For those who view the pandemic as an event that will change societies and economies permanently, the post-COVID horizon seems limitless. From working patterns to the digital transformation, from increased public spending to greater European integration, Coronavirus is being used as a cypher for sweeping visions of the future.
And while fundamental issues (such as operating the Single Market or tackling climate change) are absolutely vital to the long-term sustainability of European prosperity, the EU risks having its future successes circumscribed by its scattergun approach in seeking “more Europe” as the answer to every conceivable policy area.
This cannot be the centre-right approach. Because it will end in failure.
Europe’s economies and societies are uniquely vulnerable. This is not just attributable to the impacts of the pandemic, as dislocating as many of its side effects are. The reality is that these vulnerabilities have been built up over the preceding decades, particularly in the period since 2008. Europe’s responses to the combined crises of the past decade have veered from the barely sufficient (economic and banking) to the scarcely credible (migration).
The pandemic has significantly worsened these existing economic and societal weaknesses. In this context, the centre-right simply can’t afford to get this recovery wrong. If it does, the reality will be felt through a significantly smaller parliamentary representation in Brussels post-2024; and an electorate increasingly alienated from the wider integration process.
It’s fine for the centre-right to have grander ambitions, but its immediate post-COVID delivery must be focused on the day-to-day realities facing Europeans today.
In some ways, the current set of economic conditions are viewed with trepidation by many centre-right decision makers. Concerns about rising public and private debts, asset bubbles underpinned by loose monetary policy, and the looming threat of inflation are already evident in calls favouring more restrictive policies.
Politically, the economic options facing the centre-right are often viewed as a binary choice between continued monetary/fiscal stimulus, or a return to more restrictive pre-pandemic norms.
But this is incorrect.
The real challenge for the centre-right is to develop a more nuanced, or mixed, policy approach which takes specific account of the vulnerabilities of Europe’s economies and societies. Vulnerabilities which, it should be pointed out, almost all existed in a pre-pandemic landscape.
But this “Middle Way” approach can only be successful if it delivers the necessary payoffs to maintain support across the broad swathe of the middle classes. And as the recovery begins in 2021, it is essential that the centre-right focuses on the key issues which are driving voters to political parties outside of the traditionally centrist, pro-European tent.
Three key issues must be afforded the highest priority.
The first is employment. But not simply the standard social media rhetoric about creating “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”; what is needed is an integrated approach which actively promotes employment creation, especially for younger people. No new EU projects or funding streams are required. Simply the flexibility to allow member states to invest in technical/digital skills, hi-tech manufacturing, and in facilitating new ventures and businesses. Not every young person needs to learn to code, but every young person deserves an opportunity to work and to be covered by social security, regardless of their position. The centre right must make meaningful employment its top priority.
Second, the centre-right remains worried about the wrong type of inflation. Housing affordability – be it rents or real estate prices – are a key concern for many young people today all across the EU. If young families continue to be priced out of the housing market, the drift of voters to the fringes will continue. To hold the centre ground, the centre-right has to win the battle for housing. Affordable, good quality, and accessible housing is a key ingredient of the European middle-class lifestyle. This issue cannot be seriously addressed without tackling inter-generational wealth issues and the concentration of such capital in older generations. On this, the centre-right must be brave.
Thirdly, the under-provision of basic public services generates a large portion of societal unease. For families, issues like childcare, schools, and leisure facilities represent a fundamental part of their ability to enjoy a sustainable work-life balance. Again, this is a common issue across most member states, increasingly also in Central and Eastern Europe. The centre-right must double down on giving the middle classes a stake in a society that they feel is working for them.
It’s fine for the centre-right to have grander ambitions, but its immediate post-COVID delivery must be focused on the day-to-day realities facing Europeans today.
The moon can wait, it’s time to fix Europe first.Eoin Drea Centre-Right Economy Society
It’s Recovery or Bust for Europe’s Centre Right
14 Apr 2021
While the vast majority of developed countries are struggling to manage the COVID-19 epidemic, China has been able to control the situation domestically through strict measures. Today, China’s economy has returned to the path of growth in comparison to other global economic powers. The moment when China will truly become the leading global economic power seems to be closer once again.
But while many predict this century will be dominated by China, it will most likely also be the century of the beginning of China’s relative decline. The reason is that China’s population is ageing rapidly and China’s demographic problem is getting increasingly serious.
China’s population, according to current projections, will peak in 2030, with a shrinking labour force and an elderly population (65+) of 240 million. Only Japan has aged faster than China. But while Japan and other developed countries face similar demographic challenges, “China will become old before it becomes rich.” It also does not enjoy the same structures as a developed country – or the necessary infrastructure to tackle the challenge.
Evidently, one of the main causes of China’s demographic situation is its one-child policy, which has created low replacement rates. So-called ‘4-2-1 families’, 4 grandparents with 2 parents having one child, create a situation where the young generation faces a huge economic burden in a country where the social security system, medical care and pensions are very weak – and the expectation remains that children will take care of their parents in old age.
In many countries, immigrants help the demographic situation, but in China the demographic problem is magnified by emigration out of China.
As the working-age population will decrease, robust economic growth will be a challenge to maintain.
In addition, urbanisation is emptying the rural areas with young people moving to the cities, leading to regional economic differences and social tensions. A side effect of the one-child policy is that a preference for boys did lead to sex-selective abortions, having created a situation that for every 100 girls, there are 120 boys. It’s estimated that the percentage of men in their late 30’s who have never married will be five times higher by 2030, and obviously these unmarried young men will have an increasingly negative impact on population growth, not to mention the frustration and negative psychological impact for young males.
While in the Western world, demographic change will have a great impact, in China the projected impact is even larger when compared to its share of total global population. For example, the EU-27’s share of global population is projected to decline by 2,1 percentage points, from 5,9 % to 3,8 % between 2018 to 2100. Conversely, China’s share is projected to fall by 8,9 points, from 18,7 % to 9,8 % in the same time period.
Decline of working age population
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2019) in 2060, China’s elderly population will be 400 million people, while the working age population (20–64) will be around 675 million people. For comparison, the working age population is currently 950 million and the elderly population is 175 million. The ratio of working to elderly will go from 0,18 elderly person per working age person now, to 0,59 elderly person per working age person in 2060. This kind of demographic demands a total reconstruction of the Chinese system and huge investments.
As the working-age population will decrease, robust economic growth will be a challenge to maintain, becoming a problem for Chinese leadership, which has managed to legitimise its position and facilitate societal transition by using the benefits of high economic growth. In addition, Chinese debt levels have been increasing at a worrying rate, and managing the debt will not be any easier in the future.
Limiting births with the one-child policy created a ‘demographic dividend’ and gave more time and mobility for people without children to work. Reversing the policy and asking the working-age population to have more children will slow down economic growth until the new generation reaches working age.
China as awoken to its demographic problem and dropped the one-child policy in 2016, asking couples today to ‘have children for the country’, and discouraging women to delay marriage for their career, and setting controls on abortions. However, trying to change societal behaviour set by decades of the one-child policy and countering declining birth rates are not even close to yielding the necessary results.
China is not the only country in the world to tackle demographic trends. However, in China, the problem is exacerbated by the one child-policy, which has created behavioural, cultural, and social patterns that are difficult to be erased overnight.
As China is ageing rapidly, a large part of its male population will never marry and its ageing population will burden the nation’s very weak pension and healthcare system. China will have a smaller workforce and more fiscal constraints. While China has well defined global ambitions, those aspirations will be severely hampered by its demographic problems.
For Europe’s global strategy, the consequence is that while maintaining its crucial transatlantic relations and focusing on the challenge of China, Europe needs to keep developing its relations with other global actors such as India and African countries, players which today seem less relevant but can have a much stronger global role in the coming decades.Tomi Huhtanen China Society
China’s global ambitions will be hampered by its demographics
10 Mar 2021
The events that occurred in and around the Capitol on the day of the Epiphany are appalling, revolting, and unacceptable to normal and responsible people.
This was the feeling that was reflected in the statements made by various Congresspeople, both direct, imperilled participants of the drama, and former Members of Congress. By common accord, politicians of both camps – Democrats and Republicans – expressed anger and reprobation. This is important, positive, and necessary.
In one statement that I found particularly fitting, a congressman said that a person inciting others to commit violence is not a leader. A leader is a person who has the strength and courage to tell voters the truth, however inconvenient. Such a truth as ‘I lost the election and it is my duty to transfer power’.
What is ironic about the terrifying experience of storming the Capitol, and the outrage felt and expressed by honest, fair, and responsible politicians, is the realisation that many of them also have their share of responsibility in the gradual polarisation of American society and the emotions associated to that. This goes for both camps, Republican and Democrat.
The American political elites have for years ignored the accumulating economic, social, and political problems in the United States. These problems became especially serious towards the end of the first decade of this millennium, with the outbreak of the financial and economic crisis. Since then, governments have piled up and pushed the problems facing them further away, rather than resolving them. They disregard the anxieties and fears of those who are losing jobs, who are weaker, poorer, sick, or disabled. They ignore the problems of the middle class and of young families.
Rather than implementing necessary reforms, an important part of the political class has, for years, styled itself as the elite that has the right and even the prerogative to judge others, to moralise, and even to denounce those who have not been sufficiently “aware”, “modern,” or “progressive”. In other words: politically correct.
The third factor fanning these flames are the pivotal changes linked to globalisation, especially the changes related to technological progress and immigration. Those who made their voices heard to shout: ‘Hey, not so many (changes), and not so fast!’ were immediately labelled by the elite as homophobes, right-wing extremists, or even fascists. Yet, it is clearly not easy for many of us to come to terms with the existing and expected pace of change, adapt to new labour market demands and opportunities, or cope with the cultural implications of these processes.
Trump did nothing else than pull the cork. Before doing so, he vigorously shook the bottle. Time will tell who was the hardest hit by the cork.
The new American president faces a difficult mission: to unite America and to breathe upon it the spirit of hope and promise. Joe Biden should not be too overjoyed with the fact that, in addition to the House, Democrats also gained control of the Senate. A slim House majority and the tightest majority in the Senate doesn’t change the fact that the country is divided, and passions are running high. Trump is leaving, but millions of his voters remain. If Joe Biden places his wager on the moderates – not only those from among the Republican Party, but also those in his own party, America has a chance for catharsis, that would make it even greater and stronger. This is also in our interest, the European interest.Mikuláš Dzurinda EU-US Leadership Society Transatlantic
USA – Catharsis, or Beginning of the End?
08 Jan 2021
Slovenia and Europe are facing a rapidly ageing population. According to current projections, Slovenia will be among the countries with the oldest population in the EU in 2050, and in 500 years there will be no more Slovenians. Shifts in the population’s age structure are already having an impact on all levels of our lives today; everything from pension system sustainability to healthcare capacities, economic competitiveness to various other issues.
At the Anton Korošec Institute, in cooperation with the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, we organised our first joint project entitled Demographic challenges of Slovenia and Europe, this year. The project aims to shed light on some of the above-mentioned issues and to open a wider public debate on how we will live differently in the future. In August, a well-attended and content-rich round table was held in Ankaran. Speakers touched on the problems of population ageing and presented their views and solutions to worrying demographic trends in Slovenia and Europe. The publication that is now in front of you was created as a continuation of this project.EU Member States Society
Demographic Changes in Slovenia and Europe
31 Dec 2020
Initially planned for 2020, the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Scheduled to run for two years, this conference will bring together Europeans institutions, civil society representatives, and citizens of all ages to debate on the future of Europe. Thus, this conference has the great merit of facing the issue of citizen participation, confirming the constant desire of strengthening European democracy. Similarly to the European Convention on the Future of Europe, this conference would also include citizen consultations, supported by a digital platform allowing online debates and contributions.
Although it is difficult to predict the concrete outcome of this conference, major changes are not expected, but rather more reform proposals on the EU’s architecture and its decision-making processes, which will lead to deeper European integration. However, before the conference can start, the three main EU institutions must still agree on its modalities and, importantly, its chairmanship. It clearly reveals that the main difficulties barring the road to the conference are not of a technical nature, but rather political.
Nonetheless, launching the conference as soon as possible would be a tangible, major achievement, confirming that democracy is still fully functional in Europe, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It would confirm the European Union as an advanced democracy, and probably the biggest democracy in the world.Democracy EU Institutions Leadership Society
The Potential Outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe in a COVID-19 World: Strengthening European Democracy
23 Dec 2020
The publication examines the various aspects of these turbulent times and their impact on the Czech and European societies, with a special emphasis on the middle class. It was the (often) painful experience of the ‘quarantined’ middle class that exposed what it needs to flourish and not perish in the future. The authors uncover the threats and the opportunities related to the current situation, and provide recommendations for centre-right parties, who have most often represented the interests of the middle class, currently most endangered class by the effects of the pandemic. The centre-right parties (together with the centre-left) will be in danger, too, if they do not present straightforward programmatic goals for the future of the middle class and honest leadership skills capable of cooperation and solidarity. Otherwise, we face the danger of further destabilisation of the political scene and the dismantling of liberal democracy.Crisis Economy Society
The (Post)Covid Era: The Middle Class in Focus
29 Sep 2020
The coronavirus has taken the West by surprise. It has called into question basic assumptions about globalisation, how our society is organised, how safe we actually are and to what extent we control the world around us. The virus arrived when we were without the proper conceptual framework to deal with a new type of virus, and we could not have imagined how much of a social challenge it would represent. The novelty of the situation has made most of us feel strangely confused, numb and calm, and in many cases has left us not knowing what to do with ourselves. This satirical review seeks to put some distance and detachment between us and the situation and give us an outside perspective of what the corona crisis can teach us, both at the individual and social levels. Before the situation becomes the ‘new normal’, we should take the time to extract some lessons from this mess.
Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Jan Czarnocki Theo Larue Crisis European Union Society
Comfortably Numb in the Midst of the Corona Crisis
14 Sep 2020
While most of the world underwent some degree of confinement due to the spread of COVID-19, the Belarusian government not only denied the existence of the virus, it actually continued with business as usual, scheduling the country’s presidential election for August 9. While in the past, Lukashenka’s victory was a given, this time the election’s outcome is not as predictable. For the first time in 26 years, there are real contenders who could challenge the sitting President.
In order to qualify for the election, candidates must secure a minimum of 100,000 signatures, which will be verified on July 14. Popular YouTube blogger Sergei Tikhanovski was considering joining the race, but since he was detained and then banned from running, it seems there will be two candidates allowed to go forward, besides those controlled by the government. They are the former Chairman of Belgazprombank, Viktor Babariko, (also currently detained) and the former leader of the Belarusian IT hub Hi-Tech Park, former ambassador to the United States, and Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry, Valeri Tsepkalo. The surprising thing about these names is that they are not part of the opposition – they are regime insiders, members of the business elite.
While jailing opposition leaders, intimidating independent media, and cracking down on peaceful protests continues to be the modus operandi of Lukashenka, this constitutes a deeper development that the regime cannot control. Belarusians are discontent with the government and are taking their frustration to the streets. The hundreds of people demonstrating against Lukashenka’s re-election demonstrate their courage and strong motivation for change, especially when considering the unorthodox methods of repression employed by the government.
Years of economic stagnation, a pessimistic economic forecast of a 4 to 5% decline in the country’s GDP by the end of the year, increasing pressure from Russia, and a disregard for fundamental freedoms have led civil society to actively voice their opposition to the establishment’s methods. The fact that two other candidates from the regime’s inner circle stand ready to challenge the status quo is a strong political signal.
It is difficult not to draw similarities between what is happening in Belarus and the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine back in 2014. Belarusian civil society is expressing its dissatisfaction with the lack of democracy, close ties to Russia, and abuse of freedoms by the government – a very similar picture to what we saw on Majdan Square during Yanukovych’s rule. In the worst-case scenario, Lukashenka can decide to follow Yanukovych’s footsteps, and resort to using violence against protesters, but too many eyes are watching. Several MEPs issued a statement on Belarus on June 18, calling for a fair campaign and a fair election. The EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) both have condemned the crackdown on peaceful protests.
Looking back at the Ukrainian experience, we can definitely say that a push for change from civil society can be very powerful and lead to significant developments. In the Belarusian case, it does not necessarily mean regime change. Lukashenka’s demise has been predicted several times in the past, but he has survived to this day. However, it is important that Belarusian people understand that they are standing at a crossroads between the status quo of an authoritarian regime and a democratically elected President. “Choosing” the regime means remaining in Russia’s orbit, who resorts to blackmail if things don’t go as planned. Indeed, the Kremlin has cut oil flows to Belarus earlier this year, after the collapse of last year’s talks between Russia and Belarus over forming a “union state”.
For the elections to be free, fair, and transparent, all candidates should have equal access to independent media, which unfortunately will not be the case. Opposition leaders are being detained, threatened and silenced. Nevertheless, long queues to place a signature for a candidate, despite COVID-19, have shown that Belarusians highly value democracy and structural reforms. A poll conducted by independent media outlets, later banned, placed Lukashenka with only 6% support within the country.
As in the case of Ukraine, there is no magic spell to transition from repression of political opponents and peaceful protesting, to full democracy – it takes time, strong will, and perseverance. But having the option of choosing a President freely is a prerogative of the Belarusian people, one that the citizens are fighting for.
Belarus’ southern neighbour, Ukraine, has undoubtedly beat the old corrupt system of elections, as its people have now voted freely in two Presidential elections since the protests on Majdan. The country still has a long way to go in terms of reforms, but a democratically elected President is the first and most important step towards success.
Belarus would benefit immensely from the respect of democratic values, closer ties to the EU, structural reforms, and a break from the past. After 26 years in power, it’s time for Lukashenka to accept the new direction that Belarusian citizens are asking for. Should he win the election, he must let go of the old ways and embrace the fundamental freedoms that the country deserves.Anna Nalyvayko Democracy Foreign Policy Society Values
Curtain Call for Lukashenka?
29 Jun 2020
Few symbols of upheaval are as powerful as the toppling of a statue. The last couple of weeks have been a good demonstration of this, across all Western societies – and Belgium is no exception. The cities of Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium removed statues of King Leopold II from their streets. This political compromise may appease radical demands, but it constitutes a missed opportunity to engage in a broad civic debate on identity and history.
There was a time when these statues honoured the Belgian sovereign for what was seen as his national and colonial heroism. Today these monuments inconveniently remind us of an embarrassing past, and of political and ethical norms that have long lost their validity. Still, Belgians are divided whether or not the statues should go because many interpret history differently.
The controversy around Leopold II doesn’t stand alone. In the Belgian town of Zottegem, a statue of Julius Caesar was vandalised. In London, protesters aimed their anger at a memorial for Winston Churchill, and in Johannesburg, paint was thrown at a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Radical polarisation around identity has intensified emotions; it condemns those who assumed the role of ‘privileged’ leadership, and it hinders an objective debate on history. We deserve better than that in our democracies.
It is not the first time that statues fall prey to public anger. During the 4th century reign of Roman Emperor Constantine, monuments of as many as 25 former emperors were removed from public view. Europe’s Great Iconoclasm of the 16th century saw Catholic art and church decorations destroyed in Protestant mob actions across the continent. Statues and monuments are also a prime target after wars or violent regime change. ISIS materialised political change by destroying the artefacts in the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra. The Taliban blew up Buddha statues. And who does not remember the gripping images of Iraqis, or Libyans, celebrating their freedom by dancing on the fallen monuments of Saddam Hussein or Moammar al-Qadhafi?
But against the backdrop of this history – and a recent racial incident in the United States – should we therefore conclude that a statue of Leopold II symbolises the structural racism of the Belgian people or their government? Is a monument to Winston Churchill the embodiment of white British exceptionalism? Should we tear down a statue of Julius Caesar for the same reasons Americans are now removing Confederate symbols across their nation? Will this damnatio memoriae – the condemnation of memory – contribute to social progress? Most likely not.
Perhaps a fairer debate is first to understand why some democracies struggle to talk about their history openly? Why is it sensitive in the Netherlands to touch on the role of the Dutch East India Company in 17th century Indonesia, or to talk in France about the atrocities committed during the Algerian War in the 1950s? The answer lies in part in our values, and in the fact that our societies still have a very complicated relationship with our principles of equality – principles enshrined in every democracy’s constitution, but that are, or at least were, difficult to implement correctly.
Pioneers advocated women’s suffrage as early as the 19th century, but only in the 20th century did a critical mass support such a political innovation. Today, even if the public has grown accustomed to narratives of pluralism, multiculturalism, and wealth redistribution, the reality is too often one of isolation, gentrification, and inequality. The fact that government leaders or public influencers rarely raise this topic is not a sign of racism. Rather, it demonstrates a more significant inability to conduct a proper reflection that includes all groups of society. In an environment dominated by peaceful debate and within the framework of the rule of law, public attitudes are slow to evolve, and even the most progressive minds are often hesitant to embrace disruptive change.
That is why change coming from the grassroots needs to focus on creating a broad consensus and avoid polarisation. Only this way can powerful ideas transcend and transform into concrete evolutions. Today’s protesters will need to work with the political leaders that they oppose. And more importantly, they will need to win the hearts and minds of the silent majority, so that everyone embraces the proposed change. Clearly, destroying statues divides the public and achieves no progress on either front. Exceptions to this rule are rare. The removal of Nazi symbols in post-World War II Germany or the toppling of Lenin statues after 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe are different cases: That was about visualising fundamental change in, or at the end of, a systemic upheaval within the lifetimes of the citizens.
Today’s bilderstürmer are right to condemn the mistakes of the past. But censorship rarely works. History cannot be a subject one likes or dislikes, and exists for us to learn from. We need more conversations about history, not less. Looking at statues and monuments can actually serve as a helpful reminder of the undesirable. Today in our democracies, there is a broad consensus against racism. Civic and political leaders would be wise to promote more debate on that positive foundation. Blaming old statues may please the strongest emotions, but it will take more than that to make for a better society.
Statues have been destroyed throughout history, it rarely spurred social progress
22 Jun 2020
People across Europe are suffering. They are scared of becoming ill, uncertain about their economic future and still worried about the well-being of their parents and grandparents.
But men and women are feeling this crisis differently. For example, while more men than women are tragically dying from COVID-19, more women are on the frontlines providing care, with women accounting for almost 80% of healthcare workers, 76% of the 49 million care workers, and 82% of cashiers within the EU. The impact of this virus is different for men and women, and to build a recovery that works for all people, we must acknowledge this core difference and tailor our response to it.Crisis Economy European Union Society
Putting Women at the Heart of Europe’s Recovery
10 Jun 2020
The view of the chair of the Federal Reserve in the United States – Jay Powell – that “for the economy to fully recover, people will have to be fully confident. And that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine” belies the stark economic realities facing the US economy over the next 12 to 18 months.
For the United States – an economy where consumer spending accounts for over 70% of its activity – the risks of a long, slow, grinding economic recovery are immense. Multi-trillion dollar Federal support programmes for workers and businesses will never fully replace the absence of comprehensive social supports at state level, nor full-time employment income.
With unemployment at rates not seen since the Great Depression, an uncoordinated public health response at federal level and increasing political polarisation it is clear that American companies and workers will require more trillion dollar support packages in the future. The immediate economic consequence is obvious. By the end of 2021, the US will have a federal debt to GDP ratio much closer to Greece than to Germany.
The enthusiasm of many US Governors to reopen their states as quickly as possible (regardless of public health advice) will not supply the economic adrenaline shot so desperately desired by many policymakers in Washington. Even the most minimal of social distancing requirements will reduce consumption across almost all sectors of the US economy. In many sectors, such as hospitality, it will continue to have a disastrous impact for the foreseeable future.
Two further factors will further undermine the ability of the US to recover in the short term, regardless of states restarting economic activity. First, is the impact of the pandemic in reducing consumer confidence, particularly for those who are retired and most at risk from the Coronavirus.
These “baby boomers” are an important driver of consumption in the US. They are also heavily dependent on US federal payments (such as Medicare) and are hugely overexposed to US equities (37% of the US stock market is owned by retirement funds). This combination of health risk, federal transfers and stock market uncertainty will likely exacerbate, not alleviate, declining consumer confidence in the months and (possibly) years ahead.
Second, is the false hope that restarting the export economy will help restore jobs and confidence to huge swathes of the US economy. As we are already seeing across the US (and indeed globally) the restarting of production in industries such as automotive and aeronautical will be largely dependent on international demand. Boeing – a key US industrial champion – has already cut its employee numbers by 10% as it seeks to deal with the dramatic fall in demand for air travel. These cutbacks will be repeated across most other economic sectors. There will be no quick return to a 2019 “normal”.
But perhaps the biggest danger to prospects of a robust US economic recovery has been the dramatic politicisation of the federal support system.
In an unprecedented health crisis such as the Coronavirus, Europeans have long assumed that the US federal model of government would act as a stabilising force for the states hit worst by the pandemic. It was this “transfer union” which European economists believed signalled the superiority of the US model of currency union when compared to the disjointed and overly complicated Eurozone model.
And indeed the US federal government has provided trillions of dollars of relief to businesses and workers. But the political cost has been significant. And the long term economic damage may be incalculable.
Mitch McConnell’s stated aversion to “blue state bailouts” highlights just how politically tinged the U.S. federal system has become. “Well run states should not bail out poorly run states” has become the new mantra of President Trump. Solidarity is fast becoming another American rarity, just like balanced budgets and social mobility
But the very real danger for the US is that a politicised federal support system further deepens mistrust of central government and reduces the effectiveness of federal spending in limiting the damage to, and then restarting, the US economy.
During the Great Depression, the Detroit riots of unemployed Ford workers in 1932 so startled policymakers that it resulted in the swift development of a property-owning working class (facilitated by cheap federal mortgages). It is the societal model which still dominates in the US and in much of the world today. The point is that economic upheaval of the scale we are now experiencing will have far-reaching, and often unintended, economic and societal consequences.
Perils abound for the US in a slow, faltering and overly politicised economy recovery. Europe should take note.Eoin Drea Crisis Economy EU-US Society
Perils for the US in a slow and faltering economic recovery
19 May 2020
Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is spreading quickly in European countries, with the situation being most advanced – and worrying – in Italy. Many aspects of the disease are still unknown. How many people in Europe are currently infected and how many will be in the future? What percentage of the infected will need hospital care? How many of the infected will die from the disease?
As answers to these questions are still unknown, there are strikingly different scenarios presented by the main health institutes of the different EU member states. These different scenarios present end results where the final estimation of the infected and deceased can be different by a factor of ten or more.
As a result, there seem to be two different strategic approaches: one is to say that our main aim is to ‘flatten the curve’, aiming to reduce the speed of the spread of the virus by social distancing so it will not overwhelm the healthcare system and, in the most extreme cases, hospital care can be offered. This strategic thinking is most clearly currently expressed in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and in countries where the disease has not yet spread severely.
The argument is that stopping society altogether for months is not feasible, and when society would become active again, the disease would start to spread anyway – thus again a new lock-down would be needed.
The other approach is to try to contain the spread of the virus as soon as possible. This is what China and other Asian countries have chosen as a strategy, this is what the World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending and clearly what Italy is opting for now.
During the epidemic, there has been a question over how much European health care systems can handle. Before we had some data from China, but as the situation in Italy is evolving, we are having a more detailed and reliable picture. The following conclusion is emerging: If we just try to decrease the speed of the virus’ spread, our health care systems will be overwhelmed. Many more people will require hospital care (read: potential lives saved) than what health care systems can offer. The bottleneck is found at the number of hospital beds, respiratory aids, oxygen pumps, and trained health care professionals. Italy is a concrete example of that reality.
Italy’s case has been painted as an exception, because the virus most probably spread there unnoticed for weeks. But what is often forgotten is that even if the (speculative) real amount of infected in Italy is around 300,000 people, a number way higher than any Italian official has estimated, it would still be only 0,5% of the whole population.
If the disease is allowed to impact the whole society, the mainstream speculative estimations of the percentage of the population infected vary from 30% to Angela Merkel’s maximum 70% in Germany. In Italy, the current estimate of 0,5% of the population to 30% is a long way to go, with the current volume of patients multiplied by 60 even within a longer period of time. Additionally, solely considering average national numbers is misleading, as there are regions where the disease is and will be more intense.
If Covid-19 is allowed to affect the whole society, even at a slower pace, the European health care systems will not be able to take care of all the patients needing care and thousands of people will die. The numbers will be just too big, just flattening the curve will not work out.
If European states want to save lives, they need to embrace now the measures taken by the Italian government in those countries where it has not yet been done: to implement confinement. This approach will have a strong negative impact on society, but so does the death of thousands of people just because of a lack of hospital care. In the upcoming weeks, the focus needs to be total in combating the virus. Passively by staying home as much as possible, and actively by urgently increasing the number of hospital beds, respiratory aids, and training of the temporary health care professionals.
Northern Italy’s health care system is one of the best in Europe. Hard-hit Bergamo’s main hospital let a camera crew in for the rest of Europe to know what an overwhelmed healthcare system looks like. For Italy today, the strategy is very clear: to stop the virus whatever the cost. Other European countries still have one to a few weeks before the situation will reach the same stage as in Italy. They should use them wisely.
Italy’s lesson for Europe: Flattening the curve isn’t enough, we must actively tame the Covid-19 epidemic
23 Mar 2020
Empty supermarkets, sold out face masks, and the prices of hand sanitiser reaching absurd heights; this is the picture that has been portrayed of Italy in the past weeks. As of 10th March, 9,175 people in Italy have contracted COVID-19 (a.k.a. the Coronavirus) with the majority of cases concentrated in the North of the country.
After closing schools, universities, museums and cancelling public events (even sacred Serie A football games), the government took even stricter measures by issuing a decree during the night of the 7th of March. This measure ordered the isolation of the region of Lombardy and 14 provinces in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont. The decree prohibited all circulation in and out of the “red zones” with only partial exemptions granted for emergencies or work. It also involved closing all schools and universities. These measures are in place until 3rd April. During a press conference on the evening of 9th March, the Italian government extended the restrictive measures to all regions. In effect, placing Italy on total lockdown.
The reason behind such a drastic decision of the government, besides obviously containing the spread of the virus, is to prevent contagion to the southern regions of Italy. The Italian healthcare system, based on universal access, has been put under immense pressure with more and more patients contracting the disease. The mortality rate among infected people is not extremely high and the average age of the deceased is 81, however, a continuously increasing number of people require intensive care. Having a huge wave of contagion in regions like Apulia, Campania or Sicily, may actually lead to the collapse of already weak southern healthcare facilities should the virus continue to spread.
But the impact on the population’s health, or on normal social interactions, are not the only impacts of COVID-19 on Italy. The repercussions on the already fragile economy of the country will be massive. The shutdown of Lombardy, accounting alone for 46% of foreign investments into Italy, will have significant economic repercussions for the Italian economy. Repercussions that are now impacting on every region in Italy.
Although the Italian government has already announced stimulus measure totalling approximately 4 billion euros these measures will not be enough to counter the longer-term economic impacts.
Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the Italian economy experienced a significant slowdown in late 2019. In February 2020, the European Commission lowered its forecasts for Italian growth to just 0.3% for the coming year and a budget deficit of approximately 2.2% of GDP. Events since then – now escalated to an unlimited shutdown of the vast majority of the Italian economy – will result in Italy entering recession in the coming months. It will also result in a significant deterioration in public finances (both in terms of lower tax incomes and higher health and social security expenditures).
Although the Italian government has already announced stimulus measure totalling approximately 4 billion euros (or a 0.2% increase in the government deficit) these measures will not be enough to counter the longer-term economic impacts. This is due to three main factors.
First, the Italian economy – particularly Northern Italy – is embedded in both European and global supply chains. Thus it is doubly exposed both to the ongoing containment situation in China and the coming restriction of Europe’s economy due to the spread of the virus. Second, tourism in Italy accounts for approximately 15% of total employment. As we enter the start of the tourist season it is likely that there will be a dramatic reduction in tourist visits to Italy, at the very least for the next 3-6 months, but possibly longer. The Italian body representing tourism provides estimates that 22 million fewer visitors to Italy will result in an economic cost of 2.7 billion euros. Third, the Italian economy was already stagnating before COVID-19 arrived. Thus, the depth of the recession will be deeper (and possibly longer) than many now predict.
COVID-19 should be the starting point for Eurozone 2.0.
In this context, it is likely that Italy will require additional spending of at least 1 to 1.5% of GDP to effectively counter the recession currently underway. This will not be a situation unique to Italy. For example, the recent mitigation measures announced in Ireland will likely account for at least 0.7% of Irish GDP in the short term.
Unfortunately, a severe economic slowdown – with severe societal implications – is now underway across Europe. This also implies a significant level of risk for the future stability of the Eurozone. What is clear is that a European approach which prioritises adherence to existing budgetary rules over mitigating the worst impacts of the coming recession will lead to a further deterioration of economic and social conditions.
What is required now – for Italy, and shortly for the rest of the Eurozone – is an understanding of the exceptional nature of the current circumstances. This should be reflected in the application of highly flexible Eurozone budgetary rules for as long as the crisis lasts. It should also stimulate a renewed push for much more fundamental changes in how the Eurozone is constructed and managed. No more tinkering around the edges, real reform can no longer be subject to political inaction. Completing Banking Union and severing the “doom loop” between governments and banks should now be the top priority. Work should also begin immediately on placing the national capitals back at the centre of the Eurozone family. And that must include greater fiscal flexibility.
It would be easy now – in a state of societal unease – to resort to classical Brussels based thinking about how the economic impacts of the Coronavirus should lead to more centralisation, more common functions in the Eurozone. That would be a mistake. Italy’s largely unreformed and unbalanced economy is an example of all the imbalances the Eurozone was designed to protect against. COVID-19 should be the starting point for Eurozone 2.0. The only alternative is fragmentation and ultimate collapse.Anna Nalyvayko Eoin Drea COVID-19 Crisis Economy EU Member States Society
Could Coronavirus save Italy and the Eurozone?
20 Mar 2020
The coronavirus has affected all of us and, equally, scared all of us. We are forced to change our daily lives and habits, along with the way we work and interact with others. It has reminded us how fragile and vulnerable we are, but also how we take many things for granted. It would be wise to use this time for self-reflection ahead of new challenges.
Our European community has stagnated for years, if not decades. We established the Single Market, introduced the Schengen area, and got stuck with adopting more red tape, which is constantly growing. However, we are afraid to move forward with European Common Defense. We argue that neither a German nor a Slovak soldier will deploy his life for a European interest. We have created a separate institution for European Foreign Policy, yet foreign policy continues to be decided at the national level. Every seven years, we fight the same endless battles: whether the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) should subsidise farmers, infrastructure, or support Research and Development (R&D). This time, we are also discussing the future of the Spitzenkandidaten process and the introduction of transnational lists.
COVID-19 represents a great threat, but also a unique opportunity. Let’s use the lockdown and teleworking period to reassess our priorities.
We cannot expect the European Commission to find solutions to all of our problems. The European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism was the response to the global financial crisis, a solution that can withstand other similar challenges. Our answer to the migration crisis is to strengthen the control of our external borders. Many propose to declare war on globalisation and multilateralism. But where do we set the bar to tackle the coronavirus?
We need to review our priorities, but also the methods and tools of our policy. We must move forward towards a real, functional, determined federation of European nations. Our Union should be based on the principle of subsidiarity where the EU institutions and Member States are respected. This model would lead to more effective decision-making procedures and will put the common European interest above national egoism. It will also require respect for the values we share, as well as our traditions and our “way of life”. This formation will represent our European Common House.
I am glad that the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies is ready to contribute towards building this house. Since 2016, we have been developing the vision ‘For a New Europeanism’. This project is our recommendation in finding a response to the global challenges we face: from the aggressiveness of China, protectionism of the US, Brexit, to migration and the current pandemic. When the time comes, and our lives are back to normal, we would like to present this project within the framework of the conference on the Future of Europe. In the meantime, we will continue to work tirelessly to come up with solutions to mitigate the impact of this pandemic. We struggle, we overcome.
President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European StudiesBrexit Crisis Economy European Union Society
Thinking Europe, Our Common House
19 Mar 2020
The fact that Slavoj Žižek sees the end of global capitalism coming, should probably be read more as a sign of normality than a reason for undue alarm. After all, he’s done it many times over the last 20 years. But looking at global developments over the last couple of weeks, the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic is not only changing our daily lives on a global scale. It also has a political fallout with at least three main dimensions: the relations between China and the West, the authoritarian temptation in the West itself, and the renewed calls by the Left for Big Government. They are strongly interlinked because ultimately, they are all about the different forms of organising our societies and the relation between the individual and the collective. While it’s early days to outline political implications, some things can already be said.
The systemic rivalry between China and the West
From the very beginning, when the spread of the virus had barely exceeded Hubei Province, Chinese soft power was at stake, first referring to time-honoured Chinese practices of selling wild animals in unhygienic markets. This likely produced the outbreak, and the cult of cowardice and secrecy in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allowed the virus to spread initially. Then came the first pushback by CCP spin doctors, with a nationwide war declared on the coronavirus, the shutdown in Hubei Province and beyond, pictures of marching doctors but also a brutal suppression of criticism, epitomised by the fate of the early whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang.
Externally, CCP propagandists quickly began to send two messages to the rest of the world: First, that the Party is not only firmly in control, but also that Chinese authoritarianism is better suited to combat the virus – the famous time-lapse video of the ‘hospital built in 10 days’ comes to mind. Secondly, on social media, Chinese trolls began accusing the West of racism because of travel bans and quarantine for travellers from China –knowing full well that in most Western countries, the racism card plays well, at least with liberal audiences. Of course, these accusations were highly hypocritical in themselves. Imagine for a moment that the virus had truly had its origins in a Western or African country. Anyone who has ever been to China knows how the CCP would have exploited racist tropes in such a situation.
Since the beginning of March, in parallel to the first signs of an easing of the virus spread in China itself, a more ominous phase in CCP propaganda began. Travel bans and quarantine were now pronounced on non-Chinese, the blame for the virus was increasingly openly shifted to the West, and more or less open threats were made by Chinese commentators that for pharmaceuticals, the rest of the world depends on China, and China’s ‘goodwill’ might end. The generous delivery of masks and equipment to Italy in early March won’t make up for the big hit that China’s soft power has taken, together with its image as the selfless force for the good of humankind as it has been impressively cultivated in the Netflix Sci-Fi drama ‘Wandering Earth’.
Accordingly, even when we move back to global economic growth, the West as a whole, not just the US, will want to reduce economic and technological dependency on China. Some soft decoupling will become inevitable. But the mother of all systemic questions is indeed whether the future belongs to societies that are technologically best capable to harness the forces of nature, irrespective of political ideas (i.e. to China, as Bruno Maçães subtly suggests); this stance is highly questionable because it disregards cases such as Taiwan or South Korea.
The authoritarian temptation and the end of European solidarity?
As a general rule, authoritarians love emergencies, in the West as well. Of course, some could not withstand the temptation to conflate the migration crisis with the virus threat. What is more ominous is the quick breakdown of the initial determination of governments in the Schengen zone to keep internal borders open. Within two weeks, this was overtaken by an escalating wave of border closings. Certainly, any return to more national or even regional self-sufficiency as a result of the corona crisis will only reinforce already existing conservative and populist trends criticizing globalisation as such. What may eventually emerge is a new equilibrium between self-reliance and a global division of labour, but the costs of truly reversing globalisation are unlikely to be tolerated by Western societies even after this emergency.
It remains to be seen to what extent this crisis will really be a boon to the West’s new authoritarians, not only because their US idol, President Trump, has performed so dismally in the unfolding crisis in the US, but mainly because Central Europe’s autocrats may show some of the CCP’s dishonesty in dealing with the public while lacking the technology and efficiency to come to grips with the crisis. This is bound to backfire.
To draw a direct correlation between authoritarianism and effectively fighting a pandemic is surely simplistic. Of the two best performing Asian countries in dealing with the pandemic, one is mildly authoritarian – Singapore – and one is a vibrant liberal democracy – Taiwan. Iran, however, one of the worst-performing countries so far, is highly authoritarian.
Return to Big Government?
The Corona pandemic also reinforces authoritarian tendencies on the left. First, there is the classical infatuation of Socialists and Social Democrats with big government and a strong state that are not only able to set tough rules to private behaviour, but also provide high-quality universal health care. Secondly, there are the Greens, asking why tough measures strongly impacting individual behaviour are possible at such short notice in the pandemic, while they are so hard to bring about in the climate crisis – which is, according to the Greens, much more lethal than Coronavirus.
Both trains of thought make the same mistake: They confuse an obvious exception with the rule. People are willing to accept quarantines and lockdowns because they know these are temporary. Big state socialism has failed in the 20th century – catastrophically in the East, and slightly less catastrophically in Western Europe, but failed it has there, too.
We will get over this. In the upcoming weeks and months, some of our ugliest and some of our best behaviour as humans will come to light. Some of our daily routines may well change for good. But the big exception will not become the new normal. Authoritarianism – Chinese or ‘Western’ – will not be the automatic winner. The West will seek new ways of reducing dependence on China. But globalisation is not coming to a grinding halt. And Open Society is far from finished.Roland Freudenstein COVID-19 Democracy Economy Globalisation Society
Brave New Coronaworld? COVID-19 and the Future of Open Society
17 Mar 2020
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is continuing to spread quickly around the world. It is a highly transmissible virus which impacts disproportionally on older age cohorts. Large gaps in our understanding remain, particularly with regard to the possible extent of undiagnosed cases and whether the virus will naturally reduce in Europe as the spring develops. However, as of March 16 th, over 170,000 global cases have been confirmed with over 6,500 deaths. All European countries are now preparing for large increases in the number of affected people requiring treatment and hospital care. On March 11th , COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisaton.
Understandably, much of the current commentary on the virus still focusses on the fluid situation regarding the number of infections, the mortality rate and the differing containment measures enacted by varying states. The level of societal unease at the implications of the virus – restricted activities span all aspects of daily life from cinemas to cafes, from schools to universities and businesses – is currently dominating the media discourse. Such a focus reflects the overwhelming priority of all societies to protect human health where possible.COVID-19 Crisis Economy European Union Society
“Flexibility without Limits”. The Political Economy Implications of the Coronavirus
16 Mar 2020
The East-West divide in the EU has recently received much attention. While certain national leaders on both sides have tried to capitalise on it politically, data on the attitudes of the general public in the two subregions convey a more complex picture.
This paper analyses European polling data on people’s attitudes regarding several key societal questions. It concludes that the opinions of Western and Eastern European populations are in fact converging on key societal issues, and that EU policies should reflect this growing consensus.Democracy European Union Religion Society Values
East Versus West: Is There Such a Thing as a European Society?
11 Dec 2019
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are an indispensable part of civil society. However, NGO influence on policymaking is not always positive. A large number of well-connected NGOs explicitly aim to influence trade and investment policymaking. Some of the most influential NGOs that have campaigned against vital EU trade and investment policy objectives have received substantial funding from the European Commission and national governments.
This study calls on EU policymakers to ensure that NGOs financed by the EU do not fundamentally contradict the EU’s basic principles. Among other things, the study calls for a comprehensive reform of the EU’s Transparency Register and Financial Transparency System. This should include the introduction of a single, centralised system for recording and managing NGO grant funding.European People's Party European Union Society Trade Transatlantic
NGO Lobbying on Trade and Investment: Accountability and Transparency at the EU Level
08 Nov 2019
Times are changing yet again. Families are becoming smaller, populations are ageing, fertility is declining and mothers are tending to be older. There are also changes in the structure of work, including outsourcing, casual employment, self-employment and zero-hour contracts. This policy brief argues that childcare is essential to enabling women to participate in the workforce. It underwrites women’s essential contribution to the economy and promotes gender equality. In an increasingly busy world, it provides families with a greater range of choices. Quality childcare also has positive benefits for the well-being of young children.Centre-Right Education Social Policy Society
Putting Childcare at the Heart of the Social Market Economy
28 Oct 2019
One year ago, Slovakia was shaken by the brutal murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Prior to his untimely death, Kuciak was working on the links between the Italian mafia and Slovak government officials, focusing on the misuse of EU funds.
In particular, Kuciak was working on the case of an oligarch who has, time and again, emerged from various scandals unscathed simply because he had “buddies” in the government, the police, and the prosecution. Now, all of the evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the oligarch is behind the murders. The outcome of this investigation could bring results that might cause a major earthquake throughout the Slovak political scene.
The socialist government, who is responsible for the current state of the country, is seen as an unbending force that is taking the country in the wrong direction, most notably for its failure to modernise the country, for its complicity in corruption, and for the controversial declarations made by former prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, regarding Slovakia’s ambition to be among the core members of the EU. After its successful EU presidency, Slovakia enjoyed a solid pro-European image when compared to other Visegrad countries.
Today’s image of Slovakia is largely that of a corrupt-ridden country. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia was ranked as the sixth most corrupt country in the EU. Slovakia has become a country where journalists, civic activists or ordinary citizens who expose corruption scandals are intimidated or, in the worst cases, silenced. Presently, Slovakia is in the grip of the kleptocrats, and after almost 15 years of EU membership, the foundations of democracy and the rule of law are still very fragile.
The murders of Kuciak and his fiancée have mobilised Slovaks to take to the streets and protest under the slogan “For a Decent Slovakia”. These protests were the largest rallies since the fall of Communism. The gatherings eventually led to the resignations of Prime Minister Fico, the minister of the interior and the president of the police force.
Nevertheless, Slovakia has not yet witnessed any genuine policy changes. Fico’s puppet has since been appointed Prime Minister and Fico himself has since escaped from politics by running to be a judge of the Constitutional Court. By being appointed as a new president of the Court, Fico would obtain 12 years of immunity and a status that would allow him to review the constitutionality of laws and measures that his own government drafted and pushed through parliament.
The Socialists’ coalition partner, Andrej Danko, a nationalist and the parliament’s speaker, has a different passion – he loves the Kremlin and its regime, and is openly critical of the “uselessness” of sanctions against Russia. He is a frequent guest of Chairman of the State Duma who is on the EU sanctions list.
After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded his visit to Slovakia, Andrej Danko flew to Sochi to meet Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, where he stated that “[Slovak] politics should not, as it had been under Communism, be oriented to only one side, and that we should talk to both the Eastern and the Western countries.” That sounds familiar: In 1990, Slovak politicians remained undecided regarding the anchoring of the country towards the West, which resulted in the exclusion of Slovakia from EU and NATO accession talks.
This year, Slovakia is celebrating its 15th year as a member of the EU and NATO and the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism. These milestones are a testimony to Slovakia’s failures, but also to its ability to rise again and realign its course to the right path.
In two weeks, Slovakia will be put to the test in terms of maintaining democratic process and on its ability to return to the right path, through the presidential elections. Fico’s presidential candidate will be European Commission Vice President Maroš Ševčovič, who still recently had the ambition of leading the European Socialists into the European Parliament elections in May.
Last week, however, Fico and his SMER party blocked a parliamentary vote on the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court. As a result, Slovakia has been plunged into a constitutional crisis – the Constitutional Court is left with only four sitting judges, instead of its normal composition of 13.
Fico has blocked the election of new constitutional judges because he fears that even if he were to be elected by Parliament, President Kiska would not appoint him to the Constitutional Court as its member, let alone its chairman.
It seems that he is waiting for a new president ‘of his choosing’. The problem is that Maroš Ševčovič has been avoiding the question of whether, if elected President of the Republic, he would appoint Robert Fico to the Constitutional Court.
What is at stake in this case is not Ševčovič as a person, but rather the future of Slovakia. It is a question of what principles will prevail in Slovak politics: Will it be those of liberal democracy with its checks and balances, or will it be an even further concentration of power in the hands of a modern-day kleptocracy?
Last Thursday, peaceful demonstrations took place in several Slovak and European cities in memory of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. Let’s hope that this encourages all Slovak democrats to vote in the upcoming presidential elections with a mindfulness of the very needed opportunity to realign with the path of justice, morality and decency in public life to be restored.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy EU Member States Leadership Political Parties Society
Is Slovakia heading towards a political earthquake?
26 Feb 2019
Even in polite conversation, the subject of gender equality and women’s rights generally evokes an emotive response that often veers into wider subjective judgements about identity, values and society. Ironically – and there are countless ironies when considering these issues – these discussions generally get mired in fruitless arguments about the end result of gender inequality (such as the gender pay gap) rather than seeking to tackle the underlying causes (education, childcare and work-life balance to name but a few).
There are three primary misunderstandings which are contributing to the vacuous nature of much contemporary political debate on gender issues. First, and perhaps the most common misconception, is to think that gender equality only concerns women. The fact is that gender equality is often viewed – by both men and society – as a feminist issue only. This is why it is crucial to explain that gender equality concerns us all.
Recent Martens Centre research illustrates the importance of gender equality in a growing European economy. The paper identifies four strategic policy actions to help tackle the structural rigidities that facilitate gender inequalities. These are:
- the promotion of better work-life balance
- embedding equality in national tax systems
- tackling gender stereotypes through education
- understanding the benefits of long term investments for long term gains in terms of equality policies
The paper also clarifies that it should be the EU’s responsibility to focus on setting the overall strategic objectives that need to be attained, but the implementation of specific gender policies should be tailored towards the institutional, economic and cultural framework of each country and should be implemented at national level, in line with the principle of subsidiarity.
Second, it is important that men take an active part in this debate and are not viewed as the “enemy” by proponents of gender equality principles. The emotive reaction of those experiencing inequalities often seeks to frame the issue as a clash of genders: “us” versus “them”. But actually, the move towards greater equality needs men and women working together and sharing the same goals.
Equality should not be seen as a victory for women over men’s “predominance”. It should be seen as a crucial achievement of a society that is more reflective of the daily challenges facing tens of millions of European families.
The third misconception is that gender equality issues are a prerogative of the Left and as a result centre and centre-right political forces should avoid seeking to replicate or support this “progressive” agenda. Yet, such a view places perceived political imperatives before combatting issues impacting most severely upon traditional centre-right voters, namely hard-working Middle-Class families.
Centre and centre-right political forces can and should mark their distance from the leftist, radical approach by promoting a set of concrete, achievable policies aimed at reducing inequalities for the benefit of our economies and societies.
To name a few examples: designing a tax system and maternity-paternity measures that encourage both spouses to work, securing access to affordable and good-quality childcare, promoting projects and initiatives in schools aimed at fighting gender stereotypes and, last but not least, enforcing the prevention and sanctions against any discriminations, misconducts and abuses in the workplace and in any other environments.
It should be remembered that gender equality issues go beyond the partisan/ideological discourse and concerns every political actor which is supposed to give precise answers to people’s needs and demands.
Gender equality is one of the core principles of the EU. This is set forth in, for example, Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. Gender equality is, at its core, concerned with developing a society which rejects discrimination based on gender, without denying or undermining the importance of traditional customs or rules.
The European Peoples Party (EPP) is a party based on core Christian-Democratic values of solidarity, respect of human dignity, equality and justice. The challenge, therefore, is not so much to embrace gender equality issues, but rather to transform our political rhetoric into political action. Action that will have a beneficial and lasting impact, not just upon women, but for Middle Class families throughout Europe and for our societies at large.Margherita Movarelli Eoin Drea Centre-Right Jobs Macroeconomics Social Policy Society
Tackling gender equality – one misunderstanding at a time
19 Feb 2019
Democracy needs to be improved and updated. Today, due to the fast-changing nature of our society, democratic structures have difficulty to respond to the demands for more participative and transparent political processes, both at national and EU level.
However, it is often easier to ask for an improvement than to propose solutions. This is also the case with the improvement of democracy, which is ultimately defined by the way people discuss, interact and come to an agreement. All these characteristics have not essentially changed even though the modern means of communication have.
Events like Gilets jaunes demonstrations in France underline the importance of involvement in the democratic process of ordinary people. For some years now, high expectations have been put on the power of Internet to bring people closer to politics as well as on direct democracy tools such as direct voting. However, various Internet-based political initiatives have not been groundbreaking, and after the Brexit referendum doubts are increasing whether the direct vote is the way to go to improve democracy.
The Irish Example
Citizens’ Assembly, Ireland’s own example and experience with innovating deliberative democracy, is worth studying when tackling politically sensitive and potentially divisive topics.
For years, the topic of abortion was seen in Ireland as a highly controversial theme. The establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly proceeded two previous assemblies (The independent We the Citizens initiative in 2011 and the government sponsored Convention on the Constitution from 2012-2014) which helped to create space and acceptance for the assembly.
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was launched in November 2016. Ninety-nine citizens from across Ireland gathered in Dublin to begin a national conversation on abortion. Assembly members were selected by a private marketing research firm hired by the government aiming to be broadly representative of the Irish society, based on citizens’ geographic location, gender, age and social class.
The results of the Assembly’s final, highly anticipated vote were released on April 2017: 87% of the Assembly voted in favor of easing the Irish abortion restrictions. In their formal report to the Irish Parliament, participants recommended legislation legalising abortions.
The Irish Citizens’ assembly showed that purposeful smaller representative groups can indeed make a difference. The Assembly facilitated the presentation of various views and insights on the topic. The media coverage of presentations triggered intensive discussion and expert input and the forum informed public opinion and thus facilitated greater understanding of the issues.
However, the Assembly still had relatively limited public visibility and the majority of the population was not aware that the assembly actually took place. Thus, it is important that such a process is supported by the political system in order for the opinions to reach the public debate. For example, the University College of London organized a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, but due to total lack of visibility, the assembly did not have any impact on the public debate.
An EU Citizens’ Assembly?
The European Parliament has a clearly defined role to represent European citizens. However, the question whether a European Citizens’ Assembly, with an advisory role, could be valuable in engaging with the citizens when the EU has a clear decision to make, remains.
The Irish example shows that a Citizens’ Assembly is the most effective when the debate is on a specific topic. An EU’s Citizens’ Assembly could take place when discussing enlargement, trade agreements or major EU institutional changes. The first Citizens’ Assembly should have a limited lifespan, related to a topic. If the Assembly was a success, it could be relaunched.
A European Citizens’ Assembly with rotating members could enforce the view that the EU is accessible to ordinary citizens and enforce the dialogue between the EU institutions and its citizens. The Assembly could bring some fresh air to Brussels and provide the Brussels-based EU officials with a better sense on the concerns of citizens.
In any case, the Citizens’ Assembly is a tested and useful idea when considering a referendum in EU member states. In the Irish case it created a basis for a passionate, yet rational debate leading to a decision which did not appeal to everyone, but which the Irish society was able to digest. In light of the current situation with Brexit, that is what one would hope from all referenda.Tomi Huhtanen Brexit Democracy EU Institutions Innovation Society
An EU Citizens’ Assembly to enforce European democracy?
19 Feb 2019
In the last few years, digital platforms and social networks have provided a space for conspiracy theorists and theories to reach thousands of online users. As a consequence, some conspiracy theories have become part of the political debate at both the national and international levels. This policy brief provides a data-driven comparative analysis of a group of conspiracy-oriented Twitter accounts in Spain, Germany and Poland. The analysis suggests that there is a thematic alignment between conspiracy circles and populists.
In particular, the data shows that both have similar positions on the mainstream media, the corrupt nature of governmental institutions and migration. Moreover, the analysis indicates that there are users who are active both nationally and internationally and give a conspiratorial reading of current affairs that influences populist approaches to these same issues.Crisis Democracy Elections Populism Society
Suspicious minds: Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Populism
11 Feb 2019
For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population belongs to the middle class. Global poverty has declined rapidly due to globalisation and technological development. But the same trends also lead to rapid change and the feeling that society is moving away from its moral core. In this book, the middle class in the Netherlands and Europe is highlighted by several authors and from several points of view. How is the middle class doing? What problems do families experience? What power lies in the civil society? And what does this mean for politics?Economy Macroeconomics Social Policy Society
The Middle: The middle class as the moral core of society
19 Nov 2018
Gender equality is one of the core principles of the EU. This is set forth in, for example, Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. Equality between men and women includes equality in the labour market. However, this equality is far from having been achieved. Building on our forthcoming research for the Martens Centre, we explore in detail four factors that may explain the gender gap in labour force participation across countries. These factors are education, taxation, the provision of childcare, and cultural and historic norms. In discussing these factors, we focus on case-study countries which represent different regions and feature diverse institutional characteristics: Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden.
Through this analysis we propose four policy actions designed to place gender equality in the labour market at the heart of a growing European economy. These are (1) the promotion of better work-life balance (2) embedding equality in national tax systems (3) tacking gender stereotypes through education and (4) understanding the benefits of long term investments for long term gains in terms of equality policies. To conclude, we acknowledge that it is preferable to implement policies that are tailored towards the institutional and cultural settings in each country and to specific groups of workers. Thus it is important that gender policies should be established at the national level. Rather than seeking to expand its competencies in the areas of education, taxation or social policy, the EU should focus on setting overall objectives.Growth Jobs Macroeconomics Social Policy Society
Women in a Man’s World: Labour Market Equality Driving Economic Growth
22 Oct 2018
The rapid technological progress in automation, robotisation and artificial intelligence is raising fears, but also hopes, that in the future the nature of work will change significantly. There will be changes in what we do, how we form workplace relations, how we find work and the role of work in a society. Some believe that these changes will be for the better: we will need to work less and thus will have more free time. Others think that the changes will be for the worse: there will be fewer ways to earn a living.
The central question of this paper is this: will adages such as ‘By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food’ and ‘No bees, no honey, no work, no money’ become obsolete? Will work disappear and with it the societal relations and inequalities that result from differing success in work? If this is going to happen, what policy options do we have to address the issue?Economy Innovation Jobs Society Technology
The Future of Work: Robots Cooking Free Lunches?
11 Jul 2018
In 2007, Kofi Annan—then Secretary General of the UN—called the twenty-first century “the era of NGOs’. We think Mr Annan had little idea of how true his statement would prove to be, but probably not in the ways he imagined.
Annan referred to the importance of NGOs in policymaking, in mobilising public opinion and in holding power to account. In contrast, in the second half of 2018 NGOs – manifestations of civil society that are independent of the state – are increasingly becoming tools of political struggles. This concerns both relations between countries and the domestic situation in EU countries.
Several narratives on NGOs are emerging. The European centre-right, in contrast to its statist opponents on the left and right, believes in self-organisation of society and in the non-profit sector. A vibrant civil society and NGOs that can operate freely, are part of every liberal democracy.
However, this does not mean that civil society is on par with democratically elected institutions, as some Greens and leftists would have it. We also do not believe that governments have an obligation to finance every NGO, regardless of its professed principles and beliefs. At the same time, democratic governments should not impede NGOs’ work through punitive measures, legal discrimination and public bullying.
This is especially important, not only in view of the upcoming election to the European Parliament, but also in terms of a viable long-term outlook for democracy and transparency in the EU.
Starting with the international context, most of the European centre-right is aware of the normative and political threat that comes from the world’s authoritarian regimes. A new report on ‘sharp power’, developed by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, documents the use by Russia and China of registered organisations that are linked to lobbying efforts on behalf of their mother countries.
Although these organisations are nominally independent, they are directed and financed by governments (a Martens Centre study published in 2016 looked specifically at Russian ‘government-organised non-governmental organisations).
What is more contentious, is narratives that cover domestic NGOs. First, governments in countries such as Poland, Hungary and, to some extent, Romania have been targeting the non-profit sector (often privately-funded) as an enemy of the ‘real people’ and the white and Christian European civilisation. The vocabulary used against these NGOs bears a strong resemblance to communist-era propaganda against any democratic opposition. For Christian Democracy and the wider centre-right, conspiracy theories inspired by the dark 1930s should be out of the question.
Second, NGOs have been active around immigration and asylum, often at the EU’s external sea and land border. Organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and countless others have been rescuing people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. During the refugee crisis of 2015-16, other NGOs were often the only entities to feed and shelter refugees stranded the Western Balkans.
Things become really complicated when looking at the activities of humanitarian NGOs that signed up to save the lives of shipwrecked migrants in the Mediterranean, but end up being little more than ferry services straight from the Libyan coastline to Italy. Their refusal to cooperate with the Italian government has led to an open and largely unresolved conflict, resulting in ships being impounded.
NGOs in the immigration and asylum context have to be evaluated case-by-case, and though many perform important humanitarian tasks, some are clearly in contravention of EU and member state law. For example, activist organisations such as the ‘No Border’ network are openly violating the legal order of EU member states.
A third, and completely different, narrative about the NGOs exists in relation to the use of EU funds by organisations that campaign against the EU’s interests, sometimes openly spreading false information. The Martens Centre has highlighted political communication campaigns orchestrated in Germany and Austria by green and left-wing political parties, and associated civil society organisations, against a vital EU interest in concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (see also here). These concern go hand-in-hand with concerns over inequity, fragmentation and a lack of transparency in financing from the EU budget.
What should be the line of argument for the centre-right?
Europe’s conservative, Christian Democrat and liberal forces should insist on the NGO financial and lobbying transparency, whether the lobbying is done for autocrats, business interests or charitable purposes; but they need to refuse Russia-style punitive transparency, the only goal of which is harassment of activists.
The centre-right parties should insist on clarity and a level playing field in EU and government funding for NGOs. They should reject those NGO campaigns that blatantly distort the facts. There is no obligation for the EU to finance organisations fundamentally opposed to it.
Europe’s centre-right should discuss how NGOs influence public discourse and which methods are used to this aim, but it should firmly object to government centralisation and control of the independent sector. All this because subsidiarity, our cherished principle, is also about letting society govern itself.Vít Novotný Roland Freudenstein Development Human Rights Social Policy Society
Non-governmental organisations and the centre-right: it’s complicated
04 Jun 2018
Over the past 15 years, the space for civic engagement in Russia has continuously shrunk, and it looks set to be cut further during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term. Following a wave of repressive measures, it is already more restricted than it has been since 1991. Non-governmental organisations and activists have been stripped of funds as their activities have been criminalised.
They increasingly face a double disconnect: from international partners and within their own society. The clampdown on civil society reflects the growing repression of Russian society as a whole. But growing local initiatives and rising protests across the country undercut the narrative that Russian civil society is dead.
And despite the pressure, Russian civil society is proving to be more active, resilient and diverse than is generally assumed. It continues to have new ideas and the capacity to be a key agent of development and social change in Russia. Many groups and individuals continue to have a vision for the country’s future and are willing to work with Western partners. The example of Ukraine shows that civil society is an indispensable factor in overcoming the authoritarian legacy of post-Soviet societies.Democracy Elections EU-Russia Society Values
Filling the Void: Why the EU Must Step Up Support for Russian Civil Society
27 Apr 2018
Contemporary politics appears to consist mostly of engaging voters through data and social media. Perhaps the latter approach bears commendable results, but it must be admitted that reading Rory Stewart’s latest book, The Marches, did stir remnants of nostalgia for days of yore, when elections were more of a shaking-hands-grassroots-waving-at-cows business.
Yet, this author ponders if in fact democracy has ever been so graceful since humanity multiplied? Is this fantasising?
On this, I would not be able to construct a viable historical perspective right now, but walking with Mr Stewart on both sides of the old Roman border, between England and Scotland, revived a wistful idealism for traditional political manners.
Over the course of thirty-three days of recorded trekking, with his father for companionship, the Member of Parliament, and now Minister of State for Prisons, has nothing to sell his constituency but his ears, spending uncounted hours in barns, pubs or forests, turning local anecdotes into ideas bolstered by the past and the present – and always with the delicacy of avoiding sharp cerebral conclusions.
When cornered, on the Scottish case for independence for instance, his first instinct is to outline the absurd: the costly and inefficient wall erected by the Roman Empire between the two territories against the “Barbarous” north, the mediation led by a French Ambassador in the 16th century and the tragicomic division that ensued, completely detached from anthropological realities.
Mr Stewart is not particularly tender towards the young pro-independence Scots he meets: they seem oblivious of that past, notably of their ancestors being at the heart of colonial Britain, hence misconceptions about the true nature of Scottishness, “who was not more communal and egalitarian than the English…”
He does show more empathy when learning about factory closures, the progress of machines which became favoured work of men, professional reconversion options, or lack thereof. There is as persistent odd feel in meeting families unable to face the global winds their ancestors helped blow during Britain’s imperial, and sometimes, violent years.
A century and a half after abolishing the Corn Laws, when Westminster liberally reduced duties in 1846, this book sometimes feels as though it is proffering a belated Tory confession that free markets might not be the best solution after all, the pressure caused by them becoming unsustainable, even for a society as individualistic as his.
A certain Disraelian type of Conservatism is increasingly obvious as the book progresses: centrality of property rights and established traditions, support for more decentralisation, indirect blows at modern capitalism whose scars are first borne by rural communities, lamentations over England’s lost social unity and transformation into “millions of separate zones” …
Because of these sociological findings, the tone is quite melancholic: “My grand-father thought the empire would last a millennium, but it had been over so fast” […] “today 9/10 do not live where they were born.” […] “suburban and abandoned areas predominate against a living countryside”. The landscape he crosses is often not the one expected; emptier than imagined, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, with a melancholic twist that prevails as we see him absorbing the fears and anxieties of others, while seemingly resisting the temptation to lecture.
Gradually, one intimate glimpse after another, the reader comes to understand who Rory Stewart is. Following his public school education at Eton and then typical for this cast, Oxford, he became a diplomat, serving in the Balkans and in southern Iraq as a deputy-governor at the beginning of the war effort, going on to found a charity in Afghanistan, teaching Human Rights at Harvard, writing a few best-sellers along the way, before rushing home to run successfully for Penrith and the Border… A rather busy life, spread over several continents.
One senses that Mr Stewart wrote the book simply to announce that he miraculously found his way home – back to his roots after his peripatetic adventures. Yet, there might be more to it. A specific T.E. Lawrence quote is instructive here, an extract from a 1924 letter in which Lawrence explains The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the memoirs he wrote before descending into oblivion to the great disappointment of Churchill:
“… the book is an apology for my first thirty years, and the explanation of the renunciation which followed on them…”
Mr Stewart, who is repeatedly and tiresomely compared to Lawrence of Arabia, is different in one essential regard: his book may verge on an apology for post-9/11 adventures, in which he had his share of responsibility – much like the author of this paper – but he is doing his best to learn from them and he did not renounce his contribution to these failures.
This is a most welcome development, as there may come more unstable times in the near future when democracies will need representatives with the character and with the sort of Conservatism Mr Stewart is beginning to shape.Michael Benhamou Society
From Kabul to conservative politics: a book review of Rory Stewart’s “The Marches”
23 Apr 2018
Compared to the 18 months preceding the 2014 elections, the mood music in Brussels could scarcely be more different. But while growth and employment are increasing, vast swathes of the established middle classes have lost faith in their ability to achieve a higher standard of living and to match the social mobility achieved by preceding generations. Increasingly topics such as globalisation, free trade, immigration and even stable political systems are viewed as tools of the “elite” designed to prevent progress for working and middle class families. Politically, this has manifested itself in a fracturing of the traditional party political system and the rise of a protectionist, combative populism.
To confront these challenges, this paper identifies five social and economic priorities that should form an important element of centre right policy formation. With the ultimate objective of rejuvenating an aspirational middle class in Europe, we argue that only by bridging the gap between the rhetoric of a digitally driven, flexible economy and the day to day realities confronting middle class families can the centre right hope to increase working and middle class support in the 2019 elections and beyond. Such an approach is based on the core social market economy principle of seeking to conciliate economic freedom with social security, while maintaining a high level of personal responsibility and subsidiarity.Centre-Right Economy Macroeconomics Social Policy Society
The Middle Class: Priorities for the 2019 Elections and Beyond
02 Mar 2018
With Die Hauptstadt (The Capital), Austrian writer Robert Menasse has written the ‚first great EU novel‘, according to a review in POLITICO, and won the prestigious ‚Deutsche Buchpreis‘ for the political bestseller of the season in Germany and Austria.
Since it plays mostly in Brussels and richly depicts Eurocrats, it has also caused a largely positive stir in the so-called “Brussels Bubble“. While the text has some merits in terms of its readability and humour, it is a complete failure as a political statement.
“Ceci n’est pas un roman” is what Belgium’s surrealist genius René Magritte would have said about Menasse’s book. In that sense, Robert Menasse’s cri de coeur for Europe is not a novel, but a manifesto posing as a novel. Consequently, evaluating it is not a question of literary taste, but of political common sense.
Dramatis personae include a Belgian holocaust survivor, a professor and a pig farmer from Vienna, a Belgian police detective, a Catholic killer from Poland and numerous Eurocrats from the EU institutions. The backbone of Menasse’s plot is the quest of those Eurocrats for the proper and most meaningful way to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Commission’s creation.
His pet protagonists develop the idea that Auschwitz is the right place to do so. At the end, the bad guys – especially in the Council Secretariat and the member states – successfully nip the noble initiative in the bud. All this is embedded into a thriller plot with a murder at the beginning and a terror attack at the end, and a continental conspiracy in the middle.
To begin on a positive note: Menasse’s book is not without its merits. He spent years living in Brussels to prepare the writing, and this is apparent in the detail of place descriptions and the biographies and personalities of the protagonists for which he conducted dozens of in-depth interviews. For a novelist to give the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels a face, is a laudable undertaking.
And he is entertaining. Take, for example, the pig as leitmotif of the entire narrative. Moreover, Menasse pretty successfully inserts rudimentary explanations of Brussels decision-making into a fictional plot. Finally, his attempts to include contemporary Eurodebates in the dialogues of his characters is worth acknowledging.
While the text has some merits in terms of its readability and humour, it is a complete failure as a political statement.
But let’s take a look at Menasse’s politics. To put his central message in a nutshell: nationalism always culminates in a holocaust, and history’s most important lesson is to overcome the nations of Europe in a unitary state whose avantgarde is the European Commission in Brussels. In other words: the only valid answer to Auschwitz is a European Republic!
It’s no coincidence that he repeats verbatim the thesis of German political pundit Ulrike Guerot, elaborated in two books 2016 and 2017: one market, one currency, one democracy – even at the price of a “civil war“ at least metaphorically.
At this point, one might reply that history’s best answer to Auschwitz is the State of Israel, or, more precisely: the logical consequence of murderous antisemitism (which has been around for a thousand years, i.e. longer than modern nation states) is the creation of a Jewish state capable of defending itself. But that’s a separate debate.
For Menasse, the answer to all of the old continent’s ills is the mantra of: More Europe!, i.e. ever more competences for the central institutions until there is only one European state left. And when people (in the novel as well as in real life) answer that Europe’s nations cannot and should not be abolished, he replies blandly that around 1800, that’s what conservatives answered about slavery.
A smart move by Menasse but an absurd reply when keeping in mind that the modern nation state is a child of the enlightenment, and that in the last 300 years, it has brought forth the best as well as the worst in people – just like religion. The nation state has also weathered all attempts to make it obsolete, such as marxist internationalism, pan-slavism and other ethnocentric movements.
Quite arguably, it’s the attempt to abolish Europe’s nations that would give a boost to national populism and end in a break-up of the Union. In reality, less Europe is actually more – that is my personal lesson of over 15 years in different Brussels institutions. It is not a weakness, but the decisive strength of the European integration process is that it hedges in Europe’s nation states and pools elements of their sovereignty instead of abolishing them.
On economics, Robert Menasse staunchly defends classical leftist ideas: he despises austerity, believes in grandious public investments and glorifies a European welfare state.
All these are legitimate views (although opposed to mine) but what riles me is Menasse’s clearly expressed world view in which only people with leftist ideas such as the above can be idealists whereas people with more conservative views exclusively appear as lobbyists‘ who are interested in a lot of things but never in the common good.
Of course, Menasse is in good company with this totally unquestioned assumption. The entire post-1968 intellectual Left is built on this idea. But that doesn’t make it any more legitimate.
The point at which Menasse completely discredits himself is the utterly bizarre character of the Polish Christian killer, one of the book’s central protagonists. He is central to the plot because his murder operation at the beginning and escape through Europe, defines the entire story and gives it much of its suspense.
This ‚żołnierz Chrystusa‘ (soldier of Christ) is steeped in the tragic insurgent tradition of his ancestors and belongs to an ultra secret Catholic sect whose headquarters are located in the catacombs under the city of Poznan. Its purpose is to pre-emptively and extralegally kill potential terrorists, in cooperation with NATO.
Consequently, NATO also abruptly ends the police investigation of the murder and has the Belgian police destroy all evidence. If Dan Brown comes up with comparable ideas in novels such as ‚The Da Vinci Code‘, one may still define this as fictional thriller writing. But in Menasse’s case, these extravagent tales require closer scrutiny because they form an integral part of his political manifesto.
Here is where the three tendencies combine: a resentful anti-americanism, West European condescension towards Central Europe and a politically correct appeasement of Islamism. According to his own words, Menasse introduced the character of the ‚Soldier of Christ‘ and his continental conspiracy only in order to show that it’s not only Muslims who commit religiously motivated acts of violence.
But unless you believe that Anders Breivik was part of a hitherto undiscovered Vatican conspiracy, there simply are no killers in the Catholic Church, at least for a couple of centuries now, neither in Brussels nor anywhere else in Europe. However, numerous jihadist killers have originated in Molenbeek, a Brussels neighbourhood which is omitted from Menasse’s book despite the shadow it has cast over Brussels in recent years.
Jihadist terrorism receives only hush-hush mentions on the book’s final pages, in a rather listlessy inserted terror attack. The administrative chaos and police sloppiness, the tolerance of the intolerable and the hare-brained multiculturalism which led to the real life attacks of 2016 (and which are very much part of life in Brussels today) do not appear in Menasse’s manifesto.
Robert Menasse feigns openness and tolerance, but in the end presents a firmly closed, leftist West European world view. To Menasse, the critics of this world view are at times an existential threat to Europe and at times just a laughable nuisance. But they are never morally legitimate.
To me, this is an ominous way to undermine our conetmporary understanding and experience of European integration. Less demonisation and more listening would not only be a great antidote to the fetishism of ‚More Europe!‘, whilst also being a brilliant way to immunise Europe against Auschwitz-style facism and other forms of fanaticism.Roland Freudenstein European Union Society
Robert Menasse’s ‚The Capital‘ – How not to defend European integration
06 Feb 2018
There are currently about 44 million Muslims living in Europe, out of which some 20 million live in the European Union. Precise numbers are impossible to come by. If the 20 million figure for the EU is correct, it would represent less than 4 per cent of the EU’s population.
The EU’s Muslim population is composed of two main components: autochthonous, or settled, Muslims in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and other countries, and Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live predominantly in Western Europe.
The latter group is made up of Muslim citizens originating in former European colonies across the world, guest workers made permanent and their family members, and refugees and economic migrants who may or may not have come to the EU legally.
Islam increasingly plays a role in European politics. The uncontrolled influx of asylum seekers and migrants in the years 2015-16, one that has caused so much political upheaval, was predominantly from Muslim-majority countries.
Many, although not all, terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years have been perpetrated by individuals who claim an allegiance to Islam. And the ideology of Islamism, albeit often non-violent, poses a challenge to our liberal democratic systems. Some features of the complex relationship between the European majority society and Muslims are sometimes forgotten.
Islam does not easily fit the existing state-church relationships in the EU. Built on the hierarchical structure of Christian churches, these relationships assume the existence of a leading authority for each religious body. The European state-church relationships also assume that there is strict separation between state institutions on the one hand and religious institutions on the other.
This separation has been historically instituted to limit church influence on government. Islam is different from today’s Christianity in that the former is a religion, a basis for law and a way of life in one. This difference between Christianity and Islam does not preclude peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims, adherents of other religions, atheists and agnostics in Europe.
Nevertheless, incorporating Islam into the European public sphere requires innovative policymaking at the national level, one that guarantees both freedom of religion and the preservation of the European way of life.
Issues within Islam
Islam is by far not the only religion that has ever condoned violence, as the briefest look at any European history book will tell.
Nevertheless, Islam is currently facing problems in adapting to modernity, in a reversal of adaption to Western-type institutions that Muslim-majority countries in Asia and Africa experienced in the twentieth century.
Most European Muslims are normal citizens of our societies, contributing to the economy and public life.
The minority that turn to the ideology of Islamism adopt views that in the words of Thomas Volk, an author in a recent Martens Centre publication, ‘militate against democratic institutions and propagate various forms of religious and political activism, from instituting sharia law to pan-Islamic political unity and the establishment of a caliphate in Europe.’
Some young Muslims in Europe are facing a conflict of identities, being split between belonging to traditional communities of their parents and the modern secularised Western culture. Unable to identify with either of these cultures, they may adopt the radical views of violent jihadism.
The path to Islamism is aided by several unfortunate facts. Like most nominal European Christians in relation to Christianity, some European Muslims have only scant knowledge of Islam.
However, it is often Muslim religious illiterates who turn to violence. Those imams that are active in immigrant Muslim communities are often not acquainted with European culture and fundamental rights anchored in our constitutions and therefore are not in a position to provide guidance.
The Internet serves as a tool for radicalisation, propagating fundamentalist versions of Islam. Finally, a few Muslim-majority countries, for example Saudi Arabia, finance Sunni Islamic radicalism as part of their worldwide contest with the Shi’a branch Islam, and with the modern world as a whole.
The individual and collective rebellion against the ‘decadent’ majority culture becomes an attractive option not only for criminals but also for apparently well-integrated youngsters, longing to serve a life cause. This also explains that about 10 per cent of European jihadists are converts.
Religious schooling for young Muslims (one grounded in the Koran and religious teachings, in the European way of life and Europe’s constitutions), controls of the Internet and checks on foreign financing of mosques are the logical measures to be adopted by European legislators and policymakers.
The majority culture
A 2015 survey by the Pew Research Centre revealed that views of Muslim minorities in Europe depend on the country. In Italy, 63 per cent of those surveyed had an unfavourable opinion of Muslims in their country but the figure was only 33 per cent in Germany and 27 per cent in France.
However, a 2017 opinion poll by Chatham House showed that an average of 55 per cent agreed with the statement that ‘all further immigration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’. Longitudinal studies of European majority views of Muslims are hard to come by and we should not automatically conclude that these views on Muslims are getting worse.
Continuing secularisation complicates the acceptance by Europeans of the religious devotion and symbols associated with Islam. The belief that a strong Muslim identity undermines national identity is related to these concerns.
What is clear is that the failed management of the migrant and refugee crisis, resulting in an influx of people from Muslim-majority countries, has given voice to protest parties that politically use and even promote the popular apprehensions of Islam and Muslims. Islamists and right-wing populists end up feeding on each other, and radical discourse is making its way into the political mainstream.
Effective immigration controls, better guarding of the EU’s external border in collaboration with third countries (while adhering to universal human right standards in dealing with migrants and refugees), as well as tackling the stubborn issues of immigrant integration are among the necessary policy elements in assuring the majority that coexistence with Islam in Europe is possible.
And if European governments, political parties, civil society and religious associations succeed in forging strong national and European identities and loyalty to our constitutions, this coexistence can even be beneficial to our societies.Vít Novotný Immigration Integration Islam Religion Society
Some remarks on Islam in Europe
18 Dec 2017
Political participation can be regarded as a basic need in democracies. After a worrying 2016, a year of populism and post-truth politics, two different narratives for the future have emerged: one optimistic, the other pessimistic.
The former refers to a growing pro-European spirit and the arrival of a new civic culture, epitomised by movements such as Pulse of Europe. The latter sees the worrying growth of fake news and the decline of traditional institutions, as well as the rise of authoritarian tendencies, which seems to indicate that political engagement is seen as old-fashioned.
In any case, today’s reality in this age of new technology requires a project- and network-based approach.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Florian Hartleb Democracy Populism Society
Political participation today: a radical shift, but with a positive or negative outcome?
27 Nov 2017
On November 10th 2017, the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, released a joint communication on improving military mobility in the European Union.
According to Mogherini, this is important because there is “a growing demand” for the member states “to coordinate and work together on defence”. This proposal is part of the EU’s on-going efforts to strengthen its role in the area of security and defence, which has gained momentum since the publication of the Union’s 2016 Global Strategy.
If followed up with a clear action plan, the proposal will strengthen the EU’s defence dimension, and boost its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
It calls for the development of a shared understanding of the EU’s military needs and requirements; a common understanding of the infrastructure to be used and its impact on the infrastructural standards; and addressing the relevant regulatory and procedural issues that hinder military mobility.
If followed up with a clear action plan, the proposal will strengthen the EU’s defence dimension, and boost its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The logistics of European defence
‘Military mobility’ is a new addition to the EU’s security and defence jargon. It can be defined as the movement of military personnel, capabilities, and equipment within and across national borders.
During the Cold War, military mobility in Europe was facilitated because large exercises were organised regularly, and the infrastructure for handling force movements was in place.
Today, it is hindered by a range of physical, legal, and regulatory barriers, which make it difficult to move troops, equipment, and capabilities swiftly from one country to another. This creates delays and extra costs when troops need to be moved across borders to a multinational exercise for example.
During the Cold War, military mobility in Europe was facilitated because large exercises were organised regularly, and the infrastructure for handling force movements was in place.
In September, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, Commander of United States (US) Army Europe, noted that “most people would be astounded” to find out what NATO has to do to move troops in Europe. According to Lt. Gen Hodges the Alliance has “to submit a list of all the vehicles, the drivers and what’s in every truck”.
Thus, it often takes weeks to obtain the permission to move through. Furthermore, the bridges and roads in many European countries are often unable to support the weight of armoured and other heavy vehicles. In a genuine crisis, such red tape and infrastructure problems could become security threats in themselves.
Recently, there have been calls, especially by the Netherlands, to create a type of “military Schengen area”, within which military personnel and materiel can be moved quickly throughout Europe.
In fact, the Dutch, together with a half-dozen other member states, have proposed a “military Schengen area” as one of the projects to be conducted within the framework of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).
The joint communication was welcomed especially by those EU member states that border Russia and require external assistance in the event of a crisis.
For example Estonia’s Ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC), Lembit Uibo, tweeted that Estonia “welcomes the EU joint communication on military mobility” because removing bureaucratic and infrastructural barriers to the swift movement of forces in Europe “enhances our collective security and complements NATO”.
The proposal to improve military mobility in the EU is one in which there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The initiative also enjoys NATO’s full support. The Alliance’s Director for Defence Policy and Capabilities, Timo S. Koster, described it in a tweet as a “very helpful move” by the EU that was “carefully prepared” with NATO.
Furthermore, he saw that “everything civilian” about military mobility is best done by the Commission and the EU’s member states. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also thought that military mobility could become “a flagship for NATO-EU cooperation”.
The initiative is also backed by the United States (US). On November 9, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis noted that if you want a NATO that is “truly capable of protecting the democracies here [in Europe], you have got to be able to work together, and one of the most fundamental points of that is at the point of borders where you speed troops if they are needed somewhere else in the Alliance”. He saluted the Netherlands for pushing for a military Schengen in the EU, and noted the US supports the EU in implementing the Dutch proposal.
The way forward
The proposal to improve military mobility in the EU is one in which there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is especially the case because its aim is not to take away the member states’ sovereign right to decide whether military forces from another country can enter their territory.
Instead, it aims to facilitate military mobility in full respect of the member states’ sovereignty and in accordance with the existing treaties and legislation. Thus, it will not require a treaty change.
The initiative also furthers the policy goals of the European People Party (EPP). To protect European citizens, the December 2016 EPP Paper on Security and Defence notes that the member states “shall cooperate, share relevant information and ensure rapid responses in order to build resilience, address present challenges, such as irregular migration, and effectively counter hybrid threats, such as cyber security and disinformation campaigns.”
The improvement in military mobility would certainly improve the EU’s rapid response capability, its resilience, and its ability to counter hybrid threats.
The next major step in the EU’s efforts to improve military mobility will be an Action Plan on Military Mobility, which the High Representative and the Commission will submit for the member states’ endorsement by March 2018. The European Defence Agency (EDA) has already set up an expert-level Ad Hoc Working Group to support the Action Plan’s elaboration.
As the group that has been leading the debate on European defence since 1992, the EPP is uniquely positioned to provide ideas and input to this Action Plan to ensure that it will be both ambitious and realistic.
The EPP could lead the way in proposing ways to cut the existing administrative red tape that hinders military mobility. For example the EPP Action Programme from the 2014 Dublin congress called for the EU to take steps to remove transportation bottlenecks, “especially in the form of administrative and technological barriers in order to create a modern, efficient and sustainable European transportation infrastructure”. Thus, the improvement of military mobility should be done in a way that would facilitate the realisation of this goal.Niklas Nováky Defence Integration Society
The Commission’s military mobility proposal: a good first step
21 Nov 2017
This book explores how the position of the middle class has changed in the past decade. No Robots expresses the perspective of households which are not floating as some kind of atomic particles in a macro economy, but consist of human beings who find meaning in relationship to others. Analysing their perspective on the economic situation, globalisation, migration and technology is key, we believe, to understanding political trends. In this context, No Robots also expresses the widely-felt anxiety about the replacement of jobs by robots. Households in every country are concerned about the future of work: whether it will be there, whether it will be well-paid and whether their children are receiving the right education to find a job. These are the type of concerns that we uncover for a diverse set of countries from the European Union.Economy EU Member States Macroeconomics Social Policy Society
No Robots: The Position of Middle-Class Households in Nine European Countries
19 Nov 2017
Urban terrorist attacks have become increasingly frequent in Europe in recent years. The review conducted during 2016 into London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident found that London’s emergency services had improved their ability to respond quickly to such incidents.
However, the safety of citizens from such events can never be guaranteed. Preparation is nevertheless essential, and emergency services need to adjust their tactics and plans in response to terrorist incidents that occur anywhere in the world as attack methodologies spread very rapidly through the Internet. The safety of all public spaces needs to be kept under review. There is a role for commercial businesses in enhancing security, and each individual has a part to play in building a culture of security and resilience.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Lord Toby Harris EU Member States Security Society
Lord Toby Harris
London and anti-terrorism in Europe
30 Oct 2017
In 1819 the French intellectual Benjamin Constant pronounced his famous speech on ‘The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns’. He argued that ancient men had no freedom as individuals, but only as members of the body politic. On the contrary, modern men living under representative government had limited political sovereignty, but many more individual freedoms.
His speech hinted at a profound difference between the ancients and the moderns. But what would he say if he could observe western societies now, after almost two centuries during which the liberty of the moderns revealed all its potential?
At the time of Constant’s writing, personal freedom was embedded in an intricate structure of family, community and church ties that mitigated it with ‘natural’ duties towards one’s elderlies, relatives, children, neighbours and ancestors. In a word, one’s community. These duties were not enforced by the external coercion of the law, but by the inner force of moral upbringing and by the external force of social conformity.
As a result, the freedom of the moderns was not exactly equivalent to the liberal principle of non-interference: it flourished within a complex ecosystem of moral obligations towards specific people; it was therefore as much about our negative obligations not to interfere with other people’s lives as about our positive duties towards them, which often compel us to restrain our natural desires and leanings for a higher good.
Under this conception, the emphasis was on self-mastery, moral discipline and social duties, not on leaving other people alone. In the Anglo-Saxon conservative tradition, this concept is referred to as ‘ordered freedom’, but it existed, with slightly different variants, in pretty much all traditional societies across the Western world, and it owed much to Christian moral teachings.
On the contrary, the contemporary conception of freedom tolerates little in the form of specific duties towards specific people. It tends to replace them with abstract duties towards abstract entities that do not require our direct effort as individuals but require us to call on politicians and bureaucrats to do something about it, to plan things better at the highest possible level, often the world level. That’s one root of the modern obsession with global poverty, while charity at home stagnates or is comfortably delegated to inefficient welfare bureaucracies, or with the environment and global warming.
The fashionable moral causes of our age have all in common that we do not have to take direct responsibility for their solution, our moral obligation is discharged by the mere preaching and campaigning. They are the kind of causes you can comfortably support from your sofa, writing tweets full of moral indignation during the break of the movie you are watching, and getting plenty of likes on them.
Thus, in a strange twist of western values, what progressives usually consider supreme ‘moral engagements’ are in fact the end point of a complex process of moral irresponsibility. This process, in turn, finds one of its causes in our dis-embeddedness from the organic communities that were the traditional ecosystem of individual morality across the western world.
There is perhaps something we can do to revive this ecosystem in the 21st century, but it may require measures that many would consider too far-reaching. They imply a progressive but radical reversal of the 20th century trend that saw more and more personal and social responsibilities taken away from individuals and voluntary organisations and handed over to state bureaucracies.
Societies are complex, adaptive structures, and there is no doubt that their resilience and resourcefulness have been hugely damaged by over a century of servitude to the state. The disease is chronic in the old Europe, where the march towards centralisation was most radical and people have become accustomed to believe that, far from being themselves ‘society’, they have a claim on ‘society’ – to be enforced by the State – for all sorts of things that morally responsible individuals used to see as their main duties in life: providing for themselves and their families, educating their children, taking care of their elderlies, saving for their old age and, very importantly, getting organised to support the neediest in their community through charities and churches.
I would not be surprised if, in the political conditions of the coming decades, there arose a great scope for a virtuous revision of the tasks of government in order to de-bureaucratese our systems and reintroduce choice and ownership at the individual, family and community level. The concrete ways to do so will have to be studied in details.
But there certainly are interesting possibilities, such as the rigorous application of voucher systems in health and education, which would re-empower parents, private organisations and churches in educational choices as well as in the direct management of schools. Home schooling could also be encouraged under certain conditions.
The progressive withdrawal of the state from the universal provision of social security (most notably pensions) should also be envisaged. People could be gradually re-empowered to keep more of their incomes and save for themselves and their families privately and freely, with the state stepping in only in extreme circumstances of need. In a nutshell, people could be encouraged to re-take control of their lives as responsible moral beings with specific social duties that cannot be delegated or outsourced because they are the essence of community life.
A strong intellectual commitment to shifting public opinions on these issues will surely be needed. But I believe we can convince people that this societal model is the healthiest, as it is based on the principles of freedom and genuine moral responsibility, not on the realities of bureaucratic coercion and that grotesque caricature of moral solidarity that is the modern welfare state.
These developments would no doubt be very challenging. But in times of economic stagnation, overblown public debts and social disintegration we may soon come to regard them as ultimately beneficial. It is not implausible that even Benjamin Constant would give us a like on this.Federico Ottavio Reho Ethics Social Policy Society Values
Federico Ottavio Reho
Give me a like, not a duty! Reflections on postmodern freedom
05 Feb 2016
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in the blogpost are those of the author and thus they do not reflect the official position of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies.
Indeed, the huge majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But the majority of perpetrators of terrorist acts in Europe since 2001 are Muslims. That fifteen million European Muslims generate more terrorists – including the thousands that travel to join ISIS – than half a billion of Europeans shows that their integration in Europe, especially in France, is failing.
What can’t Europe do?
Campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq achieved little but a regrouping of radical Islamists into a different organisation. Bombing the Middle East to Stone Age will not achieve much either. We should stop the migration flows and improve border controls. This would make sense at least until we learn how to better integrate Muslims into our societies.
But what about all those who are already in Europe? Again, I do not believe much can be achieved by violence. Fencing off Muslim ghettos or sending young jobless people to labor camps is unjust, inhumane and stupid. Policing and security checks are just the last line of defense. Battles with Islamists may be won with weapons, the war not.
Maybe we need more social workers for Muslim neighborhoods. More basketball and football fields. More and better teachers at schools. More jobs and/or higher welfare. Maybe. I am not so sure, because these services are quite extensive already.
Win the culture war
Recently, it became politically incorrect to claim that at least in the last five hundred years, the European civilization has been by far the most successful one on the planet, with clearly superior achievements to its neighbors across the Mediterranean. Calling that Eurocentrism does not make these claims false.
Europe did not achieve that because of some kind of racial or genetic superiority. We did not have better hardware, we had better software. The fight with Islamic extremism is a fight of two softwares – one that enabled the most successful civilization on earth and the other that – if used dogmatically – was keeping whole nations in the middle ages.
Simply put, being a member of the European civilization needs to become more attractive. It should be “hip” not to be a member of a local gang of immigrants, but be part of the civilization that built the Champs Elysées, Tulleries and the Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Church of Saint-Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower, the civilization that has painted the artwork in the Louvre and Orsay, be a part of a country that gave humanity Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie and Claude Debussy.
How does this compare to the achievements of the countries that Muslims came from? Politically incorrect question? Here is a politically incorrect answer: at the climax of their power, they added minarets to the largest building on earth at the time, the Christian church of Hagia Sophia. This might be a dramatic exaggeration, Arab Science in the Middle Ages had quite a few achievements, but was held back in the ivory towers. It was Western Science that changed the world.
Why are we Westerners unable to share the pride for the achievements of our brilliant civilization to immigrants? Why don’t all of them want to become a contributing force to this? Muslim youth could participate in the construction of the largest aircraft and the fastest trains in the world; instead, some are planning to bomb them. Europe had an open border for a long time, they were welcomed, and yet so many remain strangers.
But not with relativism
Perhaps this is so because some of the Westerners have lost faith in themselves, have stopped to take pride in their own achievements and roots. Yes, I am talking about the readers who were appalled by the deliberate political incorrectness and Euro-supremacism of the last couple of paragraphs.
How can we give an African or Arab the desire to become part of this great civilization, when some Europeans prefer to deny their fathers, religion, civilization and its achievements? How can becoming European be attractive if values that are immanently European are labelled “universal human values”?
No, comrades, liberté, égalité, fraternité are not universal human values. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness neither. These are Western values. Fabriqué en France, made in the USA! As long as some are ashamed to be European, we can’t expect immigrants to want to become a part of our society and culture.
This society is secular in principle with enough room for Muslim and other faiths, cultures and identities, but without genital mutilation of women, arranged marriages of minors, gender inequality, stoning of gays and bloggers etc. If being European is not able to inspire people, then it is only right that Europe is occupied by a culture that can. The vacuum created by relativism, conceptual entropy and cultural capitulation will be filled with something else. Anything, including Salafism and the sooner, the better. There will be fewer victims.
Remember Paris 1789
But if it matters to be European, then our response to the atrocities must also be European. Civilized not barbaric, determined not wishy-washy, proud not shy. Guilt is always individual and never collective. Their way is to kill the innocents, our method is to process the suspects. Sharply, strongly and fairly. If we want to win the war of culture, the last thing we should do is abandon our principles and values.
As long as proven otherwise, everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims, are free and equal first-class citizens with all their freedoms, rights and duties. They were, are and will be equal, maybe because 2,000 years ago someone said that we are all children of God. And definitely because it was in Paris in 1789 that someone wrote: “People are born free and with equal rights.”
Not only if we forget what that means, but also if we deny who and in what tradition invented it, Europe as we know it, will be dead.Žiga Turk Democracy European Union Society Values
18 Nov 2015
Power is decaying everywhere. In business, politics, the military, religion and even in chess, jokes economist Moisés Naím pointing at the decline of Russian supremacy in this field. In The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used To Be (2013) Naím argues his case with compelling evidence, while making an obvious reference to Francis Fukuyama’s classic book The End of History and the Last Man.
A book in which the American political scientist saw the triumph of Western liberal democracy after the Cold War as a possible end point of mankind’s ideological evolution. Does the ambitious reference live up to its promise then? The author surely comes close to that.
He kicks off by presenting a very clear definition of power as ‘the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.’ ‘Power’, he says, ‘has a social function. Its role is not just to enforce domination or to create winners and losers: it also organises communities, societies, marketplaces, and the world.’ This refined analysis proves to be an indispensable foundation for his conclusions later on.
When debating the issue of ‘power’ Naím does not forget to mention the patriarch of power theory: 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes said that ‘during the time men live without a common power, a Leviathan to keep them all in awe, they are in that position which is called war and such a war as is of every man against every man.’
These days, the world is confronted with power shifts, secularization and a steady decline of traditional institutions. According to the author, the current Leviathan is therefore nowhere to be found and with this statement he does have a point.
In business, for example, the market power of large firms has declined due to global competition in emerging economies. Large enterprises like Nokia and Yahoo have lost their significance, and it is clear that the future belongs to creative small firms and dynamic technological companies. Power in the corporate sector is diminishing and harder to hold on to when you get it.
The monopoly position once held by traditional political parties as spokesperson for society’s grievances, hopes and demands has been eroded. In Europe especially, the influence of traditional political parties is fading rapidly: on average only around 4.7 per cent of the national electorates are members of a political party today.
This trend has paved the way for the success of ad hoc, fast paced, electoral machines. Some extremist parties are also profiting from it, given the fact that they often profit from the so called ‘protest vote’. One has to look no further than the results of the 2014 European elections for a confirmation.
The author presents the case of the decline of military power too. He coins the term ‘minilateralism’ to indicate that at present it takes a smaller amount of countries or resources to make a global impact. Al Qaeda spent about $500,000 to produce 9/11, whereas the direct losses of the destruction plus the costs of the American response to the attacks were $3.3 trillion.
Unfortunately as with this case and other examples, facts and figures used in the book we do not get the most up to date information. In a rapidly evolving international world order where regional conflicts multiply this is no minor detail, and one might have wished for more recent examples.
Finally, Naím considers the decline of religion, arguably one of the direst cases in the book. Religious organisations traditionally had the power to determine the patterns of social behaviour. The decline in the number of practicing Christians represents a drastic case of decay of power, removing it from large hierarchical and centralised structures and in favour of a constellation of small and nimble autonomous players.
The overall decay of traditional institutions cannot be without consequences; without them, the risk of disorder emerges. Moreover, their demise implies the disappearance of the highly specific knowledge they often embodied, which is not easy to replicate for newcomers. Additionally, the more slippery power gets, the more likely it is to be governed by short term incentives and fears.
On a psychological level, these changes in power structure, traditional hierarchy, predictable norms and rules can lead to disorientation, because the social function of power, so clearly captured in Naím’s definition of it, is hindered. Interestingly, Naím believes the danger of alienation in modern societies is even more severe than that of recent threats such as radical Islam. Had it been written this year (as opposed to 2013), this position would have been controversial, to say the least.
In the final chapter, the author states that ‘big power is not dead, but these old institutions are more constrained than ever in what they can achieve.’ For our societies to adjust to this new reality, a new wave of political and institutional innovations will be needed. We had one such wave of political innovations after World War II, when the desire to prevent another global conflict led to the creation of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union. A new wave of innovations brought about by the transformation of power structures, Naím argues, is inevitable.
Overall, The End of Power is a highly sophisticated work. Although the book is not flawless – for a second edition the author should definitely consider updating his facts and figures – it offers an interesting interdisciplinary reflection on the corrosion of traditional powers. It remains to be seen if the book will become a classic comparable to Fukuyama’s The End of History. In the meantime, The End of Power certainly makes for provocative reading and helps us realise what momentous and often unnoticed transformations power is undergoing in our time.
The European centre-right was a front runner in developing some of the now ‘traditional’ institutions founded after World War II. It should therefore remain future-oriented and open to innovative solutions for the pressing societal challenges of today. However, it should do so without undermining its belief in the importance of strong communities and civil society.
The End of Power: A book review
14 Oct 2015
Our society is living in turbulent, yet exciting times: an unprecedented political crisis on the European level is shaking up the political status quo, leaving no stone unturned. Europeans have begun to realise that they live in a more complex, interdependent and connected era than ever before.
Citizens are now questioning the current political situation and are not satisfied with the means of participation. Where European politics is concerned, many citizens do not feel sufficiently informed and are unable to get actively involved. According to the latest Eurobarometer results, more than 50 % of European citizens feel ‘that their voice is not heard’ on the EU level (European Commission, Directorate-General for Communication).
However, democratic processes, and policymaking tools especially, remain very traditional. Voting for representatives during elections is still the primary source of legitimacy in the law-making process—with only rare ‘adventurous’ participatory exceptions, for example in the Nordic countries.
The desire for more legitimacy in representative democracy, combined with the unprecedented technological possibilities available for realising greater citizen involvement, is exciting for citizens and political actors alike, as its achievement would offer a more encompassing assessment of society’s sentiments. Existing digital communication tools that are readily available and just waiting to be exploited are expected to improve the quality of democracy through an increase in citizen participation. Most promisingly, digital methods can improve the dialogue between civil society on the one hand, and elected officials and political parties on the other.
This article will address crowdsourcing in democratic processes and especially how the process of crowdsourcing legislation can be implemented by political parties to augment democratic processes. One example of how legislation can be crowdsourced will be presented in greater detail, and the implications for the citizens who participate in the process will be discussed. The article will look at possible challenges to crowdsourcing activities and then conclude with recommendations on how political parties can use this new technology effectively.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Maria Lastovka Democracy Innovation Political Parties Society Technology
Crowdsourcing as new instrument in policy-making
09 Sep 2015
The failure of multiculturalism has been declared by many. Yet few have come up with alternatives to how Europe’s ethnic and religious groups can co-exist in our liberal democracies. This InFocus argues that Europe can benefit from the genuine desire that many immigrants have, to identify with the constitutions of their new home countries while maintaining elements of their own culture.
European and national policymakers should elaborate on the existing concept of multiculturalism, and they could learn from the US and Canadian approaches to integration. Europe’s centre-right political parties have a particular role not only in opening politics to immigrants and their descendants but also in forging strong national and European allegiances that are compatible with group belonging.
The jihadist terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in early 2015 starkly reminded us that not all is well with the integration of Muslims into European societies. Paradoxically, the public demonstrations in France that followed the attacks injected a degree of optimism into European public life. These moving and encouraging public displays demonstrated beyond doubt that France continues to be a country of liberty. The 3.7 million people who were on the streets also proved, in their support for tolerance and freedom of speech, that liberal democracy is not dead.
Nevertheless, if anyone still had doubts, European liberal democracy is facing a number of external and internal tests. Among them are dealing with group identities and with jihadist terrorism, as these identities’ extreme manifestation. Positively dealing with group belonging is a precondition to tackling the wider challenge, to create a sense of common purpose at the difficult times that Europe is experiencing.
IN FOCUS is a new series of commentaries in which the Martens Centre looks closely at current policy topics, dissects the available evidence and challenges prevailing opinions.Centre-Right Immigration Integration Society Values
Politics of Identity: What Next after Multiculturalism
26 May 2015
Acemoglu and Robinson have produced a book that has attracted a lot of interest and discussion amongst the ranks of political scientists, institutional theorists and development economists. They attempt to answer a fundamental question that has occupied some of the greatest minds of our age and that has produced a number of illustrative theories.
It is no mistake that the writers choose to address all these theories in the second chapter of the book (titled under the provocative label “Theories that don’t work”). First, they criticise Jeffry Sachs’s approach of economic geography and move on to tackle the vast bibliography that attempts to associate cultural characteristics with economic prosperity (here they point to Max Weber and his monumental work on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism).
They try to deconstruct what they call the ‘ignorance hypothesis’: the theory that political leaders simply do not know the way to lead nations towards prosperity and sustainability. The two authors point out that all these theories fail to explain long-term trends of inequality. They also fail to account for the contributions and the effects of cultural exchanges; of political horse-trading and of the numerous financial aid programmes that have been offered in order to tackle global inequality.
The two renowned professors articulate at length their main argument which is easy to understand and supported by strong historical and modern empirical evidence.
For Acemoglu and Robinson, the main reason that nations prosper or collapse has to do with the structure and the functioning of their central institutions. Concretely they go further than other theorists (see North, Wallis and Weingast in ‘Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History’, 2012) saying that having the effective monopoly of violence or even the ability to form ruling dominant coalitions is not enough. They argue that it is necessary for the majority of the population to be included inside the governing structures. Inclusiveness here is not strictly limited to the input side of the political process. It also refers to the equal (or at least to the fair) apportioning of economic benefits.
In fact, the notion of inclusiveness, as used in ‘Why Nations Fail”, implies that having people participating at the input phase of policymaking, would inevitably lead to the creation of rules, norms and conventions that will also promote fairer output sharing. Thus the book argues that the fate of nations is closely correlated to whether they are ruled by extractive (that disseminate benefits to limited privileged groups) or inclusive institutions.
A quite significant part of the book is dedicated on listing and explaining cases that are meant to confirm the original hypothesis. The most telling and characteristic example supporting this hypothesis regards the city of Nogales- which lies right on the border between the US and Mexico. The city is administrationally split in half- the southern part is governed by the Mexican national and regional authorities, while the north forms part of the US. Unsurprisingly, despite their common geographical location and their regular cultural exchanges, the US part is far more prosperous rather than the Mexican one.
For the writers it is obvious that this is because of the different respective national and regional institutions that are operating in the two parts of the city. US institutions are far more inclusive and prosperous as opposed to the Mexican extractive state. ‘Why nations fail’ is a compelling book that attempts to explain and interpret the mechanics of history by adopting a macroscopic method to it. The approach used in the book was heavily influenced both by institutional theory (as developed by Douglas North) and by Lipset’s theses on democracy and economic development.
However, the book is not bereft of imbalance.
The argumentation about inclusiveness as the central factor in whether nations fail or prosper does not acknowledge other important exogenous factors that shape the status of nations. For example, the book fails to point out that violence between states is also a major variable that can decide the emergence or the destruction of nations. Carthage was raised to the ground not because its institutions were not inclusive enough but because it faced a powerful enemy (Rome) that, at a certain point, had focused all its efforts and resources on destroying the city. Similarly, global economic imbalances can lead nations with inclusive democratic institutions into chaos and disorder. For example it is undeniable that the global economic turmoil that erupted in the 1920acontributed to the fall of numerous European democracies and thto the rise of fascism.
Further, the causality between inclusiveness and success is not sufficiently demonstrated. There are several examples of nations that had inclusive and functional institutions but still failed. Inclusive democratic institutions do not guarantee the establishment of governments that are responsible and prudent. It is even possible that the electorate will give power to a government that will fgovern destructively. Such governments may lead nations into druin and the margins of history. Collective rationality does not necessarily lead nations to the best decisions.
In today’s globalised world exogenous variables such as technological trends; international dynamics; security and economic risks can prove to be as decisive for the fate of a nation as its institutions. Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s argument is far from wrong but it is not the whole story of modern governance and nation-building. “Why Nations Fail” is without a doubt an insightful book but it is also clear that its authors would prefer it to be a magnum opus regarding the study of institutions and statecraft. Me thinks this is not the case.Development Economy Leadership Macroeconomics Society
Why nations fail: A book review
18 Mar 2015
In What Money Can’t Buy, world renowned American political philosopher and Harvard Professor, Michael J. Sandel bravely takes up the challenge of trying to answer one of the fundamental questions of human history: what money should and should not buy.
Skipping the usual elaborate introduction, Sandel begins by illustrating how modern society has become a global marketplace where nearly anything can be purchased for the right price. Sandel presents a collection of examples to strengthen his case. For instance, so called ‘concierge doctors’ in the US now offer their services for annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000. A move made possible by the fact that standard doctor’s appointments in the US often have to be hurried affairs because of the low reimbursement rate offered by insurance companies to primary care doctors for routine appointments. Those who are willing to pay the amount can count on “absolute, unlimited and exclusive access to your personal physician.” The drawback, of course, is that it’s unfair to those who are not part of the happy (wealthy) few.
Sandel continues by illustrating that as a result of this ‘marketisation’ of society, people are often happy to pay off the moral obligation to adjust to social norms if they can. For example, introducing a fine for parents who came late to pick up their children from a nursery school did not reduce the number of late-arriving parents, but actually doubled it. The parents treated the fine as a fee they were willing to pay. Picking up a child therefore becomes a market relationship with the teacher/school.
Market reasoning however, has no objections to these notions of unfairness and moral obligations. It relies on the thought that free markets contribute to societies’ well being by allocating the goods to the buyers who value them most highly, based on their willingness to pay. Sandel concurs to a certain point, but argues that market reasoning is incomplete without moral reasoning. He argues that when market reasoning is applied to more morally charged issues such as love, friendship, sex, education, health or environmental protection, it is not plausible to assume that everyone’s preferences are equally worthwhile. Some of these goods, he feels, should be excluded from the exchange-value logic or else they will eventually lose their value. The essence of this argument can be traced back as far as Aristotle. In that sense, Sandel’s analysis offers an easy-to-read update of some classical held ideas.
Although written in 2012, the topic remains relevant in the current ‘collaborative consumption’ society in which (private) people with limited resources connect to those with under-used assets in need of some extra cash. Virtually everything is up for sale and we all become small entrepreneurs on the side. Accordingly, society slowly transforms in a fully fledged business industry. Not that there’s anything wrong with entrepreneurship, the economy thrives on it, but the more extensive this ‘collaborative consumption’ becomes, social gatherings will more and more revolve exclusively around possible commercial transactions.
In an era of increased consumption, Sandel’s well written analysis of how money has infiltrated our lives offers a differing view. A point made especially relevant in the aftermath of arguably the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. His main argument that we should decide what values should govern the various domains of social and civic life is a strong one; market rationality has become dominant to a point where respecting social norms is at stake.
The main problem of the book is that the vast majority of the examples of commodification he presents, are American. This harms the universality of his argument. Another obstacle for the book to become an undisputed classic (like some of his previous works) is the sheer volume of these examples; it does not leave ample room for a thorough analysis.
Interesting, Professor Sandel is himself also for sale. For an extraordinary amount, he will show up for a lecture to talk about what money can’t buy!Barend Tensen Development Ethics Social Policy Society Values
What money should and should not buy
14 Nov 2014
Dutch occupational defined-benefit plans suffer from a number of serious weaknesses, including ambiguous ownership of the surplus, back-loading of benefits, and lack of tailor-made risk management. To address these weaknesses, we propose collective individual defined-contribution plans that are actuarially fair. These schemes maintain important strength of collective schemes, such as mandatory saving, collective procurement and pooling biometric risks. At the same time, they eliminate intergenerational conflicts about risk management and distribution through transparent individual property rights and tailor-made risk profiles. Lans Bovenberg and Raymond Gradus try to show how the transitional burden due to the phasing out the back-loading of pension benefits can be addressed without a substantial increase in contributions.Social Policy Society
Reforming Dutch Occupational Pension Schemes
15 Sep 2014
In many countries occupational plans are being reformed from Defined-Benefit (DB) to Defined-Contribution (DC) designs. In a Netspar discussion paper Lans Bovenberg and I explore the case of the Netherlands (http://ces.tc/1qEHH2K), which features a particularly high ratio of occupational pension assets to GDP. Most occupational schemes are DB-funded and the value of assets in these schemes amounted to about 170% of GDP in 2013. This implies that unanticipated shocks in financial markets and longevity require large changes in pension contributions in order to shield pension rights in DB-plans from these shocks.
Therefore, Dutch occupational defined-benefit plans suffer from a number of serious weaknesses, including ambiguous ownership of assets, back-loading of benefits, and lack of tailor-made risk management. In particular, an intergenerational conflict may emerge about not only the ownership of capital in the fund but also the investment profile. These potential intergenerational conflicts are especially serious in the Netherlands due to the large stocks of wealth that have been accumulated. We will therefore focus on Dutch occupational pension plans and the need for reform. Our discussion may be of interest also to other countries who are transforming their DB-plans into DC-plans.
To address these weaknesses, we propose collective individual defined-contribution plans that are actuarially fair. These schemes maintain important strengths of collective schemes, such as mandatory saving, collective procurement and pooling biometric risks. At the same time, they eliminate intergenerational conflicts about risk management and distribution through transparent individual property rights and tailor-made risk profiles.
Our proposal also eliminates the implicit pay-as-you-go elements through back-loading and thus creates the familiar transitional problem associated with a move from pay-as-you-go financing to funding. Therefore, our proposals address this issue head on by grandfathering some of the implicit pension rights in the old system in order to protect the transitional generations. In the paper, we show that this transition burden can be dealt without a substantial temporary increase in contributions, if the transition is accompanied by lower administrative and investment costs.Raymond H.J.M Gradus Social Policy Society
Raymond H.J.M Gradus
Reforming Dutch occupational pension schemes
15 Sep 2014
A spectre is haunting us – the spectre of ‘pikettyism’. Originated in France, it draws its strength from a book by economist Thomas Piketty whose work on the historic trends of capital inequality has bridged the gap between academic research and a mainstream audience. His central finding – that inequality will continue to rise underpinned by a disproportionate concentration of wealth in relatively few capital owners – has particularly delighted the progressive establishment in the US, with Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz throwing all their weight behind Piketty and making his study into the economic sensation it became. The risk now is that socialist governments in Europe will embrace this seemingly new rationale for supporting increased taxation and government intervention in the economy.
Piketty is convinced that, if left unchecked, the dynamics of capital accumulation will produce a level of inequality incompatible with our democratic societies. His diagnosis borrows a great deal from the ‘iron laws’ that periodically appeared in nineteenth century economics to predict the catastrophic outcomes of capitalism’s contradictions. His therapy seems little more than a nostalgic update of the confiscatory fashions embraced by most governments until the late 1970s, when top marginal tax rates and inheritance taxes were often above 80%. A century-old theory combined with policies of the 1960s seems hardly a new frontier of progressive economic thinking. In fact, the only policy innovation of the author is a proposal that he himself does not hesitate to define utopian: a progressive global tax on capital enforced through a high level of international coordination. My impression is that such proposal is worse than utopian: it is mistaken. And so are most policy prescriptions in Piketty’s book.
To begin with, Piketty has a very unrealistic view of capital. He identifies capital as all ‘nonhuman assets that can be owned or exchanged on some market’ and treats any income from capital, be it interest, dividends, profits, royalties or other, as a form of parasitic rent. This makes him blind to the fundamental entrepreneurial dimension of capital investment and accumulation in a free society. In a market economy, capital is not just stockpiled so as to produce certain returns automatically: it must be employed productively in activities that are successful and add value to the economy. Piketty’s theory has no place for market competition and entrepreneurial profit, possibly the two most important factors in a market economy. Furthermore, the optimal degree of government control of national income comes out of Piketty’s book as a purely technical problem, so that the author sees ‘no reason why a country cannot decide to devote two-thirds or three-quarters of its national income to taxes’.
Unfortunately, there are excellent reasons why even a far lower threshold has proved to be unsustainable in the past. Incidentally, these happen to be the reasons why a wide consensus in favor of a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of government emerged since the late 1970s. The simple truth is that government is too often inefficient in its regulatory, economic and welfare interventions. It invariably operates by establishing bureaucracies based on centralized control which grant all sorts of privileges and special protections. In fact, ‘rent-seeking’ by special groups has been long recognized as one of the main drivers of the growth in government spending. Piketty’s view of government officials is as idealized as his view of capitalists is demonized. The mundane truth is that both tend to be self-interested individuals acting in accordance with the incentive structure they face. While competition in the free market acts as a balancing force that tends to align individual incentives with social welfare, no such mechanism exist in government.
The moral implications of Piketty’s argument are even more questionable. The obsession of some economists with fighting income inequality is highly misguided. We accept market freedom because it creates a ‘society of incentives’ where everybody can make the most of his talents and innovative abilities and reap the full benefits of them. The rules of this game imply that some of us may get much richer than others and should have the right to freely employ their wealth and bequeath it to whomever they like. Income inequality is the price we pay in order to make our societies more dynamic and innovative, ultimately to the benefit of everyone. Extensive taxation and redistribution may make our incomes more equal, but it will not make any durable contribution to reducing overall levels of poverty.
Instead, the virtues of market freedom are unfolding before our eyes and they have been lifting millions of people out of poverty and deprivation in the last decades. Today’s China is characterized by striking and extreme inequalities. Are we really to conclude that the miserable equality of pre-capitalist China was preferable because it did not offend the social sensitivity of progressive economists? It is no chance that Piketty is completely silent about the economic miracle that has reawakened entire continents after centuries of stagnation and decline. He is too obsessed with widening income inequality in the West to care about poverty reduction in the East and the South. However, it seems to me that the most meaningful moral issue is not by how much my neighbor grew richer than me in the last years, but how many fewer people are starving in the world. To my knowledge, there is no government program of income redistribution that ever contributed to this objective anywhere in the developing world.
Like it or not, it has been economic policies traditionally labelled as conservative that were the most progressive in their effects. In the past generation, the most ambitious leaders of the centre-left (Clinton, Blair, Schröder) were courageous enough to recognize this simple lesson of history and turn their back on the old-fashioned policies of the past. Is it pure chance that their more traditional successors were never capable of repeating their landslide victories in recent years? Piketty’s theories may well be able to win over the nostalgic leaders of the European left, but I have the impression that we can still count on the electorate to look past his simplistic solutions and focus on real policies that will make our societies more productive and prosperous in the long run.Federico Ottavio Reho Development Economy Social Policy Society Values
Federico Ottavio Reho
Confronting Piketty and his mistaken concept of inequality
26 Jun 2014
At the turn of November and December 2013, I took part at the annual Château Béla Central European Strategic Forum in Belá in Southern Slovakia. This conference brings together leading political and economic figures from the Central European region and beyond.
The conference was remarkable in allowing informal in-depth discussions on current political, economic and security issues. Traditional speaker-participant model was replaced by a model where all guests are direct participants in the debate. This year, focus was on the upcoming European Council on security and defence, transatlantic relations and NATO enlargement. The debates touched also upon the Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership.
I was especially interested in conversations on the future of the European project, democracy and tackling voters’ apathy and political populism (with a focus on Slovakia and Central Europe).
My own contribution was on the need to open up decision-making in the European Parliament by doing away with the mode of voting in the plenary, during which records of individual votes are not kept. I also mentioned the need to increase transparency in the deliberations of the European Council and different Council configurations because the current decision-making regime is too opaque, leaving open questions on how policies are decided by political leaders. I argued that ‘demons thrive in the dark’ and that we should fight anti-European populism by transparency.
Others pointed out ‘the stunning silence of politics’ vis-à-vis the current economic and social challenges in Europe. This vacuum leaves a space for populists who are then more than happy to fill it.
In addition, mainstream political parties are using communication channels that ‘come from the nineteenth century’ (not literally), such as rallies, newspapers, television and radio. Populists and extremists use different, modern, channels such as social media and messaging, to mobilise their supporters.
One discussion during the conference opened up several dilemmas in how to address the populist challenge.
1. Should mainstream politicians and administrators isolate or engage the populists?
Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation in which a newly elected right-wing populist with an anti-Roma agenda and a recent history of militant neo-fascism asks a European Commissioner for a meeting to discuss ‘the problem of the Roma people’. Should the Commissioner publicly meet with this person, or should the Commissioner refuse?
The argument in favour of the meeting is that the right-wing populist has elected by the people and therefore, has an unquestionable democratic mandate. The Commissioner is not supposed to discriminate in his meetings on the basis of politicians’ political persuasion. And isolating populists and extremists only helps their arguments that the European political elite is detached from the people.
The argument against meeting the right-wing populist is that the populist has demonstrated by his past actions that he is not ready for a dialogue. There are people you do not shake hands with.
2. Should we continue using ‘politically correct’ language in public discourse?
One argument is that political correctness is damaging for mainstream parties: These parties are afraid to describe and address some societal issues, such as the integration of immigrants or the Roma minority, for fear of offending these groups of population. Political correctness militates against a better understanding of the real policy agenda. Populist parties misuse this by breaking public taboos and offering simplistic solutions. We should therefore abandon the politically correct language and give societal problems, such as crime and the “lack of working ethic” within some minority communities their real name. Some centre-parties have actually succeeded, so the argument goes, in adopting populist language, while offering constructive solutions to public policy issues. This resulted in reducing the public support for the populists.
The counter-argument is that we should not abandon political correctness. Doing so would result in generalising about groups of people, such as Jews, immigrants, the rich people or poor people. Europe has had a bad historical experience with such generalisations and using the wrong language brings back the demons of fascism and communism. So, we should continue treating people as individuals, also in the way we speak about public concerns of the day. In addition, how far can we go in emulating the populist rhetoric without also becoming populists?
3. Should we abandon hope when it comes to the integration of the Roma people?
Despite living in Europe for centuries, the Roma are often not well integrated into the majority society in European countries. Populists exploit these problems, offering easy solutions to issues which the existing institutions have not be able to address.
One argument states that government policies are not working. Through their own fault, the Roma are living lives of poverty and crime. Governments have reached a point of ‘no return’. Integration will continue to be more and more difficult. The populists will be able continue spreading their messages of hate and intolerance.
The counter-argument is that a surprising number of private and public policies actually work. They include encouraging entrepreneurship by micro-credits. Companies and public institutions in Slovakia and elsewhere are succeeding in employing Roma workforce. Some schools are very successful in educating Roma children. Governments have made surprisingly little effort concerning Roma integration and from what has been tried, a surprisingly high number of policies, both in the public and the private sectors, are working. If we learn from these good examples, we have a realistic chance of addressing the issues, thus taking wind out of sales of populists.
These dilemmas are far too big to be resolved at any single conference. However, I was glad to participate in the Château Béla discussions, which provided useful avenues of enquiry and argumentation.Vít Novotný Elections EU Member States Integration Populism Society
Populism: how should mainstream politics respond?
06 Dec 2013
The development of political systems, structures and entities is in the interest of every political scientist. For the CES these topics are very important, especially when it comes to developmental issues and the challenges facing political parties. In March 2013 Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan-born economist and politics scholar, published a very interesting and stimulating book titled ‘End of Power’, which examines some of the same questions the CES has addressed, by posing many of the concepts and questions of political systems in a global context. In his book, Naím observes that developed democracies are faced with elections in higher frequency which leads to a political party landscape that is unstable. Furthermore, Naím points out that new parties are appearing and fading away very quickly while non-decided voters in many developed countries are now becoming the largest voter group. These observations have also been made by many other scholars.
Classically, the dynamics of the political systems is presented as a landscape where the main power is held by the political elite, often characterised of consisting a small group of powerful people who have a privileged status and who are also governing within the society. A great deal of political checks and balances have been created in order to ensure that political elites and decision makers are regularly challenged and their actions revised. Political elitism as a concept is often used even today and garners a perception of stability in the minds of people but as Naím points out; political elites are anything but stable in today’s political climate.
Political entities need new ideas, approaches and solutions when facing the electorate. Such reinvigoration of a political party is brought by new individuals who are interested in politics and who want to engage with the political process. This is essential for a functional political system. However, over the past few decades, the trend has shown that often the best way to succeed in politics is to instead take another career path outside party-politics. An individual with a successful background in almost any field outside of politics is an attractive candidate for any political party. The perception is that those outside the political bubble are more capable to bring in fresh ideas and new thinking to a party’s membership. Throughout Europe, political parties have adapted to this reality and take it to account when selecting candidates for elections.
In all democracies, the political process boils down to individuals who are elected to take decisions and it can take elected officials many years to become accustomed with parliamentary processes and to become effective in their roles. As political parties continue to seek new candidates outside party ranks and due to the formation of new parties, it is now easier than ever for a first-time candidate to get elected. Some new parties and movements, like Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, even set term limits for officeholders in order to guarantee rotation. On the flip side, a candidate or member of a parliament who knows that their stay in politics will be short and who reached their position without any great effort or investment, does not have the interest in making the difficult decisions that have a long term impact – simply because they don’t have to deal with long term consequences. Such an elected official can be dogmatic, uncompromising and rigid.
In recent times, there has been a growing trend amongst voters to reject not only professional politicians but professional parties also. This is partly due to voter’s disappointment and anger with a political system and political parties that have in their eyes not served them adequately. In turn, this has created a belief amongst some sections of the electorate that by electing a new political entity, this will bring with it a new way of doing politics, better representing the people and bringing with them better results.
The desire for new faces has become an increasingly strong influence in voters’ behavior, often even overshadowing the achievements and success of governments. An excellent example of this is Sweden, where current Prime Minister Reinfeldt, who has been in government for two consecutive terms, has made Sweden’s economy stay stable and positive in a European economic crisis which has meant the majority of Swedish voters are positive about the future, which is rather exceptional in Europe today. However, this has not led to a surge of support for Prime Minister Reinfeldt and the Moderate Party, with opinion polls in July showing support for the coalition government lagging behind that of its opponents.
Political careers are becoming shorter. Instead of continuing in politics, successful politicians are moving to the private sector becoming senior consultants and members of boards for a range of large and internationally recognised corporations – with a lifetime career in politics now becoming a rarity. This means that young people are not interested to invest in any political career partly because a long-term political career doesn’t exist for a large section of politicians anymore.
So what is the state of the political classes in politics today? Clearly, it has become more difficult to pinpoint who concretely belongs to the so-called political elite. However, although the faces of politics might change across the continent, the mechanisms and institutions in place continue working regardless of who is in power. New people with different professional backgrounds are getting elected to parliaments across Europe, but with less and less previous experience on political process. The newly elected representative often is no longer a career politician, rather a professional in a different career who ended up to be a politician, often temporarily. Political elite is an important concept of political analysis, but it is highly important that we debate what it means and whether is continues to exist in this ever-changing political landscape.
While the political class is increasingly changing, the institutions aiming to influence political process are less unstable. Business presentations, trade unions, NGOs and even think thanks share the political world’s challenges of modern trends but although politicians and parties come and go, these entities increasingly become the guard keepers of the collective memory of the political process, knowledge and its history. As traditional political class weakens, it is a new opportunity for those influencing political process from outside the institutions.
The logical solution to counter voters’ dissatisfaction is to assure that the political system delivers. When voters are satisfied with their representatives, there is less need for adventure in the ballot box. The greatest achievement of Naím‘s observations are in highlighting why it is more difficult than ever before for political systems to deliver in the eyes of the electorate. As insightful and great his analysis is, less surprising are Naím’s conclusions and proposal. He underlines the need to find new forms of governance and to find new innovative ways of political participation. The future challenge might be that when the political elites are requested to act, there will be in fact nobody to respond.Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Party Structures Political Parties Society
Political Elites – Do perceptions meet the reality?
07 Oct 2013
Current demographic changes are a major factor in the increasing societal interest in the contributions older generations can make to the development and cohesion of society. This Centre for European Studies study argues that the traditional view of ageing is gradually being replaced by a new perspective, one with increased focus on older people’s capabilities, resources and potentials. It suggests that population ageing does not imply inevitable declines in a society’s competitiveness or reduced intergenerational solidarity. Amongst other policy recommendations, the study proposes flexibility in age limits, to prevent exclusion of older people from areas of societal responsibility. The study encourages a stronger focus on the productive participation of older people in political and public discourse, and support for civil engagement of older people through mechanisms such as incentive systems.Economy Ethics Social Policy Society Values
Active Ageing: Solidarity and Responsibility in an Ageing Society
08 Apr 2013
What do demonstrations on city streets in the Philippines in 2001, the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008, revocation of the results of the fraudulent elections in Moldavia in 2009, the M-15 movement with their camps and demonstrations in Spain in 2011, the so-called “Arab Spring” in the Middle East in early 2011, and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that started in New York, also in 2011, all have in common?
They have all used social media to help organise such protests and mobilise their responsible agents. Yet these were much more than just about arranging a party: they all greatly exploited social media to establish communication networks and move towards their objectives.
Today’s social media have helped make real the idea of a “global village”, first put forward by communications theorist Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, and suggests the claims of a “flat world” by twenty first century essayist Thomas L. Friedman are true. According to Friedman, personal computers and the speed of the optic cable in the transfer of information have marked the modern revolution and almost removed the limitations of time and space.
Social media’s quick development into an important way to influence society is part of the advancement of information and communication technologies. The study Social Media and Politics – The New Power of Political Influence explores the development and use of social media in influencing politics and society.Innovation Internet Society Technology Youth
Social Media and Politics – The New Power of Political Influence
18 Dec 2012
The aim of this study is to explore the changes in the religious and ideological landscape of the Netherlands and how they impact on existing social relations. What place do religion and philosophy have in society and how should government relate to them? This theme is at the heart of Christian Democracy. The rationale for this is that Christian Democracy sees man as a rational being who seeks to find meaning in life. How people behave socially and politically cannot be considered separately from each individual’s inner calling. What is at stake is the deepest motivation of human beings to determine their identity at the deepest level. It can therefore be seen that the body of ideas of Christian Democracy and the movement’s legitimacy are closely linked to the right of citizens to organise themselves in social groups on the basis of their religion or faith. This report does indicate that the manifestations of religion and faith may well be subject to change, but for many people these convictions continue to represent an important source of inspiration. Tried and tested principles will therefore be revisited in this report taking into account the changes apparent in religion, society and government. It cannot be stressed enough that such values as freedom, pluriformity and tolerance are of crucial importance for a harmonious society.Christian Democracy Ethics Religion Society Values
Faith and Society: Christian Democratic reflections on the place of religion and ideology in the public domain
10 Dec 2012
European electorates are squeezed between austerity they don’t like and stimulus they can’t afford. Economic growth would provide the easy way out. But how can growth be achieved if economic activities are restricted and success is not appreciated? The Bourgeoisie founded the modern world and made it grow out of pre-capitalist poverty. As bourgeois virtues, such as prudence in the daily business of life and courage in investing were digniﬁed, entrepreneurs were granted freedom to innovate. However, the bourgeois virtues, values and freedom have always been resisted and despised by powerful counterforces. The question of growth or stagnation can be described as a struggle between political mentalities: the bourgeois against the aristocrat, ascetic and peasant mentalities.Economy Society Values
Bourgeois Virtues: the Aristocrat, the Ascetic, the Peasant, and the Bourgeoisie
18 May 2012
Voting in the ’Hood, a study of immigrant voting behavior, is based on an Internet poll addressed to immigrants in Finland and one-on-one interviews, to recognize the challenges and driving forces behind the movers and shakers in different communities, and to increase political participation as a step towards better social integration. This project was meant to discover possible obstacles to voting amongst immigrants, and to ask our new Finns about their interest in taking part in the next election, and their feedback about the political process to the National Coalition PartyDemocracy Elections Immigration Political Parties Society
Voting in the Hood
18 May 2012
Migration into the EU and the integration of immigrants are matters that will be decisive for the future of Europe. Debates on these issues have been taking place at all levels within European society and government. These debates have also been held within the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and are playing a prominent role in many election campaigns. This has strengthened the need for knowledge to be shared about national approaches in the EU context and for policy-oriented research from a centre-right perspective. The Centre for European Studies (CES), the political foundation of the EPP and its Member Foundations, has therefore created this in-depth study of immigration and integration policies in countries across the EU. This book, the first produced by a European political foundation in cooperation with its member organisations, covers thirteen EU countries and one region, as well as the EU itself. It offers policy recommendations for the EU and its Member States. Its aim is to assist experts, politicians and other stakeholders with the adjustment of immigration and integration policies so that they are suitable for twenty-first century Europe.EU Member States European Union Immigration Social Policy Society
Opening the Door? Immigration and Integration in the European Union
09 Jan 2012
Immigration into the EU and the integration of those who have immigrated constitute two multifaceted and highly complex policy areas. These topics feature prominently in current political debates, which have been taking place at all levels within European society and government. These debates have also been held within the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and are playing a prominent role in many election campaigns. There has been a need to illuminate the ongoing debate on immigration and integration, inform national and European policies, and highlight areas of EU-wide importance. The Centre for European Studies (CES), the political foundation of the EPP and its member foundations, has therefore created the book “Opening the Door? Immigration and Integration in the European Union”, which was published in January 2012. Written by 24 academics and policy experts, this book covers 13 EU countries and one region, as well as the EU itself. Most of the authors of these country and region chapters were appointed by CES member foundations; the remaining authors were appointed by the CES. The authors and their appointing foundations are listed in the Appendix. This Policy Brief is entirely based on this book. It consists of two parts, Analysis and Policy Recommendations.European People's Party Immigration Society
Immigration and Integration in the European Union
01 Jan 2012
In addition to the global economic crisis which broke out in 2008 the problems stemming from the ageing of the population in most European countries and the resulting increases in health spending call for reforms of the national health care systems. In addition to these problems a number of European counties are also facing difficulties caused by excessively bureaucratic structures in the health systems, imposing further burdens on the state budgets. This book looks at healthcare reforms, the ownership and operation of healthcare institutes and the structure of healthcare spending and the ageing society in a number of EU countries.Social Policy Society Sustainability
Sustainability of Health Care in European Democracies
18 Dec 2011
The “Occupy Wall Street Movement” has gathered in New York since September. Organising via blogs and adopting the slogan “We are the 99 per cent” (as opposed to the 1 per cent of the population who are wealthy), these protests have reignited an almost forgotten counter-globalization movement. Many different groups within society–not only unemployed people–are involved in a movement which currently has no real core identity.
The Left, including the extreme Left, wants to claim ownership of the intentions and goals of the very heterogeneous groups participating, which even differ from country to country. In many European cities, protest movements are visibly on the rise, including the “United for Global Change”, a so called world-wide protest day, on October 15th. This counter-globalisation movement is seeking to find a strategy to combine their objections with those of the national protesters. On 15th of May “los indignados” (the indignants) protested in economically troubled Spain, and protests in Greece likewise were composed of people with different political views and social backgrounds united by anger and despair. In Greece, one can even say a massive movement has emerged.
The counter-globalisation movement seeks to use these opportunities to recall their old slogans such as “A better world is possible!”. Indeed, after its emergence at the end of the 1990s, global, European and national elites have taken the old demands of the organization “Attac” seriously (the introduction of the Tobin Tax on financial transactions), which was founded in Paris in 1998 under the name = Association pour une taxation des transactions financières pour l’aide aux citoyens. Maybe surprisingly, the counter-globalisation movement was not very visible during the first global financial crisis in 2008.
This is changing now. First of all, after 3 years of crisis in many EU countries, with bank bailouts and an apparent retrun of at least some actors in the financial sector to some bad old habits, managers and bankers are much more clearly the scapegoats today. Second, countries like Greece, Spain and Italy have to implement strict austerity measures that are seriously hurting more and more people. Third, dimming economic perspectives for many Europeans correspond to a pervading sense of relative decline of Europe (and North America) vis-à-vis the emerging economies in China and elsewehere. Moreover, “citizens in anger”, formerly supporters of the state and the market economy who are shocked by the political and business elite, correspond very much to the bestselling French booklet “Indignez-vous!” (Time for Outrage). The author, Stéphane Frédéric Hessel, born in 1917, is a former ambassador, concentration camp survivor and French resistance fighter. The 32-page essay was first published in a small batch of 6,000 copies selling for not even 3 euro per piece. By the end of 2010, 6 million copies had been sold. But the ideas are extremely heterogeneous and specific: Hessel’s reasons for personal outrage include the growing gap between social classes, France’s treatment of its illegal immigrants, Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians, the need to “re-establish a free press”, the need to protect the environment and the importance of protecting the French welfare system. He calls, from a leftist perspective for a peaceful and non-violent insurrection.
The Left has tried with the emergence of the counter-globalisation movement to give themselves a new narrative, in the words of the philosopher Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek, a “communist manifesto for the 21st century”. Å½iÅ¾ek was involved in the Wall Street protests, as well as Naomi Klein. The Canadian journalist wrote in 2000 with “No Logo” a bible for counter-globalisation activists. Her bestselling book can be interpreted as a manifesto with neo-anarchist and Marxist inspiration.
But the protests have also met with some applause, or at least profound empathy, among conservative thinkers: Philipp Blond (the “red Tory”) has criticized Thatcherism from a fundamentally Catholic perspective years ago. The Daily Telegraph columnist and biographer of Margaret Thatcher, Charles Moore, has begun to think, in his own words, “that the Left may have been right, after all”, in a column written even before the London riots of early August 2011. His critique of neoliberalism was eagerly taken up by some German conservative intellectuals such as Frank Schirrmacher (editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and Lorenz Jaeger (journalist). In Southern European countries, conservative criticism of the market has a longstanding tradition. But in European electoral politics, the main thrust relevant to the EPP family will continue to come from the Left.
The mainstream Left, such as the Party of European Socialists and many of its member parties, is trying to profit from the new wave of protests by pointing out that they have criticized “neo-liberalism” and “casino capitalism” for a long time already, and demanded stronger state intervention in the economy (“more politics, less capitalism”), a financial transaction tax, stricter banking regulation, as well as less emphasis on austerity and more on stimulus. Of course, this last point is made especially by socialist parties in opposition, not those in power in Greece and Spain which have to enact austerity themselves.
Currently, we can see all possible forms of protest: violent and non-violent, reactive and preventive in terms of the timing of police intervention, spontaneous and long-planned, illegal and legal in respect to the law, repressive and tolerant in the ways of expression, brutal and calm related to the degree of force used and broad and selective in terms of an intended programmatic agenda. There is an ambivalent, declining confidence in legislatures and governments, but no general distrust of coherent polities within European national systems. But more and more, populations (as well as the media) are in fear of a so-called casino-capitalism and the alleged injustice of the financial system.
Options for a smart reaction:
Here is how the EPP family should react to the protests and their underlying resentments, as well as their instrumentalisation by our political competitors:
• The new global protest movement is extremely heterogeneous. It combines really existing new fears about the future of individual people with well-known and somewhat worn out radical leftist ideology.
• The main difference between 2008 (when protests were expected but never materialized) and today is that austerity has begun to bite, and that the general mood of economic decline has spread.
• The EPP family should point out that it understands the individual fears about economic perspectives, and some of the anger about financial market instabilities and bankers’ payments. But it should not buy into the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the Left. Nor should we show any understanding of the violence used by diverse radical groups which have only been waiting for the moment to profit from protest movements like this.
• It should point out the contradictions in the leftist narrative: between a general critique of austerity on the one hand, and the budget cuts by socialist governments themselves. Above all, it should make a clear distinction between smarter financial market regulation that is needed to SAVE the markets, and a fundamental critique of the market economy which is the road to nowhere.
• It should keep on repeating that besides airing their resentments (however justified or unjustified they are) and criticizing “global capitalism”, the “Occupy together” protests have not shown any coherent, systemic alternative to the globalized economy. Socialism, for the time being, is not on the placards. As soon as it appears, our family’s answer should be to point to the evident failures of socialist economics in the 20th century.
• Above all, it should point out that in order to overcome the crisis, we will all have to work longer and harder, and keep on innovating our economies, which includes both smarter regulation and further liberalisation, f.e. in completing the EU Single Market.
Picture source: www.blog.timesunion.comFlorian Hartleb Crisis Jobs Society Values Youth
Occupy Together: The emergence of a unified global protest movement?
10 Oct 2011
This book is the long-awaited abridged English translation of Lumedemokratia (Quasi-Democracy, 2009), which sparked a vivid debate about the nature of Finnish society, from recent history to the present day. It condemns the economic policy pursued during the great depression of the 1990’s and Finland’s continued failure to revamp its suffocatingly rigid labour market structures. The authors, Katja Boxberg and Taneli Heikka, claim that Finland still lacks essential elements that earmark a genuine Western democracy and true market economy; for this, they argue, we have to thank the ubiquotous Finnish consensus and the disgraceful era of “Finlandisation”. This is a book for anyone wondering why Finns “eat rubbery cheese, dull plastic-wrapped bread, and meat drowned in marinade”. Professor and historian Martti Häikiö provides a concluding commentary.Democracy Economy Society
Quasi-Democracy: Finland’s Fall from the Cradle of Innovation to the Abyss of Stagnation
06 Dec 2010
This publication is a collection of ideas and thoughts, which according to the authors in no way pretend to be “the truth”. Rather than formulate an easy answer, in this document, the attempt was to search for the right questions. The direct impetus for this kind of book was the outcome of the evaluation of the CD&V’s electoral defeat in June 2010. It became clear that one of the weak points was the lack of a clear long-term vision. This text is aligned with the principles of Christian Democracy in the determination of socio-economic policy. These actualized principles should be the leitmotif in the decision-making processes, that is to say, the daily application of the principles. Christian Democracy is present all over the Europe, and many of the challenges that CD&V is facing are similar to those that other Christian Democratic parties are facing. Therefore, this book is a space for discussion, it is not the end of a series of debates but rather the beginning.Christian Democracy Economy Society
Applied Christian Democracy: the Rhineland Model
02 Dec 2010
The Centre for European Studies with the cooperation of the CDA Research Institute published this study on health care in an aging Europe. The accessibility and affordability of care is a major issue in ageing societies. All EU countries have to handle this issue, although the increase in costs is uneven and financing and organization varies widely. It is to be welcomed that the Dutch experience with reforms in health care is shared in this study. It shows that great reforms are possible and what the necessary conditions are. On the other hand it also demonstrates the serious risks that countries face when they don’t succeed to reform. The role of the Centre for European Studies is to exchange views and ideas as well as to disseminate the results of research to the public and the decision-makers in health care and participants in health care discussions. This study by Evert Jan van Asselt, Lans Bovenberg, Raymond Gradus and Ab Klink contributes to this mission. All four are involved in the work of the Research Institute for the CDA, the think tank of the Christian Democratic Party in the Netherlands. Evert Jan van Asselt as deputy director and Raymond Gradus as director, Ab Klink as former Director and until recently Minister of Health Care and Sport. Hans Bovenberg was involved in many political studies of the Dutch institute as adviser and is an expert on ageing issues. The combined knowledge and experience has led to a forward looking study with a challenging policy agenda.Social Policy Society Sustainability
Health Care Reforms in an Ageing European Society, with a Focus on the Netherlands
01 Sep 2010
This study is an exploration of the principal characteristics of the Christian Democratic portrayal of mankind with a view to the discussion on the reformation of social institutions. There is a loss of self-evident social, moral and religious ‘horizons’ which determine the human scale. Modern societies have an fundamental attitude which is determined by a way of thinking which is unilaterally focused on effectiveness and control. The emphasis on use and efficiency results in a unilateral annexation of our creativity and responsibility and our ability to be involved and to cooperate. A politic which remains stuck in an oration of rationality, technology, control and individualism is not suitable to see into today’s problems, let alone solve them. we should look for ‘more subtle languages’ which could connect the ideological perspectives of meaningfulness with our social and economical reality.Christian Democracy Religion Society Values
Man, where are you? An exploration of the Christian Democratic portrayal of mankind
11 Dec 2008
What kind of Europe do we want to have? In order to answer this question we must consider the past, present and future. When we look at the past we see a rich European tradition and culture, and a Europe that stands for strong values that are still alive today. In the present we see decreasing involvement in Europe. When looking to the future we see questions for which common policies are necessary. What kind of future is desirable for the European Union from a Christian democratic perspective, and from the same perspective, what are the available means for improving citizen involvement in the European Union? We seek the answer along three lines. First of all we consider the values that Europe represents. We subsequently look at the present day reality of the EU and examine ambitions that the EU holds. We conclude with suggestions for how to strengthen the relationship between the EU and its citizens.Christian Democracy European Union Religion Society Values
The citizen and Europe – A Christian democratic vision for the EU community
01 Oct 2008