Jun 14 2017

Does the Catalan Independence Movement Really ‘Love Democracy’?

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By Jose Javier Olivas

On 9 June 2017, the Catalan government announced a self-determination referendum to be held on 1 October 2017. Two days later, next to a big banner with the slogan ‘Love Democracy’ and in front of 40,000 people, Manchester City’s manager Josep Guardiola read the official pro-independence manifesto urging the international community to defend

 

the rights that are under threat today in Catalonia, such as freedom of political expression and the right to vote. To face up the abuses of an authoritarian state.

A victimisation narrative

The hyperbolic message, the unusual speaker and the choice of the dates for the announcements, coinciding with the aftermath of the UK election and the first round of French legislative elections, demonstrate the weakness and sense of urgency of the pro-independence camp. They have realised that the window of opportunity for the independence of Catalonia is closing. Since July 2016 the percentage of Catalans against independence has steadily grown (48.5% vs 44.3% in favour), popular mobilisation is decreasing, corruption scandals linked to the previous nationalist government continue to emerge, the Spanish economy is starting to improve, and they have failed in all their attempts to gain the endorsement of any relevant international actor. Continue reading

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Jun 5 2017

How the General Election 2017 Campaign is Shaping Up on Twitter

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By Stefan Bauchowitz and Max Hänska

If we are to believe the pundits, social media has played an outsized role in recent political events, and so it is not surprising that its role in the upcoming General Election has been the subject of much attention. In particular, Labour’s poll surge has at times been attributed to its social media prowess, in spite of its comparatively diminutive war chest.

Using Twitter’s streaming API, we follow election related tweets. Combining our own search and data from Democracy Club, we follow 2119 Twitter accounts of candidates standing in the election (though only 1883 were active). We are also collecting tweets that match a set of election related keywords (e.g. GE2017, votelabour, and others). So far, we have collected around 1.7m tweets involving candidates and a further 8m tweets matching our keywords. Though we are continuing to collect data, it seemed timely to set out some of the clearest trends in advance of the vote.

By volume of tweets, Labour’s presence is far greater than that of other parties (Figure 1). On aggregate, Labour’s network out-tweets that of the Tories by a factor of 3, though the activities are somewhat more level if only the tweets created by prospective parliamentary candidates or their staff are taken into account – Labour candidates tweet 1.8 times as often as Conservatives. Continue reading

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Jun 1 2017

The Manifesto Everyone Hates to Love

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By Alexandros Alexandropoulos

By Sophie Brown [CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

Polls are now giving the General Election a renewed interest: Labour has significantly reduced the Conservative lead, making the final result uncertain. But it’s another poll that truly summarises politics in 2017. A ComRes poll found that a majority of voters support or agree with policies proposed in the Labour manifesto, while at the same time finding that 56% of the same people said that Corbyn “would be a disaster as a Prime Minister”, the very person that introduced these policies in the party’s manifesto. Fingers might point to Corbyn’s leadership to explain Labour’s electoral woes, but for the party the source of the problems run much deeper, and this is evident in its manifesto.

Housing and education: no-brainers

This where the UK is at the moment: housing crisis, tax-avoidance in the financial sector, a Higher Education that is becoming prohibitively expensive. These are problems that are affecting the lives of millions for the worse and they have been left unaddressed for way too long. These areas of policy that social democratic parties like Labour have always considered the areas of political debate that are most favourable to them. Continue reading

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May 30 2017

How Portugal’s leaders exploited the bail out to pass measures they already supported

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By Catherine Moury and Adam Standring 

During the Eurozone crisis, states receiving a bailout were required to implement spending cuts and other reforms in return for financial assistance. But to what extent did the governments of these states use the opportunity to advance their own policy agendas? Drawing on interviews with Portuguese politicians, this article argues that both the crisis and the bailout strengthened the hands of Portuguese government ministers in relation to other domestic actors. And when ministers favoured policies which were in line with those backed by international actors, they were able to use the situation to push for policies they already supported.

We recently conducted both an analysis of official statements and interviews with many of the main political actors that were in power during the sovereign debt crisis in Portugal (2010-2015). Our research highlights that both the crisis and the bailout made the executive stronger in relation to other domestic actors. Consequently, when Portuguese ministers favoured policies that were in congruence with those supported by international actors, they were able to use the crisis to advance their own agenda.

 Former Portuguese PM José Sócrates

Former Portuguese PM José Sócrates

In 2011, Portugal received a bailout that was tied to a series of spending cuts and other reforms. But even before the bailout, the country’s centre-left government, led by José Sócrates, had taken advantage of the pressure on sovereign bonds and the perceived need to ‘calm the markets’ to see off their domestic opponents and implement a number of reforms that had already been on the agenda for some time.

Respondents to interviews frequently gave the reduction in severance payments and cuts in health spending as examples of reforms that Socialist ministers personally supported but had been unable to push through before external pressure provided them with a window of opportunity. Sócrates’ policy was to avoid the bailout at all costs, implementing austerity policies and publicly insisting that ‘Portugal was not Greece’. But when the Troika was finally summoned to rescue the Portuguese economy, their conditions were not entirely imposed.

Our interviews revealed that the Portuguese government maintained significant leeway to negotiate the measures that were included in the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU); with the results of the negotiations depending on the bargaining power and intensity of preferences of each side. In many cases, such as freezing the minimum wage (which the government opposed), the government had to accede to requests from international lenders. However, respondents also reported several instances in which the government managed to convince Troika representatives to exclude particular measures. The dismissal of public servants, the preservation of lower pensions, and the reduction of severance payments only for new contracts are examples of this.

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May 17 2017

Non-member supporters and GE 2017: a vital but underestimated campaigning resource

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By Monica Poletti

Party members are vital for party campaigning: they are more readily mobilised and engage more in high intensity activities than party supporters. At the same time, there are more non-member supporters than there are members. This article looks at the Party Members Project (PMP) data and explains that supporters have a more equal gender split, they are on average less well-educated and more likely to be in manual-occupational grades than members. This makes them more likely to be representative of the average voter. 

It wasn’t only pundits and the public who a few weeks ago were caught completely by surprise by Theresa May’s announcement of a general election in June. So was her party – and all the other parties that are trying just as hard as the Tories to defend – or even to pick up – seats in a few weeks time.  Whether they will be able to do so depends, at least in part, on their activists who deliver the so-called ‘ground campaign’. But who are UK party activists today and what do they do during campaigning?

 As in other Western democracies, until very recently the number of people formally joining UK parties, and who therefore traditionally provide the bulk of campaigning on the ground, has been declining. As a consequence, the role played at election time by party supporters (i.e. those who strongly identify with a party but who do not formally join it) has become increasingly important in complementing activities carried out by paying members. This has not been the only change in campaigning. The rise of new communication technologies and social media have led to increased online campaigning alongside traditional tasks like delivering leaflets, putting up posters, attending meetings, canvassing voters and, for the most politically engaged, even standing for election.

Drawing on survey data collected for our ESRC-funded Party Members Project (PMP) (run together with Tim Bale and Paul Webb) following the 2015 UK general election, we have looked in more detail at differences and similarities in profiles and campaign activity between members and supporters of six British parties: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, the Greens, and the SNP. Continue reading

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May 5 2017

The Politics of Post-Truth

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By Roberto Orsi

Every book is imbued with the name of God, and we have anagrammed all books in history, without praying […]. What our lips said, our cells have learnt. What have my cells done? They have invented a different Plan, and now they are going their way. My cells have invented a history which is not everybody’s history. My cells have learnt that one can be blasphemous by anagramming the Book and all books. So they have learnt to do with my body. They invert, transpose, alter, permute, create cells never seen before and with no sense, or with a sense which is contrary to the right sense. There must be a right sense, and wrong senses, otherwise one dies.

Diotallevi, one of the characters of Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) pronounces these words on his death bed, confessing the mortal sin of manipulating words and thoughts without due caution, and piety, but also posing the uncomfortable question of whether there should be a right sense, and somehow also a limit to imagination.

In the wake of Brexit and the ascent of Mr. Donald Trump as US President, numerous Western media and intellectuals have elaborated or embraced the view that current political events are shaped by the spread of misleading or utterly fake information, particularly operated by alternative news channels, mainly through the internet. Political debates are therefore no longer based on any truth or factual accuracy, but on “post-truth”, whereby truth is simply abandoned as a shared ground whereon opinions should successively be constructed. The right sense has been lost, and so the sensitivity to questions of truth, with all the political consequences.

Unfortunately the matter is far more complex than it appears, and this way of framing the issue of post-truth is problematic at best.

 

What facts?

It is worth starting from the very idea of “facts”. Although fact-checking and “having one’s facts straight” used to be one of the pillars of civilised political conversation, particularly in the US, the very category of “facts” has never been particularly stable. There are facts and facts. Whether the author of this piece is wearing a blue tie while writing this very sentence is not the same as the fact that anthropic activities are causing climate change, even if both are labelled as “facts” in common speech. Politically interesting facts are, with some exceptions, almost never of the simple kind. This has been known for very long time, even in a context, such as that of Anglo-Saxon philosophical culture, where the reputation of empiricist approaches has remained high over the centuries.

British historian E. H. Carr famously wrote:

The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation. (What is History?, 1961)

The journalist is in essence an historian of the contemporary. The work of both is partially similar: both need to select their facts and organise them into some kind of narrative, coherent and convincing enough for their publishers and prospective readers. The work of both can be, and usually is, highly politicised, although the professional historian has the luxury, sometimes, of allowing for less politicisation depending on how relevant a certain matter may be for broader contemporary debates. Both do not have to invent from scratch those perspectives, contexts, and narrative frameworks in which the facts will eventually fit: they are usually readily available in the form of established editorial lines or historiographical theories respectively.

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May 1 2017

Greece: any better times or more pitfalls ahead?

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By Lucas Juan Manuel Alonso Alonso

In 2015, Greece, an EU state member since 1981 with a population of 10,846,979 people, recorded the highest level of GGD (General Government Gross Debt to GDP ratio) in the EU-28, at 176.9%. Concerning the volume index of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita in PPS (Purchasing Parity Standards) we find Greece’s GDP per capita dropped from 4% lower than the EU-28 average in 2004 to 29% lower in 2015.  However, GDP is a measure of a country’s economic activity, and therefore it should not be considered a measure of a country’s well-being. If we take the AIC (Actual Individual Consumption) per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard) as a better indicator to describe the material welfare of households, Greece showed an AIC index per capitalower by some 19% than the EU-28 average in 2015. Labour productivity per hour worked expressed in US $ (which means GDP per hour worked expressed in US $) was estimated among the lowest in the EU-28, at $32 in 2015. Curiously, Greece has the highest average hours worked per year in the EU-28, at 2,042 hours, its average hourly labour cost is among the lowest in the EU-28, at €14.5, its average annual wages at US $25,211 and unemployment rate of 24.90%. 43% of pensioners live on €660/month on average, and many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren.

Greece has debt repayments of 7.2 billion euros due in July and concerns over a possible sovereign debt default are gaining ground within the EU agenda. News about Greece’s socio-economic situation continues to be grim., Yannis Dragasakis, Greece’s deputy prime minister, has talked about the need of a wholly new economic policy to boost investments, re-ignite growth, draft a new growth strategy, and more, just in order to lower the unemployment rate to the pre-crisis level of 8% in the next 10 years. In the same vein, Alexis Tsipras’s two-party administration has approached the World Bank for a €3bn (£2.6bn) loan to finance employment policies and programmes.

Unemployment

Unemployment is a tragedy for Greece. The highest jobless rate was recorded in 2014, at 27.8%. The current level of unemployment, the highest in the EU, is about 24%. Unemployed workers between 45 and 64 years of age (currently almost one in three unemployed, around 347,400 people, whereof280,000 are long-term unemployed, in 2009 they were one in five, or 99,000 people)-  ,and young unemployed people aged 15-24(close to 50% of the total) are the most adversely affected demographics. According to ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority) – GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers), nine out of ten Greeks without job do not receive unemployment benefits and 71.8-73.8% (around 807,000 people) of all unemployed (1,124,000 people) have been out of work for more than twelve months, while only 1.5% of them receive the 700 euro/month applicable to the long-term registered unemployed. In the last quarter report for 2016, ELSTAT shows that the amount of Greeks facing long-term unemployment has risen some 146% (from 327,700 to 807,000 people) over the 6-year period. Additionally, there are 350,000 Greek families without a single member working, and unemployment has led some 300,000 highly skilled professionals and workers to leave the country. Despite the painful and sustained austerity measures, the Greek economy shrank at an annual 1.1 % in the fourth quarter of 2016 as a result of lower public consumption, as well as a drop in net exports.

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Apr 24 2017

Speech! Speech! : The Campaign Rhetoric of Theresa May

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By Alan Finlayson

As the country prepares for an unexpected barrage of campaign rhetoric Professor Alan Finlayson analyses Theresa May’s opening shot and speculates on what might come next.

Theresa May’s surprise speech announcing a General Election, is rhetorically rather clever. She uses language to position herself favorably in the campaign to come. But it’s also risky, creating clear opportunities for her opponents.

Every clever schoolchild has worked out that the first thing you do in answering an essay question is to redefine it so that you can say whatever it was you wanted to say. The same principle can be applied in political debates. The party which defines what the debate is really about improves its chances of winning. That is why politicians will try to make a debate about, say, economic policy into one about competence or trust. Roman rhetoricians likened this to finding the ‘fulcrum’ of an argument, the point over which opinion was divided. The trick is to find a point where the distribution of opinion is unbalanced in a way that favors you. If opinion is split 55-45 on a vote about environmental regulation maybe you can redefine the question as one about ‘the overwhelming power of the state’ and put more numbers in your column.

In her speech calling for an election Theresa May used such rhetoric to try and define two debates at once.

The first of these is the question of whether or not there should be an election at all. Under current rules the UK Prime Minister cannot call an election. But she can propose one and put it to a vote in the House of Commons. The risk is that in so doing she might look opportunistic – exactly what the rules are meant to be prevent. So, May tries to do two things. The first is to make out that she is only reluctantly calling this vote. She says as much, adding that she is just doing what is ‘necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs’. She also tries to describe that Commons vote as about something other than an election. Rather, it is about letting ‘everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government’ and removing the ‘risk of uncertainty and instability’ and ensuring ‘strong and stable leadership’.

The UK is at the start of a period of complex and profound negotiations demanding the full focus of government and the subtlest of strategies. Here is the Prime Minister unexpectedly complicating that process further with an election certainly intended to enhance her personal power. But she defines the situation in the opposite way, implying that voting against the election is a vote for uncertainty and instability. That’s a bold rhetorical move.

It’s also only half of the story.

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Apr 12 2017

Could Grexit follow Brexit?

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By Panos Chatzinikolaou

In the summer of 2015, the EU saw one of the most turbulent times in its 60-year history.

The election of the radical-left party SYRIZA, and its leader Alexis Tsipras, put Greece on a collision course with its creditors – the IMF, the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) and the driving force behind the last two, Germany. The result? EU leaders had to sit at the negotiating table for more than 24 straight hours to avoid ‘Grexit’ – a Greek exit from the Eurozone. And they did.

Almost two years on, many things have changed in the Union – the refugee crisis has intensified, nationalism has significantly strengthened, and of course, the UK voted to leave the European Union.

One thing, however, has remained the same; talks between Greece and its creditors are once again on the verge of collapsing, and Grexit looms. What was originally a negotiation process supposed to be resolved at the December 2016 Eurogroup, is still being discussed and, almost six months later, a solution is still not in sight. Germany and the IMF are unable to agree on whether Greece’s debt is sustainable; as a result of mutual veto the process cannot advance. The Greek economy remains stagnant, eagerly anticipating some sort of liquidity injection and relief, currently asphyxiating under the renewed deadlock.

Although some may argue that there are more important developments taking place in Europe this year, such as the French and German elections, the importance of the troika (EC, ECB, and IMF) negotiations with Greece should not be underestimated.

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Apr 4 2017

Brexit as a Strategic Shift

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By Roberto Orsi

Britain’s move to leave the European Union has been a topic of political discussion worldwide for more than a year, starting from an extremely polarising referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the latest developments following PM May’s official invocation of Art. 50 of the EU Treaty on March 29. A great deal of analyses and forecasts have been formulated: some are already obsolescent, others have been faring better, but overall a great uncertainty looms over the entire question of what kind of outcome Brexit will yield. Will Britain be better off? Will the EU be strengthened? What about the economic implications? What about the “common values” of the European Union?

All these questions and the related answers certainly have their legitimacy, and many offer valuable insights also in relation to practical issues such as the status of EU citizens living in Britain or immigration in general, trade regulations, academia and research, defence, and so on.

However, there is one element of Brexit which appears to be little understood: its historical magnitude. Whatever the reader may think of Brexit, the way it emerged, how it was politically engineered, the opportunity of deciding such matter by means of a referendum, the point is to understand what kind of event Brexit is, and to what kind of historical events it may be compared.

Brexit is a major strategic shift for Britain and the future of Europe, which shall therefore compare with other major strategic shifts in history. This means that its consequences are better understood and judged in a multi-generational time frame. The US coming out of isolationism under F.D. Roosevelt in the 1940s, France’s recognition of Algerian independence in 1962, the US recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the Soviets decision to withdraw from Central Europe in the late 1980s, are just four examples of strategic shifts in the past century. Britain has taken this kind of decisions numerous times: signing the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904, fighting Germany both in 1914-18 and 1939-45, withdrawing from the Empire afterwards.

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