legislation has to be passed by a democratically elected European Parliament, and also by a Council of Ministers who represent the democratically elected governments of the 28 EU countries. The members of the European Commission must be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament.
But there is room to further improve EU democracy. I would make two suggestions:
- The President of the European Commission should be directly elected by the people of the EU in a two round election, at the same time as the European Parliament Elections every 5 years
- To create a closer link between national parliaments and the EU, a minimum of nine national parliaments agreeing should be sufficient to require the Commission to put forward a proposal on a topic allowed by the EU Treaties. National Parliaments can already delay EU legislation, so they should be free to make positive proposals too. This would give them an active interest in the potential of EU action to improve lives.
Stop pretending the EU can do the job of member states
That said, the EU should avoid over promising, and should not allow itself to be blamed for all the problems people face in their daily lives. The EU is not an all powerful monolith that can solve the problems caused by technological change and globalisation. It is just a loose voluntary confederation of 28 countries, with no tax raising powers of its own. Nor is the EU responsible for debts mistakenly taken on by its members.
If the losers of globalisation and technological change are to be sheltered from misfortune, it is the 27 states, not the EU itself, that have the taxing power to redistribute money and opportunities from the winners of globalisation to the losers. If member states fail to do so, that is their responsibility, not that of the EU.
The UK has not been particularly generous in this regard. Its welfare system is modest, and its investment in productivity improvement has been poor. In some respects, UK voters have just mistakenly blamed the EU. for the effects of the omissions, and under performance, of successive UK governments.
The difference between the two Unions exposed
The fact that English votes could take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the EU, against their will, highlights the different natures of the UK and European Unions. In the EU Union, each nation has a veto on major constitutional changes. In the UK Union, they do not.John Bruton Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism
Now what? Post-Brexit trade scenarios for the UK
27 Jun 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
As a consequence of the dramatic events in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall in Europe, the introduction of the Euro and the speedy EU enlargement some years later gave an impression that the EU’s future development would continue at a very rapid pace.
Those years were also a source of optimism and inspiration for EU integrationists, who realised that EU integration could and had to move forward quickly. The assumption was that the end result would be, in a relatively short amount of time, something close to a political and economic union.
Meanwhile, however, memories of the 2nd word war started to fade away and the stated purpose of the European Union as a guarantor for peace started to have less meaning for the voters. In most cases, peace in Europe was taken for granted. On the other hand, as the European Union started to develop, it started to have an influence on the national sovereignty of EU member states.
In addition to these developments, Europe’s long term economic prospects, demographic changes and rapid globalisation created worrying concern. While globalisation provided many opportunities for European firms, it also had a profound impact on many areas of citizen life, which was perceived by many as a threat. Citizens felt that the European Union had not been able to perform in relation to the big challenges facing the economy and security in Europe.
As a result, the idea of a united Europe became less and less convincing. The ongoing crisis within the European Union was understood as a crisis of the future existence of the European Union – and the question of whether or not the European Union had a long term future emerged.
In his article on the development of the EU, Steven Hill made a point to compare the development of the United States with the development of the European Union. He emphasised the fact that severe crises, even existential, were essential to the development of the US. It took around 80 years before the idea that the US would be one country became accepted by mainstream thinking.
Before reaching that point, the US had to deal with the fact that, in the beginning, there were various currencies, various religions and various languages which citizens could not unite around. Only after various financial crises and one civil war did it become clear that the US would be accepted as a single national project by everybody. Similarly, Hill points out that we should not see European integration as a technical process, but rather as a cultural and social one, which by definition will take decades rather than years to achieve.
Can we accept the fact, just maybe, that the EU will become both psychologically and emotionally important for the people in the distant future, much like a nation state is today? And if so, what shall we do in the meantime?
Offering “More Europe” as a solution for problems may resonate well in many establishments, but obviously it has become less and less popular as an argument for the voters. In fact, if we look now at the rise of populist parties and the challenges that the EU is currently facing on many fronts, it seems unlikely that the EU will move forward very quickly in its integration process.
But the EU has been taking great steps in integration throughout the last 7-8 years. The motivation for that was not found “values” or in a principle based debate, but rather in the need to quickly create instruments to tackle urgent challenges of the economic crisis.
What we, those who are in favour of a closely-integrated Europe, need to accept is that, before we find a solution to the challenging questions of security and economy, it is rather meaningless to focus on bold visions of the future of Europe when communicating with citizens– because the popular support is just not there today. The EU has a toolbox, rich with instruments, so we need to concentrate on solutions with instruments that we currently have.
Secondly, we need to challenge our thinking of the linear development of the EU and be ready for unorthodox ideas. The idea of a united Europe is a precious one, but it should not be taken as a religion. A dogmatic approach is futile. Situations and conditions will change, so the EU needs to be able to adapt.
Comparing the idea of a united Europe to the Soviet Union is unfair and incorrect, but nevertheless, some historic lessons can be drawn. The Soviet Union did stick to its communist ideals rigidly almost to the very end and did try to adapt too little too late. As a result, the system broke down. In contrast, China came to terms with reality and took a path clearly contradicting its original communist ideology. The result: the Soviet Union collapsed but China became a global superpower. The lesson: you should be ready to challenge your basic assumptions, even if those assumptions are very dear to you.
We should not be scared if the solutions we find now do not correspond strictly to views on the EU as they were presented a half century ago. The reality that we face will force us to accept options which today may seem unconventional. As an example, the sacred token of the EU, Schengen, is today de facto only partly functioning and we need to redesign that basic element of the EU. Furthermore, if the UK would leave the EU, we would be forced to rethink the entire European construction.
The European Union is not only about technical and political decisions, but it is also about the psychology of the people – commitment, emotions and feelings. What we are asking nations and people to do is to commit to each other in a manner unseen in human history. While some of the positive sentiment is already there, it needs time to grow. We now realise that this will take decades, maybe even more than a lifetime.
So what is left of the dream of a united Europe? If we who believe in the united Europe stick to our main argument that deeper cooperation among European states is the only way to deal with the global challenges that we face, then there is a future for deeper European integration. For example, the majority of European citizens are unsure of rapid integration but a great majority agree that the dilemmas which we face, namely the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorist threats, and Russia’s challenge, need to be met with stronger cooperation from within the EU.
People are today reluctant to accept deeper integration, but are very willing to accept a model on which they have the confidence to provide a solution even if it means strengthening the EU’s level of cooperation. Therefore, the main issue is to focus on the problems. While the EU’s institutional set up is relevant, it is secondary.
We need to accept that that the development of the EU will be done to some extent by trial and error and we should not panic when setbacks happen. Let us not live in denial. It is possible that the Schengen area will be reduced temporarily, or it is even possible that Brexit will occur. But let us go beyond defeatist pessimism. Those events may seem dramatic if they happen, but if we employ a longer historical perspective, we can understand these events as invitations to recalibrate our common European institutions and political instruments.
We will not find a new narrative for the European Union as, at the moment, there is no overarching story to sell the tale of a united Europe. If one existed, it would have already been found. In order to gain the support of European citizens, it will be necessary to find solutions to the challenges, case-by-case, and communicate our success stories to the rest of the world – and that is the narrative and vision that the majority of Europeans can agree upon.Tomi Huhtanen European Union Euroscepticism Leadership
What future for the EU? Beyond pessimism and denial
22 Jan 2016
Let’s be clear: This is not about ‘punishing Poland’. This is about proving that we are a Union built on values, that among those is liberal democracy (based on separation of powers, checks and balances and iron-clad guarantees for minorities), and that no member state government, however democratically elected, can flout its basic principles. And it is about reaching out to the many Poles who actually like the EU and are now worried about their country’s role in it.
Poland’s new government is losing no time: In its first couple of weeks, it has brought the intelligence services under the control of a politician earlier convicted for abuse of power, severely weakened the Constitutional Court (declaring it a politically biased institution) and undertaken rather strange shenanigans against a Polish-Slovak NATO Centre for Counterintelligence. Now it is about to bring public radio and television under the direct control of the government.
Next may be the Public Prosecutor and the rest of the judiciary, and then the Constitution itself. Law and Justice (PiS) is legitimising these steps by two main arguments: That all of this is necessary to ‘cure Poland of some illnesses’ and that the predecessor government by the Civic Platform (PO) did the same. And protests from Brussels meet with indignation in Warsaw, and when they are made by Germans, with open historical resentment.
Let’s tackle these arguments and then ask what precisely the EU institutions and Poland’s partners should do now. As to the Constitutional Court’s fifteen judges, it is true that PO had nominated two too many in summer (when the risk of losing the elections was already clear), but when the Court declared PO’s move unconstitutional, PO took the blame and apologised.
Over the past eight years, the Court had annulled several of PO’s legislative projects. PiS’ actions, however, are of a completely different magnitude, such as: Having the PiS-supported President refuse to swear in any of the five, then nominating its own five judges overruling the Court’s protest, and finally the law severely hampering the Court (f.e. introducing a two thirds majority). When a right wing MP declared: ‘The interests of the people are above the law. When the law doesn’t serve the people, it becomes injustice!’ he received standing ovations from PiS – and summed up an ideology which rings ominously familiar to anyone who remembers Communist rhetoric before 1989.
The attack against the NATO facility may be just a bizarre episode but it has already enraged the Slovak government. Nothing of the sort ever happened under PO. But more importantly, the media law goes far beyond anything PO did. Four major international journalists’ associations have already officially complained to the Council of Europe. The OSCE sees the ‘independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters’ in danger. Surely, in Central Europe in general, parties winning elections often put their people in high positions in media and administration. The PO majority in Polish media supervisory bodies also gradually put people friendlier to the government into key posts. But it left a larger margin for pluralism: 3 months after the 2007 elections, a PiS-appointed functionary was still at the helm of public TV. And PO never thought about passing a law that would put the government directly in charge of media personnel decisions.
Hence, for all its sins in terms of arrogance and sloppiness, PO tried to follow the path of liberal democracy, navigating most of the time through the fallout of the global crisis. More importantly, it immensely increased Poland’s standing and influence in Europe. PiS, however, is making no false pretence: it wants the illiberal detour. Jarosław Kaczyński might be a very intelligent and well-educated leader, some even say: an erudite – but he’s no friend of Montesquieu’s trias politica. Toutes proportions gardées, he’s more into Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’. And we all remember: That old Italian recipe had a lot of ingredients, but checks and balances were not among them.
Let’s spell it out: what PiS is doing, comes dangerously close to violating the Copenhagen criteria which are conditions for membership, which Poland signed up to and which clearly postulate the rule of law with stable institutions, minority rights etc. When Viktor Orbán’s government in 2010/11 made moves that were not in accordance with media freedom and an independent judiciary, the Commission raised its voice, and some laws were altered. At the very least, one should expect the same now. Consequently, Commission Vice President Timmermans sent two requests for clarification to Warsaw.
The Commission is discussing PiS’ moves on 13 January, and the European Parliament on 19 January. There is talk about starting the Rule of Law mechanism created in 2014 which might, theoretically and after many intermediate steps, lead to a Council procedure to curb a member state’s rights, including voting rights, according to Article 7 of the EU Treaty. That’s what is called the ‘nuclear option’ in Brussels, and it would, in its last phase, require unanimity among all 27 remaining member states: Improbable, looking at the new sympathy between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński.
But the main purpose of clear words from Commission and Parliament in the upcoming weeks would be a different one: Demonstrating to Poles how quickly their government is dismantling the pole position in the EU that its predecessors had built up, and encouraging Polish civil society which is stronger than PiS expected, and which is criticising its government without restraint. For the EU’s popularity in Poland is one of the highest in the EU: Year by year, Eurobarometer polls show that the Poles’ image of the EU and its institutions is one third higher than the EU average.
Many in PiS will claim that such criticism, published abroad, amounts to high treason, as the dirty laundry should be a family’s best kept secret. We strongly disagree. Poland has been a member of the European Union for more than ten years. It has grown into the community the same way the community has grown into Poland. Poland has become a part of a common political, social and economic endeavour, its citizens are at the same time ‘Polish’ and ‘European’. What happens in Europe, influences Poland, and vice versa.
Moreover, Poland is not Hungary. After eight years of PO, its economy is in very good shape for a Central European country – so there is a lot of room for deterioration by PiS, whether we like it or not. There are now two opposition parties, PO and Nowoczesna, which are well organised. Polish Civil Society has responded forcefully to PiS within days. Opinion polls, for the moment, indicate that PiS has only a minority of voters on its side. Especially in Central Europe, governments can unravel if they don’t deliver. In this situation, the EU has a role to play.
And one last point: No one is happier about Central European governments’ illiberal drift than Vladimir Putin, for two reasons: First, because the rise in Euroscepticism weakens the EU and therefore the West, and second, because the weakening of checks and balances in EU member states gravely undermines our posture when we complain about Russian authoritarianism.
So, please, Brussels institutions, show some cojones and stand up for the values that our united Europe is built upon! But do it smartly. Germans, particularly, must be aware of historical sensitivities, but they should not stay silent just because of their nationality. Let Poland’s partners and friends have their say!
 European Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Association of European Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
 Timmermans is no mere ‘unelected bureaucrat’, as Foreign Minister Waszczykowski would have it. He has not only been an MP several times, and a Dutch state secretary, but his knowledge of Russian dates back to his time in Dutch military intelligence during the Cold War – his job would have been to interrogate Soviet prisoners. If anything, that should please PiS.Konrad Niklewicz Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism
The new Polish government’s illiberalism: What the EU should do about it
08 Jan 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk about the renegotiation of the terms of UK membership of the EU shows that he has invested time in trying to understand the perspective of other EU states. This is good.
That said, the timing of this renegotiation is bad, because the EU has so many other politically difficult problems on its plate just now, problems from which the UK has excluded itself, namely:
- the refugee crisis and the threat it poses to free movement within the Schengen zone
- the fact that a number of EU states are at risk of breaching the terms of the fiscal compact on debt reduction and fiscal deficits.
A supportive attitude by the UK on the resolution of these EU wide problems would help create the impression that the UK is, potentially at least, in the EU for the long haul, which would make it worthwhile for other members to go all the way to their bottom lines in attempting to meet the UK’s requests.
It is welcome that David Cameron’s letter says that he is open to “different ways of achieving the result” he sets out in his letter. It is also welcome that he seeks to put his proposals in a context of “reforms that would benefit the European Union as a whole”. He further says that it “matters to all of us that the Eurozone succeeds”.
Although David Cameron has expressed similar sentiments himself before, these sentiments have not been prominent in much of the general UK debate on the EU, which has often tended to treat the EU as something alien and a matter of indifference to the UK, which objectively it is not. Occasionally in the UK debate, “schadenfreude” has trumped UK interests.
David Cameron’s approach is shaped by the contents of the Conservative Party Manifesto. It is a response to an expression of identity politics, which is a form of politics on which compromise is inherently very difficult indeed, as we know from Irish history. David Cameron’s letter deals with four sets of issue, and I will deal with each in turn.
On Economic Governance of the EU, David Cameron says that:
- the integrity of the Single Market for non Eurozone countries must be protected
- that non Eurozone countries must not be liable for operations to support the Euro as a currency
- that the financial supervision of banks must remain a matter exclusively for national institutions in the non Eurozone countries and that
- any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states.
I am not sure that these issues can be as neatly separated as David Cameron suggests. For example, the bailout of Greece by the EU and the IMF was not just an operation in “support of the euro as a currency”. If Greece had gone under, UK banks would have been hit hard.
Furthermore, it is arguable that, even if it is not in the euro, the UK had a greater obligation to help a fellow EU member, in the situation Greece was in, than had (say) the United States. After all, the UK, even if not in the euro, as a member of the EU, had agreed to treat economic policy as a “matter of common concern” with all other EU states, including Greece, under Article 121 of the EU Treaty.
Furthermore, the UK has had power to join fellow members in warning member states like Greece if they were deviating from agreed economic policies under Articles 121 (4), and under Article 126 . Non EU states were not in that position. In light of those articles, it is hard to see that the UK, as an EU non euro member, could say it has no more responsibility for helping Greece, than has a country that is not in the EU at all. If the UK wants that to be the position, its role in EU economic governance under article 120, 121 and subsequent articles of the Treaty should be changed.
David Cameron also asks in his letter that the EU “do more to fulfil its commitment to the free flow of capital”, presumably across the whole of the EU and not just within the Eurozone. That sits uncomfortably beside his insistence that the Bank of England alone be involved in supervising UK banks lending across borders into the rest of the EU, including the Eurozone.
As we in Ireland know, unsupervised flows of capital can contribute to bubbles in another country, and if those bubbles were to burst, none of the countries involved would escape the pain, including the countries whose banks had been lending the money, even if those countries were not members of the Eurozone.
His principle that “any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states” is very widely drawn. Few EU decisions affect all members in precisely the same way. This principle could be interpreted to mean that the UK should have a vote on all Eurozone decisions. Virtually all Euro zone decisions will affect the UK to some limited and indirect extent , not least because the UK does so much business with the Eurozone. This is so even though David Cameron insists the UK will not be financially liable for any of those decisions.
In a sense, his request could amount to the Boston Tea Party demand in reverse, namely as a demand for “representation without taxation”.
David Cameron makes an interesting proposal under the heading of Competitiveness. It is potentially a big opportunity for Europe. I hope it will be strengthened and emphasised in the negotiations. His proposal is that the EU should “bring together all the different proposals , promises and agreements on the Single Market, on trade and on cutting regulation, into a clear long term commitment to boost the competitiveness of the EU, and drive jobs and growth for all”.
This idea of a big competitiveness package, as a price for continuing UK membership of the EU, could be used to drive through changes that have been stalled for years by inertia in individual member states. In Germany, for example, the implementation of Single Market rules is often blocked at the level of the Lander. France is another country that could do more to open its market to EU competition, to the advantage of French consumers.
If the British are to get a credible package on competitiveness, it may be necessary to demand prior enactment package of measures at national level, in all member states, in the same way as the Greeks had to pass certain laws, before they could get access to bailout funds. There is, however, one aspect of David Cameron’s letter which could potentially run directly counter to his desire to complete the Single Market.
This is a proposal he makes under the heading of “Sovereignty”.
Under this heading, David Cameron proposes that a group of national parliaments, presumably a minority, should be able to come together to stop what he calls “unwanted” (EU) legislative proposals.
This idea that a minority could block a majority would alter the entire dynamic of EU decision making. It would make it hostage to the vagaries of national electoral politics in a new and unpredictable way. We should not forget that Lord Cockfield, the UK Commissioner, would never have been able to create the EU Single goods market, without the majority voting created by the Single European Act.
his proposal is actually as likely to be used against UK interests as in favour of what the UK wants under the heading of Competiveness. It is easy to envisage such a veto mechanism being used by a sufficient number of national Parliaments of other EU states to block legislative proposals to complete the Single Services Market or the Single Digital Market, both of which David Cameron wants, to protect some national vested interest.
A solution might be to exempt all Single Market related legislation from this blocking mechanism. Another solution might be to associate all national parliaments with the EU legislative process in a manner similar to the involvement of the Economic and Social Council or the Committee of the Regions, but without creating a new veto point.
David Cameron also wants the UK exempted from the commitment to “ever closer union”. This phrase has been in all EU Treaties since the UK joined and was in the EU Treaty when the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland voted in a referendum to stay in the EU in 1975. Essentially the UK wants to “constitutionalise” the idea that there are two types of EU members: those committed to “closer union” and those who are not committed to it.
This is a formal recognition that there is a “two speed” EU. This idea may be welcome by some big states but not by smaller ones. If Britain is exempted from the commitment to ever closer union, it is not hard to imagine that other EU countries will demand a similar exemption. He says he wants this distinction to be “irreversible”, which implies that a future UK government could not decide to commit itself to ever closer union in future, without getting the permission of all other EU states, by means of a Treaty change, or the amendment of a protocol (which is the same thing legally speaking).
This runs counter to David Cameron’s own expressed wish for flexibility in the UKs relationship with the EU. The notion of legal irreversibility is contrary to the British constitutional tradition itself, which declares that Parliament is not trammelled by external legal constraints. A legal device can probably be found to accommodate this request but it does raise a wider question of whether the UK will ever be satisfied.
The UK already has special arrangements on the euro, on passport controls and on Justice and Home Affairs. The more exemptions it gets, the more exemptions it seems to want. Will this renegotiation/referendum process result in a full and final settlement, or will it just be an instalment This is not a mere debating point. If the UK will keep coming back for more, the EU will never settle down. Indeed other member states may not be prepared to go all the way to their bottom line, if they feel whatever they offer could never satisfy UK public opinion.
Immigration is the area in David Cameron’s letter which has attracted the most comment. There is no doubt that the UK has been more open to immigration in the past than have many other EU states. This is partly because English is a second language for people from all over the world. The restraint David Cameron is proposing will not change that.
Clearly, if one does not like immigration, the fact that English is a second language for so many of the world’s population has disadvantages, as well as advantages. On the other hand, the cost of living in London and the south east of England is already a strong deterrent to immigration to that part of the UK.
David Cameron wants, if the UK remains in the EU, to be able to require that people coming to the UK from other EU states (presumably including from Ireland) must have lived in the UK for four years before they qualify for in work benefits or social housing. If this four year principle is accepted, it could be implemented in all other EU states for other purposes as well.
David Cameron also wants to “end the practice of sending child benefit overseas”, which presumably means that an Irish worker in the UK could no longer get child benefit for his children, if the children are living in Ireland. The principle of not “sending benefits overseas”, if accepted , could conceivably be applied to pensions, which would affect the UK pensioners living in Spain.
If one has to live four years in another EU country to get benefits, access to health services could also be denied to people living in another EU country. David Cameron then acknowledges that these issues are “difficult for other member states”. This is a revealingly narrow way of putting it. In his speech, David Cameron mentions “other member states” but does NOT mention Article 45 of the EU Treaty, which covers free movement of workers within the EU.
Article 45 bans “any discrimination based on nationality as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment”. There is no reference in this Treaty Article to any qualifying period of residence to be free of such discrimination. In the UK, tax credit payments are dependent on worker’s hours worked and income, and whether they have children.
So restricting them would amount to discrimination in income, between a UK citizen and EU immigrant, doing the same job in the UK. It would presumably apply to Irish workers in the UK who have been there for less than 4 years. It will be difficult for an Irish Government to consent to this. I would have expected David Cameron to have directly addressed the interpretation of Article 45 of the EU Treaties, rather than pretending the difficulty is with “other member states”. By targeting in work benefits so explicitly, David Cameron has left himself very little room for manoeuvre in light of the provisions of that Article.
Indeed there were reports on the BBC this morning that the UK Government is now considering applying the 4 year rule to UK residents as well, which could mean that young, new UK born entrants to the UK labour market may not qualify for in work benefits until they have been working for 4 years. That would create a whole new swathe of people inclined to vote for the UK to leave the EU.
This negotiation will not be easy. Sides have already been taken in the UK , regardless of what may be conceded in response to David Cameron’s letter. The impact on the EU itself, of a possible UK exit, is incalculable. So also are the effects of the precedent the UK is setting, and the consequences for the EU, of conceding some the UK requests. Solving this politically generated problem will require statesmanship and imagination of a very high order indeed. Keeping the UK in the EU is a vital matter for Ireland and for Europe.
Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States at a seminar on “Free Movement and Labour Mobility in the European Union” organised by the Institute of European Democrats on Friday 13 November 2015.John Bruton EU Member States Euroscepticism Eurozone Leadership
How difficult will it be to keep the UK in the EU?
13 Nov 2015
Although populist radical right (PRR) parties have been on the rise since approximately the mid-1990s, the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 were the most telling mark of their success. Parties such as the National Front (Front National, FN) in France, the UK Independence Party in Britain and the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) in Denmark all attracted about 25 % of the votes and became the biggest parties within their respective countries.
They were not the only ones. The Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid) in the Netherlands, The Finns (Perussuomalaiset) in Finland, and the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) were also reasonably successful during the European elections. The day after the elections, various media outlets were talking about a ‘political earthquake’.
What is going on in Western European democracies? Where has this upsurge of PRR parties come from? Before it is possible to answer these questions, it is of vital importance to carefully define what we are talking about when we employ the label ‘populist radical right’. Which parties belong to the PRR party family and why.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Matthijs Rooduijn Euroscepticism Globalisation Immigration Populism
The rise of the populist radical right in Western Europe
08 Sep 2015
Political observers have given much attention to the far right and to right-wing populist challengers. Since the 1990s, in particular, these parties have either entered national parliaments for the first time or increased the number of seats they hold. In most European countries they are relevant political players.
It is true that, at the moment, right-wing populist parties are part of the government in only four countries: in the non-EU countries Norway (the Progress Party, Fremskrittpartiet) and Switzerland (the Swiss People’s Party, Schweizerische Volkspartei); and since the most recent elections in 2015, in the EU countries Greece (Anexartiti Ellines, Independent Greeks) and Finland (Perussuomalaiset, The Finns Party).
However, that these parties are generally found in the opposition should not lead one to underestimate the phenomenon. The recent European elections in 2014 have once again shown that such parties can attract a critical mass of disillusioned floating voters, particularly with their clear anti-immigration stance, but also with the message ‘Europe – no thanks!’.
The politics of exclusion, intolerance and xenophobia on the right-wing end of the political spectrum certainly deserves attention. Distrust in conventional parties seems to consistently correlate with far-right outsider party support and has become a permanent factor in European party politics. However, the sole focus on the ‘radical right-wing party family’ is, in some respects, misleading. This can be seen from the following four points.
First, the right-wing parties differ considerably, ranging in nature from democratic to clearly extremist. Moreover, they come from member states from Western to Central Eastern Europe. Consequently, after the European Parliament elections in 2014, they did not form a European group, but split up into different factions or decided to stand alone.
The ‘merger’ of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front (Front National, FN); Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV); and Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), was more a successful public relations stunt than a real sign that they intended to join forces. These parties operate more on the idea of a common enemy (e.g. the West, the EU, Islam, globalisation, elites and the media) than on a shared ideology or coherent programme.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Florian Hartleb Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
Here to stay: anti-establishment parties in Europe
08 Sep 2015
The paper examines the connections between Russia and far-right political parties in Europe. It argues that these close relationships are based both on ideology and strategy. The European far right sees in Russian President Vladimir Putin the model of a strong, conservative leader who defends traditional values and opposes the decadent West. Since most far-right parties are at the same time against European integration and anti-American, they also see a close relationship with Russia as a necessary foothold in order to achieve the gradual disassociation of their countries from Euro-Atlantic institutions. The Kremlin, for its part, views these parties as possibly being useful for the achievement of its own objectives.
Thus, it is interested in gathering them under its wing. In this context, in recent years far-right political parties all over Europe have established cordial relations with Moscow. Far-right leaders pay regular visits to Russia, have meetings with Russian officials and often appear on state-owned Russian media. The fact that they are discussants with the Kremlin boosts their credibility at home and improves their image. At the same time, they are often invited to monitor electoral procedures in disputed territories, thus offering some sort of credibility and international recognition for the results of ballots. The secessionist referendum which was held in Crimea in March 2014 is the latest example of this trend.
More generally, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has offered a great opportunity for the expression of the pro-Russian sentiments of most European far-right political parties. These organisations see Putin’s policy as tangible proof of his resolve to impose his will on his opponents and to mark the reemergence of Russian power at the international level. From the Kremlin’s point of view, these parties can also help Moscow to expand its geopolitical influence. Even if Putin does not manage to see parties with pro-Russian leanings forming governments, he can still hope that their growing influence will exert considerable pressure on EU governments, especially as far as relations with Russia are concerned.EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties
An Unholy Alliance: The European Far Right and Putin’s Russia
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
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
David Cameron has staked much of his credibility as prime minister and leader of the British Conservative Party on a quixotic crusade to achieve ‘reform’ of the European Union.
Under pressure from a surging UKIP and the increasingly vocal eurosceptic wing of his own party, Cameron has repeatedly staked out a position supporting British membership of a reformed Europe. On 10 November, speaking at the Confederation of British Industry Conference, Cameron declared that the EU ‘isn’t working properly for us at the moment. That is why we need to make changes’.
Having promised EU reform, Cameron must deliver. Failure to do so will significantly weaken his already tenuous position. And yet, success seems unlikely. A sizeable number of his internal opponents are already preparing for a push against his leadership or defection to UKIP.
Rather than picking winnable reform issues, Cameron’s issues of choice are unlikely to produce success: he has attacked the principle of the free movement of people and roundly criticised the single currency. It is notable that these two issues are central to UKIP’s political narrative. As with his campaign against Juncker’s Commission Presidency over the summer, Cameron appears to have gambled his reputation on yet another unwinnable fight.
Failure to achieve a win on EU reform will likely force Cameron to back a UK exit from the EU, any other position would be hugely inconsistent with current rhetoric. The split on the European issue that this would, almost certainly, incite within the Conservative party ranks would all but destroy Cameron’s chances of re-election. The signs of such a potential rift are already apparent with public rifts between MEPs Sajjad Karim and Daniel Hannan as well as between Conservative elder statesmen former Prime Minister John Major and former Treasury Secretary Ken Clarke MP. In such a context it is hard to see UK voters choosing to remain in the EU if given the choice by plebiscite. The short sightedness of the British Conservative party could well ruin their re-election chances and force a UK exit of the EU.
With every successive electoral victory, UKIP’s advocacy of leaving the EU gains significant momentum in the UK, a country that has always had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards its continental neighbours. And it is becoming increasingly hard to differentiate this position from that advocated by some members of the Conservative backbenches and its delegation to the European Parliament. This makes Cameron’s promises of reform all the more pertinent. It is advocacy of continued membership in a reformed EU that differentiates the Conservative position from that of UKIP and which, at least partly, keeps the party together on the issue of Europe which has so often divided their ranks.
Again and again, European leaders have ruled out compromise on the issue of ‘free movement’. Barroso, Juncker and Merkel have been vociferous in ruling out granting UK exceptions on one of the European common market’s fundamental four freedoms. Cameron’s resolute stand on this issue flies in the face of all empiric evidence. A recent University College London study showed that Britain directly benefited from EU immigration to the tune of €6.25 billion net. British Defence Secretary and Conservative MP, Michael Fallon has said that British towns are ‘swamped’ and ‘feel under siege’ from ‘large numbers of migrant workers’. Migration from EU states to Britain may be rising but is far outstripped by non-EU immigration, particularly from countries once colonised by the vast British Empire. At the same time, UK migration to other EU countries almost perfectly equates to the number of EU citizens in the UK. Neither Cameron nor UKIP are keen to speak about what will happen to them if their anti-EU immigration crusade bears fruit.
By continuing to conflate issues of EU and non-EU immigration and blaming resultant, exaggerated, issues on the EU rather than Britain’s own colonial past, they are essentially pandering to UKIP’s narrative and the xenophobic element of British society that it has ignited. This strategy serves to polarise British society, divide the Conservative party and hands the political initiative to UKIP. Without a change in approach, Cameron is gifting UKIP with electoral success as seen in Heywood & Middleton and now in Rochester & Strood.
Lacking a degree of cohesion in their argument, Cameron’s position is that the UK should be part of the single market but does not want any of political addendums. However, the ‘free movement of people’, thereby the free movement of labour, is a fundamental aspect of the single market. From the very beginning this principle has been a central goal of the European communities. There is virtually no chance that Cameron can win this fight. Yet, he shows no sign of backing off.
On his critique of the Eurozone, the UK has already achieved an effective exemption from joining the single currency. Whereas members of the EU are technically obligated to strive towards joining the single currency, the UK has been allowed pursue a different path without interference from its fellow member states. It is hard to see a UK government being able to push significant reform on a currency union it has so proudly kept out of. Out of its own choice, it simply does not have a voice at the table.
Cameron’s reactionary tactics in response to the surge in UKIP support are dangerous, for his own leadership, for Britain and for Europe. His chosen fights are unwinnable. Rather than targeting achievable reforms, Cameron is publicly working at undermining central tenets of European unity which will not be acceptable to other member states. He is destined to lose these fights, alienating his own electoral base and potential allies in Europe, and thereby hand a victory to UKIP who will use Cameron’s failure on reform as proof of their mantra that the EU is unreformable and that the UK would be better off out.Eoin O’Driscoll EU Member States Euroscepticism Immigration
Cruising for a bruising: Cameron’s European dilemma
27 Nov 2014
What have the following in common?
+ The Scottish 45% YES to break up the UK….
+ The Growth of National Front in France….
+ English anti EU sentiment and support for UKIP….
+ The strength of Tea Party and the polarisation of politics in the USA and
+ The growing support for anti immigrant parties in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands
They have this in common: all these parties want to withdraw from some international commitment or other and shut the doors of their nation to outside influences.
What support for these parties shows is that an introverted and recessive Nationalism is on the rise again. This is a reaction against globalisation by those who have benefited less from it than others did. It should be noted that all have benefited from globalisation through cheaper food, clothes, and cheaper communications. But some have benefited much more than others, and the “others” are expressing their disgruntlement through votes for these populist parties.
These parties want a repatriation of powers to the national level, and even complete withdrawal from international bodies like the WTO, the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. People supporting these parties say they do not understand how Brussels works, or how Westminster or Washington works. But do they really understand any better how their local council works ?
This is why I am unconvinced that concession of their literal demands would actually remove the discontents that lie behind support for these parties. For example, I am not convinced that an elaborate system of federalism within UK, or UK withdrawal from the EU, would actually assuage the anger being expressed through UKIP votes. The experience of post Franco regional devolution in Spain is not completely reassuring.
In Scotland, the younger and the poorer sections of population were the most alienated, and voted most strongly for Scottish independence . This is despite the fact that public spending per head, on which poorer people depend more, is already higher in Scotland than it is in England. It is £10,152 per head in Scotland, as against £8,529 in England. On those figures, complete fiscal would worsen the position of poorer Scots.
A SENSE OF BEING RESPECTED IS WHAT IS MISSING
I believe these vote reflect a sense of not being listened to, of not being respected, than they do a demand for particular constitutional or institutional changes. Do Scots feel respected, and listened to, in UK? Do working class voters of the National Front, UKIP, and the Tea Party voters feel respected by metropolitan elites? I fear the answer in “No” in all cases.
FEAR OF THE FUTURE
Fear of what may happen in the future drives people in the direction of populist solutions and parties. States have made health promises and pension promises that will become unaffordable, as the proportion of the population that is elderly grows. Meanwhile, many private pension schemes are underfunded. Another pervasive fear is that of redundancy in mid life. In such a circumstance, it is difficult to know what new skills to go for, and it is equally difficult to move to another city to find work, after a certain age.
ANTI IMMIGRANT SENTIMENT
These fears feed anti immigrant sentiment. Immigration disturbs the bucolic image some people have of their ideal national environment..forgetting that, if they actually lived in their ideal environment, they would probably find it claustrophobic and boring. There IS also competition for low skilled jobs, and immigration DOES drive some wage rates down. But automation and labour saving devices are devaluing all forms of low skilled work anyway and probably are more important drivers of income inequality.
INEQUALITY OF INCOMES
The growth in inequality in incomes is also a factor in the growth in support for populist parties. Inequality is driven by many factors. It is driven by technology: technology replaces low skilled workers, while increasing the rewards of the higher skilled people, or insiders, who control the technology. One should not ignore the importance of celebrity in causing inequality. Celebrity brings disproportionate increases in relative income. Celebrity footballers, and celebrity CEO’s, represent the same phenomenon. A firm’s stock price is driven partly by the reputation of its CEO and that means a well known CEO can command a higher salary package. Inequality is also driven by access to financial leverage, and assets that can be used for leverage.
Thus high financial sector incomes evoke particular concern. These are all issues that need to be dealt with by national governments, through the tax system. But they should not be used to justify turning away from the EU or from the benefits that globalisation has brought.
THE MEANING OF NATIONAL IDENTITY
We are not going back to a world of Empires in which Europeans, or people of European ancestry, could make the rules of the game to suit themselves. We can perhaps limit the pace of immigration, but we cannot stop it.
So we need updated civic education of ourselves, and of immigrants to our shores, on questions like “What does it mean to be British?”, “Can one be British, Scottish and European all at the same time?”, “What does it mean to the Irish and European, but of African ancestry?”, ” What are the values that underlie these statements?”
We also need to work out the practical implications of reciprocity as a principle of international relations.
Let me illustrate this by reference to debates now taking place in the UK. If EU citizens immigrating to UK to work are to have restricted access to state benefits, how might that affect the entitlement to health service of the 2m UK citizens living in other EU countries? If the UK want access to an EU Single market to sell its goods and services does that means accepting common EU standards for those goods and services, even fiddling rules on thing that seem not to matter, unless we all recognise everyone else’s standards regardless which could be bad for consumers?
In particular, the UK wants a single EU market for services; but services are provided by people, and these people may need to travel to another country to provide those services, which gets you back into the immigration debate
If Britain wants a veto on certain EU laws, rather than have them decided by majority, 27 other countries will also have to get that veto too. If, as some Conservatives propose, the UK withdraws from the European Convention on Human Rights, what effect will that have on the hard won agreement on policing in Northern Ireland, which depends on access for police complainants to the EHCR? Is the plan just to take England out of the EHCR, or to take Northern Ireland out as well?
DEMOCRACY IS THE KEY TO RESPECT
If the EU is to survive, EU citizens need a sense that they can cast a vote to change the men or women at the top in the EU, in the same way as they can change the people at the top in Dail Eireann, in Westminster, in Birmingham city council, or in their local tennis club. It is not that citizens want to get into the details, but they do want a vote on the EU’s direction of travel.
Globalisation has been taking key decisions above the level of individual states for a long time. That is nothing new. But the time has come to make it more democratic. The International Telegraph Union dates back to 1865. The International Court in the Hague dates back to 1945. Traditionally the rules, governing bodies like these, were negotiated in private in the form of inter state Treaties, between diplomats, and later interpreted by judges. Elected people were often only involved at end of process in saying a simple YES or No to result, by ratifying the Treaty or not.
The EU is different. In the EU, politicians in the Commission initiate laws, and politicians in the European Parliament and the Council decide if these laws will come into effect. In this sense, the EU is MORE democratic than virtually all other international organisation in the world, but it’s not democratic ENOUGH.
I believe the direct election of the President of the European Commission by the 500 million people of the EU, not simply by the 28 heads of EU Governments, is needed. Only in that way will we create a well informed democratic EU public opinion. That would be the best answer of all to the populists.
WHY EUROPE NEEDS TO GET ITS ACT TOGETHER
Gorbachev’s advisor Alexander Arbatov said in 1989 at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union to a western diplomat: “we have done you the worst of services, we have deprived you of an enemy” Since then, the lack of perceived external threat has led to weak economic management in Europe, to an unnecessary war in Iraq, to increasing debt, to weakened military strength, and to the making of insincere promises that could not be fulfilled when to going got tough.
Now, that period is over. We now see, thanks in part to ill considered promises of eventual NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia, that those countries have suffered pre-emptive annexations of parts of their territory by force by Russia. The UN Charter and the Helsinki accords on territorial integrity of states have been binned. In Eastern Ukraine we are now witnessing I recently heard a US general describe as “a new kind of warfare”.
Meanwhile, the growing strength of China’s navy distracts US from Europe, and European and US interests are diverging because the US is becoming energy self sufficient, whereas Europe is not.
And productivity in Europe is lagging. According to the OECD, EU labour productivity is growing at 0.6% pa, while productivity in the rest of the OECD is growing at 1.2% a year.
Rather than contemplating separatism, Europeans should be thinking about our precarious position in the 21st century world and uniting to do what we can do about it.
[Based on a speech delivered at the Textile Services Association National Conference 2014, Dublin]John Bruton Business Euroscepticism
Respect and reciprocity: the keys to the future of the EU
06 Oct 2014
With the hottest phase of the European election campaign approaching, it is hardly surprising that the attacks of the most rampant Eurosceptics against the EU are multiplying. Populists of all sorts describe it as a power-hungry leviathan keen on controlling people’s lives, hampering businesses with its regulatory fury and bound to stifle European freedoms and democracy in the grip of its bureaucratic tentacles. There may well be a grain of truth in some of these criticisms. However they all overlook the fundamentally liberalising force displayed by the European project in the last sixty years.
The origins of European integration were as much about peace as they were about individual freedom. This is hardly surprising in light of the mighty enemy these two ideals had in common in pre-war continental Europe: aggressive ideologies aimed at totalitarian control of individuals and societal resources, allegedly in the superior interest of the community. It is no surprise that the first architects of the European project were to a large extent liberals and Catholics, both committed to the preservation of an individual sphere autonomous from state control, while the collectivist left stayed largely hostile to it. After centuries of centralizing tendencies, nation states accepted an unprecedented pooling of sovereignty under common supranational institutions. Where threats to freedom used to come from the ambitions of aggressive foreign powers, such as in Eastern European countries and the UK, it may be difficult to understand that national rulers and overbearing nation states have been for a long time one of the most acute dangers to individual liberty on this continent. It was the European project that finally addressed this problem.
In spite of the many mutations and difficulties of the following decades, European integration has stayed loyal to this original inspiration, constantly increasing the range of individual possibilities and restraining state powers. Under the Treaties of Rome, member states relinquished control of their trade policy and committed themselves to the abolition of state-imposed obstacles to the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers. For that purpose, they resorted to the most liberal of all possible means: a new supranational judicial system, under which the centuries-old dream of the rule of law replacing the rule of force in interstate relations was realised. In fact, in the first decades of European integration it was the rule of law that enlarged the scope of individual freedom against the statist tendencies of most national governments. It was the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Cassis de Dijon case (1979) that fired the first salvo of what was to become the long and still ongoing battle to complete the European common market. In the 1980s, with the Single Market project on track, freedom-loving politicians from all member states enthusiastically joined the Commission in its effort to open up national markets, break up state monopolies, encourage competition and roll back the frontiers of the state in national economies. We owe a great deal of our economic freedom, the great variety of goods we enjoy and the high quality of many of our services to this unprecedented liberalising effort.
In the 1990s Europe made yet another gift to its citizens: the freedom to move, take up jobs and settle anywhere they liked within the common market, soon to be transformed into a fully-fledged European Union. Plans for the creation of a new common currency were also advanced. The euro did away with state control of the money supply, one of the most ancient pillars of state grip on society and the economy. For centuries, and until the very eve of the European Monetary Union, political institutions had used their monopoly of the money supply to surreptitiously extract resources from recalcitrant societies. While the ancient kings were used to debasing their gold and silver coins, modern democratic states have consistently resorted to the printing press to artificially support increasing levels of public debt. For past generations, this vicious practice came at the price of higher and higher inflation, the most unfair tax one can imagine; an even greater pain is inflicted on many contemporary Europeans, upon whose shoulders the short-sightedness and irresponsibility of past governments have placed a heavy burden. Once again, it is the European project that has unmasked the traditional deceptions of national politics and restrained the tendency of many governments to treat their economies as the ancient kings treated their hunting reserves.
I am very well aware that the European Union of our days has many severe limitations and contradictions and that its liberal spirit has taken on a scary appearance to many of us. However, I am firmly convinced that the European project can still be the most cherished endeavour of freedom-loving people all over the continent. If there are problems, let us fight hard for them to be tackled and overcome; if the project seems to have derailed, let us get together and hurry to put it back on track. Let us never forget the prescient words of Friedrich von Hayek, the doyen of twentieth century liberalism, in 1939: ‘There seems to be little possible doubt that the scope for the regulation of economic life will be much narrower for the central government of a federation than for national states. Since the powers of the states which comprise the federation will be yet more limited, much of the interference with economic life to which we have become accustomed will be altogether impracticable under a federal organisation’. All Europeans of the twenty first century should remember that.Federico Ottavio Reho Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Values
Federico Ottavio Reho
Would we really be more free if the EU had never come into existence?
28 Apr 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
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
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
The European Union has been a remarkably successful institution-building project. It is the first ever example of sovereign states voluntarily coming together and pooling some of their sovereignty in order to do more together than they could separately. Almost every other political unification or state-building exercise in history has involved the use of force, including the creation of the United Kingdom and the preservation of the United States. The EU came together peacefully and voluntarily. However, some might argue that European integration was necessary only in order to cement a post-war reconciliation of Germany and France, and now that this has been achieved, the EU has done its job and needs no further development. This is wrong for two reasons.
WHY THE EU IS STILL AN ASSET
First, the fact that states continue to line up to join the EU shows that the EU still provides a necessary political and economic umbrella under which reconciliation and mutual security between states can be assured in the twenty-first century.
This was why the Baltic states, Poland and other central European states joined, and it is the reason several Balkan states, and even Georgia and Ukraine, might like to do so. It is also the reason why Greece, much to the surprise of many, has favoured Turkish membership. While the United States of America is remarkably successful in many ways, there is no queue of other American states lining up to join. Even Puerto Rico has not done so after more than one hundred years of Washington’s rule. Second, the EU is the most advanced effort in the world providing a measure of democratic supervision of globalisation. Unlike other efforts to supervise globalisation, like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, the EU has a directly elected Parliament which co-legislates for the EU alongside the 27 governments, who often decide issues by majority. Other international organisations operate on a purely intergovernmental basis, which means that there has to be unanimity in order to reach a decision, and democratic involvement only arises when a deal, already negotiated in private, has to be ratified in a national parliament without the possibility of further negotiation or amendment. As a result, other organisations like the WTO and the UN can do much less, and they have to do much more of what they do behind closed doors than is the case with the EU. My view is that the EU provides a unique model for democratic rule making at the supranational level, something which will become more—not less—necessary as we proceed into the twenty-first century. Indeed the failure of the world to deal with climate change is a good example of the weaknesses of present intergovernmental models of global governance. If the different regions of the world were unions like the EU, which could negotiate seriously and with genuine political legitimacy as the EU can, the failures of Copenhagen and other climate change summits would not have happened. If the EU were to break up, either because of the collapse of the euro or because a major country like the UK feels it has to exercise its right to leave the EU, and either event were to set off a 2 breakdown of the trust that keeps the EU itself together, we would have lost a unique instrument for security building in Europe and for problem solving in the wider world. I would now like to analyse those two potentially existential threats to the EU, the euro crisis, and the UKs possible desire to leave. Of these, a breakup the euro is undoubtedly by far the more serious existential threat to the EU, because the scale of the economic losses is potentially much greater and the means of controlling those losses are much less.
THE EURO CRISIS IS NOT SOLVED
The euro crisis has become slightly less acute in recent weeks. The announcement of a new bond buying policy by the European Central Bank has calmed the markets. But there is no doubt that the markets will test the ECB’s willpower at some stage. Meanwhile the link between the solvency of European banks and the solvency of European states has not been removed. A default by any EU state would wreck the banks of that state, because each state’s banks tend to be big purchasers of the bonds of that state. Similarly a potential collapse of a bank in a state would force that state to inject capital into banks if it did not want a run on banks generally to take place, and contagion to spread to other countries. The confidence loss caused by a major bank getting into difficulty could lead to a dramatic collapse in state revenues, leaving it with a greatly increased budget deficit at the very time it would also be having to find the money to recapitalise the bank.
FOUR THINGS THAT MUST BE DONE TO SOLVE IT
If these problems are to be resolved, four things will have to happen, more or less at the same time: 1. Greek government debt will have to be forgiven; 2. The ESM will have to be seen as big enough to stand behind Spain and other countries that might get into difficulty, on a contingency basis; 3. The new mechanisms to supervise, and if necessary rationalise, Europe’s banks will have to be put in place; 4. The already-agreed reforms to reduce deficits, and to promote growth by opening up the job and service markets to competition, will have to be demonstrated as being fully implemented in letter and spirit in order to show creditors that, if one forgives debt or enlarges the ESM, one is not throwing good money after bad. At the moment, the Greek debt issue is not being tackled, and it seems to have been postponed until after the German election in September 2013. The delay may not be the worst thing in the world if it allows time for Greek reforms to begin to establish credibility. It also allows time to educate public opinion in creditor countries like Germany, and in countries sitting complacently on the side lines, of the true consequences for themselves of a euro breakup. Greece also needs immediate help to finance itself until the end of 2013, and that bridging finance cannot await elections in Germany or anywhere else. The EU has already enacted a raft of legislation, including the Fiscal Compact Treaty, to ensure that countries reduce their deficits and liberalise their labour and service markets. One of the reasons growth potential has been low in Greece, Italy, and Spain is the lack of competition or flexibility in key sectors. But Germany is not yet satisfied. It wants to have an EU Commissioner with the power to veto state budgets, and enforceable contracts on reforms between states and the EU. But not enough attention is being paid to the fact that Germany, France and other core countries could also be doing a lot more themselves to open up their own digital, financial, energy, retail and professional service markets. While Germany has set a good example in labour market and pension reform, there are other reforms it could initiate that would help other EU countries to 3 sell more goods and services into the German market, and thereby trade their way out of their problems. There is understandable political resistance in Germany to any further debt forgiveness for Greece. But debt forgiveness within the euro is one thing. A Greek exit from the euro is an entirely different matter. It would be far more dangerous, and that needs to be explained to German public opinion.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE EURO ZONE BROKE UP?
Even a disorderly default by a country within the euro, no matter how severe its consequences for its own people and for its creditors, would have far less severe consequences for the euro, and for the EU itself, than an exit of a country from the euro would have. I have heard a view from some northern Europeans that an orderly exit of Greece from the euro could be contemplated if it would be accompanied by building up a huge fund—much bigger than the existing ESM—to stand behind all the other euro area states so as to prevent a Greek exit leading to a loss of confidence in the financial position of the rest of the euro zone. I believe this view, that a Greek exit from the euro can be managed, is profoundly mistaken. The whole edifice of the EU rests on law. The EU has no police force to enforce its will. It relies on Member States freely respecting the interpretation of EU law by the European Court of Justice, and implementing the Court’s decision, however unpleasant that may be. The exit of a country from the euro is, quite simply, a breach of the treaty obligations, and treaty obligations have the force of law. The euro was established on the basis that it is irreversible. A Greek exit, particularly if it would be condoned or encouraged by other members, would say loudly that the euro is not irreversible. That would lead to constant speculation in the markets as to who would be next. And as speculation would increase, so too would the size of the funds or guarantees needed to check it. That in turn would lead to a heightened risk that some of the creditor countries, who would have to provide these funds and guarantees, might decide that they themselves should exit the euro and re- establish their own currencies. That would be the end of the euro. Breakups of currency unions have happened before, in Austro-Hungary after the First World War and in Eastern Europe in the 1990s when the rouble zone broke up. As described in a recent article by Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, the consequences of this were disastrous.
A SCENARIO THAT MIGHT LEAD TO THE END OF THE EU ITSELF
New currencies would have to be established. The relative value of these currencies would be unknown and unknowable. Some would lose value very quickly and others would shoot up in value. Exports would become dramatically uncompetitive in some cases, and in others they would become so cheap that there would be accusations of dumping, currency manipulation, and calls for the immediate reintroduction of import duties to level the playing field. Such duties, if imposed, would end the Single Market, which would be tantamount to the breakup of the European Union itself. Open markets, the assumption on which Ireland built its entire economy over the last fifty years, would be gone. In some countries the banking system would break down, and people would have no access to credit for even the most basic transactions. In others, people would cease to trust the value of their own money, and money, after all, is based on a promise. If people can no longer trust the states standing behind the promise that underlies their money, the basis for money itself is gone. This is not fiction. It is what happened when the rouble zone broke up in the 1990s and explains why incomes fell by 50% in the former rouble zone countries. And the exporter nations within the rouble zone, like the Russian Federation, suffered just as much hardship as the importer nations like Latvia and Estonia. The political stresses that this scenario contains for the 500 million people of the EU and their governments would be such that trust between European nations would easily break down 4 completely. We see signs of that happening already, but it is being held in check by the hope that problems can still be resolved on a collective basis. A breakup of the euro would show that it was impossible to resolve matters on a collective basis, and it would then be a case of every nation for itself, with particularly severe consequences for smaller countries like Ireland.
…AND MEANWHILE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
As if Europe did not have enough problems, one important EU country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is preparing to renegotiate the terms of its own membership in the EU, and hold a referendum on the outcome, which would potentially decide whether the UK would stay in the EU or leave. The first point is that the UK is entirely free to do this. Unlike other unions like the United States or the United Kingdom itself, the European Union is a union in which states are free to leave so long as they fulfil their normal obligations under international law, which arise when any country withdraws from any international treaty. The UK has been an uneasy member of the EU from the outset. While Churchill envisaged a United States of Europe, he did not envisage the UK, which still had a global empire at the time, being part of it. The UK did not attend the 1955 conference in Messina which led to the Treaty of Rome. When it eventually joined the Common Market, a decision endorsed by a referendum, the idea was sold to the electorate as an economic arrangement, whereas even the most cursory reading of the Treaty of Rome would have shown it to be much more than that.
A THREAT TO VETO THE EU BUDGET
The United Kingdom is now threatening to veto the entire EU budget, something it is legally entitled to do unless there is an absolute freeze on the size of the budget. The difficulty with this stance is not legal, it is political. The EU Single Market, which guarantees the free movement of people, goods and services, was created as a political deal. Weaker economies opened up their markets to stronger ones, and removed protection from local businesses on the basis of a promise that they would qualify for structural funds to modernise their economies. These funds are what the EU budget provides. (Some of the EU budget also goes on agriculture, but that has fallen from almost 80% of the total originally, to only 30% today.) The political difficulty with the UK stance is that of fairness. In the past, when countries like Ireland, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and even the UK itself joined the EU, we all qualified for very substantial EU structural funds in the form of aid for agricultural modernisation, general infrastructure, training, communications etc. Now, when the EU has taken in 10 central European countries, of which almost all are relatively far poorer by comparison than the rest of the EU countries were when they joined, these 10 are to be told that if the freeze the UK wants is to go into effect, they are not to get even a fraction of the help that Ireland, Spain, regions of the UK and others qualified for right after joining. This is causing resentment. I recently heard an Estonian Minister complain that, under the existing EU budget which is already an unfair compromise, his farmers have to compete in the same EU market with western European farmers who are getting three times the subsidies. Unless there are to be drastic cuts, this sort of anomaly can only be put right by an increase in the EU budget. The problem is that the UK government has made the size of the budget a red line issue without getting into any informed debate about what the money is actually spent on, or about what sort of EU budget is necessary to ensure that the EU Single Market, to which the UK itself is very much attached, works fairly and is preserved. The UK wants access to the Single Market, but is not prepared to pay any entry fee.
AND A DEMAND TO RENEGOTIATE THE ENTIRE BASIS OF UK MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU
The same problem arises in the renegotiation of the terms of membership that the current UK government wants. In preparation for this renegotiation, the UK government is now doing a 5 comprehensive audit of all EU laws in order to identify areas of activity that could be taken back from the EU and instead administered exclusively under UK law. There may be some good ideas emerging from this, on which all other members could agree, but there may also be a lot of problems. The difficulty is that the UK wants to take back, yet to also be specified, powers while also retaining full and unfettered access for all its goods and services exports to the EU Single Market. Fifty per cent of UK exports go to the euro zone, whereas only 15% of euro zone exports go to the UK, so this is important to the UK. The difficulty is that the EU Single Market, like any market, is a product of common rules, regulations and conventions. A market is a political construct. Without common rules or understandings nobody could rely on what they are buying. That is why, for example, there have to be common EU quality standards to construct a common EU market. Otherwise, one country could impose peculiar quality standards designed to exclude competitors from its market and enable its own producers to make monopoly profits at the expense of consumers. Any rulemaking power that could be abused in this way cannot be handed back to the national level without endangering the Single Market. That is the problem the proposed UK renegotiation of its EU membership terms will encounter. The competition in any market also has to be fair, and someone has to regulate that. If competitors have different environmental or product liability standards, or if some firms are operating monopolies or cartels, the competition will not be fair. These matters cannot be handed back to be decided by national authorities without also endangering the Single Market. If the UK were to draw up a list of EU rules it would like to make in Westminster rather than Brussels, the other 26 could also do the same, but they might come up with a very different list. The process could become bogged down in the serial reopening of compromises made years ago on issues that have little relevance to the urgent existential threat the EU faces today. One gets the impression that many in the UK do not really care about that. The EU is still regarded by many in the UK as a foreign country, not a union of which the UK itself has been an integral part for the past 40 years. Membership in the EU is seen as a convenience rather than as a commitment. If the price of satisfying UK voters is to cause more problems for the ‘foreigners’ in ‘Europe’, that is not seen by some UK political leaders as such a bad thing. The difficulty is that the ‘foreigners’ in Europe may not see it that way. With so many genuinely urgent things to do such as safeguarding the very existence of the EU itself, the other 26 Member States may not be inclined to devote time to a painstaking case by case analysis of a series of requests for new UK opt outs from some bits of some rulemaking authority, with UK opt ins to others, and to a judicious analysis of whether each one of these decisions might affect the integrity of the Single Market either now or at some time in the future. And the European Court of Justice would certainly have difficulty interpreting the consistency of a special EU menu for one country with the basic freedoms for all on which the EU is based. There is also the old question of whether UK Ministers and MEPs should continue to have voting rights on things they are opting out of. As it is, one has to say that it is distinctly odd that the present Chairman of the Committee of the European Parliament that deals with euro currency matters represents a constituency in the UK which has no intention of joining the euro. If, as is likely at the end of its proposed renegotiation, the UK is dissatisfied with the result, because not enough powers are being handed back to Westminster, it will have little option but to recommend that the UK withdraws from the EU. It is setting itself up now to find itself in exactly that position in 2016.
THE UK’S OPTIONS OUTSIDE THE EU
This will require careful handling because 50% of UK exports go to the EU, and London is Europe’s main financial centre, for the time being anyway. How is the UK to protect these interests if it is outside the EU? One possibility is to join Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in the European Economic Area, which would guarantee full access for UK goods and services to the EU market. But the price for that would be to implement all EU legislation that was relevant to the Single 6 Market, and to contribute to the EU budget, but without having any say in EU decisions. That would be worse from a Eurosceptic point of view than the UK’s present position, even though it would guarantee continued access for the UK to the EU market for both goods and services. The other possibility would be to follow Switzerland and negotiate a series of bilateral trade deals with the EU. The UK would not be entering such negotiations from a position of strength, because it relies more on the EU market than the EU relies on the UK market. Switzerland has negotiated full access to the EU market for goods, but not for services. Services are the UK’s key export sector, so a Swiss-style deal would not be attractive. Alternatively, if Britain negotiated a customs union with the EU, like that of Turkey, it would find its trade policies with the rest of the world still being determined in Brussels, but with less input from London than at present. Again it would also only have a guarantee of access for goods exports, but not for services. Finally, the UK might simply leave the EU without negotiating any special deal. That would leave it paying tariffs on its exports to EU Member States, including Ireland, and would necessitate the reintroduction of customs posts on the border in Ireland. It would undermine years of peace making by successive Irish and UK governments, and would cost thousands of jobs in export firms in both the UK and Ireland.
My sense is that the pressures that cause fracture in the EU derive from a lack of understanding among the general public of the extent to which their livelihoods depend on economic developments in other countries and of how unrealistic, in modern conditions, an ‘ourselves alone’ policy really is. Political leaders make little effort to explain this, because to do so would undermine the nationalist myths which brought most states into being in the first place and also because it is often convenient to blame the EU for the effects of decisions that were necessary but are unpalatable. For these reasons, little effort is made to forge any form of patriotic pride in the EU or its achievements. No venue has been created in which an EU-wide public opinion might be formed. This must be done if sufficient mutual understanding and support is to be established to allow the EU to create the degree of burden sharing and mutual supervision that is necessary to guarantee the long-term robustness of the euro, and thus of the EU itself. In a word, the EU needs more democratic cement to hold itself together. European Parliament elections are not truly European. They are 27 different elections in 27 different countries, in which national issues predominate. The European Parliament itself has refused to contemplate the election of some of its members from EU-wide party lists, which would begin the process of creating an EU-wide debate, because it would necessitate an EU-wide political campaign on behalf of the rival EU-wide lists of candidates. The President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council are selected in private meetings by heads of government. They do not have to win the votes of EU citizens, and consequently EU citizens do not have the feeling that they can vote the government of the EU out of office in the same way that they can vote their national governments out of office. Thus, the EU does not enjoy democratic legitimacy in quite the same way that national governments do. As a member of the Convention that drafted what eventually became the Lisbon Treaty, I urged unsuccessfully that the EU should have a presidential election on these lines. I suggested that the President of the European Commission should be selected in a multi-candidate election in which every EU citizen would vote, rather than be selected, as at present, by 27 heads of government meeting in private, the outcome of which is then approved in a single candidate vote in the European Parliament. This proposal received almost no support at the time, although it has since been adopted as policy by the German CDU. If that had happened when it was proposed, the EU would now be in a much stronger democratic position to devise a more coherent response to the euro crisis, and to find a solution to the UK’s difficulties. The UK press would not be able to argue that EU leaders were ‘unelected’. The Commission, headed by a President with a full EU-wide democratic mandate, would have more authority to propose solutions. The Council of 27 heads of government would still play a vital role, but the EU would be less constrained by the electoral timetables of individual countries, as is the case with the German elections of 2013.John Bruton European Union Euroscepticism
EU: Sticking together or not?
21 Nov 2012
Currently there are considerable concerns about a new Euroscepticism arising in response to recent developments and a general feeling of malaise towards the European project from both national elites and ordinary citizens of Member States. Observers speak about an anti-European virus spreading via a new wave of street protests, especially in Greece and Spain, and among unsatisfied people in general.
Even in Germany, the driving force of Europe, the EU is seen as a problem rather than a solution. The reason is rather obvious: some countries of the eurozone are in serious financial distress. For instance, the EU has had to create a European bailout fund for states, such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and maybe even Italy, that have suffered grave financial problems as a collateral consequence of the financial crisis of 2008.
These measures of solidarity, paid for by the financially stronger countries, and the entire construct of the common economic zone with its flagship currency, the euro, are difficult to justify to the populations of the rich, subsidising countries. As a result, European elites are talking of a renewed danger of Euroscepticism. My aim in this paper is to discuss this phenomenon comprehensively, since it is important to distinguish between Euroscepticism as a general mood and Euroscepticism as (part of) a particular political and ideological profile presented by specific parties.Euroscepticism Extremism Populism
A Thorn in the Side of European Elites: The New Euroscepticism
01 Sep 2012
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