Feb 5 2016

Modern slavery? The UK visa system and the exploitation of migrant domestic workers

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By Virginia Mantouvalou

It might be hard to believe that a domestic worker – or anyone – is currently forced to sleep on a bathroom floor or is locked up in a house. Yet such experiences are very real for those who come to the UK on an overseas domestic worker visa. The current system – which provides a six-month, non-renewable right to stay – does not allow such workers to change employers. Those who run away due to appalling experiences are thus unable to find a new job and become undocumented. Canging the visa system is the only way forward, if the UK is to treat everyone as human.
Heathrow_stampSince 2012 migrant domestic workers arrive in the UK under very restrictive visa conditions. The Overseas Domestic Worker visa does not permit them to change employer and ties them to the employer with whom they arrived for a non-renewable period of six months. Domestic workers, particularly when they live in the employers’ household, are a vulnerable group of workers. They are also often excluded from labour protective laws. The UK visa has been heavily criticised by many for creating further vulnerability, and has even been linked to slavery. Between 15,000 and 16,000 such visas are issued each year, according to the Home Office, which does not provide any further information on arrivals but produces data on the nationality of the employers. About 80 per cent come from a very small number of countries in the Middle East.

Last year I conducted an empirical study, a series of interviews with 24 migrant domestic workers who arrived in the UK on this visa. My aim was to find out how this vulnerable and difficult (for researchers) to reach group of workers experience the visa in practice. The workers interviewed recounted shocking stories of abuse and exploitation, fear and isolation.

I approached the interviewees through Kalayaan, the main non-governmental organisation specializing in the labour rights of domestic workers. I was introduced to them as a trustee of Kalayaan, and conducted the interviews in the offices of the organisation with the help of interpreters. The purpose of my study was not to find a representative sample or to produce quantitative analysis of the numbers of workers under the visa, which would be impossible in the case of this group.

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Jan 21 2016

Euroradio: from Warsaw for Belarus

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By Lorenzo Berardi

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in December 2015 and many cars sporting Belarusian number plates are maneuvering their way in and out of the parking lot of Centrum Handlowy Marki, a shopping centre on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. As there are only 200 kilometres separating the Polish capital from the border with Belarus this is hardly a surprising sight. The distance between Warsaw and Minsk is less than the one between the Polish capital and Berlin.

Both Poland and Belarus held presidential elections last year. In May 2015 Polish voters chose the then underdog candidate, Andrzej Duda, instead of backing the president in office, Bronisław Komorowski (an outcome confirmed by the following parliamentary elections). In October last year Belarusians voted en masse for their president running for his fifth term. Alexander Lukashenko has now been leading Belarus for twenty-one years in a row, winning the latest elections with a staggering 83.47% of the vote.

To the casual observer such a landslide victory may suggest that Belarus is a stable and united country, but in fact part of Lukashenko’s success lies in controlling the national media. So much so that today only the friendly voices of State-approved televisions, radios and newspapers can be read and heard in Belarus, with the only exceptions being a few independent websites and online newspapers.

No surprise then that neighbouring Poland hosts many independent Belarusian media organisations backed by international subjects and targeting the 9.5 million people living in Belarus as their main audience. A list of Belarusian ‘non-State’ media broadcasting from Poland includes the satellite television channel Belsat TV, the website of the Charter 97 organisation as well as radio stations such as Białystok based Radio Racyja and Warsaw based Eŭrapéjskaje Rádyjo dla Biełarúsi (European Radio for Belarus). Continue reading

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Jan 14 2016

Understanding Euroscepticism: How British hostility to the EU contrasts with opposition elsewhere in Europe

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By  Montserrat Guibernau

The UK and the EU are both changing. The UK stands as a world power and, as such, it continues to look for recognition while maintaining a distinct identity and status, which includes a special relationship with the United States. In turn, the EU embraces a considerable number of nation states, which, so far, have been prepared to relinquish some aspects of their own jealously guarded sovereignty in order to benefit from membership of an economically prosperous and dynamic internal market, which has turned the EU into a phenomenally successful economic global player.

However, the depth of the economic crisis, exemplified by Greece, has brought instability and it seriously threatens the survival of the EU, as we know it. As a result, Euroscepticism, defined as criticism of the EU and opposition to the process of political European integration, is currently rising in both the UK and in the EU.

Yet, in some cases, nation states employ the EU as an excuse for action or inaction within the domestic arena and, at times, they even use it as a scapegoat, thus fuelling nationalism and reinforcing national identity. The variety of Euroscepticisms within the EU confirms the co-existence of different political cultures among EU member-states. At present, the economic crisis has contributed to highlighting the relevance of Euroscepticism in Britain and the EU.

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Jan 6 2016

To be, or not to be: Europe under siege

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By David Held and Kyle McNally

It has been a tough year for Europe. Greece, mass migration and terrorism are among the many factors which have unsettled Europe in a profound way. When the EU is seen to stutter and stumble from one crisis to another, what the EU stands for, and what the EU is all about, are questions that become of great significance. Perhaps it is just an end of year reflection, but there does seem to be something profoundly cumulative about the pressures on the EU.

The Night Lights of Europe, Credit: NASA/GSFC

The Night Lights of Europe, Credit: NASA/GSFC

Empires fall, countries collapse, and regimes break when they come under multiple pressures which pile on difficulties of growing complexity. When this complexity outstrips the steering capacity of such entities they tend to crumble and give way to new historical forms. Is the EU now in this position?

Steering capacity comprises a number of different things. It requires having the governance mechanisms to resolve pressing problems, and the cultural and symbolic goods which bind a population together. In the case of the European Union, its governance mechanisms have typically been well adapted to a world of rising prosperity. The postwar boom assisted Europe’s development such that all countries could rise simultaneously.

The European community was, moreover, bound together in the postwar years because of two crucial social and symbolic experiences. The first of these was the Second World War and its catastrophic legacy. The second was the Cold War which gave Europe a strong sense of negative integration. But when the Cold War came to an end and the threat of the Soviet Union was over, what would bind Europe into the future? In the 1990s and early 2000s, faced with mounting economic and social difficulties, the EU needed positive ideals and norms of integration, such as commitments to social justice, sustainability and well-being, which were too often either latent or absent.

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Dec 18 2015

Podemos in the upcoming Spanish general elections

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By Iván Llamazares

In the European Parliament elections of May 2014, Podemos (We can) achieved a major electoral breakthrough by receiving 8 per cent of the national vote share and obtaining 5 seats. Podemos had been founded just a few months earlier as a coalition of anti-capitalist political organisations, social activists who opposed the governing People’s Party’s adjustment policies, and a few social science scholars who had attained popularity in the Spanish media.

First and foremost among this latter group was Pablo Iglesias, a political science lecturer who would become the main leader of the party. The new party combined the innovative populist discourse of Iglesias, aimed at transcending the old left-right ideological divides by giving voice to all those who had been severely hit by the economic crisis, with a new emphasis on democratic and bottom-up politics, using social communication technologies. These procedures allowed all sympathisers to nominate the candidates for the European Parliament elections in a completely open primary.

The party’s success in the European Parliament elections was perceived by Podemos’ leaders as the first step on their path to national political power in the 2015 parliamentary elections. To prepare for that struggle, Podemos held a constitutional process in October 2014. During this assembly, the political and organisational power of Pablo Iglesias within the party was drastically strengthened. In addition, Podemos participated, with varying degrees of success, in several electoral contests from that moment on.

In the regional and local elections of May 2015 it secured impressive results. Most notably, the independent candidates endorsed by the party became the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona. By contrast, disappointing results in the Catalan elections of September 2015 led to the perception that the continuous electoral growth of Podemos may have already reached its ceiling. This impression was without doubt reinforced by the very good results of Ciudadanos, another new party that became the second most supported party in the Catalan elections.

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Dec 17 2015

The PP and Rajoy’s uncertain future

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By Javier Astudillo and Marta Romero 

The incumbent Spanish People’s Party (PP), led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, will contest the election after being in government with an absolute majority, in addition to controlling until recently most regional governments and main cities. In 2011 almost 11 million citizens (44.6 per cent of the vote) trusted the party to take Spain out of a deep economic crisis that had broken out under that the last Socialist Party government led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2008-2011).

During the first part of their mandate, the government implemented a highly contested economic adjustment package that belied some of their electoral promises (such as raising taxes), and was forced to request from the EU a rescue plan to clean up the Spanish banking system. In the later period in government, the PP reversed some of their most unpopular and conservative policies. Some tax cuts were introduced, and a controversial bill to restrict abortion was dropped. The economy has finally showed signs of recovery, and is presently growing at a rate of 3.4 per cent, the highest in the euro area. Unemployment has also fallen sharply from its peak of 26 per cent in early 2013 to 22.5 per cent in mid-2015.

But the PP faces several stumbling blocks in renewing its support from Spanish citizens. Unemployment remains troublingly high, and most of the new jobs created are highly precarious. Social inequality and child poverty have also skyrocketed. In addition, a wave of corruption scandals involving some leading figures within the ruling party, and the dismay generated by the answer to these scandals given by Rajoy as party leader, have also eroded the PP’s popularity. Finally, to make matters worse, in Catalonia, one of the richest regions of the country, separatist sentiment has increased markedly, led by the radicalisation of the Catalan regional government. Again, inaction has characterised Rajoy’s response.

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Dec 16 2015

The PSOE in the upcoming Spanish general elections

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By Paul Kennedy

During the PSOE’s last term in office between 2008 and 2011, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero infamously displayed a marked reluctance to use the word ‘crisis’ when referring to the country’s rapidly worsening economic situation. By the time that he belatedly acknowledged the gravity of Spain’s plight, Zapatero had become a liability to his party and it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the PSOE itself has been in crisis ever since.

In office longer than any other political party since the transition from dictatorship to democracy – twenty-one years – the PSOE has struggled to formulate a convincing narrative which goes beyond reminding voters of its many undoubted achievements under both Felipe González, most particularly the development of a welfare state underpinned by historic economic modernisation, and Zapatero, whose period in office (prior to the economic downturn of 2008) witnessed the introduction of wide-ranging progressive social legislation which characterised Spain as one of the continent’s most advanced countries.

As part of a European social democratic party family which currently appears to be unable to advance a narrative capable of obtaining the support of sceptical electorates more attracted to the austerity-based prescriptions of the centre-right, the PSOE is hardly unique. The party’s predicament is nevertheless singularly discouraging as it has struggled to come to terms with challenges which did not even exist when Spaniards last went to the polls four years ago. Spain’s political arena has been transformed by the breakthrough of Podemos, to the party’s left, and Ciudadanos, to the centre-right of the PSOE.

Although neither of the newcomers may be capable of dislodging the PSOE from its position as the second largest party in terms of votes and parliamentary seats, an eloquent indication of the degree to which the PSOE’s fortunes have declined is the fact that not only is the party incapable of improving on the historically low result obtained at the 2011 general election – just 28.7 per cent of the vote and 110 seats – but, rather, it is likely to do significantly worse. Should the PSOE lose more than twenty seats, the current leader, Pedro Sánchez, who only took up his post in July 2014, may well find his position untenable.

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Dec 14 2015

Why Ciudadanos’ Albert Rivera is the candidate best placed to oust Mariano Rajoy as Spanish PM

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By Jose Javier Olivas

Rivera

Spain will hold a general election on 20 December, with opinion polls indicating a tight contest between four parties for the largest share of the vote – the governing People’s Party (PP), who have a small lead in most polls, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Ciudadanos (C’s), and Podemos. This article argues that Ciudadanos’ leader, Albert Rivera, is better placed than the leaders of the PSOE and Podemos to replace Mariano Rajoy as Spain’s Prime Minister.

As anticipated in April, Ciudadanos have reached the final week of the campaign as a credible alternative to rule Spain and as the party most consider pivotal for the formation of the next government. Ciudadanos’ reformist agenda has granted them many sympathisers among disenchanted PP and PSOE voters.

Their growth has been impressive; in less than one year, they have transitioned from being a Catalan party focused almost exclusively on a single issue – fighting against secessionist nationalism – into a national party which, according to the latest polls, could get between18% and 23% of the vote and even displace the PSOE in the second position after the PP. Good results in the Andalusian regional election on 22 March 2015 marked a tipping point in the trajectory of Ciudadanos, which was later consolidated and amplified after the results of the Spanish local elections on 24 May and the Catalan regional elections on 27 September.

Ciudadanos have managed to overcome most of the organisational problems associated with a fast expansion and the criticisms that followed their electoral pacts with the PP and PSOE in many regional and local governments. The party’s charismatic leader, Albert Rivera, enjoys the highest approval ratingin Spain according to most polls. He has skillfully played to his advantage the important media exposure he has enjoyed over the last few months. Their political manifesto proposes liberal economic and labour reforms, fighting corruption, reaching a wide pact to improve the education system and guaranteeing the unity of Spain.

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Dec 7 2015

Separatism does nothing for Catalan identity

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By Alessio Colonnelli

ANC & Co. should focus on making a stronger case in Madrid for the Catalan-language regions of Spain. It’s not just about Catalonia.

In late spring 2008, the CEO of Air Berlin Joachim Hunold said the airline would never use the Catalan language for flights to the Balearics. “Airlines don’t communicate in dialects,” was his firm motivation. Reactions were scornful. A former Catalan-speaking parliamentarian nicknamed the carrier ‘Air Goebbels’.

Inadvertently, the German executive had hit a raw nerve. Under Franco, Catalan was banned from public spaces. In Spain’s three Catalan-language regions, you could lose your job if heard speaking it – and worse.

Having unsuccessfully tried to get Madrid to allow a referendum on independence, Catalan leaders have forced their hand recently. Separatists were keen to make September regional elections look like a de facto independence referendum. Pro-independence parties won 48 per cent of the vote; remarkable, but not enough to obtain secession in a real referendum, and who’s to say people would’ve voted that way anyhow.

There are many Catalans who disagree with separatism. The Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a very influential grassroots movement, calls them “bad Catalans”. One of them is journalist and political analyst Ignacio Martín Blanco.

His recent articles in El País sparked a hullaballoo. He claims to have personally heard ANC say one thing in private and the opposite in public, thus betraying voters’ trust. Martín Blanco maintains separatists know they don’t have the Catalan population’s full backing. They’re aware the numbers don’t add up, but don’t say so openly.

As reported by Martín Blanco, ANC president Jordi Sánchez in fact said “nobody outside Spain would understand” how a unilateral independence proclamation from Catalonia’s parliament could be regarded as legitimate. These words were uttered in a Barcelona private dinner attended by Martín Blanco on 5 October. He’d sworn to keep his mouth shut on this, but later thought the public needed to know. “[Secession] will be very difficult to sell,” was Sánchez’s final remark.

Blanco argues ANC (and the wider Together for Yes platform of which it is part) aims to provoke the State into resorting to article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, whereby Madrid could temporarily take over some local self-government functions. That way the international community may consider an independence referendum favourably. But apparently Sánchez himself knows in his heart of hearts that such a scenario is unlikely to materialise.

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Nov 30 2015

Why we should oppose British air strikes against ISIL in Syria

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By Mary Kaldor and Rim Turkmani

The threat of ISIL is too serious to be treated with a knee jerk response like air strikes as the British Prime Minister suggests. It is very difficult to understand why air strikes are the only option on the table. Is it because they are the easiest way to show that we are ‘doing something’? Have air strikes ever succeeded in militarily defeating an enemy without ground operations and without a political strategy?  Is it really the case that all other policies have been tried and failed?

The main argument made by David Cameron in favour of airstrikes is that air strikes are having an effect in Iraq. He says that Iraqi forces with the support of airstrikes have recaptured 30% of Iraqi territory and halted the ISIL advance. He does not mention that ISIL has also advanced in some places, for example, capturing Ramadi. However, even if we accept that some gains have been made, the situation in Iraq is very different from Syria. In Iraq, coalition forces are providing air support for ground operations carried out by the Kurdish peshmerger, Shi’ia militias and the Iraqi army. There is an Iraqi state that, despite its weakness, is involved in a process that could increase its legitimacy albeit slow and weak. What is more, coalition air strikes have been requested by the Iraqi government and this provides their legal basis.

None of these conditions pertain in Syria. It is true that air support complemented the defence of Kobane by Syrian-Kurdish and Free Syrian Army forces, but Kobane was razed to the ground so that the inhabitants cannot return. At the same time ISIL has been expanding in Syria despite air strikes; air strikes did not prevent the take over of Palmyra nor of parts of Aleppo. Unlike Iraq, there are no other situations where ground operations against ISIL are taking place. Even though the Prime Minister talks about 70,000 moderate opposition forces who could fight ISIL, in the absence of a political solution they are more concerned with fighting the regime than ISIL. Mobilising Syrian allies on the ground would only be possible in the context of a political agreement, in which opposition armed groups operate alongside the Syrian army under a new political inclusive leadership with the bases outlined in the Geneva 1 communiqué.

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