Dec 16 2017

Governing Migration: The Responsibility of European Society and the Limits of Morality

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By Federico Nicolaci

Contemporary mass migration patterns and dynamics pose an entirely new set of questions that European leadership should urgently articulate and answer. It is not easy: the issue is highly contentious and countries have different views as to the measures and methods to address it. However, framing the whole question in moralistic terms—as often happens in political discourse—is not only reductive and arbitrary: it is playing a dangerous game, with potentially disastrous political results.

1. The spectacularisation of tragedy and the temptation of emotional response

Undoubtedly a profound influence in the political response to the European refugee crisis has been exerted by the pivotal role of media in representing the drama of children, men and women tragically drowned in the Mediterranean while seeking to reach Europe’s shores. The spectacularisation of sorrow, along with the spectacularisation of violence, is indeed an inherent feature of today’s “society of spectacle” dominated by mass media and shaped by the possibility of instant sharing of images and videos.

Think of the shocking and highly dramatic image of the lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian child, washed up along the Greek shore: in the second half of 2015, the sensationalist coverage of that event galvanised the public and hit Europe’s conscious as no piece of writing had been previously able to do. According to research conducted by the Visual Social Media Lab of Sheffield University, that photograph was seen by 20 million people in less than 12 hours after it was first published, creating a powerful frame trough which subsequent coverage on the migration crisis has been positioned, dramatically shifting governments’ policies, as well as public attitudes, towards the issue.

It is, however, difficult to overlook the dangers of emotional responses when it comes to determining governments’ policies, particularly if we take into account the nature and the magnitude of today’s patterns of migration. The last available data suggest that in 2015 a total of 2.7 million people immigrated to the European Union from a variety of foreign (id est, non-member) countries. In 2016, over 1,236,300 new asylum applications have been lodged throughout the EU. While the flow of migrants to Europe in 2015 represented the biggest influx from outside the Continent in Modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement, in the absence of any form of dissuasion, may continue and even increase—possibly for years to come.

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Dec 12 2017

A review of Nathalie Tocci’s ‘Framing the EU Global Strategy’

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By Mary Kaldor

In this post Mary Kaldor reviews Nathalie Tocci’s book: Framing the EU Global Strategy: A Stronger Europe in a Fragile World  Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2017

During the referendum on British membership of the European Union, one of the many charges against the European Union put forward by the leave campaign was fear of a European army. There has also been talk of an emerging European ‘security-industrial complex’ as a range of surveillance systems are introduced as part of EU counter-terror measures and as defence research and defence co-operation are stepped up (see Chris Jones, OpenDemocracy, 31 August 2017). But the situation is much more complex and contradictory than these negative depictions suggest. It is important that those of us who still believe in ‘normative Europe’ – the idea of the European Union as a peace and human rights project – understand these contradictions and the possibilities they open up for a more transformational agenda.

Nathalie Tocci’s book is a useful corrective to the more pessimistic portrayals of current developments within the European Union. Tocci is Director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs and advisor to Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission. She was tasked with drafting two documents – an initial statement of the strategic context facing the EU, presented to the European Council in June 2015, entitled ‘The European Union in a Changing Global Environment: A More Connected, Contested and Complex World’ , which paved the way for a European strategy document, presented to the European Council the day after the Brexit vote, entitled ‘Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy’ (EUGS).

The book offers a fascinating insight into how these collective documents are produced, even though both  documents are unusual in that they both involved greater public consultation than normally happens while at the same time, probably owing to the deft steerage of both Mogherini and Tocci, they both manage to be coherent and readable. The book also provides a guide to reading the global strategy and an explanation of some of the concepts developed in the document, and gives some indication of what has happened since in terms of implementation.

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Dec 8 2017

A Podcast on the Catalan Crisis

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With Jose Javier OlivasMireia Borrell and Michael Cottakis

In this Talking Europe Podcast by the 1989 Generation Initiative our Editor Jose Javier Olivas Osuna discusses the Catalan crisis with Mireia Borrell, in a conversation moderated by Michael Cottakis. They set out the historical background to Catalonia’s independence movement and the Spanish Constitution, before delving into the question why things were allowed to escalate so profoundly. What role did Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont play in the unfolding crisis? With the upcoming election, they offer valuable insight into what may happen next, how the crisis can be deescalated, and what role, if any, the EU can play. Both agree that the Spanish government misunderstood and miscalculated the severity of the conflict. While Mireia Cottakis puts forward the case for Catalan independence, Jose Olivas Osuna argues that the case for independence is not as strong as it is often made out to be,  and that independence is  desirable neither for Spain nor Catalonia.

Listen to the podcast here

Note: This podcast gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog nor of the London School of Economics.

Related articles on LSE Euro Crisis in the Press:

Four graphs about Catalonia and citizens’ attitudes towards the EU

An Explanation of the Current Political Situation in Catalonia

Does the Catalan Independence Movement Really ‘Love Democracy’?


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Nov 28 2017

Germany’s (lack of) self-understanding

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By Maria Brock & Max Hänska

One of the most remarkable feats of German post-war history is the way it has  made continual efforts to work through its past. Monuments commemorating those killed by the Nazis can be found in virtually all German cities – not only as grand Mahnmale (solemn and cautionary memorials), but also in small gestures like the more recent project Stolpersteine. On any given night documentaries on Nazism are aired on TV. That this mandated Erinnerungskultur (culture of remembrance) could produce its own kind of resistance is once more becoming apparent now, most recently in some of the comments by representatives of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). But the post-election climate also revealed a contrast between the wholly deserved attention the Erinnerungskultur gives to Nazism and the silence with which other developments of national significance have been met.

It can seem perplexing that a country which has found a way to speak openly about the darkest epoch of its past has not found a way to talk about its present and the multilayered diversity in which it is embedded—reunification, immigration and Europe. Germany has been contently avoiding deeper reflection on its own identity. The 2017 election campaign shaped up as an effort to keep these fissures papered over. The CDU’s campaign relied on Angela Merkel herself along with innocuous placards reading “For a Country in which we live well and happily” (“Für ein Land, in dem wir gut und gerne leben”). The unmistakable subtext was one of: Let’s keep going as we have, let’s remain in our comfort zone. Yet without a discourse that grapples with internal and external diversity, without an effort to openly thematise this multiplicity in the national discourse, fissures can grow into chasms. Failing to find a voice that can address such matters leaves the field of identity to reactionary populists.  Three important fissures will be discussed here: East-West, immigration, and Europe.


The most obvious – and to some degree perpetual – targets of blame for the success of the AfD are East Germans. One strand of public discourse sees them as eternally dissatisfied Jammerossis (‘whiny Easterners’) or as embarrassing provincial cousins of the more cosmopolitan modern German; a people who keep feeling hard done by despite having been stuffed to the gill with subsidies, provided with a renewed infrastructure that is frequently newer and better than in older parts of the Federal Republic, and who hosted the original Pegida movement as well as regional offshoots. Indeed, in this parliamentary election, the AfD received 27% of votes in the federal state of Saxony, and in the Eastern part of the state this went up to 35.5%. Among East German men, AfD proved to be the most popular party.

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Nov 17 2017

Four graphs about Catalonia and citizens’ attitudes towards the EU

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By Ariane Aumaitre

“Is this the Europe that you invite us to build, with a government in prison? How long are you, Europe, going to look away from this coup, from the abuse of our colleagues, who are elected representatives, in prison?” This is how Carles Puigdemont, former president of Catalonia, addressed Presidents Juncker and Tajani on Twitter, openly complaining about the position that the EU has taken on the Catalan crisis.

The (lack of) support coming from the EU has been a key component in framing the political positions of both independentists and unionists during the events of the last months in Catalonia. For the Spanish government, EU support has been fundamental in legitimizing its actions. On the secessionist side, efforts have been made to generate favourable involvement of EU institutions, with demands ranging from mediation requests to the active involvement of the EU to protect fundamental rights. The clearest example of this pattern is the move of the former Catalan government to Brussels with the aim of internationalizing the situation from the European capital.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the continuous demands coming from the independentists, the EU has firmly backed the Spanish government, not showing any of support to the secessionist cause. In such context, we could ask ourselves whether this situation is affecting the attitudes of Catalan citizens on the EU. In other words: could this lack of European support undermine citizens’ perceptions of the EU? In this article, I will try to find a preliminary answer to this question, by analysing survey data coming from the last Public Opinion Barometer from the Catalan Opinion Studies Centre (CEO).

The situation in Catalonia and citizens trust in the EU

One approach is to analyse the evolution of Catalan citizens’ trust in the EU, breaking it down by citizens’ territorial preferences. This is shown in the following graph:

The first years of the series do not show a clear pattern in the relationship between trust and territorial preferences. In 2015, all groups show a similar level of trust, but the lines start to diverge from each other in 2016, a tendency that is accentuated in 2017. The 1st of October events, located between the two 2017 surveys (the first one from July and the second one from late October) appear to show an important gap in trust opening up among the independentists.

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Oct 24 2017

European Banking Union as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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By Alfio Cerami

European Banking Union as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The establishment of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has represented one of the most important steps in the process of European integration. In an article published in Politics & Policy, I have argued that the EMU has not simply been the product of historical legacies, the rational choices of actors, or social construction of new economic ideas and preferences. It has also been the product of a self-fulfilling prophecy that has facilitated and accelerated the process of institutional transformation.

As a sequential chain of several rational imitation mechanisms (see Hedström and Bearman 2009), the self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when an initial belief—whether false or true—culminates in a behaviour that sooner or later makes the initial belief become a reality. Robert K. Merton’s (1968)1 famous example was based on the insolvency of a bank caused by false rumours about its bankruptcy. These rumours led the depositors to withdraw their money and to close their bank accounts, ultimately leading to a run on the bank and causing the bank to really go bankrupt.

As correctly argued by R. Perissich (2008), in L’Unione Europea. Una Storia Non Ufficiale (also personal interview), the European microcosmos of Brussels, with its internal logics, institutional set-ups, social, as well as power relations, is key to understand the establishment of the single market and of the Euro afterwards.

As in the case of the financial crisis of 1929, the source of Merton’s inspiration, and of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the 2008-2009 global financial crisis has opened up a new window of opportunity for the creation of the European Banking Union (EBU), for new forms of financial regulations (the Single Supervisory Mechanism and the Single Resolution Mechanism) and insurance against panic (the European Deposit Insurance Scheme).

The EBU represents, in this context, the continuation of a self-fulfilling prophecy, which finds its basis on the belief that a catastrophe for national economies and the subsequent collapse of the overall Eurozone is imminent, but this providing, only to some extent, sufficient free market-enhancing mechanisms to respond to the increasing challenges. Continue reading

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Oct 18 2017

Northern Italy’s ‘Catalan Temptation’?

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By Alessandro Franzi

By Holapaco77 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Italy one can often hear the argument that Italians do not really have a single homeland. They are Italians when they encounter people of other nationalities, but otherwise their feelings of belonging rest with a particular region, and each region  is perceived as in constant competition with the others. Most importantly, it appears to many that Italians feel “citizens” of their own city or village. If someone asks an Italian where he or she comes from, usually the first answer is the name of a town. Italy can still be considered a young democracy, after all. Now a new form of nationalism – originating in a critical stance against the EU, globalisation, and mass migrations – is merging with its traditional face. In the language of Dante, it is campanilismo (from campanile, bell tower), and shares some negative aspects of parochialism. This means an attitude favouring local conveniences over general interests, and it is not just about cultural differences. Almost all Italian regions and cities have an often conflicting relationship with the state. Those in the South because they need more economic solidarity, those in the North because they feel they are exploited to finance the rest of the country. As a consequence even the main national parties have conflicting territorial interests and strategies.

Despite growing patriotism in Italian politics, on the 22th of October the regions of Lombardy and Veneto are going to hold two referenda to demand greater autonomy from Rome. This is the first time this has happened. However, these are not binding referenda. For this reason, they attracted little attention from the media and the rest of Italy. But the recent Catalan crisis has changed everything. The Italian referenda are very different from the one held in Catalonia. Lombardy and Veneto, which represent the richest area of the country, are not pursuing an independentist goal. Instead, their local governments are asking citizens for a strong mandate to open negotiations with the national government in order to extract the most exclusive powers. This is a possibility already envisaged by the constitution, therefore it does not undermine institutional stability from a strictly legal perspective. Nevertheless, the Catalan crisis has increased the focus on the referenda and forced all political parties to take a stand. Continue reading

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Sep 28 2017

An Explanation of the Current Political Situation in Catalonia


By Javier Padilla and Luis Cornago Bonal

By Medol (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent post in The Guardian, the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont accused the Spanish government of provoking the Catalan crisis by undermining “European values, civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of assembly”. There exists a misleading narrative which situates the Spanish government as an authoritarian government that would not allow the Catalan people to express their free will via a referendum. This idea has been partially accepted by some international political commentators and academics, and suggest that the Spanish government is following up the line of other non-entirely democratic governments such as Orban or Erdogan. In like manner Gabriel Rufián, Spokesman for the pro-independence Party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has said that the Franquism will die on 1st of October, after the referendum is held.

However, we argue that the actual situation is substantially different. The nationalistic parliamentary majority of the Catalan Parliament, which represents just 47% of the Catalan voters also holds an uncommon mix of ideologies that goes from anti-establishment far-left parties to centre-right liberal parties, and is trying to force an illegal referendum on the unilateral independence of Catalonia. Even though this referendum is sold internationally as a mere democratic exercise, it is an attempt to create a State which would leave at least half of the Catalan people as foreigners in their own country. As the writer Daniel Gascón has pointed out in the magazine Letras Libres “Secessionism fights against an imaginary enemy: an authoritarian, undemocratic Spain. This imaginary Spain is a country where Catalonia does not have a high level of autonomy, a Spain that is not an advanced democracy, comparable to the countries around it.” Having said that, there are also good reasons to think that the central government could have better managed the political demands of the nationalist movement. Continue reading

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Jul 27 2017

How the Migrant Crisis is Pushing Italy Away from Europe

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by Alessandro Franzi

Immigration is going to be the political battleground of the next Italian general elections due in 2018. Virtually all major political leaders have hardened their position on borders protection following the new migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Austerity policies and lack of democracy in the EU integration process were the main concerns during the European elections campaign three years ago. Identity issue is now deepening Italian disaffection with Europe by boosting a patriotic rhetoric promoted by both right-wing and left-wing parties.

The fear of an uncontrolled influx of people has strengthened in the last two years while the sea crossing from Libya to South of Italy has become the main access route for migrants and refugees to Europe. According to the minister of Interior, the number of people arrived on Italian shores has increased almost 7 per cent since the beginning of the year. The current 94.000 asylum seekers [1] are expected to grow to 200.000 by the end of the summer.

Italy is just a transit country for most of them who try to reach their networks to the North. The Italian government has repeatedly invoked European solidarity to cope with reception problems. However, Italian citizens feel their concerns over immigration are ignored by EU institutions in favor of national interests [2]. The main consequence could be the rise of the first Eurosceptic government among the founder countries.

The Left Dilemma

“We cannot welcome them all”, leftwing leader Matteo Renzi said after his Democratic Party had lost June 2017 local elections to the center-right opponents. The party has been running the government since 2013 and it’s under pressure because of the rising number of asylum seekers and the denial of other EU countries like France to open their ports to refugee rescue boats. Additionally more and more local mayors refuse to welcome new migrants [3] in a bid to avoid unpopularity amongst their communities.

A recent SWG survey [4] indicates that the majority of Italians (54 per cent) is in favor of a total ban on new arrivals. This percentage has increased by six points since January. Furthermore back in 2003 65 percent of the Italian public considered migrants a resource but the percentage has now dropped to 35 percent. Researches underline that “approval for hard and simplistic solutions are finding fertile and expansive soil in the middle-low classes, in the middle class affected by the crisis and inflamed in its social identity”. They add that “the immigration issue has been underestimated by European governments and has been faced with an emergency approach”.

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Jul 21 2017

The Conflicting Identity Politics of Brexit

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By Henry Radice

So far, for many people, the experience of Brexit appears to be one of real individual anxiety and pain set against a prospective, and increasingly unlikely, collective gain. This is the case for both non-British EU citizens resident in the UK, and the many British EU citizens who cherish and benefit from that extra layer of democratic citizenship, whether resident in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. It is highly unusual for a liberal democracy, in peacetime, to attempt to remove so many rights from so many people, including its own citizens, so rapidly. But that is exactly what appears to be happening, and it seems likely to have a damaging and polarising effect on many individuals’ sense of identity.

It is baffling that any of the groups mentioned above could be expected to be grateful for, or even reassured by, an offer to replicate some, but not all, of the benefits they currently enjoy as a matter of right. Teresa May’s recent ‘fair and generous’ offer was rightly greeted as anything but by many EU citizens in the UK. There is an overwhelming feeling of hurt and resentment among people who had organised their lives in good faith within an apparently stable system of reciprocal rights that the UK has unilaterally undermined.

British ‘expats’ might have been exempt from the discursive opprobrium heaped on almost every type of migrant in recent years in the UK, but migrants they are (indeed, stripped of EU citizenship, will become only migrants). The EU27 preceded Teresa May’s offer with one to UK residents of the EU27 states that was arguably both fairer and more generous. But many pro-Remain British migrants have clearly been distressed by the uncertainties of their status and by other issues such as the future restriction in choices for family members resident in the UK. Perhaps more profoundly, this group have experienced the utter despoilment of their specific political identity which combined Britishness with European citizenship.

Then there is a group with slightly fuzzier but no less real grievances, those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of EU citizenship in various ways, but do not happen to be living in a different EU state at the moment. This group embraced, but often took for granted, the apparent normality of a frictionless ability to live, love and work throughout the continent. The necessity of this group finding its voice to renew the European political project was apparent well before the Brexit vote. But it is only now realising the full extent of the underlying Europeanness of its identity. These citizens may prove to be crucial to negotiating the politics of Brexit (indeed, they may already, in voting for or lending their votes to Labour, have had a key role in depriving Theresa May of her expected majority).

Arguably together the groups above represent the biggest collectivity of actually existing cosmopolitans in British politics (the other, smaller and overlapping group, being the genuine globalists whom liberal Leavers like Daniel Hannan think will spearhead a globally orientated Brexit). The key question now arises of how representative politics accords a voice and space to these groups, and does justice to the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal democracy’ (admittedly a mode of politics that exists in constant tension between collective and individual self-determination). Of key importance will be how the non-cosmopolitan liberal majority in Parliament collaborates with cosmopolitan Hard Remainers to counter-balance the disproportionate influence of Hard Leavers and their increasingly delusional narratives. Continue reading

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