May 25 2016

Crony Capitalism and Neoliberal Paradigm (Part I)

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by Lucas Juan Manuel Alonso Alonso

It is easy to see how almost all the European Union’s Member States, as well as other western advanced economies, are facing greater social inequalities, the spread of precarious/poorly-paid job conditions, greater tax burdens on households/SMEs, stagnation or slow economic growth together with high unemployment rates and cuts in core government functions. All these factors are leading to an impoverishment of the middle classes. From this picture arises, at least, one question: Is this situation a harsh consequence of a global economic crisis, or, on the contrary, the crisis is a response to a particular type of socio-economic paradigm—commonly known as “the system”? This article, divided in two parts, aims to answer that question: part 1, concentrates on negative socio-economic effects of crony capitalism, and part 2, deals with the relationship between crony capitalism and the global neoliberalism paradigm now reigning in most countries.

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“Eclipse” [Sonnenfinsternis] by George Grosz (1926)

Crony capitalism, which can be defined as a set of economic practices and modes of organisation whereby success depends of the close relationships, often even personal, between business people and political figures, can be identified as the core of a flawed socio-economic system, mainly based on the characteristics that will be listed below, having an overall negative impact on economic growth as well as wealth distribution, and ultimately generating a high level of systemic poverty.

Strong links between politics and wealth — rent-seeking. In essence, business people use political connections to achieve wealth. Rent-seeking is a source of corrupt practice that distorts free market — there is no creation of wealth nor entrepreneurial spirit is necessary, as entrepreneurs/enterprises obtain financial gains, without any risk, from political lobbying.

Financial speculations — e.g. commodities and property prices are conveniently inflated. Lack of competitiveness — monopolies and oligopolies. The current economic globalisation is plagued of enormous asymmetries—multinational companies have an oligopolistic power in most markets—. Poor regulations (or appropriated legal vacuums) allow governments to grant profitable contracts to their cronies.

Privatisation policies — well-placed people/entrepreneurs/firms gain the property on public assets (sometimes at bargain prices) stifling fair competition. These privatisations worsen the efficiency of the service, contracts are not awarded to the best-qualified applicants, but to those who are closer to political power—also making it more expensive as bribes and increase the cost and ultimately the price of a service. As it is well known, the private sector has the goal of profit maximization and cost reduction. However, such profit-driven approach should not be applied to the management of the key functions of the state, because doing so only favours access to public services from people with sufficient economic capacity to afford them, leaving all others behind.

Lobbyists — e.g. privatisation of public corporations (roads, ports, airports, oil companies…), transfer of wealth to financiers, enterprises/entrepreneurs arising from political clientelism…, etc.; governments can enact laws to benefit incumbents (their friends and contributors) and decry potential insiders…

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May 20 2016

The EU’s Operation Sophia Has Failed to Make Conditions Safer for Refugees

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By Mollie Gerver

640px-Cavour_550In June 2015 the EU instituted a naval force, the EUNAVFOR MED, to destroy boats used by people smugglers. Two months later, in August 2015, a German vessel rescued a pregnant Somali woman named Rahma Abukar Ali, and she soon gave birth to a baby named Sophia. Sophia’s name spread across the internet, and the EU renamed EUNAVFOR as Operation Sophia, marketed as saving lives, and not only destroying ships.

On 13 May, the UK’s House of Lords EU Committee declared that Operation Sophia, though saving 9,000 lives at sea, has failed to either sufficiently deter smugglers from operating, or to significantly increase the safety of refugees and migrants. Destroying smugglers’ boats led smugglers to switch to using inflatable rubber dinghies, mass-bought from China, which are impossible to ban or easily destroy, and far less safe for refugees crossing the sea. The relatively secure boats used by Sophia’s mother are now less likely to be used because of Operation Sophia. Continue reading

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May 6 2016

Defenestrations: (Un)Framing the EU Referendum Debate, Part I

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By Henry Radice

Observing (full disclosure: from the perspective of a strong supporter of Remain) the politics of the UK’s upcoming EU referendum, a number of problematic framings of the question of British membership of the EU appear relevant to the debate. Over a series of short blogs in the coming weeks, Editor-in-Chief Henry Radice examines these in turn, beginning with the issue of the referendum itself.

The Referendum

UK_Polling_Booth_2011The primary, crucial framing of the political choice to remain part of the EU or not was David Cameron’s decision to offer and then hold a referendum in the first place. He did this, as far as we can tell, primarily to attempt (unsuccessfully) to assuage the large Eurosceptic constituency within the British Conservative Party and to limit the erosion of Tory votes by UKIP at the 2015 General Election. As such, and this is a theme I shall return to in subsequent posts in the series, he acted not out of responsible political leadership or a love of democratic politics, but rather out of narrow expediency.

The advantage, or danger, depending on the context, of a referendum is that it frames the non-status quo alternative as imaginable and thus risks that status quo, to some extent regardless of the alternative’s prior salience among citizens’ concerns. It offers the alternative as a real political choice, affording it credibility in the process. Naturally, this can have positive benefits, crystallising changing views on an easily definable issue, such as in the recent Irish referendum on same-sex marriage. As such, no democrat should rule out including referenda as part of the democratic toolbox. They can be, or become in the course of a campaign, a way for citizens to do politics in relation to a particular issue in a new, sometimes refreshing and certainly more direct way. This was also part of the Scottish story, as inconvenient as it might have been at the time to those of us who supported the better together side of the argument. But as with any set-piece of democratic politics, its democratic value will be nourished or corroded by the everyday politics that surround it. Continue reading

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Apr 20 2016

The myths that are preventing us from solving the refugee crisis

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By Zoe Gardner

Refugees on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016.

The preventable deaths of another 400 people in the Mediterranean on Monday morning must be a wake-­up call. The British and European approach to the migrant and refugee humanitarian crisis simply isn’t working.

For all of the outcry we’ve seen in the past six months over the plight of refugees desperately attempting to cross to Europe, for all of the high-­level summits and meetings between European leaders, and for all of the billions that have been thrown into border control operations, no credible solution has yet been found to prevent the ongoing tragic deaths at sea.

In a smaller version of what is going on in the Mediterranean, we in the UK regularly hear horrific reports of the corpses of migrants and refugees being discovered frozen in refrigerated trucks or suffocated in lorries in Kent. Human beings who may have survived an initial Mediterranean crossing, dying in their attempts to cross to England from their squalid camps in Calais.

So why have the attempted solutions – expensive and politically wrought border control agreements, aimed at saving human lives by preventing and discouraging these dangerous journeys – so comprehensively failed? Continue reading

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Apr 13 2016

From Hybrid Peace to Human Security: Rethinking EU Strategy towards Conflict

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ReportCoverA recent publication of likely interest to Euro Crisis in the Press readers is the The Berlin Report of the Human Security Study Group. Entitled ‘From Hybrid Peace to Human Security: Rethinking EU Strategy towards Conflict’, it was presented to the European External Action Service in Brussels earlier this year.

Study Group convenors: Mary Kaldor and Javier Solana
Coordinator: Iavor Rangelov

The report proposes that the European Union adopts a second generation human security approach to conflicts, as an alternative to Geo-Politics or the War on Terror. Second generation human security takes forward the principles of human security and adapts them to 21st century realities. Continue reading

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Apr 5 2016

The EU, a Fair-Weather Ship Between Scylla and Charybdis 

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By Max Hänska

The EU faces debilitation by multiple crises: economic malaise and high unemployment, an influx of refugee and mounting security concerns. They all lay bare that resilience was not build into the EU’s architecture, it lacks the institutional capacities to respond to external shocks. Either its members create the capacities needed to respond resolutely to such shocks, or it heads for sclerotic decline.

The EU, and the Eurozone, have been grappling with the consequences of an incomplete monetary union since Greece first required assistance from other Eurozone countries in 2010. Sharing a currency, unable to devalue, and without mechanisms that allow for intra-Eurozone transfers, the Greek economy has been on life-support ever since. The latest bailout review has been extended, but it seems increasingly unlikely that a happy outcome is on the cards (see here and here). The Eurozone may well find itself back on the threshold of a Grexit just around the time when the UK votes on Brexit. The upshot is that the EU has failed to ensure economic security, and opportunities for many of its citizens. The underlying problem, a shared monetary system, without collective fiscal capacities, has not been redressed. Fiscally the Eurozone needs to become more like a state if it wants to avert decline and fragmentation. Continue reading

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Mar 28 2016

The political ‘migration crisis’ and the military-humanitarian response

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By Pierluigi Musarò

20151030_Syrians_and_Iraq_refugees_arrive_at_Skala_Sykamias_Lesvos_Greece_2‘We need more than a humanitarian response […] We need political leadership and action,’ Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said on 8 March 2016. Referring to the fact that ‘Europe is now seeing record numbers of refugees, and migrants, arriving on its shores’, Grandi stressed that ‘this emergency does not have to be a crisis, it can be managed’. Grandi, who was speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, did not mention to what extent, in recent years, the militarisation of migration and border controls has been explicitly bound with notions of humanitarianism. Nevertheless, I guess he is aware that the current focus on both the humanitarian and security-related aspects of the phenomenon suggests a more complex logic of threat and benevolence that allows for a security-humanitarian response.

Unfortunately Grandi’s concern is not new. The problematic relationship between humanitarianism and politics was clearly described 17 years ago by James Orbinski of Médecins Sans Frontières, on the occasion of his Nobel Lecture: ‘Humanitarianism is not a tool to end war or to create peace. It is a citizen’s response to political failure. It is an immediate, short term act that cannot erase the long term necessity of political responsibility.’ The novelty is that Orbinski was criticising those interventions called ‘military-humanitarian’, while Grandi is referring to the ongoing migration management, too often framed as a humanitarian emergency.

A quick look at how the moral discourses typically associated with the humanitarian aid organisations are today gaining importance in the context of border control makes clear what types of political and epistemological implications this discursive dislocation has. Consider, for example, the news, images and video produced by the Italian Navy during the operation Mare Nostrum – the military-humanitarian operation in the Mediterranean targeted at both rescuing migrants and arresting smugglers. Let me note that Mare Nostrum (our sea) was the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea, hijacked by Mussolini to frame fascist propaganda about the ‘Italian lake’. As the same (ambivalent) name indicates, the possessive ‘our’ projects the Mediterranean as a European space of care and control, while it ambiguously refers to both Italy and Europe.

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Mar 21 2016

Europe’s Human Rights Crisis

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By Natasha Saunders

thFidelity to one’s principles is measured by how they are honoured in times of crisis. Hannah Arendt – a refugee who fled Nazi Germany and became one of the most influential political thinkers of the twentieth century – showed us how European states, supposedly built upon a foundation of human rights, deserted their principles with disastrous effects when faced with an influx of rightless refugees in the 1930s. Her insights, published the same year as the UN Refugee Convention was opened for signature, are eerily prescient. This week the EU and Turkey finalised a deal that would see blanket returns of irregular migrants to Turkey, and a resettlement programme for Syrians – but not Iraqis, Afghans, or Eritreans – who stay in Turkey and do not try to cross into Europe, implemented on the basis of a “1-Out-1-In” mechanism. In exchange for acting as Europe’s migration policeman, Turkey will receive €3 billion in aid, the possibility of visa-free Schengen-zone travel by June, and “reenergised” EU-Accession talks. Following the serious concerns expressed by rights groups when the possibility of such a deal was first announced, EU leaders claim to have inserted safeguards into the deal that will ensure that it complies with international and EU law. But rights groups and UNHCR are unconvinced.

The problem with EU professions of fidelity to human rights and international obligations in this particular area is that Europe has a long history of trying to get out of its obligations under the Refugee Convention, and an equally long history of, to all intents and purposes, criminalising the seeking of asylum – an act which is not a crime but a basic human right enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The EU-Turkey deal should not be seen as exceptional episode but, rather, as the latest policy in a long-running series of attempts to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers and irregular migrants reaching European territory. These policies began in earnest in the 1980s once international travel became cheaper and travel routes opened to people fleeing wars and rights abuses in Africa and Asia. European asylum systems, which were not designed to deal in an efficient manner with large volumes of applications, quickly became backlogged and costs spiralled. But rather than attempting to reform the structure of asylum systems, European states decided instead to conflate asylum with irregular economic migration, and implement restrictive policies designed to prevent, reverse, and deter arrival.

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Mar 16 2016

The EU’s olive oil diplomacy: Italian fears and prospects for Tunisia

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By Stefano M. Torelli

thumb_58534_article_bigOn 10 March, the European Parliament voted in favor of a measure allowing Tunisia to export yearly 35,000 tons of olive oil tax-free in the European Union, for two years. That is, Tunisia will be allowed to export to the EU 70,000 tons of olive oil between 2016 and 2017 with no further duties. The decision has attracted much criticism from associations of local farmers, especially in Italy. The Italian Minister of Agricultural Policies, Maurizio Martina, spoke against the decision, because it would damage the Italian olive oil sector. The controversy prompts us to reflect on the policy options the European Union has towards the Southern Mediterranean countries. Furthermore, it shows how much gap there exists at national level between political slogans – even the most populist ones – and concrete action(s).

The Tunisian olive oil affair should be framed in a wider context that takes into consideration the Mediterranean environment. Here, we confront three intertwined macro-issues: the difficult political transition of the countries that have experienced the so-called Arab Spring; the unprecedented flow of immigrants coming to Europe in the last two years; and the spread of Islamic terrorism in North Africa. What do these factors have in common and what is their relation with the olive oil affair? In fact, many things. The primary reason why the EU has decided to adopt this measure lies in the political will to support the Tunisian economy in one of the most delicate moments of its recent history. To date, Tunisia is the only country that offer some hopes for real democratic change. Unlike Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, it has undergone a process of democratisation that led to the adoption of a new constitution and to the holding of free and fair elections. This does not mean that there are still no big obstacles. Among them, the most relevant – sometimes connected to each other – is the economic crisis that has deteriorated since 2011, and the spread of jihadism. This became evident with the attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunis (18 March 2015) and on in Sousse (26 June 2015), in which dozens of Western tourists (among them 30 British) have lost their lives. These two attacks have dealt a blow to one of the most important sectors of the Tunisian economy: tourism. This sector accounts for about 14% of the total national GDP. About 15% of the labor force is employed in tourism. After the attacks of 2015, foreign visitors have dropped by one million, threatening the Tunisian economy with collapse. Against this background, terrorism has continued to expand and it now puts at serious risk the Tunisian transition process, partly as a result of the security crisis in neighboring Libya too. Following the Bardo and Sousse attacks, European governments and public opinion have been active in proclamations and promises of aid. For a few days, as was the case for the attacks in Paris, “we were all Tunisians”.

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Mar 10 2016

Read All About It (Or Not): The Trouble with the Turkish Press

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By Kate Cyr

Protest_against_2015_Koza_İpek_raid_(1)Istanbul’s 2013 Gezi Park protests unearthed muddy tales of corruption, bias, and authoritarianism that powerful conglomerates and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would have preferred buried indefinitely. The government received global scrutiny as anyone from students to grandmothers gathered in the streets to demonstrate against the AKP’s increasingly undemocratic actions, including silencing the press.

In the years since, the Syrian crisis, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strong-handed foreign policy, and religious issues have dominated coverage of Turkey abroad – leaving important issues like press freedom and related human rights violations once again shrouded in silence. Yet the political biases of Turkish media deserve scrutiny by Turkish and international audiences alike. Amidst the crises of the region, misreporting and bias convolutes the information reaching the public and can have very real implications for the understanding and response to various issues. The stories of daily paper Sabah and the press treatment of the Kurdish minority both offer warnings of the damage Turkey’s biased press machinery can cause.

Sabah, a daily newspaper founded in 1985, is telling of the complex and often hidden ways in which press freedom is stifled in Turkey – and just how deeply corporate and government meddling runs in the industry. After displeasing government officials in 2007, the paper was seized over an alleged misfiling of merger and acquisition paperwork six years before. The state sold the daily to a company owned by then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son-in-law using state-subsidized funds, allowing the government to effectively control Sabah’s content.

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