Apr 24 2015

On the Borderlands of Humanity

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By Henry Radice

Bahamas - No EntryThe current crisis in the Mediterranean reminds us of what should be an obvious truth, but is too frequently forgotten: the European Union (EU) is a humanitarian space or it is nothing. If there are any criteria according to which Europe as a political project deserves to succeed or fail, they surely lie in upholding the centrality of notions of humanity within politics, not least because the need for the EU stemmed from the ultimate example of inhumane politics three-quarters of a century ago. As such, the EU can congratulate itself on its ability to function today as a humanitarian space for most of its citizens, most of the time, but recognise that a persistent failure of humanity on its borders calls into question that achievement.

The idea of ‘humanitarian space’ comes from the emergency aid world and conventionally refers to a safe operating environment for the delivery of relief, or to the creation of ‘safe areas’ amidst conflict in which vulnerable civilians might find shelter (both enterprises, it should be noted, are fraught with difficulties and tensions). Current events remind us both that Europe cannot isolate itself from the humanitarian crises taking place on its doorstep, and of the ability of the EU to serve as a genuine safe haven for many, at relatively little cost to itself. Continue reading

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Apr 22 2015

Euro-Scepticism Is Here to Stay: Finnish Election Results

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By Outi Keränen

The result of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Finland reflects the continuing appeal of the Euro-Sceptic Finns Party, but also the more pronounced division of the country’s electorate into urban liberals and rural conservatives.

The elections came at a time when the country’s economy is stagnating and consensus within the Conservative-Social Democratic government on the cure for such malaise and on other major political decisions (most notably, the health and social service reform) has been virtually absent. Both parties saw their popular support declining, as the past year was marked by infighting and lack of trust between the coalition partners. The elections signalled a wider discomfort with the left; alongside SDP, the Left Alliance lost two seats in the parliament and was overtaken by Greens as the most popular small party.

The main opposition party, the Centre Party, has achieved a clear victory. Headed by a popular leader, Juha Sipila, much of the party’s support base is in rural areas and in the north of the country. The Centre Party’s election campaign was based on policy proposals such as cutting public borrowing and promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship.

The most important story of the election is, however, the success of the Finns Party (formerly known as True Finns). The Euro-sceptic Finns Party made significant gains already in the previous 2011 elections on the back of the Euro zone bailout packages. At that time, their support increased by 15%, making them the third most popular faction in the country. If one doubted whether the their popularity was merely a short-term fad given the lower than expected vote share the 2014 EU elections, Sunday’s elections proved doubters wrong. With 38 seats in the parliament and 17.6 % of the vote, the Finns Party became the second biggest in the country. The Finns Party have successfully transformed themselves into a key player within the Finnish political architecture. Continue reading

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Apr 16 2015

Time for a New Western Strategy in Ukraine

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By Robert W. Murray

To date, the western strategy towards the ongoing war in Ukraine has been a failure. Not only has there been no cessation of violence, but the violence in certain areas of Eastern Ukraine is actually worsening, and the world is no closer to any diplomatic solution. Rather, it seems Russian policy-makers have continued to escalate, thus placing the future of Ukraine, and all of Eastern Europe, into doubt.

Recent focus has been on whether or not it is time for western states to arm Ukraine. This debate is raging most vociferously in the United States, where opponents of the Obama Administration’s handling of the crisis are calling for a change in tactics. This debate is, however, not isolated to the United States, and it is high time for all western states to question why, not if, their approach to the crisis in Ukraine has been such an abysmal failure.

For starters, it is obvious that Western states misread Putin’s intentions from the start. Such misperception existed long before Russia invaded Ukraine, but the West was content to believe that the end of the Cold War had somehow crippled Russia for good and that the integration of former Soviet satellite states into the west’s sphere of influence would prevent Russia from rising again in a manner that resembled its old Soviet character. The world even went so far as to reward the Putin regime with the Sochi Olympics in the hopes this would prove once and for all Russia had accepted that the liberal world order that emerged in the wake of the Cold War had prevailed.

Now, western states are confronted with the reality that not only did they get it wrong when it came to the annexation of Crimea, but they are continually misperceiving Russia’s next steps and relying on false assumptions about conflict and Russia’s motives to guide policy decisions. Naturally diplomacy would be the ideal outcome, but Putin is not interested in finding a diplomatic solution to a conflict he is winning. Not only is he successfully extending his sphere of influence, he is casting doubt on the effectiveness and closeness of the NATO alliance, and putting increased strain on the Obama Administration, whose reluctance to deal with any foreign policy issue with a firm hand was unfortunately reaffirmed in last week’s national security statement that preached “strategic patience”.

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Apr 8 2015

After Syriza: What’s next for Spain?

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

The significance of Syriza’s electoral victory for anti-austerity parties and politics across Europe is slowly, but steadily sinking in. The next showdown will be in Spain where local and regional elections are due on 24 May, and a general election will be held before the end of the year. An electoral victory of Podemos will signal that the hard line neo-liberal block opposing anti-austerity policies in the Eurozone has not succeeded in silencing the voices of the people. Even without an electoral victory though, Podemos have won: they have already changed the political terrain in Spain and beyond.

Europe has been divided along an invisible, transnational frontier. Two camps, for and against austerity, rally their forces across national borders. Before, during and after the recent Greek elections, Spanish politicians went to Greece to rally support for their friends there, in the hope that this would in return help their own electoral prospects at home. The Spanish Prime Minister, the conservative Mariano Rajoy, went to Athens in support of his conservative counterpart, the now former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. It is no coincidence that, after the Greek elections and during the negotiations with the Eurogroup, Rajoy and the Portuguese PM, Pedro Passos Coelho, have both tried their best to block any favourable agreement for Greece.

The same gathering of forces is taking place on the opposite camp. Both the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, and the leader of Izquierda Unida, Cayo Lara, took the trip to Athens in support of Syriza before the election. Although they all agreed that ‘Spain is different’, they also tried to articulate the Greek election in a way that would play into their own hands at home.

After the Greek elections, Pablo Iglesias did not waste the opportunity to remind Rajoy that the clock is ticking down towards the end of his government: ‘Tick, tock, tick, tock’. Given the size of the country, a Podemos victory in Spain would have a much bigger impact on the future of the EU than Syriza’s victory in Greece.

The latest opinion poll from the CIS research centre shows Podemos at 24%, only three points behind the ruling conservative party, PP, and two points ahead of PSOE. In the latest Metroscopia opinion poll, published in El País, Podemmos and PSOE are tied at a little over 20%, with PP and the new kid on the block, the centre-right Ciudadanos, a few points behind. The results of the local and regional elections depend more on local particularities. Podemos will not run candidates everywhere, and, in some cases, a separate electoral alliance connected with Podemos, called Ganemos, will attempt to challenge the duopoly of PP and PSOE. The peculiarities of local elections were last witnessed in the regional election in Andalusia on 22 March were PSOE did relatively well (Andalusia is an old PSOE stronghold) and Podemos scored only 15%.

If we are to believe the opinion polls, it is clear that the anti-establishment politics of Podemos might well win the elections. Although they are unlikely to win an outright majority, they have galvanised the opposition to the conservative government, while simultaneously challenging the parties of the old left.

Although they have not yet fallen to the same depths, PSOE is in a situation similar to that of PASOK in Greece a few years ago. The party changed leader after the EU elections last May, but the position of the new leader, Pedro Sánchez, is precarious, and the person to watch is Susana Díaz, the head of the regional government in Andalusia, a PSOE stronghold. A poor showing in the local and regional elections on 24 May, and Sánchez is likely to be able to call himself ex-leader.

PSOE is caught in a catch-22, damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Through many years in government and collaborating with PP, they have come to be seen as part of the system – the caste, in Podemos’s discourse. The only way for PSOE to save themselves from the fate of PASOK is to stop being PSOE. But when trying a more populist appeal, they just reinforce the impression that Podemos is the real thing, and that they – PSOE – are merely a poor imitation. This is best exemplified when Sánchez took to sporting an open shirt and a small rucksack, and spent his first months as leader doing the rounds on the TV talk shows – while criticising Podemos for being populist.

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Apr 3 2015

The Ukrainian Crisis: A Year On

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By Roberto Orsi

More than a year has gone by since the overthrowal of Viktor Yanukovich, the starting point of a severe international crisis between Moscow and the West, successively escalated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the outbreak of a separatist war in the Donbass. While any talk about “winners” and “losers” in such crisis would be superficial and over-simplistic, the unfolding strategic situation, especially since the ceasefire agreement of February 11, deserves some attention.

Considering Russia’s interests in the region, particularly if those are to be understood according to the Russian geopolitical and strategic vantage point, Moscow has managed to protect some of its vital interests, succeeding in three main dimensions.

Firstly, the non-violent takeover of Crimea, albeit clearly illegal under international law, has secured the country’s access to the Mediterranean and to the Middle East, eliminating a serious point of contention with the Ukraine, and a lethal threat to Russia’s projection capabilities. The move also subtracted the peninsula from NATO’s encroachment, allowing instead a significantly more secure Russian hold in the Black sea region.

Secondly, Russia has effectively avoided international and diplomatic isolation. Despite Beijing’s endorsement of traditional conceptions of sovereignty and territorial integrity, China has de facto sided with Russia, going to the extent of signing a $400 billion worth gas deal during the crucial weeks of the Crimean crisis when the US and the EU launched their sanctions, in a clear political gesture towards Washington and the rest of the world. India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Korea and numerous other nations have been taking little if no action against Russia in the wake of the crisis.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the secessionist conflict in the Donbass has provided a sure way for Russia to heavily intervene, practically for an indefinite future, in Ukrainian affairs.

There is no indisputable evidence that President Vladimir Putin is trying to expand the borders of the Russian state by means of re-unifying or annex parts of the former Soviet Union, but several elements, both ideological and geostrategic, point to that direction. If so, it would appear that Russian actions in the Ukraine aim at the disintegration of such state at least in three regions (the fourth, Crimea, is already in Russian hands): the West (Galicia), the Centre (Malorossiya), and the East and South (Novorossiya). Ideally from the Kremlin’s perspective, the Ukraine should become some sort of federation, from which the various autonomous regions would gradually secede and shift towards East, with the exception of Galicia, for which Russia has no interest.

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Apr 1 2015

Ciudadanos: the ‘tortoise’ that may beat the ‘hare’ in the race for political reform in Spain

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By Jose Javier Olivas

The emergence of Ciudadanos or Ciutadans (‘Citizens’ in Spanish and Catalan) as a credible alternative to the People’s Party (PP) and Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) is one of the most significant events in the Spanish political arena in years. Although they may not have yet the level of support and media attention enjoyed by the other rising star in Spanish politics, Podemos, Ciudadanos’ impact on the political system and party dynamics may prove more decisive in the long run.

Ciudadanos are attracting disenchanted centre-left and centre-right voters. Their cambio sensato (‘sensible change’) approach offers a reformist agenda that can be considered a middle ground between the continuation of the system forged by PSOE and PP over three decades, and the more radical change proposed by the left leaning Podemos. Thus, if Podemos offer a revolution, Ciudadanos promise an evolution.

While Podemos’ campaign is somewhat backward looking and focuses almost entirely on attacking the misdeeds of the current political establishment, Ciudadanos are putting more effort into building a credible alternative programme and setting conditions for future pacts with other parties. Even their critics recognise that unlike most other Spanish parties, which tend to focus the debate on somewhat vague policy goals, Ciudadanos has launched their bid for government by discussing specific policies and policy instruments.

As the chart below shows, Podemos may end up gaining more seats in the next general election than Ciudadanos, but it seems increasingly likely that Ciudadanos will hold the key for Moncloa and many regional and local governments.

Chart: Evolution of voting intentions in Spain since January 2014

olivasciudadanosmarchchart2015

Source: Metroscopia – El País Continue reading

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Mar 30 2015

Subterranean Politics in Europe after the Greek Elections

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Professor Mary Kaldor discusses activism, Europe and the aftermath of the Greek elections with Ludovica Rogers and Hara Kouki in a conversation organised by LSE’s Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit in collaboration with Euro Crisis in the Press and with funding from the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE).


Note: This post gives the views of the speakers, 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:

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

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

The winds are changing: a new left populism for Europe

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Mar 25 2015

Greece must put aside divisive rhetoric if a solution to the country’s crisis is to be found

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By Lambros Fatsis

 

imagesWe need to talk about Syriza. But it would be unwise to do so without perspective, or without history. We need perspective in order to gain perspective, thereby allowing us to triangulate rather than simply divide complex issues into neat bundles of meaning. And we need history in order to contextualise rather than distance ourselves from the origins of the events we seek to discuss.

In the meantime, it is imperative that we resist much of the noise that surrounds discussions about the new kid on the European bloc, namely Greece’s newly formed government which was borne out of a peculiar coalition between the self-styled radical left-wing Syriza party and the populist right-wing ANEL (Independent Greeks). What is interesting about much of this “noise” is the eerie silence that has hushed up any coherent explanation of how to make sense of this odd couple, especially in the non-Greek media coverage and public discourse alike. Behind that silence lurks a complex tangle of polarities, dualisms, enclosures and paradoxes that informs both the electoral result per se, as well as the very rationale that brought it forward. This is where history becomes useful.

Syriza’s rise in historical context

Emerging out of the shadows of its previous existence as a province of the Ottoman Empire, Greece was born as a nation in the mid-19th century and grew up in various stages of turmoil, beginning with the country’s War of Independence from the Ottomans (1821-1832) and the intermediate civil wars of 1823- 1825 (Filikoi vs. Kotzabasides between 1823-4 and Ydraioi vs. Moraites between 1824-5), succeeded by a disastrous sequence of events that include World War I, the Balkan Wars, the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, the turbulent inter-war period of 1923-1940, the Italian and German Occupation during World War II, the Greek civil war of 1946-1949, and the military junta of 1967-1974.

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Mar 19 2015

Corporate Social Responsibility in an Era of Economic Crisis: Empty Gesture or Tool for Corporate Learning?

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By Alvise Favotto and Kelly Kollman

 

corporate-social-responsibility-powerpoint-ppt-slides-1-728The social legitimacy of business actors in EU member states has waxed and waned over the past two decades.  Levels of trust in business, as recorded in public opinion polls, tend to increase in good economic times and decrease during recessions. After the financial crisis began in 2007 and mushroomed into the Euro crisis in 2009 and a double-dip recession in 2012, the European public’s confidence in business plummeted.

These recent fluctuations in public trust of market actors have occurred against the backdrop of growing scepticism about the rise of large transnational corporations (TNCs) in our current era of economic globalisation.  To counter or at least ‘socialise’ the increased power of TNCs, the EU has sought to develop and implement a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy since the early 2000s.  In its original formulation, published in Green Paper in 2001, the Commission defined CSR as a “concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”.

This definition and its emphasis on the voluntary nature of CSR were in keeping with international developments of the time.  In 2000, the United Nations launched its Global Compact initiative that encourages corporations voluntarily to sign up to 10 principles that cover environmental sustainability, human rights and anti-corruption pledges.  Many global environmental NGOs and private standards bodies have also created voluntary CSR codes such as Forest Stewardship Council’s sustainable forestry label and the ISO 26000 CSR management system certificate.  These initiatives encourage companies to go beyond compliance with binding regulations and often reward them with the use of a participation label if the company meets the code’s requirements.

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Mar 12 2015

Germany, the giant with the feet of clay

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By Terence Tse and Mark Esposito

 

untitledOn the surface, it stands to reason to think that, as Europe’s largest economy, Germany’s position in Europe can act as the saviour to pull the Eurozone out of its current plight. By many counts, the country’s economy is doing very well. Many people argue that Germany’s model could be the key to strengthening other economies in the EU: Just think the need for Greece to go through the austerity measures demanded by Germany. However, a deeper look into the German economy reveals that it is far more vulnerable than appears on first look.

This is not obvious because seemingly economically and politically strong country is gradually going in decline. There are a number of reasons for this:

Excessive dependency on Exports. Germany’s GDP relies rather heavily on exports of primarily industrial manufacturing goods – its service sector remains far less developed and its share of the total economy has not grown since 1995. A further implication is that Germany has been falling behind in both private and public investments. The country’s current investment levels represent only 17% of its GDP, less than either France or Italy. Public spending on infrastructure and other similar projects, on the other hand, equals a meagre 1.5% of the country’s GDP. Education spending is also only 5.3% of GDP, which is lower than both the average of 15 European countries and the OECD average of 6.2%. In short, Germany has not been spending enough to invest in its future.

The changing nature of (un)employment. The average hours worked per person has continually fallen in the last twenty years. Since 1991, although an ever increasing percentage of the population is employed, there has also been an increase in volunteering and/or part time work as well: 22% of German labour are without full-time contracts or in temporary full-time positions. Germany is moving from problems of unemployment to underemployment, when workers do not get the hours they want or hold down jobs that are not in line with their education levels.

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