Jun 25 2016

The UK is Reaping What the British Media Have Been Sowing for a Long Time

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By Maria Kyriakidou 

The result of the EU referendum and the now imminent Brexit have been met with shock and disbelief both globally and in the UK. Despite indications by the polls there was still hope that reason would prevail over inwardness, hate and anger. At the same time, however, the result seems to be the sad but natural culmination of a campaign period marked by viciousness, lies and fear-mongering, which has divided the country and unleashed dark powers of nationalistic superiority, racism and xenophobia that would have been hard to deal with, even if the result of the referendum had been different, and the British public had decided to stay within the Union. Emotions have been running high in the last months, and the UK media contributed significantly to this. But their toxic role in the referendum has to be seen beyond this specific historical moment.

anti-immigration-right-wing-press-daily-mailThe Brexit vote is not a vote of protest against the undemocratic, bureaucratic and neoliberal EU, as Lexit supporters would like to believe. It is predominantly a blow against immigration, refugees and transnational solidarity inspired by fear, resentment, nationalism and a historical sense of superiority. These anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and nationalistic feelings have been fomented by decades of racist and xenophobic media coverage, especially in the tabloid and right-wing press. What the referendum did was further legitimise these sentiments by offering them a platform of public expression within the VoteLeave campaign. Once unleashed beyond the domain of the tabloids, such discourses will have a grave impact on the social fabric of society.

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Jun 21 2016

Beachfront Gone Bust: Spain’s Second Home Economy on the Rocks

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by Sam Holleran & Max Holleran

Beachfront Gone Bust. 06.22.16 from Sam Holler on Vimeo.

In the early 1950s, Mayor Pedro Zaragoza woke at dawn and left Benidorm, the sleepy-coastal village he governed, to make the 300 mile trip to Madrid by Vespa. The Mayor had an audience with General Francisco Franco—the authoritarian leader who would rule Spain for 35 years (until his death in 1975). Mayor Zaragoza, a devoted Franquista, had a peculiar request for the leader—he wanted permission for bathers on the Town’s beaches to wear a new, French-designed bathing suit. The garment, which exposed a woman’s midriff, was controversial in the deeply Catholic country. The prohibition of the swimwear had led fun-and-sun seeking tourists away from Spain to the more-permissive French Riviera. Hoping to win-back tourists, Zaragoza asked Franco to make Benidorm a special exemption. Franco approved, and the bikini-ban was lifted. The rest is history.

Routemaster_RM2156_in_Benidorm,_Spain_(1)In the years since, Benidorm has risen to towering heights and become a byword for low-cost beachfront tourism. Sun-worshippers flock there in the millions from the soggy polders of Northern Europe, a peach schnapps-infused cocktail bears the name “Sex in Benidorm,” and numerous stag and hen weekend deals direct people there for “the chance to drink themselves stupid” and partake in “Sexy Stripper banquets” (lest they get hungry and have to leave the club). The debouched image is just one quadrant of the City’s tourist economy. Lots of visitors are pensioners (not that this precludes them from the activities above) who rent motorized scooters and enjoy beachfront chair yoga. Many Northern Europeans—dead set on never again donning a down jacket—settle in the region permanently.

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Jun 16 2016

Capitalism Today: The Austrian Presidential Election and the State of the Right and the Left in Europe

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By Christian Fuchs

Europe Today – Capitalism Today

Europe is in a crisis. Capitalism’s contradictions resulted in a new world economic crisis that exploded in 2008. Governments have bailed out banks and have protected the rich and transnational corporations, while the mass of people has faced hyper-neoliberalism and austerity. The Troika of the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank have under German conduct abandoned Europe’s weakest link Greece by refusing a debt haircut, prolonging the country’s socio-economic crisis without an end in sight, and casting doubt on the existence of solidarity in Europe. Wars and crises have resulted in refugees fleeing their home countries. Europe has failed to respond in a co-ordinated manner. Countries have blamed each other and answered with erecting borders, quotas, and fostering racism and nationalism. On the one side, new progressive movements and parties have emerged. But on the other side, a stronger tendency has been the political manifestation of nationalism, racism, authoritarianism, separatism, right-wing extremism, elements of fascism, spirals of violence, and ideological fundamentalisms. The world system’s violent political mood could be the prelude to the next world war.

The Contemporary Far-Right’s Cell Form: The FPÖ in Austria

In recent years, the far-right has been strengthened in many parts of the world. The strong performance of the Freedom Party (FPÖ)’s candidate Norbert Hofer in the 2016 Austrian presidential election is one of the most recent examples. Is it just an accident that it is Austria, where 2.22 million voters cast their ballot in the second round for the far-right so that its candidate achieved 49.3% of the vote? Could such a political agreement to the far-right have also taken place in another European country because of the ongoing crisis? norbert hofer

In 1986, Kurt Waldheim, member of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) during the Second World War, became Austria’s President. In 1999, Jörg Haider’s leadership of the FPÖ culminated in the party achieving 26.91% in the Austrian general election. The FPÖ became the junior partner in a coalition government led by the Conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). After the FPÖ’s split into two parties and Jörg Haider’s death in 2008, Heinz Christian Strache became the new leading figure of Austria’s far-right. According to polls, 34% of the voters would cast their ballot for the FPÖ if there were general elections in Austria today. The FPÖ would become the strongest party. These examples show that Hofer’s result in the Presidential election is not an exception. Why has the far-right especially in Austria been so strong? There are several dimensions. Continue reading

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Jun 14 2016

“We Are the Green Ones”: How News on Climate Change Make ‘Us’ European

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By Leif Hemming Pedersen and Magnus Boye Bjerregaard  

Frontpage_illustrationAs research on European integration ever so often seems to point out, the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. The challenge lies in the distance between lawmakers and citizens, between the EU-elite and the national publics, and between the very national identities of the European people. When searching for a bridge over these distances we just as often end up in a “chicken and egg” type of problem – do we need a common European public to mend the fractures in the European democracy, or do we need a fully democratic union before a common public can arise?
No matter how we view this challenge it seems increasingly clear that the utopian dream of one European people with one common identity united in one common public discussion will not present itself any day soon.
So, in academia, we have set out to look for the EU. We search in the everyday discussions of each national public and first and foremost we search carefully for the EU in the national media. And as we search, the more EU we find in terms of topics, actors and communicative exchange across borders the happier we get. However, the EU we get a glimpse of once in awhile is often not the EU of community, cohesion, and common identity. More often than not, we find an EU that keeps its distance to the citizens, or worse, an EU, which is seen as an external force seeking to usurp the national democracy one directive at a time. This description will be recognized in media across nations such as the UK, Greece, Hungary and Denmark.

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Jun 9 2016

Will The Real Project Fear Please Stand Up?

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By Henry Radice

This is the second in a series of pre-referendum opinion pieces, Defenestrations: (Un)Framing the EU Referendum Debate. The first one addressed the issue of the referendum itself, and attracted a powerful rejoinder from Roberto Orsi.

Iain_Duncan-Smith_OfficialOne of the earliest and most frequently employed tropes of Leave campaigners, when challenged with the myriad possible downsides of Brexit, is to deploy the accusation of scaremongering, of engaging in ‘project fear’. The term, which gained currency during the Scottish independence referendum, has a problematic, arguably dangerous role in contemporary British political discourse. It normalises practices of negative campaigning (disguised by populist indignation), contributes to the infantilisation of political discourse and to an anti-meritocratic anti-intellectualism, and fuels anti-political sentiment in the name of pseudo-democracy.

First, the project fear accusation frames the opponent as practicing negative campaigning, which understandably has a bad reputation for using devices such as dog whistles or ad hominem attacks. The power of blanket accusations of scaremongering, though, is that they carefully deploy the playbook of negative campaigning in accusing the opponent of the very same, painting them in a ghoulish light while positioning the accuser as the plucky defender of common sense against a predatory elite. They infantilise political discourse precisely by deliberately blurring the distinction between sober, well-grounded concerns, and lurid speculation. Continue reading

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Jun 6 2016

The Great Pushback: Western Politics and Dynamics of Exclusion

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By Roberto Orsi

A recent piece by Henry Radice on this very blog envisages a connection between different phenomena on the two sides of the Atlantic, namely Mr. Cameron’s political tactics (or strategy?), which has led to the Brexit referendum, and the ascent of Mr. Trump as the Republican nominee in the upcoming US presidential elections. The connection would rest in the background of a widespread, growing anger in the US and UK public, in a “toxic culture of political irresponsibility” (in the GOP), and in an unclear identification of the EU’s role in British politics, as well as of Britain’s position within the EU, from the side of many. This bundle of disparate elements is worth exploring.

The author of the present piece, technically an EU (Italian) citizen residing in Japan, has clearly no vote in either US elections or British referenda, and feels obliged to remain as much as possible aloof in relation to those contests, and would certainly not wish to side with any party in the ongoing political debates, which do pertain exclusively to members of the political constituencies concerned. However, expressing an opinion about emerging trends in Western politics appears as somewhat legitimate activity to any Westerner, and such is the aim of this admittedly long piece.

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Jun 2 2016

EU Migrant Workers’ Welfare Rights: the New Fair Game

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By Alessio Colonnelli

Political success will be measured by how many EU economic migrants one manages to put off – a race to the bottom gradually spreading across Europe.

migrant-393130__180

Four months before succumbing to leukaemia, Guido Westerwelle conceded his last major interview in Cologne. In November 2015, the German erstwhile foreign minister told Der Spiegel that large sections of society were showing zero tolerance towards refugees.

“When you allow this to happen, you end up on a slippery slope, with no chance of climbing back up. And then you just keep slipping faster and faster,” maintained Westerwelle. To the next question, on how he viewed Europe’s situation, he replied: “It’s worrying… Europe has yet to be accomplished, as a political project I mean. What you build together, can also fall apart. I see lots of centrifugal forces around.”

Soon after this interview, the idea that EU workers shouldn’t be entitled to the same social rights as national workers started to gather serious momentum. It had been in the air for some time. But it never materialised, until Britain got it off the ground and made it viable. Brussels gave it the green light (“fighting abuse of free movement” was how European Council president Donald Tusk defined it), after initially rejecting it for being discriminatory. To restrict benefit entitlement is now seen as desirable. Freedom of movement is still important, no moderates dare question it – but a cornerstone?

Germany is also weighing up EU workers’ benefit entitlements. A bill will soon be debated in the Bundestag. Access to the national welfare safety net may well be restricted in some shape or form. Europeans would be banned from most unemployment benefits for five years following their arrival. The bill, however, also contains provisions to partly help those not entitled to benefits: for four weeks claimants would receive benefits for food and other basic needs. At the same time, they would get a refundable grant to cover travel expenses to get back to their country, where they can ask for social aid.

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May 30 2016

Crony Capitalism and Neoliberal Paradigm (Part II)

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By Lucas Juan Manuel Alonso Alonso

This is the second and final part of Crony Capitalism and Neoliberal Paradigm, the first part was posted earlier on this very blog.

It is easy to see how almost all the European Union’s Member States, as well as other western advanced economies, are facing greater social inequalities, the spread of precarious/poorly-paid job conditions, greater tax burdens on households/SMEs, stagnation or slow economic growth together with high unemployment rates and cuts in core government functions. All these factors are leading to an impoverishment of the middle classes. From this picture arises, at least, one question: Is this situation a harsh consequence of a global economic crisis, or, on the contrary, the crisis is a response to a particular type of socio-economic paradigm—commonly known as “the system”? This article, divided in two parts, aims to answer that question: part 1, concentrates on negative socio-economic effects of crony capitalism, and part 2, deals with the relationship between crony capitalism and the global neoliberalism paradigm now reigning in most countries.

 

It seems that the neoliberalism paradigm now reigning in most countries systematically relies on cronyism: business people use political connections to get wealth, public works are not awarded to the best-qualified applicants but to those close to political power and so on. By doing so, this kind of neoliberalism is breaking the free market rules which “supposedly” form the basis of the model: genuine/creative entrepreneurs/enterprises are not rewarded on the basis of their effort and skills. Globally, this is reflected in the extreme concentration of wealth into the hands of a small and influential minority —at the very top of the social pyramid— leading to sharp social and economic inequalities.

Neoliberal measures charge a greater tax rate on households and SMEs, meanwhile multinational companies and great fortunes experience less fiscal pressure—we have here one of the reasons why in many advanced economies the gap between poor and rich is widening (the concentration of income at the top of the income distribution increases inequality and decreases class mobility).

As such, several questions arise. Does neoliberalism allow class mobility? Empirically speaking, noticing the success of people related to political, economic or religious power, family’s wealth and status, it seems that access to the best education and subsequently prestigious positions are a matter of wallet size and/or relationship with some kind of factor power/family’s wealth and status rather than merit. If so, than is a talent crisis not a logical global consequence? How to recruit talented people without a real meritocracy? Wealthy individuals have more opportunities to study at the top universities of the world (mainly in business schools, economics, law and politics and other similar fields) than those with merit but lacking the financial means. Of course, there are scholarships and forms of financial support, but these will depend on the country we are talking about. On this particular point of mention the question should also be made about: What are the selection criteria for scholarships and how much is awarded? As a result of neoliberal measures increasing inequality, there is a lack of class mobility and, therefore, the subsequent socio-economic success is highly correlated with the above-mentioned factors.

If so, is there then a vicious circle? Obviously, the best universities and business schools in the world are going to prefer people related to power circles, because they are always going to undertake prominent roles in different parts of the world (governments, world organizations, top world companies…) but then, what about global leaders? Is a leadership without merit a true leadership? After all, those universities obtain prestige because their graduates get the best jobs in the world.

Below, I wish to articulate a few brief thoughts about the main general characteristics of this kind of neoliberal paradigm.

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May 25 2016

Crony Capitalism and Neoliberal Paradigm (Part I)

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by Lucas Juan Manuel Alonso Alonso

It is easy to see how almost all the European Union’s Member States, as well as other western advanced economies, are facing greater social inequalities, the spread of precarious/poorly-paid job conditions, greater tax burdens on households/SMEs, stagnation or slow economic growth together with high unemployment rates and cuts in core government functions. All these factors are leading to an impoverishment of the middle classes. From this picture arises, at least, one question: Is this situation a harsh consequence of a global economic crisis, or, on the contrary, the crisis is a response to a particular type of socio-economic paradigm—commonly known as “the system”? This article, divided in two parts, aims to answer that question: part 1, concentrates on negative socio-economic effects of crony capitalism, and part 2, deals with the relationship between crony capitalism and the global neoliberalism paradigm now reigning in most countries.

grosz15

“Eclipse” [Sonnenfinsternis] by George Grosz (1926)

Crony capitalism, which can be defined as a set of economic practices and modes of organisation whereby success depends of the close relationships, often even personal, between business people and political figures, can be identified as the core of a flawed socio-economic system, mainly based on the characteristics that will be listed below, having an overall negative impact on economic growth as well as wealth distribution, and ultimately generating a high level of systemic poverty.

Strong links between politics and wealth — rent-seeking. In essence, business people use political connections to achieve wealth. Rent-seeking is a source of corrupt practice that distorts free market — there is no creation of wealth nor entrepreneurial spirit is necessary, as entrepreneurs/enterprises obtain financial gains, without any risk, from political lobbying.

Financial speculations — e.g. commodities and property prices are conveniently inflated. Lack of competitiveness — monopolies and oligopolies. The current economic globalisation is plagued of enormous asymmetries—multinational companies have an oligopolistic power in most markets—. Poor regulations (or appropriated legal vacuums) allow governments to grant profitable contracts to their cronies.

Privatisation policies — well-placed people/entrepreneurs/firms gain the property on public assets (sometimes at bargain prices) stifling fair competition. These privatisations worsen the efficiency of the service, contracts are not awarded to the best-qualified applicants, but to those who are closer to political power—also making it more expensive as bribes and increase the cost and ultimately the price of a service. As it is well known, the private sector has the goal of profit maximization and cost reduction. However, such profit-driven approach should not be applied to the management of the key functions of the state, because doing so only favours access to public services from people with sufficient economic capacity to afford them, leaving all others behind.

Lobbyists — e.g. privatisation of public corporations (roads, ports, airports, oil companies…), transfer of wealth to financiers, enterprises/entrepreneurs arising from political clientelism…, etc.; governments can enact laws to benefit incumbents (their friends and contributors) and decry potential insiders…

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May 20 2016

The EU’s Operation Sophia Has Failed to Make Conditions Safer for Refugees

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By Mollie Gerver

640px-Cavour_550In June 2015 the EU instituted a naval force, the EUNAVFOR MED, to destroy boats used by people smugglers. Two months later, in August 2015, a German vessel rescued a pregnant Somali woman named Rahma Abukar Ali, and she soon gave birth to a baby named Sophia. Sophia’s name spread across the internet, and the EU renamed EUNAVFOR as Operation Sophia, marketed as saving lives, and not only destroying ships.

On 13 May, the UK’s House of Lords EU Committee declared that Operation Sophia, though saving 9,000 lives at sea, has failed to either sufficiently deter smugglers from operating, or to significantly increase the safety of refugees and migrants. Destroying smugglers’ boats led smugglers to switch to using inflatable rubber dinghies, mass-bought from China, which are impossible to ban or easily destroy, and far less safe for refugees crossing the sea. The relatively secure boats used by Sophia’s mother are now less likely to be used because of Operation Sophia. Continue reading

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