Nov 20 2018

Labour and Brexit: a ‘sensible’ deal?

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By Mary Kaldor

According to Theresa May, the choice is between her deal, no deal or no Brexit. But the Labour leadership still seems to think that it can negotiate a more ‘sensible deal’. What on earth would a more ‘sensible’ deal look like and is it a sensible strategy for the Labour Party?  Is not now the moment to abandon the soft Brexit position and to come out for remain and reform?

First of all, there is the problem of time. Theresa May has left  us perilously close to the deadline of March 2019, perhaps deliberately hoping that the fear of no deal will enable her to garner sufficient parliamentary support for her deal. If Labour is to make the argument convincingly that the alternative is not “no deal”, the party has to explain how it will take over, either as a minority government  or through a general election and negotiate a new deal in a few short weeks.

Even if the EU were to agree to further negotiations, is this feasible? Surely it would require an extension of Article 50 but would the EU agree to this on the basis of the further ‘purgatory’ of endless negotiations?

Overcoming polarisation?

Secondly, is there a more sensible deal that would meet Labour’s six tests and meet their stated goal of overcoming the polarisation between leavers and remainers? The agreement made by May with Brussels is not actually the deal. It is an agreement on the terms of withdrawal covering money, citizenship rights and the Northern Ireland border and a rather vaguely worded political declaration about the content of a future deal that would govern the relationship between the UK and the EU. Basically everything remains much the same during the transition period. The political declaration about the content of a final deal commits us to the single market and probably the customs union for goods, although there are caveats, but allows for future control of immigration and is rather vague about everything else. It is a bespoke framework that is close to the Norway and Switzerland options but with control of immigration.

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Nov 5 2018

‘It’s not about Britain and Europe, it’s about Barnet High Street and All Saints’ School’: how will Brexit impact Barnet?

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By Alexandra Bulat

The London Borough of Barnet is one of the five local authority areas selected for the LSE project ‘Understanding Brexit impacts at a local level’, coordinated by the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit. The reports contextualise the Brexit impact studies carried out at a national level with qualitative evidence collected at the local level. Borad at barnet brexit

Barnet, ‘a leafy London suburb’, as some residents like to call it, is the highest populated London borough, with an economy reliant on retail, professional and health services, all sectors which tend to employ high numbers of migrant workers. Barnet is a multicultural area, known to have the highest Jewish population in England and other sizable ethnic minority groups from both EU and non-EU countries. One in ten Barnet residents comes from another EU country. Dhingra et al (2017) predicted that urban areas in London and the South of England, such as Barnet, will feel a stronger negative impact of Brexit than other areas, under all Brexit scenarios.

Barnet ethnic compositionThe Barnet report details two broad impacts of Brexit: on public services and local businesses. The insights from interviews with Barnet residents mirror the results from national level studies. There are concerns around recruitment and retention of non-UK EU staff working in Barnet’s public services; the local residents consulted tend to agree that Brexit could exacerbate existing staff shortages in Barnet. Also, in line with previous findings from research at a national level, those consulted for the report pointed out how businesses may be negatively affected, particularly if Brexit has a negative impact on household income and Barnet residents spend less in the local economy, in particular eating out and other non-essential expenses. Continue reading

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Oct 21 2018

The three founding Myths of Italy’s new Nationalism

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 By Alessandro Franzi

The aftermath of 2018 Italian elections has turned into a political reality show  powered by the media system. Centre stage stands Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, who became deputy prime minister, Interior minister and the de facto head of government. At his side is the other deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Stars Movement and Welfare minister. Anything that Salvini and Di Maio say instantly becomes the object of analysis, comment and outrage amongst an increasingly crowded  audience.

In Italy, whether you are sipping coffee at the bar or driving your car listening to any radio station you will inevitably hear the latest statements of the two leaders treated as the most important news of the hour. The same goes for national and local televisions, whose schedules are full of shows focused on the core issues of the two government parties: immigration, crime and the privileges of politicians. This priority news organisations accord to any utterance of these two politicians is shared by online news outlets, the press, and of course social media, the preferred communication channel of this new politics. An invasion of words and images in the middle of everyday life, that leaves little time to reflect on the ongoing change.

Everyone in Italy, apparently, is involved in this conversation. Supporters and opposers, actors and pundits, journalists and churchmen, old politicians and European statesmen. Everyone is engaged in a frenetic exercise since both Salvini and Di Maio speak at every hour of the day and intervene in any topic of domestic or international affairs. They dictate the agenda. Or rather, the public agenda is theirs. The consequence is that everyone in Italy is forced to speak for or against everything that Salvini and Di Maio say. You are a supporter or opponent in this bubble which leaves no space to find out what is real and what is fiction, what is politics and what is communication, what is an opportunity and what is a threat. Sometimes it seems that the League and the Five Stars Movement are acting both as government and opposition parties, so varied are their positions and extensive their visibility and so weak and diminutive the opposition.

It is this climate of permanent electoral campaigning that has normalised the expectation of a clash between Italy and EU on the next budget law. An intention deliberately immortalized by a picture portraying Mr Di Maio greeting a non-existent crowd from the balcony of the Prime Minister’s official venue in Rome. A perfect shot to feed the media bubble that surrounds Italian politics nowadays. Moreover, now this  reality show is proving to be a critical turning point for the European Union as a whole, in view of the May 2019 vote. It would be wrong to think that the 2018 elections outcome represents an accident. It is similarly  risky to assume that the strategy of Italy’s current government is oriented only to provocation, because it seems to remain so in tune with popular feeling.

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Jul 23 2018

The nationalist Italian government is a challenge to the Church

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By Alessandro Franzi

The new Italian government, formed by the Five Stars Movement and the League, also poses a challenge to the Catholic Church. However, it is not only its populist tones that create a division between State and religious powers, in a country where ecclesiastic hierarchies have always had a strong influence in decision making. The current battleground is the nationalist approach to immigration policies, a main pillar of the new government action. The official line of the Italian church, embodied by Pope Francis, insists on the evangelical duty of receiving people who cross the Mediterranean sea to reach Europe every week. The winners of the 2018 elections push in the opposite direction by pursuing restrictive policies.

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/blessing-of-children-pope-religion-604358/

According to Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, the far-right League leader and the de facto prime minister, Italy can not afford to let new migrants enter the country. He claims that there are too many as it is, and that they are changing the country’s traditional way of life. Salvini’s guiding principle is ‘Italians first’. Hence his first acts were to close national ports to NGO boats carrying victims of shipwrecks, and to promise to cut public funds for asylum seekers’ assistance. Italy’s goal is to force its EU partners to accept mandatory quotas of migrants by changing the so-called Dublin Regulation. This position is shared by both government parties because they are widely popular among voters, although the Five Stars Movement is a less compact party than the League and risks a split in the long term.

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Jun 26 2018

Populism, Trump, and the future of democracy

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By Michael J. Sandel

These are dangerous times for democracy. Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other places that once offered democratic hope are now, in varying degrees, falling into authoritarianism. Democracy is also in trouble in sturdier places.

In the United States, Donald Trump poses the greatest threat to the American constitutional order since Richard Nixon. And yet, despite the floundering first year and a half of Trump’s presidency, the opposition has yet to find its voice.

One might think that Trump’s inflammatory tweets, erratic behavior, and persistent disregard for democratic norms would offer the opposition an easy target. But it has not worked out this way. For those who would mount a politics of resistance, the outrage Trump provokes has been less energizing than paralyzing.

There are two reasons for the opposition’s paralysis. One is the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. The hope that Mueller’s findings will lead to the impeachment of Trump is wishful thinking that distracts Democrats from asking hard questions about why voters have rejected them at both the federal and state level.

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Jun 14 2018

Italy’s Eurosceptic Turn

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By Roberto Orsi

Italy has a new government. Matching the unprecedented results of the election of 4 March, this new government marks the beginning of something never seen before. Italy is the first country in the Western half of the continent, and the first EU founding member, to be ruled by a Eurosceptic leadership. To be fair, however, “Euro-critical” would be a more appropriate descriptor, as the positions of PM Conte and his team, as well as its underlying parliamentary majority, do not appear to be aggressively antagonising the EU political project and its key people (yet).

Read from the other side, the birth of Conte’s government signals that liberal Euro-Atlantic networks have lost political control of Italy. This is a serious development, and it follows the loss of Central-Eastern Europe to nationalist parties, the right-wing turn in Austria, Brexit, and above all Donald Trump’s seizure of the White House. It adds to a growing movement which rejects what Europe (and the Western world more in general) has become in the decades following the end of the Cold War, as well as its ideological underpinnings. These can be listed as cosmopolitanism, pluralism, multiculturalism, but they are often also interpreted as mass immigration, uncontrolled economic globalisation, suppression of local and national identities, extreme individualism, cultural uprooting, Islamisation, “gender ideology”. That movement, variously called “nationalist”, “populist”, “right-wing”, “anti-establishment”, “sovereignist”, which in reality contains an astonishing variety of positions, is undoubtedly riding an historical tide similar to the one which led to the demise of the Soviet bloc. It is radically transforming the landscape of Western politics, and it has already caused irreversible changes.

Less noticed is perhaps the positive feedback loop between Euro-Atlantic liberal-cosmopolitan positions (and actors) and the rise of such movement. One can, and perhaps should, read this movement as a reaction, at the very least, to the errors the Euro-Atlantic leadership has committed in the past years, and continue to indulge in, particularly the catastrophic refugee crisis of 2015-2016. It was astonishing to watch European leaders, as well as almost the totality of intellectuals, embarking on such course of action while they all too seemingly thought: “there will be no or negligible consequences”. This inability to think about politicsis the best guarantee of their demise and of their adversaries’ rise. So far, this has been the pattern.

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Jun 6 2018

The Counterfactual Imagination of Populist Euroscepticism

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By Max Hänska and Vassilios Paipais

Euroscepticism is on the rise across Europe, as populists from both the left and right hold up their retrograde visions of gloriously assertive and blissfully self-reliant nation states. The installation of a populist and eurosceptic government in Italy in recent weeks, after months of political wrangling, is just the latest episode of this saga.

But the patriotic visions of the future imagined by populists rest on the implausible assumption that other states will continue to honour their international responsibilities, even as they renege on theirs. The dilemmas and necessities of international cooperation cannot simply and conveniently be set aside.

In this sense, populism is parasitic upon the very liberal, rule-based international order which it so energetically contests. It is rising at a moment when neoliberal centrism, the orthodoxy of the prevailing order, has run out of steam. To secure a more legitimate and cooperative global order that is sustainable, liberals need to be bold – and imagine a real alternative.

Enter the EU

The founding idea of the European Union, of closer international cooperation, emerged after a long history of clashing national projects, culminating in two world wars, with all their catastrophic consequences. This was a history of European international relations governed by political competition in which states cajoled each other by the threat, or actual use of force.

Yet, as the former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, observed, no European nation was large enough to dominate all others, and so none could establish a lasting order.

The EU, under the security umbrella of what the publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit, Josef Joffe, called the “American pacifier”, was to transform Europe’s power rivalries into mutually beneficial cooperation. It did so with such success for much of the past half century that the reality of what international relations were like before the EU existed has almost faded from living memory.

But after half a century of cooperation and partial integration, the drivers of international competition are returning with a vengeance. The US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, seems to be retrenching from Europe and the Middle East to focus on the containment of China. German political and economic hegemony in Europe is intensely felt and has already become the cause of grievances in Europe’s periphery. Russia is pursuing an assertive foreign policy that has become a source of annoyance, if not outright hostility, for both liberals and populists in the West. Meanwhile, Brexiteers presume Britain will gain a more assertive and dominant international role after departing the EU.

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Apr 30 2018

Brexit and migrant voters: Conservative support in London wards

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By Joachim Wehner

English local elections on 3 May take place as migrants might be finding a less divided political voice than at any time since the vote in favour of leaving the European Union (EU). The 2016 Referendum created deep uncertainty about the rights and prospects of more than three million EU citizens living in the country. Yet others were attracted by arguments that leaving the EU might bring opportunities to strengthen Britain’s ties with Commonwealth countries. The Leave campaign actively fostered this impression in the battle for votes. Priti Patel famously announced a “Save the British Curry Day” and argued that “[by] voting to leave the EU we can take back control of our immigration policies [and] save our curry houses.” Keeping out the Europeans, it seemed, would create more space for migrants from former colonies.

brexit migrantsThis was always unlikely. As Simon Hix, Eric Kaufmann and Thomas Leeper show, UK voters, including Leavers, care more about reducing non-EU than EU migration. Instead of a new openness towards Commonwealth countries, the Windrush scandal highlights their role at the very centre of the government’s efforts to reduce the number of migrants in Britain. Over the past months, the Guardian has published a string of harrowing stories of deportation, destitution and denial of critical medical treatment resulting from Theresa May’s infamous (and now rebranded) “hostile environment” policy for illegal immigrants. The policy initially appeared to claim predominantly black victims among long-term residents with migration backgrounds who Amber Rudd’s Home Office, in pursuit of ambitious removal targets, deemed unable to document their status. Now the scandal is spreading to non-Caribbean Commonwealth-born citizens. This shameful treatment heightens anxiety about their prospects for migrants in general.

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Apr 3 2018

The Catalan Crisis: Is There a Right to Self-Determination in the International Context?

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By Javier Padilla and Sergio Olalla

conference catalan independence LSEOn February 22, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) hosted the fourth and last debate of a series ‘What is Next for Spain and Catalonia?’. Moderated by Julio Crespo MacLennan, professors Montserrat Guibernau, Manuel Arias Maldonado and Fernando Vallespín spoke on normative and political issues around the right to self-determination in democracies. This post summarises the main points that were developed in the debate which are closely related with the current situation in Catalonia.

The right to self-determination in the international context

Guibernau started by recognising that the right to self-determination may not be applicable in plural democracies that respect minorities. However, she did not consider the Spanish case as an example of a plural democracy that respects minorities. According to Guibernau, the Catalans are a minority ignored in Spain and the behaviour of the central government towards the Catalan minority – with measures such as the application of article 155 and the imprisonment of some pro-independence politicians – would justify that the right of self-determination can be applied to the Catalan case. Therefore, she considered legitimate the aspiration to independence and believed it justified that this right does apply to Catalonia.

Vallespín explained that international law recognises two principles that are contradictory: the principle of self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity. The conflict between the two has been traditionally solved in two complementary ways. On the one hand, the principle of self-determination has been applied in cases of former colonies or overt injustices against minorities. On the other hand, the principle of territorial integrity has been applied to the rest of the cases that do not fall under these categories. According to Vallespín, in cases such as Kosovo, it is fair to speak of an oppressed minority that would have the right to self-determination; however, Catalonia would not meet these conditions and it would fail to achieve international recognition. Therefore, it is necessary to refer to what the internal law says. The Spanish Constitution is similar to the rest of European constitutions in the way that it proclaims that sovereignty resides in the totality of the political nation. Vallespín gave the example of Canada, where the Supreme Court declared that the Quebec region could not unilaterally decide to become independent from the rest of the country. Therefore, there is not a Catalan demos and the actions of the Catalan government broke the Spanish and Catalan law. Vallespín differentiated between the right to self-govern, that Catalonia would enjoy, and the right to secession, which is not contemplated in the Spanish legislation.

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Mar 28 2018

Salvini, the Leader who Replaced Berlusconi

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By Alessandro Franzi

By Niccolò Caranti [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Silvio Berlusconi no longer leads the Italian centre-right coalition. The outcome of the recent election has given this role to Matteo Salvini, the younger (ex-Northern) League leader who aspires to be the next prime minister. Mr Salvini has turned himself into a nationalist during the past five years, after a long political history as a separatist militant. His party achieved 17,3%, up from just 4% in 2013, before his ascendency to the leadership. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (with a mere 14%) is now the second party of the coalition for the first time since 1994. This means an obvious generational change within the main right-wing political alliance: Salvini is 45 year old, Berlusconi 81. But the League’s success also involves a radicalization of the centre-right’s political stance, which focuses on a Trump-style motto: “Italians first”. Even if it is not a monolithic force, the new Italian centre-right is opposed to mass immigration, promises a 15% flat tax, and claims a return of sovereignty from the European Union. These are the core themes of Salvini’s leadership, based on a defence of some local identities against globalization and the establishment. But who is Matteo Salvini? Continue reading

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