Oct 21 2014

“Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue…”. On the twenty-eight separate European elections of 2014

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By Lorenzo De Sio, Vincenzo Emanuele and Nicola Maggini

Together with “a sixpence in her shoe”, there are various items that are recommended as part of a bridal outfit, according to an old English rhyme. Humour might hardly be allowed as regards the recent European Parliament elections, given the success of Eurosceptic parties. However, we might comment that the 2014 EP election (expected by many commentators to be the first truly European election) was to some extent blessed by the presence of all such auspicious elements. That this has happened in times of economic crisis and rising Euroscepticism, would – again – not make it different from many weddings celebrated in difficult times, yet leading to long-lasting, successful marriages. But let’s go one step at a time.

First, why did many declare these first “truly European” elections? Before the election there were two principal reasons. First, the increasing centralization of economic policies in the Eurozone following the economic crisis, lead to the reasonable expectation that citizens would better understand the importance of Brussels politics for their everyday lives. Second, the new provision (under the Lisbon Treaty) that the President of the European Commission would be selected by “taking into account” the electoral results. This has led the main EP groups to appoint official presidential candidates, resulting in higher visibility for the EP election campaign.

It is precisely in light of such expectations that, a few weeks before the elections, we decided – at CISE (Italian Centre for Electoral Studies, jointly established between LUISS Rome and the University of Florence) – to build and coordinate a 40-strong team of researchers across Europe, who would prepare concise country reports for all the 28 EU countries, along with in-depth analyses of specific aspects of the EP vote. Such reports were first published on the CISE website several days after the election, and then collected into a unique instant e-book published by CISE. Our overarching interpretation of individual country reports and overall analyses in the book, together with the findings of more recent studies, highlights the four elements, which were hinted at in the title of this blog post. Continue reading

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Oct 16 2014

From the idea of Europe to a Europe of ideas

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By Anya Topolski

Contrary to the maxim popularised by political scientists that there is no political community without a political identity, what Europe most needs is a political community without identity. The project of the EU should be to create a space for the clash of ideas, a Europe of different visions, different voices, different languages that are continuously in discourse. A reply to Etienne Balibar.

Let me begin with a personal anecdote that speaks to the political crisis Europe is facing today. Having recently become a Belgian citizen, I – along with 11 million other Belgians, have been overwhelmed by the lack of time to study and scrutinize the different European parties and platforms, one of whom I will have had to (voting is compulsory) select on Sunday, May 25.

In Belgium, as in other European countries, several elections are running concurrently. While I understand the financial advantages of having as many elections as possible on one day, the price paid for such profit is democracy itself. Much like the unfolding of the European project, this is a case where economics trumps politics. When voters are not able to take the time to make a considered choice, possibly to get involved, hear a debate, ask questions etc., the absolute minimum requirement for any democracy – the vote itself  - becomes futile.

It should come as no surprise that so many people don’t even bother to vote. This is the first issue we, the people of Europe (regardless of our citizenship), must address: how can we make Europe more about politics than profit and in so doing return solidarity and prosperity to a continent divided by austerity?

The second issue arose when I finally managed to make time to study the many European parties and platforms. Impressed with their ideas about Europe ‘to come’ as one that fights neoliberalism, austerity and poverty in order to create solidarity and prosperity, I had made up my mind to vote for the European Left party. I then proceeded to click on the map of Europe to discover what the party’s name was in Flanders, where I am to vote.

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Oct 14 2014

What can Ukraine learn from a post-2009 Moldova? It’s not just institutions that need to change

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By Ellie Knot

After events in Ukraine in 2014, there’s been a lot of reflection on what this means for other post-Soviet states, and in particular Moldova, with its own separatist regions (Transnistria, Gagauzia) and upcoming elections at the end of November. However, Moldova’s recent political experiences also offer a useful point of reflection for key lessons that Ukraine needs to learn going forward. Most importantly, this concerns the way in which Ukraine constructs itself as a post-Euromaidan state, in particular how politicians interact between themselves and whether they act for primarily to serve their own interests, or those of the wider Ukrainian society.

Moldova: the Twitter Revolution and After

In 2009, protestors took to the streets in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, to protest against the victory of the Communist Party, who had been in power since 2009, in April’s parliamentary elections. Elections were then held again in July, unseating the Communists’ overwhelming majority of the Moldovan parliament, and allowing a tripartite coalition, to form the Alliance for European Integration (formed by the Liberal Democrat Party/PLDM, Democratic Party/PDM and Liberal Party/PL).

This change of power was seen as a turning point in Moldovan politics particularly for the young, who had been the key participants in the April protests, as a turn towards a more democratic and European-style of politics, and away from a Communist/Soviet style of governing. Indeed, many people I met often referred to the coalition as just the “Democrats” as opposed to the “Communists”.

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Oct 9 2014

After the Crisis: The Sharing Economy Our Saviour?

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By Anne Kaun

The so called sharing economy is thriving. People increasingly use platforms such as airbnb, uber, TaskRabbit and Rent the Runway to rent or offer their sofa, a ride, services or a designer dress. Some pundits see this growing sector as an indicator for shifting norms: Claire Cain Miller argues that in the aftermath of the Great Recession sharing or renting emerged as new social ideals pushing back against overconsumption and the connected debt accumulation that seemingly caused the crisis in the first place. And most of the currently successful apps were launched around 2008/2009. Rather than owning a specific object, people increasingly value experiences which go hand in hand with the often discussed ephemerality of objects in the digital age and a focus on practices such as sharing. Airbnb and uber apps provide the necessary freedom and infrastructure for these – Claire Cain Miller argues – more sustainable imagespractices. But are they really our saviours in the aftermath of the crisis?

There are many critical voices that have been raised, not least from branches directly affected by the sharing economy, e.g. European-wide protests against uber. Besides the protests by labourers in fear of losing their jobs, a typical critique is the heightened insecurity for those that rely on incomes through the sharing economy. While airbnb and co. present themselves as neutral infrastructure to which regulations do not necessarily apply, labourers in the sharing economy – and in times of high unemployment there is a growing number of people that make their income exclusively through these micro-businesses – are exposed to the quick fluctuations of the market and rapid changes of the algorithms themselves.

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Oct 6 2014

Ancient Cities and New Politics in Southern Italy


By Andrea Lorenzo Capussela and Pier Giovanni Guzzo

Having razed the city, in 510 B.C. its enemies flooded its ruins by – Strabo writes – diverting the waters of a nearby river onto them. 2,523 years later other enemies caused the same river to flood the same ruins, leaving a thick layer of mud and debris on them.

The city is rich, refined and – a polemic legend has it – dissolute Sybaris, which gave us the adjective ‘sybarite’. Founded as an Achaean colony in the VIII century, it lies on the Ionian coast of present-day Calabria, in Southern Italy. In 510 B.C. its enemy was Pythagoras’ Croton, a rival Greek city laying further south on the same coast. Two and a half millennia later its enemies were illegality and administrative paralysis, which allowed the embankments of the river to deteriorate and its floodplains to be filled with illegal orchards and citrus groves: provoked by heavy rains in January 2013, the flooding of one of the Mediterranean’s most important archaeological sites was as devastating as it was predictable.

Sybaris archeological park

The plain that Sybaris controlled was fertile, though, and the trade routes at whose juncture it stood profitable. Hence in 443 B.C. Athens decided to found a new city on the same site. The expedition that Pericles dispatched included the philosopher Protagoras and the architect Hippodamus of Miletus: the limpidly rational urban plan he designed is noted in classical literature and is now partly visible, closely resembling that which Hippodamus himself conceived for the Piraeus, in Athens. The new city, named Thurii after a nearby source, flourished. The orator Lysias moved there, for instance, and the historian Herodotus, who signed himself as a Thurios and according to legend was buried at the edge of the main square (the agora, yet to be excavated). The city declined after Hannibal took it during the second Punic war, but rose again as a Roman colony, named Copia (‘plenty’) by reason of the wealth of the plain.

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Oct 1 2014

Why Italy Will Not Make It


By Roberto Orsi

“Italian Landscape with Viaduct and Rainbow” by Károly Markó (1838)

Three articles by prestigious commentators (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Roger Bootle for The Telegraph, Wolfgang Münchau for Financial Times) have recently appeared in the financial press about the economic situation of Italy and the (in)stability of its national debt. The arguments and wording of these pieces deserve special attention, as their appearance may signal a new turn in the way in which market operators and policy makers are re-positioning themselves in relation to the Italian sovereign debt and the implications of its current trajectory, for the Eurozone and beyond.

In its essence, such turn consists in an at least partial embracing of parts of an admittedly “pessimistic” narrative already articulated by many, including by previous posts on this very blog. All three articles wonder what would happen if the Italian economy continues to stagnate or contract not only this year (which is certain), but also in 2015 and 2016.

In this respect, Bootle puts forward the view that

Italy is very close to the situation that economists call a ‘debt trap’, that is to say when the debt ratio rises exponentially. From this the only escape is through inflation or default. Italy cannot inflate while it has no separate currency. So, unless something big starts to change pretty soon, Italy is on course for the mother and father of sovereign default.

There are indeed technical discussions on the maximum sustainable level of public debt for any country, the threshold beyond which some sort of default becomes mathematically unavoidable. Japan’s national debt stands currently over 230% of GDP, but Tokyo is still regarded as a solvable creditor, in essence because Japan’s debt is expressed in the national currency. The case of Italy is notoriously difficult, since the Euro can effectively be considered as foreign currency. Evans is clear in stating that

[…] Italy’s public debt will spiral to dangerous levels next year, even further beyond the point of no return for a country without its own sovereign currency and central bank.

Münchau’s article is the most explicit of the three, and adopts what the establishment may consider alarmist tones, which are however pretty much adequate to capture the situation. The associate editor and European economic columnist for the Financial Times writes:

Italy’s economic position is unsustainable and will result in eventual debt default unless there is a sudden and durable change in economic growth. At that point, Italy’s future in the Eurozone will be in doubt and – and indeed the future of the euro itself.

These three pieces can be interpreted in several ways. At face value, they address the now very apparent question of Italy’s bleak financial future, pointing at possible risk and remedies. However, they can also be seen as (the beginning of) a media offensive directed at the ECB to force the adoption of monetary policies similar to those of the American FED, the Bank of Japan, and the Bank of England, a point for action which all three authors advocate, alongside the rapid introduction of sweeping reforms in the Italian economic and political system.

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Sep 29 2014

The Scottish referendum is still a victory for Scotland


By Matthew Whiting

The Scottish referendum result strengthened Scottish nationalism and weakened Scotland’s position within the Union. That feels more like a victory than a defeat for Scottish independence.

Although David Cameron, and an apparently purring Queen, felt intense relief at the comfortable margin by which Scottish voters rejected independence, in reality the referendum looks more like a temporary delay in an ever closer journey to Scottish independence. Scottish nationalism, the driving force behind demands for independence, has come out even stronger from this process.

Winning majority support for a radical break with the Union was always going to be a tough task. The British constitutional tradition of preferring gradual reform and muddling through to all-out revolution meant that going straight to outright independence only 15 indexyears after devolution was first introduced was not very likely. However, no-one could realistically consider the current outcome to be the final resting place of the constitutional changes that began in 1999.

The recent referendum confirms the fact that it can no longer be assumed uncritically that Scotland’s rightful place is within the Union. This is highly significant because secession becomes much more feasible when there is no ideological hegemony amongst the political elite and the population as a whole that sees a territory as a natural or given part of a sovereign state. Take, for example, the position of Cornwall today – while there may be a dedicated few that are firmly committed to Cornish independence, the reality is that this is seen as somewhat laughable given that Cornwall is just ‘naturally’ a part of England and the United Kingdom. Scotland, in contrast, has lost the perception that its rightful place is sitting within the Union. This has been the case since the 1970s and even Margaret Thatcher acknowledged that Westminster would not stand in the way of Scottish demands for independence if that was the popular will of the people. The initial referendum on Scottish devolution in 1979 (which was passed but not implemented due to low turnout), the subsequent 1999 referendum on devolution, and the steadily increasing autonomy of Scotland since then, have all been a political recognition of the changing view that Scotland is, and ought to be, naturally a part of the United Kingdom. The results of last week’s referendum reinforced this even more starkly – they clearly showed that Scotland’s position in the Union is not naturally given, but is entirely contingent. Although the final result of 55% to 45% was more resounding than the polls predicted, a swing of just 200,000 votes would most likely have led to the resignation of David Cameron rather than Alex Salmond.

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Sep 25 2014

Finland’s Economic Woes: Competitiveness through unemployment

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By Anders Ekholm

Finland is slowly but steadily sinking into increased economic hardship. The lack of growth combined with increased unemployment is fought off by increased public spending and debt, with the implicit assumption that growth is just around the corner. It is hard to avoid the mental picture, where we stand on the deck of Titanic listening to a string quartet – instead of looking for a life boat.

The crisis that our nation faces is often quite correctly described as a structural crisis. It is however important to understand, that “structural” does not necessary translate into “unavoidable” in this context. Depicting the crisis at hand as structural, includes an implied assumption that we produce the wrong products, but at the right price. However, anyone who has studies basic economic theory – or attended Black Friday for that matter – knows that prices have an effect on demand.

Before we joined the euro zIndependent_Finland_90_years_5_euro_Obverseone, prices in Finnish markkas (FIM) could evolve differently from for instance prices in Deutschmarks (DM). When prices in FIM increased faster than prices in DM – as often would have been the case – the FIM/DM exchange rate reacted to counterbalance the relative price increase in FIM. Hence, the competitiveness equilibrium was maintained by demand and supply in the currency markets. A freely floating currency regulates the competitiveness of an economy in a much similar way to the centrifugal governor in the Boulton & Watt steam engine of 1788.

The introduction of the euro currency effectively meant, that the euro nations economic engines decided to implement a common centrifugal governor. The underlying assumption was that all euro nations’ economic engines were equal – which was simply not true.

Prices continued to evolve at different paces in different euro nations. In short, OCED’s statistics show that prices increased in all euro nations in relative terms to prices in Germany. A giant competitiveness crack emerged between the euro nations. The diverging competitiveness was covered up with increased debt in euro economies that had lost their competitiveness.

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Sep 22 2014

Socio-Economic Security, Transnational Solidarity and the Legitimation Crisis of the European Union

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By Alfio Cerami

This article offers some insights on the socio-economic security approach of the European Union (EU), its conception of transnational solidarity and subsequent ‘legitimation crisis’. The aim is to foster reflections on a future, more integrated socio-economic security politics, since this has important repercussions for the democratic legitimacy of EU institutions and for their acceptance among the population.

By ‘socio-economic security politics’ here I mean not only the set policies that can be introduced or promoted by national and international institutions, but rather the complex set of economic, political, legal and social principles, policies and procedures that 1europe_2001crystallize at different levels of the decision-making process. These can take the form of dominant ideas and discourses on specific political and policy priorities, of public policy instruments aimed at achieving a particular, previously agreed goal, but also of policy-making procedures that once in place may hinder or foster the achievement of determined political and policy outcomes

Concrete examples of the current socio-economic security politics of the EU include all those still uncoordinated actions promoted by the various Directorates-General (DGs) and affiliated EU agencies aimed at improving the quality of life of citizens. These may involve: (1) an economic dimension, such as those actions aimed at influencing the chances an individual has of having access to equal possibilities for their personal realization (e.g. absence of huge regional divides, of poverty, etc.); (2) an institutional dimension expressed in terms of an equal access to key positions in institutions, such as in the labour market or in the family; (3) a cultural dimension expressed in terms of an equal access to education or the possibility to afford the price of cultural events and so on; and (4) a social dimension concerning the possibility of citizens becoming involved in community and social life.

Socio-economic security must, in this context, be seen as a multi-dimensional concept, which includes various aspects of the individuals’ private and public life. It has often been described as an ‘equal and durable access to similar and decent living standards in a stable socio-economic environment’, but this definition is not exhaustive. Socio-economic security has, in fact, also been understood as the possibility to provide the individuals with the chances of conducting a good quality life through the entire course of their existence, ensuring that the individuals are not forced to seriously worry that their personal conditions might dramatically worsen in the near future due to changing economic circumstances.

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Sep 17 2014

A Cosmopolitan Take on the Referendum

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By Anthony Lang

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, recently wrote the following concerning the referendum on Scottish independence that will take place on Thursday:

So a new idea of citizenship is emerging. It is not cosmopolitanism if that means that national loyalties do not matter. It is a citizenship that upholds national identities while recognising the benefits of shared sovereignty – the kind of citizenship Scottish people can understand: being Scottish, British, European and a citizen with connections with a world wider even than that. It is not abstract: it represents how people now live their lives – connected constantly through mobiles and the internet, able to communicate with anyone, in any part of the world, at any time – involving an identity that is, for individuals, more a matter of choice than at any time in history.

Brown’s intervention is in the context of his support for keeping Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. What is interesting is he puts it in terms of global citizenship, something that one wouldn’t expect in a debate between two sides that seemed very fixed on their 519px-Gordon_Brown_Davos_2008_cropunderstandings of nation and nationalism. Brown’s point, here and in other places, is that the United Kingdom can and will change, but devolving into smaller sovereign nation states is not the way to go. Rather, a new kind of citizenship and a new constitution is necessary to bind the UK together and simultaneously give it the chance to become part of the world in a different way.

His arguments have a strong appeal for me. Brown’s understanding of cosmopolitanism is close to my own – a mix of local, national, regional, and global orientations that allows us to understand and act in the global political sphere in new and interesting ways.

I know that for many in this country, Brown is a polarizing figure. His role as Chancellor under Tony Blair was part of the New Labour process of shifting the United Kingdom toward more neoliberal economic policies. And his tenure as Prime Minister was filled with stories of bullying and poor governance. But since leaving 10 Downing Street, Brown has embodied the kind of cosmopolitanism he describes above – he advocates for his own small constituency in Fife yet continues to speak on issues of national and global importance. Unlike his predecessor, whose cosmopolitanism is the jet setting world of the corporate executive, Brown’s cosmopolitanism is Scottish, British, European and global.

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