Jul 29 2014

The Meaning of a British Exit from the European Union

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By John McCormick

Since January 2013, and the announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron of his plan to hold a referendum on continued UK membership of the European Union, there has been much speculation about the possible effects of a so-called ‘Brexit’. However, it can be no more than speculation, because no member state of the EU has ever left the club, leaving us to sail through uncharted waters.

On several preliminary points we need to be clear. First, the promise of a referendum is less about a genuine effort to put the question to a national vote than to head off a dispute within the governing Conservative party, which is deeply split on Europe. There are shades here of the last time Britain had a referendum on Europe, in 1975; this too was prompted mainly by a dispute within the governing party, although then it was Labour.

Second, there is no certainty that there will actually be a referendum. In order for one to be held, the Conservatives will need to win an outright majority at the 2015 general election. However, they have not been doing well in the polls and, ironically, their chances of winning have been diminished by the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the one political party that is most in favour of a British exit.

Finally, even if a referendum is held there is no certainty that it will result in support for leaving. One of the effects of Cameron’s announcement has been to encourage a more active debate about the implications of a Brexit, and polls show that public opinion is wavering: where most surveys in 2013 found that more people would vote to leave than to stay, during 2014 they have so far found more people voting to stay than to leave. On few occasions has there been majority support for either option, making the “don’t knows” a critical element in the outcome.

Negotiating the Terms of an Exit

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that a referendum is held which results in a decision to leave. The effects would be twofold.

First, there would need to be a formal renegotiation of the details of the legal agreements reached by the UK as a member, some of them dating back to the terms of its 1973 accession to the European Economic Community (EEC). While no doubt a long list of such agreements could be established and reviewed, it would be far from complete; membership of the EU has involved a large number of changes to domestic law that would be hard to identify and even harder to undo.

We do even not know for certain how many domestic laws have been impacted by the requirements of EU membership. Critics of the EU place the number as high as 80 per cent, but a more considered assessment in 2010 by the House of Commons Library concluded that it was closer to 7 per cent. The report also noted that there was no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU, mainly because EU and national databases are not reliable, and differentiating between EU-generated and nationally generated changes to the law is not easy. Continue reading

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Jul 24 2014

The Spanish government has to engage constructively with a rising Catalan secessionist movement

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By Diego Muro and Martijn Vlaskamp

220px-2012_Catalan_independence_protest_(102)[1]The Catalan secessionist movement may fail in bringing about the political independence of Catalonia, but it has already succeeded at one thing: getting their supporters’ hopes up. Within the pro-independence campaign there are many enthusiasts who willingly spend their free time collecting signatures, organising talks and attending rallies with the hope of realising a brighter political project for the future.

In contrast, the campaign in favour of the status quo is being carried out by the Spanish Government with the support of a handful of Catalan organisations and has been characterised by disdain, neglect and even intimidation. Unsurprisingly, the government’s negative campaign has failed to convince Catalans who want to go it alone.

Spaniards and Catalans against secessionism may have reasonable arguments but their discourse is too often limited to delivering criticism. Supporters of the status quo complain that secessionists are misleading Catalan citizens in presenting a rosy picture of the future. They grumble that the sustainability of new states is unclear and that the nationalists’ position over issues such as membership of NATO or the EU is little more than wishful thinking.

They also object that the harsh realities of the Great Recession have contributed to making political independence more attractive and that the real problem is economic, not political. If Spain was going back to providing high quality public goods for all its citizens, they hope, support for separatist dreams would fade away. These are all valid points, but ultimately the anti-secessionist campaign only delivers a negative message – why secession is a bad idea – while failing to offer arguments to the effect that staying together would be a better option.

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Jul 17 2014

Europe should be understood not as an idea but rather as a clash of ideas

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By Francesco Tava

fortresseurope[1]In his recent European election campaign, Alexis Tsipras indicated that one of the key-points of his programme was the necessity to fight “against the idea of a Fortress Europe”, and to conceive an “inclusive form of community”.

The idea of Europe as a “fortress”, as a closed, self-defending universe, has a long and quite bizarre history. The phrase “Fortress Europe” was probably used for the first time during WWII, as a propaganda term. Curiously both sides of the conflict took recourse in the idea, but gave to it opposite meanings. In the British context, “Fortress Europe” was a battle honour accorded the Royal Air Force, to describe operations against Nazi-occupied zones in the continent. From this external perspective, the fortress was the target of a military action: something already firmly established, that it was necessary to destroy. On the other hand for Nazi propagandists “Festung Europa” referred to Hitler’s project of fortifying the whole of occupied Europe, as a response to the failure of the German campaign in Russia and to the resulting threat of a double invasion of the Reich, both from the East and from the West. In that case, the fortress was something to be constructed through a system of defences that harked back to the set of fortifications built in the eighteenth century by Frederick the Great.[1]

The ambiguity of the phrase “Fortress Europe” is still with us. The idea of Europe as a “Festung”, for example, recently became a slogan of the far right Freedom Party of Austria, still flourishing after the end of the Haider era as the astonishing result in the recent European elections (20,5%) clearly confirms. The idea of fortress here has a positive sense; in the face of increasing migratory pressures from extra-European countries, Europe must indeed become a fortress! Because this  “Festung” (unfortunately) does not yet exist, it is right and proper to build it by means of the abolition of the Schengen agreement and the re-installation of the old state national borders.

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Jul 11 2014

(No) Time for activism: the changing face of protest movements

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By Anne Kaun

occupy-earth[1]New media and technologies and, in particular, social media have been celebrated over the last few years for their role in protest movements, such as the 15-M movement in Spain, the ‘Aganaktismenoi’ in Greece or the global Occupy movement. In that context, digital media have been heralded as the saviour of democracy and civic engagement as they decrease the costs and efforts of participation, organizing and mobilizing to a minimum. In the context of the Euro crisis, they have been hailed for giving voice to the citizens and being the tools for the creation of networks of resistance to national government and European policies. However, the temporal logics of digital media and platforms have consequences for the organization and identity formation of protest movements, and it is these consequences that I would like to address in this post.

The question of digital technologies and the issues they pose for the organisation of social movements can be seen within the recent a growing commentary and interest in time or better in the lack there of. Art critic Jonathan Crary discusses the ends of sleep and the sociologist Mark Davis speaks of hurried lives. What these commentaries share is the underlying argument that our experience of time is closely linked to digital media technologies that enable immediate delivery of content and services. It is argued that these technologies – intended to simplify our lives – increase the speed of (information) exchange in society and thereby extend the stress levels in general. If one takes this observation seriously what are then the consequences for democratic conduct and deliberation?

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Jul 7 2014

It’s the Youth, Stupid! Greece’s most undervalued asset

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By Vasileios Tsianos

Youth-unemp-pic3-300x198[1]Numbers never lie. However the fashion of macroeconomic valuation has a long history of interpreting partially the truth that numbers are intended to resonate. During the last four years, statistical numbers regarding the Greek economy have been interpreted by multiple economists, international investors, and public policy decision makers. Amongst many others, the most popular numbers regurgitated by mass media are the 60% youth unemployment, the 160% debt-to-GDP ratio, the 10% deficit, and the excessive credit default swaps (CDS) spreads widening. These numbers on the country’s current economic state, along with the inverting of the demographic age distribution pyramid, has led traditional methods of macroeconomic growth research to assure investors that the Greek economy has little or negligible growth potential. As a result, the public opinion has come to a consensus: the current Greek youth is a lost generation.

National vision

Greece has never had a clear national vision for its economy, in the equivalent way that the US, Canada, Germany, Israel, or the so-called Asian Tigers countries have. Greek youth have a very high intrinsic human-capital value, and an immense potential for novel support of its entrepreneurial capacity. In this essay it is argued that Greece’s success story may be captured by a national economic vision of becoming an uprising Knowledge and Innovation Economy.

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Jul 3 2014

European economy’s invisible transformation: expulsions and predatory capitalism

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By Saskia Sassen

Parts of our economies, societies, and states in Europe are being stripped bare by an extreme form of predatory capitalism.[1] And this stripping can coexist with growth in much of our economies. The majority of workers and economic operations keep functioning, even if at reduced levels.

The language of low growth, unemployment, inequality, poverty, is not enough to capture what is going on in the current phase of capitalist political economies. All of these are present, but then they always have been part of capitalism. There is a specific difference I want to capture: something far more brutal and acute that we cannot capture with the usual language. Further, I want to argue that these dynamics are not only hitting Greece, Spain and Portugal, but in fact are present throughout Europe, including Germany and the much admired Scandinavian countries.

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Jun 30 2014

Punishment of mainstream national parties, not Euroscepticism, is behind Irish results

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By Paul Nulty

untitledThe outcome of the European elections in Ireland reflected those across much of Europe — losses for the traditional establishment parties, gains for populist, Eurosceptic and anti-austerity candidates. However, in addition to the resentment of austerity measures and democratic deficit felt across many EU states, internal historical and political circumstances have also contributed to these results.

Until the financial crisis of 2008, Irish voters and representatives were largely positive about the European project. Economically, Ireland has been one of the biggest per-capita beneficiaries of the EU, and structural funds for transport, the Common Agricultural Policy and open trade and travel enabled the country to become a successful, modern and open economy. Culturally and politically, alignment with Brussels was seen by many as welcome confirmation of true independence from London. However, a sense of unease about a loss of power to Europe has grown slowly over the past decade — the Lisbon and Nice treaties were both initially rejected in referenda before being passed at the second time of asking, and the austerity conditions imposed in the wake of the bank bailout in 2010 were viewed as punitive, especially considering the relatively compliant attitude of the Irish public and politicians, compared, for example, to those in Greece.

The only party with a tradition of Euroscepticism in Ireland is Sinn Féin, which began (as a modern party) as the political representation of the IRA during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Currently in government with Unionists in Belfast, the party has begun to make inroads south of the border in Dublin. Their gains came partly at the expense of Fianna Fáil, one of two centrist parties (the other being Fine Gael) who represented opposing sides of the civil war that followed Irish independence in 1922, and who have dominated government ever since. The other victim of Sinn Féin’s success was Labour, a centre-left party who have suffered the same fate as many junior coalition partners in austerity governments across Europe.

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Jun 24 2014

The Lost Art of Diplomacy: David Cameron to Europe’s Rescue?

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By Max Hänska

David Cameron at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 104The British leadership has engaged in much posturing over Jean-Claude Juncker, the Spitzenkandidat of the EPP, and favoured candidate for European Commission President, ostensibly out of concern for Europe’s future, which, it claims, would be better served by a fresh face. Even if much of what Cameron and his supporters say is true, his strategy is deeply flawed:

Leverage

Cameron has threatened that a Juncker presidency could hasten a British exit, while an alternative may secure it in the EU. Merkel is known to favour keeping Britain in the EU. Indeed, no one honestly wants to see Britain leave. So Cameron seems to think the threat of a Brexit is his best leverage. No one doubts that the threat is real. But just the same no one believes that Cameron is in control of British political discourse, and could deliver on keeping Britain in the EU. The Tory leadership has been escalating its rhetoric on Europe and immigration since they took office in a bid to appease its backbenchers. But not even the promise of a referendum has done the trick. If Cameron gets his way on the Commission President, will he really be able to deliver and keep Britain in Europe? It seems Cameron has badly misjudged his leverage – demanding a President of his choosing, and a substantial reworking of the terms of British membership in the EU, all for the vague promise of more favourable odds of retaining Britain in the EU. Continue reading

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Jun 20 2014

EU: Reframing Can Go Hand in Hand with Reform

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By Marley Morris

1860 Mitchell Map of Europe - Geographicus - Europe-m-63Last year my colleague Giulio Carini and I wrote an article about ‘reframing’ the EU. We thought that the current frames supporters of the EU were using in the debate were obstructive and we wanted to suggest some alternatives. We were particularly motivated to do so because we were spending the week hosting George Lakoff, the American professor who has become one of the most well-known advocates of framing, both as a linguistic construct and a political tool.

Since then, openDemocracy has published a series of articles on reframing the European debate, a number of which are somewhat suspicious of our approach. In the absence of Professor Lakoff, I am not ambitious enough to defend the entire concept of framing. But I will make a case for the value of the approach in the current EU debate. Now, in light of the European Parliament election results, where stagnating voter turnout and hotspots of strident Euroscepticism were some of the most striking trends, the fundamentals of the EU debate need addressing more than ever.

There are three broad criticisms levied against framing. One is that it is a spruced up version of spindoctory; political propaganda dressed up in academic obscurities. Another related critique is that it is elitist and disingenuous, reinforcing the political status quo rather than addressing people’s real concerns. And third, it could be seen as vacuous – rather than making a new political contribution, it just repackages old ideas. These are I think the fundamental complaints about the concept of framing and the somewhat low esteem in which some hold it. Continue reading

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Jun 17 2014

Time to Get Hold of the Republican Movement in Spain

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By Alfonso Valero

Madrid - Manifestación republicana - 140602 201116 Following the abdication of Spanish king Juan Carlos I, surprisingly close to the ground-breaking results of the European elections, a relatively marginal debate of Monarchy vs. Republic has been re-opened in Spain. These confrontations are deeply rooted in Spanish history – for the last two centuries Spain has had two well defined opposed fronts for almost any aspects of political life – but the underlining principle seems to be missed by the Spanish media which is part and parcel of that tension.

The Spanish republican movement has been traditionally inspired by reminiscences of the Second Spanish Republic which took place between 1931 and 1939, when it was effectively completely defeated by the uprising of General Franco (in 1936) which led to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The collective memory of that republican period is mixed, but in view of the – apparent  – majority in support of the monarchy, the balance falls against it. The substantial recent change has been that a number of corruption cases affecting The Spanish Royal Family and the significant social movement against the current system (i.e. anti-system, but not necessarily violent revolution) has led to a number of supporters demanding a republic not necessarily to emulate the Second Republic, but to remove the so-called casta (caste). Continue reading

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