Aug 28 2015

Fortress Europe: Cause or Consequence of Europe’s ‘Migrant Crisis’?

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By Catherine Briddick

Europe, it seems, is facing a ‘migration crisis’. This crisis is ‘testing’ for, amongst others, the British public, because, as our Prime Minister David Cameron explained in an interview with ITV News:

you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.

So just who is this ‘swarm’? It is not at all clear, as whilst the BBC reports on Calais’ ‘battles’ with a ‘migrant influx trying to reach UK’, Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Story’ asks instead whether those who have fled conflict are being undermined by the language used to describe their plight, taking an editorial decision not to refer to those crossing the Mediterranean as ‘migrants’ and using instead the term ‘refugees’.

British_biometric_passportThe migrant vs refugee binary is not the only distinction being drawn in media reporting of Europe’s ‘migrant crisis’. In addition to the traditional differentiation between asylum and migration and the shifting sympathies which accompany it, we have also seen renewed attention being paid to the ‘deserving refugee’ and the ‘bogus asylum-seeker’. Thus at the same time as the Daily Mail urges the Government to grant asylum to ex-military translators and highlights the violence that they and their families experience (and the risks and costs of being ‘smuggled’ to the UK), the newspaper also ‘reveals’ the ‘trafficker’ who is ‘smuggling’ hundreds across the Mediterranean and ‘investigates’ a ‘cabal’ of asylum charities for, amongst other things, holding the Government to account. Continue reading

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Aug 20 2015

Syria’s Refugees: When did the West Become so Heartless?

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By Christopher Phillips


Syrian migrants rescued – Image from UNHCR.

Recently I went to see Miss Saigon at the West End, a tragic musical set in the years after the Vietnam War. In one scene, the lead characters flee on a crowded boat full of migrants from dictatorship and violence in their homeland, risking their lives in search of safety. This suddenly began to look familiar. For those who have followed the Syrian civil war since its outbreak in 2011 the story is sadly well known: millions have fled, thousands by boat, but without the singing, dancing and comic relief. My interest piqued: how was the Indochina refugee crisis dealt with and what might we learn for Syria? Even a cursory investigation showed there was one standout difference between then and now: the western governments of that era put today’s leaders to shame.


35 Vietnamese refugees wait to be taken aboard the amphibious command ship USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19). (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The late 1970s saw a massive refugee crisis in Indochina. Communist takeovers in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, along with Vietnam’s wars with its neighbours created millions of refugees. By 1979 over a million had fled, mostly to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, who housed them in camps. In the first six months of 1979 alone 209,000 refugees had arrived, including many ‘boat people’ that died making the perilous journey. Malaysia and Thailand, both overwhelmed, declared they would take no more. At the invitation of the UN Secretary General in July 1979, 65 countries came together at a conference where Western states agreed to accept 260,000 refugees a year. In the space of 18 months, more than 450,000 Indochinese refugees were resettled from camps to new homes in the west, mostly in the US, Canada, France and Australia. Continue reading

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Aug 14 2015

Weaponisation of War Memories and Anti-German Sentiment

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By Roberto Orsi

In the aftermath of the tumultuous events in Brussels and Athens, public opinions in Europe and elsewhere have been rapidly polarised, to an extent perhaps not seen in decades. The dramatic deterioration of Greek finances (both public and private) with the consequent set of social and political impacts, have produced the mobilisation of very strong language and imageries from all sides. Many commentators, some as authoritative and diverse as Jürgen Habermas, or Slavoj Žižek, have explicitly sounded the alarm that this may well be the end of the European project, preluding a return of inter-state rivalries and possibly wars. The handling of the Greek crisis has allegedly shown both within the EU as an organisation, as well as in the mindset and behaviour of the European political leaders, a lack of concern for “core values” such as democracy and solidarity.

i1This polarisation owes much to the uncomfortable landscape of political communication in Europe, dominated as it is, for reasons which escape the scope of this piece, by slogans built on gross oversimplifications and emotional appeals to knee-jerk reactions. The Greek government has been particularly active on this front by using the escamotage of a snap referendum to present its course of action and its position as the “democratic” one. It does not actually matter what is meant here by democracy in analytical terms. The point is that, in a binary opposition (Germany vs. Greece), if one side occupies the ground of “democracy”, i.e. of something practically all Europeans have been raised to consider as a synonym of “absolute good”, the other must rest on the ground of “absolute evil”. Any attempt at showing that the matter is more complicated than this is doomed to fail considering that it would require a somewhat more sophisticated form of communication, currently restricted to a certainly influential, nevertheless rather small part of the population and the electorate. The same is true of “solidarity”, whose alleged counterpart, the dreaded austerity, cannot be but the manifestation of sheer sadism, greed and other moral evils, incarnated by essentially degenerated individuals. More nuanced analyses of the Greek economic and political situation, often with remarkable long-term historical insights, are plenty, but they can hardly scratch the thick skin of the Manichean behemot. Continue reading

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Aug 7 2015

God in Berlin, Newton in Brussels: On the Power of Linguistic Images in the Eurozone Crisis


By Hans Rusinek

Forbidden_fruitThe limits of our language are the limits of our world, famously observed the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. For him, word and fact are in a representational relationship: a word is only an image of a fact, but we are only able to think this image and not the fact behind it. This is the archetypical source of failing communication.

These times of frantic disputes between Greece and the “institutions”, formerly known as the Troika, can be confusing: Michael Thumann argues that soon nobody will know what has been accepted or rejected by whom, or even who is to blame. The present crisis questions the European motto “united in diversity” in many ways. One source of this diversity is language. Thus it is also a source of misunderstandings.

Therefore it is worth stepping back and examining which linguistic images are used and how those images create our understanding of the crisis by making it “thinkable”. For a German living in the United Kingdom, it is striking to see how the images differ between the languages and what persuasive power some of these images bear. Looking at German images helps to comprehend a specifically German understanding of the current situation. Continue reading

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Jul 30 2015

The Brussels diktat: and what followed

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By Etienne Balibar, Sandro Mezzadra and Frieder Otto Wolf

Alexis Tsipras won the battle on a question of principle – the need for a new Europe – even if he lost the war that ensued. What are the implications for the Greek left and for Europe?

Does the unjust and forced ‘agreement’ between the Greek government (now facing the task of ratifying the agreement in the Vouli) and the other states in the European Union (not all of whom feel the necessity for such a sanction) mark the end of one era and the beginning of another? In many ways yes, but almost certainly not in the sense indicated to us by the ‘Summit’ report. In reality, the agreement is fundamentally unenforceable in economic, social and political terms, though it will be ‘forced through’ by a process that promises to be at least as brutal and even more divisive than the extremities we have seen over the last 5 years.

It is therefore necessary to try to understand the implications of the agreement and to discuss its consequences, avoiding all use of rhetoric but not of engagement or passion.

Alexis Tsipras 2013 In order to do so we must first look at how the negotiations unfolded (those opened by Alexis Tsipras’s return to Brussels on the back of his ‘triumph’ in the July 5 referendum – which, for good reason, has not ceased to fuel incomprehension and criticism among his supporters in Greece and abroad), and secondly we must look at what these negotiations tell us about the positioning of the various European forces.

We must define the stage that the crisis in the EU has reached (a crisis of which Greece is both the symptom and the victim) in terms of three strategic domains: firstly the debt situation and the effects of the austerity measures; secondly the division of Europe into unequal zones of prosperity and sovereignty; and finally the collapse of democratic systems and the resulting rise in populist nationalism.

But first, it is vital that we include an ‘assessment’ of the Brussels agreement: ‘as seen from Athens’ (from the Greek people’s point of view) and ‘as seen from Europe’ (which does not mean as seen from Brussels, whose institutions clearly have no awareness whatsoever of the current European climate). Continue reading

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Jul 27 2015

The UK’s EU referendum and the EU’s legitimacy crisis

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By Kirsty Hughes

“Is a UK that retreats in isolationist but somehow progressive splendour really feasible? Surely, European countries must cooperate in the face of the deep challenges and opportunities we face.”

It is a tough moment to make a positive case for the EU. The bullying treatment of Greece, based on destructive and discredited neo-liberal policies and beliefs indicates that the EU has lost its political, moral and economic compass.

Nor is this crisis of legitimacy in the EU just the product of the last few months. The impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the EU and eurozone, resulting in the euro crisis, has been sorely mishandled for the last seven years – with political, democratic and economic failings.

UK Flag Wavy A European Union that views with passivity and equanimity the catastrophically high levels of unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, that persist across several member states due to the crisis, is an EU that has lost its way and forgotten its purpose and values; it is one where the behaviour of the eurogroup countries, and the treatment of Greece as a protectorate, is poisoning the EU’s very raison d’etre.

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Jul 23 2015

Europe’s Gravest Threat: Doctrines Diverged

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By Max Hänska

Europe’s fiscal and economic crisis has revealed rifts in, what is often assumed to be a common understanding of the ‘European Project.’ Nowhere did the fact that different nations understand the ‘European Project’ quite differently come to a fore as explicitly as during 17 hour negotiations over a 3rd ESM programme for Greece—and particularly, in what different European nations view as the gravest threat to their common project.

As Euro Zone leaders negotiated through the night from July 12-13 the differences over what was at stake were laid bare. For some, including France and Italy, the possibility of any member leaving the EMU, a Grexit, put the entire ‘European Project’ at stake. Losing even one member would set this common project on a trajectory of dissolution and undermine the principle of solidarity upon which it was founded. Moreover, how would the world see the EU if it failed to assist one of its smallest and weakest members? Such views hold that there is nothing essentially sacrosanct about the constitutional framework of treaties that established the EMU—rather, if this framework is not working, then political choice must override it. In particular, if maintaining the EMU requires fiscal transfers, then so be it, treaty allowing, or not.

For others, including Germany, the constitutional framework of treaties is sacrosanct. In this view the treaty framework is the mortar that makes the ‘European Project’ of cooperation and shared sovereignty, between diverse nations, possible in the first place. It sets out the rules and procedures through which members share responsibility and take collective decisions in governing their common affairs. To those who share this view sacrificing basic principles on which the common project was founded, is too high a price for keeping Greece in the EMU. In particular it is believed that the principle that the EMU is not a transfer union, and that each member state must ultimately fund itself, must be preserved. The thinking goes that the ad hoc suspension of this framework of rules (which would be required to keep Greece in the EMU) will set the common project on a trajectory where the very principles that govern and make possible cooperation and shared sovereignty are gradually eroded.

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Jul 20 2015

Identity politics and kin-state relations from the bottom-up in Crimea and Moldova

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By Eleanor Knott

In 1991, Moldova declared itself an independent state as part of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2014, the recognised Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by Russia. Here, Eleanor Knott discusses identity politics and kin-state relations in Moldova and Crimea, and writes that in order to understand what ethnicity and citizenship mean in the context of people’s everyday lives, bottom–up, people-centred research is crucial, yet underutilized.

I recently contributed to a special issue, “Whither Eastern Europe? Changing Approaches and Perspectives on the Region in Political Science” which explores the disciplinary relationship between political science and Eastern Europe as an area studies region, 25 years after the collapse of Communism. In my article, I argue that political science needs to engage more with an everyday, people-centred bottom-up approach, as opposed to a top-down state-centred and institutional approach. In particular, I argue kin-state relations research, which analyses relations between states and external co-ethnic communities, has predominantly analysed these relations and tensions from the perspective of the states involved. This has overlooked the bottom-up perspective of kin-state relations, in terms of what it means to identify as a member of a kin community, i.e. a community claimed by an external (kin-)state as co-ethnic.

This article was drafted, following the fieldwork I conducted in Crimea and Moldova in 2012 and 2013, in the months preceding the height of the Euromaidan violence in Kyiv when Crimea remained an autonomous region of Ukraine. Since then, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has unalterably shape post-Soviet politics and relations between post-Soviet states and Russia, and Russia, the EU and US. In this sense, the main argument of the article became the importance of studying bottom-up politics, engaging people who live in these contexts, not just to put people back into political science but also offer a point of reflection in a period of shifting political and geopolitical contexts.

“Moldova is (not) Romania” (Ellie Knott, Chisinau, Moldova, June 2012)

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Jul 15 2015

The defeat of left-wing populism and the dangers for democracy in Greece

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By Benjamin De Cleen

The negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors have dominated European politics in these last months to such an extent that politicians and press alike seem to have largely forgotten about the populist radical right, and certainly the Greek Golden Dawn. All eyes were focused on the unequal struggle between Greece’s creditors and the left-wing populists of Syriza (Syriza’s right-wing, conservative and nationalist coalition partner ANEL, i.e. Independent Greeks, received very little attention). Resistance to neoliberal economic policy has been beaten for now, or so it seems, even with Syriza still in power as I write this. This crisis can go in many directions. But what is clear is that the defeat of the democratic, inclusive and pro-European left-wing populist Syriza and the imposition of even harsher austerity measures on a country suffering a profound economic crisis might strengthen the radical right and perhaps also other forces that constitute a danger to democracy and stability in Greece.

After the 2014 European elections, as on numerous occasions before, populism was identified as a big threat to democracy all over Europe. The label populism was applied to parties Right and Left, from UKIP to the Front National and from Podemos to Syriza. All of them were castigated by mainstream politicians and commentators for making unreasonable and unrealistic promises to the people, for playing on the people’s emotions in times of economic crisis rather than trying to get out of the crisis, for being irrational, and, ultimately, for threatening democracy. Radical Right and radical Left were amalgamated under the label ‘populist’ and presented as part of one and the same threat to liberal democratic politics.

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Jul 13 2015

The real sins of Varoufakis: why Greece is being punished for refusing to play by the Eurogroup’s rules

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By Christopher Bickerton

Talks continued through the night in Brussels, with Eurozone leaders eventually reaching an agreement on Greece. While negotiations were always likely to be tough, the original discussions between Greece and its creditors did not break down because of an unbridgeable ideological gap, but instead reflected a reaction to the negotiating tactics pursued by the Greek government under finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. By breaching the etiquette of the Eurogroup’s decision-making process, Varoufakis generated entrenched opposition among Greece’s creditors for which the country is now being punished.

Why did the original negotiations between Greece and its creditors collapse, to a point of virtual no return, when both sides had repeatedly said they want the same thing: for Greece to stay in the euro?

The conventional wisdom is that the policy gap between the two sides was simply too great. Elected in January, the Syriza-led government sought to reverse years of austerity under the slogan of no more bailouts. Its flamboyant finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis (who has since stood down), spoke of an economic transformation in Greece, taking on the long-standing power of the country’s oligarchs. His renegotiation with the Troika was part of this broader agenda.

Yanis Varoufakis with Finland's Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, Credit: EU Council Eurozone (CC-BY-ND-NC-SA-3.0)

Yanis Varoufakis with Finland’s Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, Credit: EU Council Eurozone (CC-BY-ND-NC-SA-3.0)

Facing Greece was a German-led bloc committed to more austerity and structural reforms. Within this bloc were countries – Ireland, Portugal – that had turned to the EU for their own bailouts and had undertaken the cuts and reforms asked of them. They were implacable in their belief that Greece should do the same.

But this view cannot explain why both sides came as close as they did. The often-forgotten truth of the last few weeks is that Greece and the Troika very nearly secured a deal. From the outset, the policy differences between them were minor, largely because of Syriza’s moderate demands.

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