Oct 18 2017

Northern Italy’s ‘Catalan Temptation’?

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By Alessandro Franzi

By Holapaco77 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Italy one can often hear the argument that Italians do not really have a single homeland. They are Italians when they encounter people of other nationalities, but otherwise their feelings of belonging rest with a particular region, and each region  is perceived as in constant competition with the others. Most importantly, it appears to many that Italians feel “citizens” of their own city or village. If someone asks an Italian where he or she comes from, usually the first answer is the name of a town. Italy can still be considered a young democracy, after all. Now a new form of nationalism – originating in a critical stance against the EU, globalisation, and mass migrations – is merging with its traditional face. In the language of Dante, it is campanilismo (from campanile, bell tower), and shares some negative aspects of parochialism. This means an attitude favouring local conveniences over general interests, and it is not just about cultural differences. Almost all Italian regions and cities have an often conflicting relationship with the state. Those in the South because they need more economic solidarity, those in the North because they feel they are exploited to finance the rest of the country. As a consequence even the main national parties have conflicting territorial interests and strategies.

Despite growing patriotism in Italian politics, on the 22th of October the regions of Lombardy and Veneto are going to hold two referenda to demand greater autonomy from Rome. This is the first time this has happened. However, these are not binding referenda. For this reason, they attracted little attention from the media and the rest of Italy. But the recent Catalan crisis has changed everything. The Italian referenda are very different from the one held in Catalonia. Lombardy and Veneto, which represent the richest area of the country, are not pursuing an independentist goal. Instead, their local governments are asking citizens for a strong mandate to open negotiations with the national government in order to extract the most exclusive powers. This is a possibility already envisaged by the constitution, therefore it does not undermine institutional stability from a strictly legal perspective. Nevertheless, the Catalan crisis has increased the focus on the referenda and forced all political parties to take a stand. Continue reading

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Sep 28 2017

An Explanation of the Current Political Situation in Catalonia


By Javier Padilla and Luis Cornago Bonal

By Medol (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent post in The Guardian, the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont accused the Spanish government of provoking the Catalan crisis by undermining “European values, civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of assembly”. There exists a misleading narrative which situates the Spanish government as an authoritarian government that would not allow the Catalan people to express their free will via a referendum. This idea has been partially accepted by some international political commentators and academics, and suggest that the Spanish government is following up the line of other non-entirely democratic governments such as Orban or Erdogan. In like manner Gabriel Rufián, Spokesman for the pro-independence Party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has said that the Franquism will die on 1st of October, after the referendum is held.

However, we argue that the actual situation is substantially different. The nationalistic parliamentary majority of the Catalan Parliament, which represents just 47% of the Catalan voters also holds an uncommon mix of ideologies that goes from anti-establishment far-left parties to centre-right liberal parties, and is trying to force an illegal referendum on the unilateral independence of Catalonia. Even though this referendum is sold internationally as a mere democratic exercise, it is an attempt to create a State which would leave at least half of the Catalan people as foreigners in their own country. As the writer Daniel Gascón has pointed out in the magazine Letras Libres “Secessionism fights against an imaginary enemy: an authoritarian, undemocratic Spain. This imaginary Spain is a country where Catalonia does not have a high level of autonomy, a Spain that is not an advanced democracy, comparable to the countries around it.” Having said that, there are also good reasons to think that the central government could have better managed the political demands of the nationalist movement. Continue reading

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Jul 27 2017

How the Migrant Crisis is Pushing Italy Away from Europe

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by Alessandro Franzi

Immigration is going to be the political battleground of the next Italian general elections due in 2018. Virtually all major political leaders have hardened their position on borders protection following the new migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Austerity policies and lack of democracy in the EU integration process were the main concerns during the European elections campaign three years ago. Identity issue is now deepening Italian disaffection with Europe by boosting a patriotic rhetoric promoted by both right-wing and left-wing parties.

The fear of an uncontrolled influx of people has strengthened in the last two years while the sea crossing from Libya to South of Italy has become the main access route for migrants and refugees to Europe. According to the minister of Interior, the number of people arrived on Italian shores has increased almost 7 per cent since the beginning of the year. The current 94.000 asylum seekers [1] are expected to grow to 200.000 by the end of the summer.

Italy is just a transit country for most of them who try to reach their networks to the North. The Italian government has repeatedly invoked European solidarity to cope with reception problems. However, Italian citizens feel their concerns over immigration are ignored by EU institutions in favor of national interests [2]. The main consequence could be the rise of the first Eurosceptic government among the founder countries.

The Left Dilemma

“We cannot welcome them all”, leftwing leader Matteo Renzi said after his Democratic Party had lost June 2017 local elections to the center-right opponents. The party has been running the government since 2013 and it’s under pressure because of the rising number of asylum seekers and the denial of other EU countries like France to open their ports to refugee rescue boats. Additionally more and more local mayors refuse to welcome new migrants [3] in a bid to avoid unpopularity amongst their communities.

A recent SWG survey [4] indicates that the majority of Italians (54 per cent) is in favor of a total ban on new arrivals. This percentage has increased by six points since January. Furthermore back in 2003 65 percent of the Italian public considered migrants a resource but the percentage has now dropped to 35 percent. Researches underline that “approval for hard and simplistic solutions are finding fertile and expansive soil in the middle-low classes, in the middle class affected by the crisis and inflamed in its social identity”. They add that “the immigration issue has been underestimated by European governments and has been faced with an emergency approach”.

Continue reading

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Jul 21 2017

The Conflicting Identity Politics of Brexit

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By Henry Radice

So far, for many people, the experience of Brexit appears to be one of real individual anxiety and pain set against a prospective, and increasingly unlikely, collective gain. This is the case for both non-British EU citizens resident in the UK, and the many British EU citizens who cherish and benefit from that extra layer of democratic citizenship, whether resident in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. It is highly unusual for a liberal democracy, in peacetime, to attempt to remove so many rights from so many people, including its own citizens, so rapidly. But that is exactly what appears to be happening, and it seems likely to have a damaging and polarising effect on many individuals’ sense of identity.

It is baffling that any of the groups mentioned above could be expected to be grateful for, or even reassured by, an offer to replicate some, but not all, of the benefits they currently enjoy as a matter of right. Teresa May’s recent ‘fair and generous’ offer was rightly greeted as anything but by many EU citizens in the UK. There is an overwhelming feeling of hurt and resentment among people who had organised their lives in good faith within an apparently stable system of reciprocal rights that the UK has unilaterally undermined.

British ‘expats’ might have been exempt from the discursive opprobrium heaped on almost every type of migrant in recent years in the UK, but migrants they are (indeed, stripped of EU citizenship, will become only migrants). The EU27 preceded Teresa May’s offer with one to UK residents of the EU27 states that was arguably both fairer and more generous. But many pro-Remain British migrants have clearly been distressed by the uncertainties of their status and by other issues such as the future restriction in choices for family members resident in the UK. Perhaps more profoundly, this group have experienced the utter despoilment of their specific political identity which combined Britishness with European citizenship.

Then there is a group with slightly fuzzier but no less real grievances, those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of EU citizenship in various ways, but do not happen to be living in a different EU state at the moment. This group embraced, but often took for granted, the apparent normality of a frictionless ability to live, love and work throughout the continent. The necessity of this group finding its voice to renew the European political project was apparent well before the Brexit vote. But it is only now realising the full extent of the underlying Europeanness of its identity. These citizens may prove to be crucial to negotiating the politics of Brexit (indeed, they may already, in voting for or lending their votes to Labour, have had a key role in depriving Theresa May of her expected majority).

Arguably together the groups above represent the biggest collectivity of actually existing cosmopolitans in British politics (the other, smaller and overlapping group, being the genuine globalists whom liberal Leavers like Daniel Hannan think will spearhead a globally orientated Brexit). The key question now arises of how representative politics accords a voice and space to these groups, and does justice to the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal democracy’ (admittedly a mode of politics that exists in constant tension between collective and individual self-determination). Of key importance will be how the non-cosmopolitan liberal majority in Parliament collaborates with cosmopolitan Hard Remainers to counter-balance the disproportionate influence of Hard Leavers and their increasingly delusional narratives. Continue reading

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Jul 12 2017

Renaissance or Decline? Europe‘s Crisis of Solidarity


By Federico Nicolaci

It is plain, and painful, to see: Europe’s existential crisis, which broke out almost eight years ago, far from gradually finding its solution, is worsening month by month. Not without a certain amount of irony, the disintegration of the “ever closer Union” imagined by the Treaty of Rome, took place, with the UK formally triggering Article 50, only days after the pompous celebration for the 60th anniversary of that very same Treaty.

It cannot be by chance, however, that in the “Declaration of Rome” produced by the Heads of State and Government on March 25th, amongst the “unprecedented challenges” the Union is said to be facing, there was not the slightest reference to the centrifugal tendencies and the disintegrative dynamics that are tearing Europe apart.

In this, today’s European leadership seems blithely to repeat the mistakes of the last century, resembling the fatal proceeding of those European leaders who sleptwalked through the 1930s: they did not see – or preferred not to see – the contradictions they had before their eyes, until they exploded, swamping them and the whole of Europe. Continue reading

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Jun 14 2017

Does the Catalan Independence Movement Really ‘Love Democracy’?


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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