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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Mar 23 2018

Germany’s Silent Democratic Crisis

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By Christian Kloetzer

After elections for the German Bundestag in September 2017, the phase of government formation has now ended, as the coalition between Christian democrats and social democrats has voted another cabinet under Chancellor Merkel into office last week. But the country, including the voters of the coalition partners, are deeply divided on the issue of migration. The political establishment needs to come to grips with that fact and respond to it, as political parties in neighbouring countries have done. Otherwise, the decline of Germany’s traditional parties may continue.

Elections for the Bundestag, Germany’s Lower House, took place on 24 September 2017. The social democrats (SPD) plunged to an all-time low in German federal elections, after having governed in a grand coalition with the Christian democrats for the past four years. Hours after election results came in, social democratic leader Martin Schulz already announced his party’s intention to return into parliamentary opposition.

But when the coalition talks involving Christian democrats, the Liberals and the Greens (dubbed “Jamaica”) failed in November, a renewed grand coalition began to emerge as the only realistic alternative to new elections. Three-way coalition talks were held, between the SPD, Angela Merkel’s CDU, and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, resulting in a 170-page coalition agreement. A reshuffled cabinet with some fresh faces has now taken over the reins of governing again.

Alternative fur DeutschlandThe degree of continuity that a refashioned version of the German grand coalition under the same Chancellor might suggest, needs to be put into perspective, however. In total, the three parties lost 13.7% of vote share since the previous round of elections in 2013. At the same time, the right-wing AfD made its entry into the Bundestag with a score of 12.6%. In 2013, it had narrowly failed to reach the electoral threshold of 5%. And while the party itself is notoriously fractured and disordered, its voters tell us relatively straightforwardly what their vote means: in infratest dimap’s exit poll, 92% of them say that the AfD is mainly there to influence the German government’s policy on refugees. In a separate poll ahead of the elections, a full 100% of AfD supporters declared (see page 30) that they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with Angela Merkel’s policy decisions on asylum and refugees.

And while this opposition is clearly focused in the AfD, the general sentiment is shared more widely. We can see it in the exit poll. 35% of all voters like the fact that the AfD wants to limit the influx of refugees, while 37% approve of the party’s intention to reduce the influence of Islam on Germany, and 49% say that it has understood better than other parties that many in the country are not feeling safe anymore. 57% say that they worry about a growing influence of Islam. Assuming that all AfD voters agreed with the affirmations, that still leaves between 22% and 44% of the electorate either supporting the AfD’s general policy orientation on immigration, or sharing sentiments that the AfD has itself tapped into quite successfully (see Figure 1 below). Who are these voters? Continue reading

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Mar 19 2018

Immigration, Welfare Chauvinism and the Support for Radical Right Parties in Europe

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By Luis Cornago Bonal and Delia Zollinger

Over a decade ago, Alesina and Glaeser (2004) argued that support for welfare policies in Europe will decrease as European countries become more ethnically diverse, primarily due to the difficulties of maintaining solidarity among different ethnic groups. However, the reality is still unclear, particularly the extent to which the increase in immigration-generated ethnic diversity challenges the political sustainability of the welfare state in Europe. Furthermore, although a rise in immigration does not necessarily reduce support for the welfare state in general, it can lead to a more restrictive and dualistic, so-called “welfare chauvinistic” type of welfare state where immigrants are less entitled to certain welfare programs than natives. The success of radical right parties (RRP) mobilizing the working class with nativist appeals, along with the consequent pressure on these parties to position themselves in terms of welfare and labour market policy, seem to partially explain the increasing relevance of welfare chauvinism.

Ethnic Heterogeneity and Public Support the for Welfare State

Underlying the idea of ethnic heterogeneity eroding support for the welfare state is the notion that it is difficult to develop feelings of trust and national solidarity across different ethnic groups, which “leads to a decrease in welfare state support because people do not want to redistribute resources to people they do not trust and with whom they do not identify” (Banting and Kymlicka, 2006, p. 18). Since the publication of Alesina and Glaeser’s (2004) seminal book, an expanding body of research on immigration and European welfare attitudes has produced mixed findings. While single-country studies in Sweden (Eger, 2010) and Germany (Spies and Schmidt-Catran, 2016) have demonstrated a negative relationship between regional variation in immigration and welfare attitudes, cross-national analyses have shown a less clear relationship (Brady and Finnigan, 2014). Recent studies (Eger and Breznau, 2017) suggest that once immigration is measured at the regional level, the negative impact of immigration on support for redistribution and a comprehensive welfare state can be observed. Continue reading

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Mar 15 2018

The crisis in Catalonia: How did we get here and how do we get out?

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By Javier Carbonell and Luis Cornago Bonal

This post summarises the second debate of the conference cycle about the crisis in Catalonia, titled Spain and Catalonia: Is There a Way Out of the Impasse?, catalan crisis debatetook place on February 8 at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). This debate analysed the political causes of the conflict, the current crisis, and the possible means of resolution. Jonathan Hopkin, Sandra León and Toni Rodon, three academics whose research has addressed the Spanish political system from different perspectives, were the speakers responsible for discussing these issues. In this post we collect the main ideas that emerged throughout the conference.

The causes of the conflict: How much does the economic crisis explain?

The moderator of the session, Antonio Barroso, opened the debate by asking Hopkin to what extent the Catalan case is unique in Europe or if it is comparable with that of other regions. In addition to referring to the dynamics of party competition in Catalonia -particularly the struggle for hegemony between the independence parties- the English political scientist defended the need to place Catalonia in the context of comparative politics. For him, the secessionist movement must be framed within the many anti-establishment movements that have emerged in recent years in many advanced democracies, such as Brexit, Trump’s victory, or the triumph of Syriza. All these phenomena share the fact that they emerged after the Great Recession that began in 2008. According to Hopkin, high levels of unemployment and the increase in inequality tend to provoke the radicalisation of political positions. In addition, in adverse economic circumstances identity politics prove to be an especially powerful weapon. Therefore, even if each of these anti-establishment movements is presented as unique, in reality, all originate in the important deterioration of the economic situation.

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