Sep 17 2014

A Cosmopolitan Take on the Referendum

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By Anthony Lang

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, recently wrote the following concerning the referendum on Scottish independence that will take place on Thursday:

So a new idea of citizenship is emerging. It is not cosmopolitanism if that means that national loyalties do not matter. It is a citizenship that upholds national identities while recognising the benefits of shared sovereignty – the kind of citizenship Scottish people can understand: being Scottish, British, European and a citizen with connections with a world wider even than that. It is not abstract: it represents how people now live their lives – connected constantly through mobiles and the internet, able to communicate with anyone, in any part of the world, at any time – involving an identity that is, for individuals, more a matter of choice than at any time in history.

Brown’s intervention is in the context of his support for keeping Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. What is interesting is he puts it in terms of global citizenship, something that one wouldn’t expect in a debate between two sides that seemed very fixed on their 519px-Gordon_Brown_Davos_2008_cropunderstandings of nation and nationalism. Brown’s point, here and in other places, is that the United Kingdom can and will change, but devolving into smaller sovereign nation states is not the way to go. Rather, a new kind of citizenship and a new constitution is necessary to bind the UK together and simultaneously give it the chance to become part of the world in a different way.

His arguments have a strong appeal for me. Brown’s understanding of cosmopolitanism is close to my own – a mix of local, national, regional, and global orientations that allows us to understand and act in the global political sphere in new and interesting ways.

I know that for many in this country, Brown is a polarizing figure. His role as Chancellor under Tony Blair was part of the New Labour process of shifting the United Kingdom toward more neoliberal economic policies. And his tenure as Prime Minister was filled with stories of bullying and poor governance. But since leaving 10 Downing Street, Brown has embodied the kind of cosmopolitanism he describes above – he advocates for his own small constituency in Fife yet continues to speak on issues of national and global importance. Unlike his predecessor, whose cosmopolitanism is the jet setting world of the corporate executive, Brown’s cosmopolitanism is Scottish, British, European and global.

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Sep 15 2014

Foreign Reactions to the referendum in Scotland

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By William Walker

All eyes are on Scotland as the referendum nears. Governments, the media, financial institutions and hosts of groups and individuals are glued to the debate and wondering how it will end. Amidst concern there is fascination in an event that seems so unprecedented with an outcome that is so unclear. Among those fortunate enough to be visiting or living in Scotland at this time, there is exhilaration at the sight of democracy working at full tilt.

The international attention is very recent. There was hardly a flutter when the Scottish government announced in 2011 that it would hold a referendum. The Edinburgh Agreement of October 2012 between the Scottish and UK Government was a wake-up call, especially because it coincided with a nationalist upsurge in Catalonia that sparked a Spanish response (including a threat to block a future Scottish application to join the EU), imagesand with the Scottish National Party’s adoption of a pro-NATO policy despite pledges to remove Trident from the bases in Scotland.

After a brief surge of interest, foreign governments went back to sleep and remained asleep throughout 2013. The referendum was still far ahead, and the general assumption – encouraged by London and the metropolitan media – was that the independence movement would be heavily defeated. Developments in Scotland were mainly followed, if at all, from capitals or from embassies in London. Some Consuls General in Edinburgh warned that another outcome was possible, to which their masters should pay greater heed, but they were largely ignored.

In January 2014, opinion polls unexpectedly showed a marked shift in support for the yes campaign, unexpectedly because it was believed – abroad as in London – that Scottish voters would ‘come to their senses’ when the downside of independence was fully revealed to them by the analysis pouring out of Whitehall and Westminster. At the same time, the UK government’s emphasis on provoking fear among Scotland’s voters, rather than offering a positive vision of the Union’s future, began to attract criticism in the press and among foreign observers. Contrast was also being drawn between the increasingly vibrant grass-roots campaign for independence and its lacklustre unionist counterpart. Momentum seemed to be shifting in the nationalist direction, giving rise to warnings that opinion polls could narrow further.

Encouraged by London, several governments began to debate the pros and cons of issuing statements favouring the UK’s survival. Besides Spain, they had hitherto remained silent, wary of intervention and happy to regard the referendum as a domestic British affair. President Obama’s carefully chosen words at a press conference on the 5th of June, expressing the United States’ hope that the UK would remain ‘a strong, robust, united and effective partner’, broke the ice. A number of political leaders followed his lead. The Australian Prime Minister apart, they adopted his cautious tone, declaring their respect for Scotland’s democratic right to decide on its future whilst making clear their preference for the status quo. Although the majority, including the UK’s closest neighbours Ireland, France, Holland and Norway, have so far chosen to keep quiet, they would not disagree. Only a handful – Argentina and Russia come to mind – might relish the UK’s demise. Even they have kept quiet.

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Sep 11 2014

Is an independence referendum the appropriate political tool to address the Catalan problem?


By Jose Javier Olivas

The question whether Catalonia should be allowed to hold an independence referendum can be approached from different angles. In addition to important legal and procedural issues, the organisation of this referendum is highly problematic from both a deontological and a consequentialist perspective.

On 12 December 2013 the Catalan regional government Generalitat announced the organisation of an independence referendum to be held on 9 November 2014.[1] The referendum would contain two questions: ‘Do you want Catalonia to become a State?’ and ‘In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?’ This has been another step on the ‘national transition process’ launched earlier by the Generalitat with the support of several nationalist parties.

Referendum de independencia

A multitude of criticisms have been expressed about the procedural and legal validity of the political process through which the Catalan government have sought to bring about a referendum. The questions proposed for the referendum were defined and approved by Catalan nationalist parties without the participation of non-nationalist parties. Their wording is ambiguous and the two-question design may lead to results which can be difficult to interpret. The thresholds required for the validation of the secession process have not been clearly defined.

It is also peculiar that the ‘national transition process’ was initiated and some institutions for an independent state were created without waiting for the results of such a referendum. Moreover, the purpose and questions of the referendum clash with the Spanish Constitution which explicitly states the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation’ and received 91 per cent support in Catalonia in 1978. Claims of Catalonia being a sovereign entity have been unanimously rejected by the Spanish Constitutional Court. While the British Parliament validated the organisation of the Scotland independence referendums, the Spanish Parliament rejected the Catalan one by a very large majority. Continue reading

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Sep 9 2014

A Few Reflections on the Demonisation of Putin


By Roberto Orsi

Giotto’s depiction of the devil (Padua, Scrovegni Chapel, ca. 1305)

Henry Kissinger once declared that “Putin’s demonisation is not a policy, but an alibi for the absence of one”. However authoritative the source of this recommendation, the collective fixation with the Russian President has reached new heights during the ongoing geopolitical crisis in the Ukraine. In many different ways, the idea that, if the President of the Russian Federation could meet a however premature end of his earthly journey, even by violent means, this would solve the Ukrainian crisis and the problem of Russia’s resurgence, is gaining momentum among Western elites.

The most explicit articulation of such thoughts can be found in a piece written by Herbert E. Meyer, Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council during the Reagan Administration. Meyer puts forward the view that “Russian President Vladimir Putin is a serious threat to world peace”, he is in essence a thug, and “thugs like Putin don’t stop because they’ve been punished [the reference here is to the EU sanctions] or because they see the error of their ways. Thugs have a high tolerance for pain, and they are incapable of changing their behavior. They keep going until someone takes them out – permanently – with a knockout punch”. Without Putin, Moscow would cease to be a threat to world peace, as Russia is a “one-man show”. The Russians should get rid of Putin in one way or the other, either peacefully or, “if Putin is too stubborn to acknowledge that his career is over, and the only way to get him out of the Kremlin is feet-first, with a bullet hole in the back of his head – that would also be okay with us”.

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Sep 3 2014

The impact of the European Employment Strategy in Greece and Portugal: soft power in a world of neglect?

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By Sotirios Zartaloudis

Unemployment has been one of Europe’s long-standing problems – a problem greatly exacerbated by the ongoing economic crisis. In addition, unemployment affects almost a fourth of the youth labour force compounding the social problems associated with unemployment. Moreover, labour markets are characterised by significant inequalities between highly skilled and low-skilled workers and between men and women.

In this context the European Union (EU) has developed its own employment policy, with the European Employment Strategy (EES) being the most recent, more experimental and more ambitious pillar. At the 2000 Lisbon Summit the EES was used as a model for other policy areas under the umbrella of a new EU instrument – the Open Method of Coordination/OMC. The significance of the EES has been hotly debated in the literature. In imagesa recently published monograph, I tried to investigate under what conditions the EES can influence the domestic employment policy of European Union member states. To answer this question, I focused on examining two critical or ‘least likely’ cases: Greece and Portugal. These two countries have a number of features that could be expected to inhibit any significant impact of the EES, such a culture where neither political nor administrative elites adhere to the norm of compliance with EU law (Falkner 2005); high misfit between national and EU policies; weak and inefficient political systems and administrations, gaps between legislation and practice and a weak civil society (see: Hartlapp and Leiber, 2010: 471-474).Yet, both appear to have implemented domestic policy reforms as a result of the EES.

The study focused on three key areas of employment policy: public employment services (PES), gender equality policies (mainstreaming, reconciliation and pay gaps) and ‘flexicurity’. It employed the ‘Europeanization’ approach whereby Europeanization was defined as EU-induced change of domestic policy. It tested the hypothesis that ‘if the EES altered Greek and Portuguese employment policy at all, it did so through one of three main Europeanization pathways: 1) policy learning; 2) the domestic empowerment of policy entrepreneurs; 3) financial conditionality.’

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Aug 28 2014

The End of Tolerance and the New Populism

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

Reflections on the 2014 local and European election results have heavily stressed the rise of the populist far right. Clearly they have emerged as a leading political force at home and abroad, but this is not the whole story.

UKIP, the French Front National and the Danish People’s Party have declared an end to tolerance of ‘the others’. This refers both to migrants and asylum seekers invading ‘our’ space, and the elites hidden in Brussels and Strasbourg governing without ‘our’ consent. Whether ethnic others or political and cultural elites, they are not part of ‘us’, and our intolerance of them is promoted as natural.

An anti-UKIP demonstration in Edinburgh, on May 9, 2014.

Seen from the mainstream and from the left, these parties capitalise on the anxieties experienced within communities increasingly subject to internal social diversity and external economic control. Although UKIP et al. present themselves as rebels against ‘establishment politics’, they are nothing more than its monstrous offspring. This is the same politics that has allowed democratic accountability and participatory citizenship to take the backseat as neo-liberal interests dominated Europe.

The old parties are clearly in crisis and losing electoral ground to new parties, right, centre and left. Concerned politicians of the mainstream parties are calling meetings to tackle the problem. In their minds, the challenge no doubt has little to do with them and the neo-liberal policies they have been backing. It is a challenge that has, for some time now, been dismissed as ‘populist’—a description which writes it down to the ignorance and fears of the ‘peoples’ of Europe.

Bridging the divides

The success of the radical left has drawn less attention, but there has been steady progress towards an alternative ‘populist’ discourse. Like the populism of the far right, the narrative of these groups is also intolerant of current political elites, and cast in the name of the peoples of Europe.

Mainstream politicians currently accord both the far right and the left the same label: Eurosceptics. But the new left populism that is slowly winning ground across Europe is rooted in different legacies and pursues a very different vision than the more successful far right. Whatever their success, one thing is sure: enough of traditional politics.

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Aug 19 2014

In Greece, They Shoot Immigrants, Don’t They?

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By Maria Kyriakidou

This image was widely used in the campaign to boycott Manolada strawberries, circulated in social media after the shooting in 2013.

This image was widely used in a campaign to boycott Manolada strawberries, circulated in social media after the shootings in 2013.

It was April of 2013, when Greece and the international press were shocked by the news that about thirty migrant workers were shot by the supervisors of the strawberry fields where they had been working in Manolada, Peloponese, after asking for six months’ worth of unpaid wages. More than a year later, at the end of July 2014, the trial of the four farmers involved concluded. Two of them, including the owner of the farm, also charged for human trafficking, were acquitted; two were found guilty of serious bodily harm and abetting serious bodily harm from neglect and received sentences of fourteen years and seven months and eight years and seven months respectively, but were freed pending appeal. In other words, no one is being punished for the shooting of twenty-eight people.

The failure of the Greek judiciary system to provide justice for the Bangladeshi immigrants is reflective of the general failure of the Greek state to protect migrant workers, who have been subjected to inhuman living and working conditions over the years. A lot of them desperate and undocumented are easy prey to the greediness of farmers. Anecdotes of undocumented immigrants being exploited over harvest period and later dismissed with threats and unpaid have been common knowledge for decades. The area of Nea Manolada has a recorded history of abuse of immigrants. A report by Amnesty International in the aftermath of last year’s shootings revealed the extent of labour exploitation endured by the strawberry pickers. More than a year later, nothing has improved. On the contrary, July’s verdict ultimately condoned modern slavery and gave a free pass to Greek farmers to pursue their profits at any human cost.

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Aug 11 2014

Plagiarism Frenzy in Serbia: In Deep Mud


By Natalija Miletic

A spate of plagiarism scandals has been shaking Serbia’s political and university life, with issues being raised about political parties’ and public officials’ malpractices in obtaining PhD degrees, and about the integrity of Serbian higher education in general.

Since early June of this year three prominent politicians – the Minister of Interior, the Mayor of Belgrade, and the President of New Belgrade – the capital’s municipality representing the main business district in the country and probably in the region – have been denounced for having allegedly plagiarised their “fast-track” PhD dissertations. But the affair does not stop here, as it includes another “high-ranking personality” – the Rector and owner of Megatrend, Serbia’s biggest private university, who has been accused of boasting a PhD degree from the London School of Economics, which he has never obtained. It all started when three UK-based Serbian scholars presented to the public their analysis of the PhD dissertation submitted by the Serbian Minister’s of Interior, Mr Nebojsa Stefanovic, obtained in just two years, while he was serving as President of Parliament. In the article, published on the portal Pescanik (Hourglass), the scholars argue that, in addition to the lack of quality and the failure to meet the minimum standards of a research thesis, the minister’s PhD abounds in plagiarism. What followed was a series of cyber-attacks, which brought the website down, an occurrence that further fuelled the debate about this case. Minister Stefanovic conspicuously avoided addressing the charges throughout the week after, producing only one written statement, where he claimed he “honestly obtained the PhD”. But this did not prevent his superior, Prime Minister Vucic, to angrily state that the charges of plagiarism are “the most stupid thing he has ever heard”. However, higher education institutions, from the Ministry of Education to various “autonomous” university bodies, remained silent on the issue, despite early calls of a few distinguished professors to take the scandal seriously, as well as a subsequent petition signed by almost two thousand Serbian scientists from both the country and its diaspora in support of the article.

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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


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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