Apr 14 2014

A black cloud over the EU?

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By Alex Sakalis

The newly announced Le Pen-Wilders alliance in the European parliament has re-ignited speculation about the rise of the far-right in Europe. What can we expect from this new EU supergroup?

The recent success of the Front National in French local elections, as well as the announcement of a Le Pen-Wilders alliance in the European parliament, has re-ignited speculation about the rise of the far-right in Europe. It is widely expected that the far-right will attain their best ever European results in the May elections. Despite this, far right parties and MEPs have historically found it difficult to form groups in the European parliament. Why? And what has changed?

From humble beginnings

European groups are an intrinsic part of the European parliament. They can either be a single European party, such as the EPP, or a coalition of European parties, such as The Greens – European Free Alliance (which is a coalition between the European Green Party and the European Free Alliance). The EPP is the largest group in the Parliament with 274 MEPs, while the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats is the second largest, with 195 MEPs.

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Apr 10 2014

Britain and Euroscepticism: Understanding the Fit

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By Michael Skey

The British population’s views of Europe are shaped by wider attitudes towards Britain’s status and values – unfortunately, for the pro-Europe camp large numbers remain pessimistic and see disengagement as the answer.

Britain’s and Euro-scepticism seem to go together like fish and chips. Polling data consistently show that Britain is the most Eurosceptic country in Europe, with only around 25% of people attached or fairly attached to the EU (compared with a European average of around 45%) while over 70% of Brits said they were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ attached (the European average is just over 50%). These baseline figures are, of course, important but they sometimes obscure the different attitudes that particular groups in Britain have towards Europe and how these attitudes are shaped by other key factors. What’s more these factors may well influence the ways in which people vote in the forthcoming European elections and any future referendum on membership, should it ever come to pass. I’d like to illustrate this argument by drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data sets, the former coming from my own research and the second produced by the polling group YouGov.

My own research was interested in the experiences and attitudes of members of the ethnic majority living in England. I conducted 21 group interviews with members of this group, stratified according to class, region and age and asked them general questions such as; ‘what do you dis/like about living here’, ‘what has changed over the past 15 years’, ‘what are the biggest challenges facing the country’ and so on. This type of research isn’t meant to be representative of the population as a whole given the relatively low numbers of people involved, but is able to explore people’s views in a more detailed way by probing their answers and studying people’s interactions. It is also able to trace similarities in the way people look to present and justify their arguments. As part of the discussions, I also asked my respondents about Europe and their responses can be categorised into four broad themes; antagonistic, disinterested, pragmatic, positive.

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Apr 7 2014

The lost generation: what is true about the myth…

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By Mark Esposito & Terence Tse

If we were to believe the forecasts from the European Commission, unemployment in the Eurozone appears to have started – at long last – showing signs of small but fragile recovery. However, that does not mean we can rest on our laurels as the economic outlook in the near term remains rather bleak. We can still expect a bumpy ride lying ahead through peaks and troughs, crashes and reboots. This ride is likely to be especially harsh for the growing army of jobless youths.

Unemployment in the European Union 2013

Unlike past economic crises, the burden left by the most recent one has not been shared proportionally among workers of different generations. Those aged between 15 and 24 are paying a high price, if not the highest in the aftermath of the crisis. The issue of youth unemployment used to only haunt weaker economies, such as those of southern Europe. For instance, both Greece and Spain have hit 50% in recent years. However, the current crisis has even brought the issue to those countries that are supposedly the richest and economically most robust: the US youth unemployment rate is some 16%, while in the UK and France, it is 20% and 25%, respectively. Even worse is that the youth unemployment issue has been deteriorating over time. While youth unemployment often refers to the number of those who are jobless, many of those who are lucky enough to be in employment are actually holding on to short-term and temporary contracts. Very often they have no choice because they have been locked out of the job market where permanent positions, occupied by the older generations, are protected by rigid labor market regulations.

It is therefore not a surprise that some describe the youth as “a lost generation”.  At the same time, one should note that there are two ways to measure youth unemployment. First, the youth unemployment rate is simply the number of unemployed in the 15-24 age group divided by the total number of both the employed and the unemployed in the same Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 15.45.54age group (see figure 1). An important yet oft-neglected issue with this measurement is this: given that not every young person is in the labor market, the youth unemployment rate does not reflect the proportion of all young adults who are jobless. Those who are still in education, for instance, are therefore not included. In other words, a 25 % youth unemployment rate does not mean that “1 out of 4 young persons is unemployed” – it only means that 25% of those currently in the labor market is not employed. Yet, such interpretations of youth unemployment rates are frequently used as headlines, perhaps because they seem more newsworthy.

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Apr 2 2014

What has been agreed on banking union risks reigniting, rather than resolving the crisis

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By Iain Begg

In December 2013 EU finance ministers negotiated an agreement aimed at establishing a banking union, with further talks between the European Parliament and the Member States ending in an agreement last week. Iain Begg provides a detailed overview of the main objectives of banking union and what has been agreed so far. He argues that while European leaders have probably gone as far as they can over reaching a compromise, the measures agreed are still insufficient and could potentially exacerbate the risk of another Cyprus-style crisis taking place within the Eurozone.

A German 2 Euro coin. The word Freiheit (freedom) can be read on the edge lettering.

Among the many economic governance initiatives undertaken over the last few years, those intended to achieve deeper financial integration have been widely regarded as crucial and urgent. The financial crisis and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis had revealed a number of flaws in the governance of the euro, and the EU’s leaders have since tried hard to put in place a new framework for economic policy-making which deals with these flaws. However, progress has been slow and has exposed deep differences among the Member States.

After some very tough negotiations, the EU finance ministers came to an agreement just before Christmas on the second stage of what has come to be known as banking union and, after protracted negotiations about procedures, the proposals were agreed with the European Parliament on the 20th of March 2014. A single resolution mechanism (SRM) for dealing with failing banks will now be added to the single supervisory mechanism (SSM) which completed its legislative journey in October. A third element originally envisaged for banking union, common deposit insurance, continues to divide EU Member States and has made no tangible progress.

According to Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for financial services, the December deal was ‘a momentous day for banking union. A memorable day for Europe’s financial sector’. But is it and will it prove to be enduring?

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Mar 27 2014

Who has seized power in Crimea?

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By Ellie Knott

According to recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov,Russia has claimed to be acting to protect the rights not just of citizens and military personnel, but also compatriots and Russian speakers in Crimea. But how far do Crimeans feel discriminated? Ellie Knott, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, draws on her research to answer this question.

In a previous article for Vostok Cable, I argued that there needed to be a more nuanced understanding of Russian identity in Crimea. Hence I differentiated between ethnic Russians who accept or enjoy living in a Ukrainian state, and Discriminated Russians, who identify not just as ethnically Russian but also as the victims of Ukrainisation.

Sergey Aksyonov is the de facto Prime Minister of the Crimea who lead the country towards annexation to Russia.

It is the latter who have been heavily involved with pro-Russia movements, such as Russkaia Obschina Kryma(Russian Community of Crimea), and the pro-Russia minority party, Russkoe Edinstvo (Russian Unity). There has been a long-standing cynical attitude to these organisation in Crimea: that they are professional Russians. As one respondent described these individuals want “to get money from this” by using their Russian identification as an occupation to profit from the funding for these organisations which comes from Russia.

It is these same Russian cultural and political organisations who have led the renewed separatist movement in Crimea. As soon as Sergei Aksenov, the leader of Russkoe Edinstvo, seized power, he claimed to be representing the interests of all Crimeans. However Russkoe Edinstvo were elected by just 4% of the electorate in the 2010 Crimean parliamentary elections.

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Aksenov was able to seize power as the Prime Minister of Crimea after a forced vote in the Crimean parliament. The identity and origin of the armed group who stormed the Crimean parliament on 27 February, forcing the voter later in the day, remain unknown. However the links between Russkoe Edinstvo and the Russian administration run deep, both at the local level with personal links to the Russian consulate in the peninsula, through the organizational structure of the Compatriot policy, and several individuals from these groups have been awarded cultural and social medals by the Russian Federation for their work. Continue reading

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Mar 24 2014

(Mis)understanding the public? An independent Scotland and the EU

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By Jan Eichhorn and Daniel Kenealy

Scotland’s debate on its constitutional future has frequently focused on its future role within the EU. Despite uncertainty about the precise terms of an independent Scotland’s EU membership we show that the issue is not one that divides ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters. Furthermore, recent years have shown a marked rise in sceptical attitudes toward the EU in Scotland.

The issue of an independent Scotland’s relationship with the European Union (EU) has intermittently animated the referendum debate. Most recently, the BBC’s Andrew Marr found himself in hot water after appearing to express a personal opinion on the difficulties that an independent Scotland might face in seeking to join the EU. Marr’s comment built on a statement, delivered on the same BBC programme, a month earlier by European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. “I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” remarked Barroso, for a new state emerging from an existing EU Member State to be admitted to the club.

Scottish independence would present the EU with an unprecedented situation. Never before has part of an existing Member State gained independence whilst seeking to remain within the EU. There is no EU Treaty article dealing with the scenario and there is no relevant EU case law.

The European Commission’s official position is that Scotland would have to reapply for membership and complete the standard accession process as Croatia did most recently. The Scottish Government has countered that, because Scotland has been part of the EU since 1973, it cannot be expelled. Instead of the standard application process followed by states such as Croatia, the Scottish Government argues that the EU Treaties ought simply to be amended and that Scotland should enjoy so-called ‘continuity of effect’, guaranteeing it the same opt-outs and special provisions that the UK currently enjoys.

Whether through a formal accession process or an amendment to the existing Treaties, it is clear that each EU Member State would hold a veto in the process (although no Member State has yet to suggest they would exercise it). It is also clear that the 18-months between ‘Referendum Day’ and ‘Independence Day’ represents a tight, but not completely unrealistic, timeframe in which to agree and ratify a deal. Finally, it is also clear that to trigger a scenario in which Scotland would find itself outside of the EU would be deeply imprudent. It would cause significant turmoil by creating a hole in the single market and altering the legal status of every non-Scottish EU citizen living, studying, or working in Scotland.

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Mar 19 2014

Take a map of Europe… Violence, gender and (in)equality in the EU

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By Catherine Briddick

Take a map of Europe (go on, this is going to be fun). Look at it. Think about the recent (and continuing) financial crises and, depending on your position on the political spectrum and views of the prevailing neo-liberal order, note which countries are disproportionately suffering/affected/responsible. Colour them in if you so wish. Now think about those countries which are differently situated; whose books are (mostly) balanced, whose taxes are (mostly) paid. Feel free to colour them in in a different colour.

Now consider the psychological violence used against women by their current and former partners. Think about being belittled, humiliated, forced to watch pornography, threatened with having your children hurt or taken away from you. In which countries do you think women are experiencing the highest levels of psychological violence? In which countries do you think women are experiencing the highest levels of physical and sexual violence, sexual harassment or stalking? The answers may come as a surprise because if we look at that nicely coloured-in map it would appear that those countries which might be perceived as being the most financially secure, which might be congratulated on their levels of gender equality, are those which have the highest reported levels of violence against women.

The EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights has released the results of a survey conducted with 42,000 women across all 28 EU member states.[1] The report makes for shocking reading, revealing levels of violence that many in the mainstream media found hard to believe or explain. So, 52% of women in Denmark report having experienced physical or sexual violence, 47% of women in Finland and 46% of women in Sweden, all counties which are perceived to have made significant advances towards gender equality.

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Mar 17 2014

Landscapes of the Housing Bust—a Photo Blog

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By Patrick van Dam

I was traveling through Rhodes and Crete, knowing there were many unfinished buildings around these areas. It’s a southern European tradition to build a family home in stages. But many of these structures were obviously not your typical family homes. They were luxurious villas and hotels. Unfinished as constructors ran out of funds during the crisis.

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Mar 13 2014

Radical Democracy and Collective Movements Today: Hegemony and Autonomy

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

The 2011 movements of the squares, the ‘aganaktismenoi’ and ‘indignados as they came to be known in Greece and Spain respectively, brought to the forefront old and unresolved debates on the Left. During the crisis it became evident that the traditional Left failed to capture the popular imagination. As part of parliamentary politics, and together with the rest of the political establishment, the left had itself lost legitimacy, at least among a large part of society, and non-representational alternatives started to be entertained. The debates emerging from the movements were a response to the failure of the existing economic paradigm and an alternative economic vision challenging neo-liberal capitalism took front stage. Yet, at the heart of the movements was the realization that, without a political alternative compensating for the democratic deficit in the respective countries, such an alternative would be impossible. Resistance to the economic programmes of the troika (the IMF, the EU and the ECB) had to come from the ‘people’, the political actor who had been excluded from the decision-making process. Although the crisis was identified as economic, there was a sense in which the crisis concerned politics as well – indeed the crisis was of a general character to the extent that it could not be limited to a particular part of society.

2011_Greece_UprisingDespite the fact that the cornerstone of Leftist discourse is the challenge of the economic capitalist model, the movements of the squares rejected the parties of the Left and the trade unions as part of the system in crisis or, at least, as unrepresentative. The protesting crowds in the squares demanded their ‘voice’ to be heard and started to entertain the idea of a different form of political organization outside formal political institutions. Within this discourse, ‘autonomy’ and ‘direct democracy’ were used as a counterpoint to parliamentary politics as we know it. It is also telling that the traditional left was the most severe critic of the movements. The newspaper of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), for example, argued that the movement did not represent any danger to the establishment, had no alternative political suggestions beyond the immediate rejection of the government and the austerity measures, and for this reason it was ‘palatable’ to the mainstream media and some political centres alike. Effectively, it represented the protesters as in need of ‘enlightenment’ and guidance.

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Mar 11 2014

Catalan Separatism, a European Problem

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By Marcus Pučnik

Both Catalonia and Scotland are looking towards a referendum on independence later this year, Scotland on September 18 and Catalonia on November 9.  If independent, they both would like to join the European Union, yet the official EU stance is that Catalonia and Scotland would be “third countries” in regard to the EU and thus have to go through the full process of accession.

A demonstration for Catalan independence

This is where the similarities between Scotland and Catalonia end. While the Scottish referendum is agreed upon with London, the Catalan one is being blocked as unconstitutional by Madrid. Moreover, the Spanish government is also likely to veto Catalonia’s EU-accession in the case of a unilateral declaration of independence.

“We cannot be punished,” Catalonia’s president Artur Mas said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. Some very competent European experts share this point of view and call a potential Spanish veto of Catalonia a punitive measure that would represent “an abuse of [EU] law”. These experts expect both Catalonia and Scotland to fulfill all the necessary membership requirements, so that their applications could be fast-tracked. “A simplified procedure” should be put in place for countries that have “applied the EU’s policies and legislation for 40 years”, or 28 years in the case of Spain/Catalonia.

But would punishing those pesky Catalans really be Madrid’s motivation? Is Catalonia really fulfilling all EU criteria, and would it thus be that special case for which Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) cannot be interpreted literally? A closer look at the conditions on the ground gives some reason for doubt.

Unlike Scotland, Catalonia does have a language conflict. It is a complex issue, one part of which is a general defense of the Catalan language. The other part is inside Catalonia itself, where the regional government refuses to heed court sentences that over the past years have consistently demanded that Spanish not be excluded as language of instruction in Catalan public schools. Treating Spanish as if it were a foreign language is not in the spirit nor the wording of TEU Article 2, to which Article 49 explicitly refers.

Both Spanish and Catalan are official languages in Catalonia. Over half the Catalan population has Spanish as mother tongue. Skewing public education in favour of Catalan has been necessary to repair past injustices, something that also the courts have recognised, but the exclusion of Spanish is a clear discrimination. Furthermore, based on the present situation we can expect a Catalan state to declare Catalan as the preferred or national language, turning the Spanish speakers into a functional minority. Equality, non-discrimination and minority protection are all values mentioned in Article 2.

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