Mar 2 2015

Why participatory governance offers a realistic route to addressing the EU’s legitimacy crisis

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By Karl-Oskar Lindgren

How can EU decision-making be brought closer to Europe’s citizens? Based on a case study of the ‘REACH’ regulation governing the production and use of chemical substances, this posts argues for the potential of a participatory governance approach to increase the EU’s legitimacy by enhancing the capacity for stakeholders and civil society actors to play an active role in decisions. The author argues that while participatory governance alone cannot solve the EU’s current legitimacy crisis, it nevertheless offers a realistic option for increasing the responsiveness of EU decision-making to the demands of citizens.

The EU is often accused of suffering from a democratic deficit, and there has been a long search for ways to remedy this situation. Acknowledging the weakness of traditional representative channels in the EU, and the difficult road ahead before any form of ‘parliamentarisation’ could be accomplished, many observers have recently shifted their attention to the direct involvement of civil society in the European political system. Letting stakeholders and civil society take an active part in policy-making is considered by many to offer a promising complement to more traditional forms of democracy. In EU circles this strategy is known as the participatory governance approach.

Participatory governance in the EU

The European Commission has been a leading proponent of this participatory turn, and in the last decade it has introduced a range of instruments for improved consultation and dialogue with civil-society representatives, including ad hoc and online consultations, public hearings, and institutionalised consultations in advisory committees and business test panels.

According to the Commission, introducing these new forums for interest-group participation and deliberation at the EU level will help create a more democratic and effective Union. However, critics of the participatory governance approach warn that strengthening the interest-based channel within the Union will mainly serve to give further advantages to already privileged groups. The danger here is that, as E.E Schattschneider famously noted half a century ago in his critique of interest-group pluralism, ‘the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper class accent’.

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Feb 26 2015

Who wanted what? An aftermath of the Public debate on Greek Elections

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By Vasileios Bougioukos and Bernard H Casey

One of the possible surprises of the elections in Greece last month, was that SYRIZA didn’t poll particularly well amongst pensioners. After all, these people had suffered pretty draconian cuts, with the 2010 Memorandum and its successors reducing pensioners’ incomes – in some cases by up to 40%– and making benefits harder to claim. We looked at the data in detail using findings from Kapa Research[1]. The voting behaviour depicted by these data could offer useful insights.

Greek flag (4816414232)We started by dividing the parties according to whether they were Pro-Memorandum (Pro-M) or Anti-Memorandum (Anti-M).[2].

Pensioners went strongly for New Democracy (ND), the major party of the former Pro-Memorandum coalition government – 34% of them voted for it, rather more than did for SYRIZA (32%). When we calculate the votes attributed by Pensioners to Pro-M and Anti-M parties, the picture is the same – the Pro-Ms lead the Anti-Ms by two percentage points. Continue reading

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Feb 23 2015

Modalities of solidarity in Greece: a civil society at the cross-roads

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By Giota Alevizou

As Greece has yet again become the epicentre of the European debt crisis, with collective negotiations for a fairer deal culminating before the end of February, its plight for survival has reached a new sense of moral urgency about the future of democracy in Europe. It would seem that a fresh air of political creativity may be blowing from Greece.

Graffiti

Graffiti #Athens #Greece #Metaxourgeio #crisis #graffiti by @jorjito73 on instagram

Certainly statistics about rising unemployment, falling GDP, and the corrosion of the social state and democratic practices which have plighted Greece over the last years, neither capture people’s experiences of contemporary realities nor the psychological pressures that had been exerted by elite politicians and mainstream media domestically and abroad, competing to dictate the urgency of austerity measures. What has been less reported, until more recently, is that these very measures have also ushered new ecologies of (alternative) political creativity and civic agency. These have been channelled by larger, but also smaller-scale mobilisations, local assemblies as well as grass-roots and solidarity initiatives, nurturing a culture that desires social change.

Many have attempted to map these initiatives: Synathina, a digital platform that is instigated by the vice mayor for Civil Society in Athens, seeks to represent small scale networked action and to network participants in local, cultural initiatives and to open up possibilities for new relationships among citizens, and between citizens and public institutions. Others, like the Solidarity for all Network (supported by the recently elected Syriza), have documented solidarity initiatives across Greece and seek to provide networking tools for decentralized organizing practices, and the development of solidarity among participants in these initiatives, as well as set up a new agenda for collective action. Others like Omikron Project, started by Mehran Khalili, (a British-Iranian political communications specialist who lives in Athens) and a group of Greek journalists, designers and film-makers, as an ad campaign. They created short films to counter the image of Greeks as lazy victims of the economic crisis and to challenge stereotypes, questioning the ways the crisis is portrayed in the international media. More so, they documented the rise of the grassroots groups in Greece and produced an annual list and infographic. Continue reading

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Feb 19 2015

Using Entrepreneurial Innovation to Stabilize Europe: Introducing EDIE

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By Olaf Groth, Mark Esposito, Terence Tse

Entrepreneurship is vital to growing markets. And across most of Europe, entrepreneurship is lacking. In 2013, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that early stage entrepreneurial activity was less than 6% of the population between the working ages of 18-64 in Greece as well as in the four largest economies in Europe—Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. By contrast, BRIC countries and the United States each ranged between 10%-17% in early state entrepreneurial activity. Early stage activity is defined as either actively setting up a new business or owning and managing a new business for less than 42 months. The paucity of entrepreneurship and substantial investment in innovation among countries in Europe highlights the urgent need for European businesses and governments to work together to develop a new entrepreneurial innovation model to tackle financial deficits, create financial stability, and pull Europe through future crises. This new system can be thought of as an “Entrepreneur-Driven Innovation Ecosystem (EDIE).”

Fort-Model TIn order to create a greater push of innovation within Europe, the EU needs to shift its core understanding of entrepreneurship away from a profit-driven model and toward a model of dynamic and systemic intervention led by value-seeking entrepreneurs as disruptive change agents. In this ecosystem, entrepreneurs convert ideas into innovations that break open and redefine entire spaces in the economy, enabling existing blue chip corporations to follow into these new and enlarged markets with greater growth expectations. Entrepreneurs as disruptive change agents are different from small business entrepreneurs because they have a different modus operandi: rather than seek merely profit, they actively seek to identify market failures and create value that establishes a new market and overturns existing networks and structures in large enterprises. One classic example is of Henry Ford and his Model T automobile. It was the lower cost, mass-produced version of the automobile, not the invention of the automobile, that upturned the standard mode of transportation of the time, the horse-drawn carriage Europe needs this special breed of entrepreneurs because they help create disruptive innovation and economic resilience by offering new growth potential where old growth has slowed.

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Feb 16 2015

The winds are changing: a new left populism for Europe

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

The unprecedented presence of international media, solidarity delegations and representatives of socialist and leftish parties in Athens signalled that Syriza’s triumph was something more than just another electoral victory.

A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of populism. This time it is not the far right populism of Haider, Le Pen and Farage, but a new left populism challenging not just the parties of the right but also the social-democratic parties and the traditional parties on the left.

Tsipras-IglesiasWhile the victory of Syriza has turned everybody’s attention to Greece these days, the new radical populist left is on the rise elsewhere as well, above all in Spain with local and national elections coming up in 2015. Even beyond the radical left, social-democrats have started to be more outspoken against European austerity and neoliberal policies.

It seems that the policies they had supported so far have brought them at odds with their own people and this realization starts slowly to sink in. Are we then witnessing the birth of a new populist discourse in Europe? Are the winds changing for the peoples of Europe?

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Feb 14 2015

Greece’s government deserves benefit of doubt

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By Max Hänska

Wednesday’s Eurogroup meeting managed to underwhelm low expectations, as talks even failed to agree the usual face-saving joint statement outlining a structured agenda for future talks. It appears Varoufakis disappointed Eurogroup ministers by arriving without a written plan, and while several versions of a joint statement were drafted, disagreement over the inclusion of the terms program, extension and amendment meant that the waiting press corps had to contend with a press conference that merely announced that there was nothing to announce.

It may well be that, lacking hard facts, the cacophony of reporting only mirrors the diplomatic cacophony of the new Greek government. Nonetheless, in the haste of the moment we should remember that this young government, with little governing experience, stepped into a political situation that would be exceedingly difficult to navigate even for Europe’s political veterans. Yet Europe’s media has too often jumped the gun, fostering mistrust, and anticipating its failure.

Inspite of all doubts and risks involved, the Greek government deserves our trust that it will deliver real reforms, and a workable plan (despite Wednesday’s disappointment), in a package that is politicaly feasible. They have promised so much. And let us not forget that Syriza’s alternatives, Pasok and ND, were largely responsible for maintaining a clientelistic-oligopolistic economy, undertaking no real efforts to remedy these ills. Syriza may may well be Greece’s (and Europe’s) best chance for real progressive reform—if it succeeds, this would be a huge accomplishment for Greece, and Europe.

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Feb 11 2015

The Greek Government’s programme: an act of defiance or a call for compromise?

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By Eleftherios Antonopoulos & Konstantinos Kostagiannis

International media described the Greek prime minister’s address to the parliament on Sunday as “defiant” (BBC and Reuters for example). Yet, what emerged from the speech was a mildly coherent attempt to bridge the internal policy preferences with the positions of European creditors. The speech lowered reform expectations while at the same time refrained from challenging fundamentally the structure of Greece’s model of capitalism. In light of this we examine how progressive Greek government priorities can be deemed and what their underlying political purpose is, especially ahead of Wednesday’s Eurogroup meeting.

An uneasy alliance? The SYRIZA – ANEL government agenda:

Tsipras

The newly elected Greek government is based on the alliance between left-wing SYRIZA and nationalist, europhobic ANEL. As such, the whole endeavor is founded upon maintaining the austerity – antiausterity dichotomy, which forms the only solid common ideological ground between the two. Some analysts believe this alliance is possible based on the populist characteristics of the two partners (quoting a possible link between SYRIZA and Laclau) while others hold mainstream forces to account for not preventing such outcomes.

Given the importance of opposition to austerity for both government partners as well as the dire economic situation of Greece in the past few years, it is of little surprise that this issue comprises most of the speech. The reading of the domestic results of the crisis is one of the few parts of the speech that concentrates on evidence: 1/4 of the GDP lost, 1.5 million unemployed, and the unsustainable levels of debt at 180% of GDP. In its discussion of EU rules, the speech adopts the mantra that “austerity is not a founding principle of the EU”, selectively interpreting Art. 120 and 126 TFEU. Besides, all hopes for creating domestic employment are directed to current EU interventions such as the Juncker package and other EU structural investments. Under this light, Greece’s fiscal adjustment program is viewed as lacking “output legitimacy” although this is of second order to its perceived lack of input legitimacy by the electorate.

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Feb 9 2015

The election of Italy’s new president has strengthened Matteo Renzi’s grip over Italian politics

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By James L. Newell and Arianna Giovannini

On 31 January, Sergio Mattarella, a former Constitutional Court judge, was elected as the new President of Italy. While the formal powers assigned to the President remain fairly limited, the appointment of Mattarella represented an important victory for Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. They argue that the nature of the negotiations leading up to the new President’s election highlight the authority Renzi now holds over his own party, but may have implications for Renzi’s working relationship with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Oath of Mattarella 1 On 14 January, the 89 year-old Italian President Giorgio Napolitano resigned his position, making way for the election of a new President – the ex-Christian Democrat, and former Constitutional Court judge, Sergio Mattarella. The resignation, and the new President’s election (on 31 January), came at a very delicate moment in Italian politics, coinciding as they do with concerted attempts by the centre-left Prime Minister, the 40-year old ex-mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to push through much-needed electoral-law and constitutional reforms.

Background: Napolitano and the 2013 parliamentary election

Napolitano had come by his position in April 2013, following a watershed election the previous February – an election that had brought the country to the brink of ungovernability. Then, widespread disenchantment with the conduct of established politicians and the performance of the political class had led to the explosive growth of a popular protest movement, the Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five-star Movement, M5S) led by the comedian, Beppe Grillo. Winning 25 per cent of the vote, it had made significant inroads into the support of both centre left and centre right, leading to the impression of a country divided into three more-or-less equal segments, none of which could agree with either of the others; and importantly, thanks to the electoral system, it led to the lack of any overall majority in the upper house, the Senate.

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Feb 6 2015

Varoufakis on the international media catwalk: on the politics of style

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By Maria Kyriakidou

About ten days have passed since the new Greek government came into power and also the spotlight of the international media over its negotiations with European partners concerning the country’s debt. Negotiations aside, however, there is a person that attracted the greatest part of media attention over the last week, namely the Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. This attention has been unprecedented compared to the many Finance Ministers Greece has changed over the last few years, not only in terms of its amount but also its nature. Dressed in casual clothes, untucked shirts and sporty jackets, Varoufakis made it to the fashion pages of major media outlets, and has been described as a ‘rock star’, ‘fashion trailblazer’, or ‘the most interesting man in Europe’.

Meme circulated in social media, after Varoufakis's meeting with George Osborne on the 2nd of February.

Meme circulated in social media, after Varoufakis’s meeting with George Osborne on the 2nd of February.

Such coverage has been met with approval, humour, but also a lot of raised eyebrows and rolled eyes, especially among the unconvinced in Greece, for whom Varoufakis and the discussion on the new government’s styling options – the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, refuses to wear a tie – illustrates the humiliating downfall of Greek politics and the incapacity of the Syriza government to assess the seriousness of the situation the country finds itself in. There are, though, two fallacies in such a position. On the one hand, it displaces blame, as it is the media not the Greek government itself that talks about stylistic choices on top of – and not instead of – political negotiations. Second, by describing the choice of casual style as a way of trivialising politics, these voices of disapproval actually recognise what they wish to defy in the first place: that clothes are important signifiers in politics.

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Feb 5 2015

Greek elections 2015: the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

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By Sotirios Zartaloudis

SYRIZA’s recent electoral victory attracted global attention. This commentary will try to explain SYRIZA’s surprise move to form a coalition government with the far-right party ANEL arguing that both parties share a worldview that explains their co-operation.

SYRIZA is a far-left party with a socially progressive agenda favouring integration of immigrants, secularism, and human rights. By contrast, ANEL is a nationalist party which holds deeply xenophobic, anti-Semitic and homophobic views. Tellingly, ANEL was the only party that objected to the prosecution of the Golden Dawn MPs.

Yet, both parties seemingly share a broader worldview which makes them ideal partners. First, they both argue that Greece’s economic troubles stem from the Troika imposed austerity because of the subordination of New Democracy (ND) and PASOK to the EU and especially Germany. Second, they accuse Angela Merkel for masterminding Greece’s woes (SYRIZA accuses her for causing a humanitarian crisis while for ANEL she is a neo-Nazi to Greece). Third, they both express anti-western and pro-Putin views (SYRIZA opposes West’s supposed neo-liberalism and ANEL prefers closer ties to Russia because she is an Orthodox country). Remarkably, the new Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, and ANEL’s leader Panos Kammenos have reportedly direct links to Kremlin’s inner circle – a claim denied by Kotzias. Kotzias has also written a book on how Europe made Greece a debt colony (a view shared by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis).

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