Category Archives: Europe

Could the Veneto and Lombardy referendums determine a stronger north-south division in Italy after the decisive vote?

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A poster with instructions about Lombardy’s autonomy referendum is seen at a polling station in Lozza near Varese, northern Italy, October 22, 2017.

By Chiara Valenti, a 3rd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London. 

Abstract:

Throughout its 150 years of unification, Italy has suffered from a north-south divide based on an array of socio-economic shortcomings between regions. Regionalist parties in Italy have adopted this disparity to fuel their political agenda and back political claims. The most recent of European regionalist events has sourced from this issue, as the Lega Nord – Italy’s North-based regionalist party – called for a referendum in two of Italy’s most prosperous regions asking the respective populations if they wanted their regional representatives to move for greater regional autonomy. This request has fallen under criticism for different reasons, but a main concern is if the consequent vote will deepen the existing divide within Italy. This article will first examine the motivations for the referendums and their critiques; then analyse the Lega Nord’s political project and offer critiques; then examine the reasons for the economic divide between the North and South of Italy; and finally, conclude by arguing that the results of these referendums will not be what deepens this chasm between North and South but the rhetoric from which they stem and Italy’s inability to profit from the South’s undervalued resources.

Introduction:

On October 22, 2017, the latest of regionalist events in Europe took place, as the political party known as Lega Nord (Northern League) held referendums in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto requesting greater regional autonomy. Such autonomy would give the regions more control over their finances and administration. It is worth noting that unlike the Catalonian referendum, this referendum was legal as the Italian Constitution allows it. Nonetheless, the party’s move was brought under fire by a variety of criticisms. Firstly, the plebiscites costed 55 million euros, a cost that is essentially unnecessary as the Italian constitution gives each region the ability to expand their powers via dialogue with the central government without public vote. This process has recently been undertaken by the Emilia-Romagna region. Lega Nord’s Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni, the party’s leaders for the Veneto and Lombardy regions respectively, claim that their attempts at dialogue with Rome have been ignored despite proof that says otherwise. Secondly, the call for the public vote is an evident attempt to bolster support for Lega Nord before the upcoming March 2018 elections, as greater autonomy has been a long-standing promise of the party. Finally, the party’s rhetoric behind the incentives for greater autonomy are a representation of the greater socio-economic chasms between the North and South of Italy that have plagued the country since its unification 150 years ago.

Lombardy makes up 20% of the country’s GDP with Milan as its economic capital, while Veneto makes up another 10% of the GDP as the main exporter of Prosecco[1].  Zaia and Maroni argue that in addition to their taxes, they each send 50 billion euros more than what they get in return in public spending because of their regions’ economic prosperity.[2] Consequently, the Lega Nord argues that as a result of bureaucracy and a biased central government the South reaps the benefits of the North’s hard work. The party claims that by achieving greater regional autonomy they would have greater economic freedom, in addition to more control over immigration, education systems, and industries within the region. Accordingly, the referendums were held to send a message to Rome that the people of the Lombardy and Veneto regions are determined to gain more autonomy. The result, 95% of voters who cast ballots, 57% being in Veneto and 39% in Lombardy, opted to vote “yes” to more autonomy, according to officials in both regions.[3] This result is not surprising as these regions have always been major supporters of the Lega Nord’s anti-South rhetoric and motion to detach from Italy to different extents. However, to understand whether or not, and why, these referendums could determine an even stronger north-south division in Italy, it is necessary to examine the reasons for this divide and the ways in which the Lega Nord has used and exacerbated these chasms.

The Lega Nord’s political project:

Lega Nord is one of the many regionalist political parties in Italy, and its demands for greater regional autonomy are part of a wider trend amongst regional parties across Europe. Lega Nord does differ from other forms of European regionalism, such as those in Catalonia, in that the party’s political project is not based in an area with historic claims to nationhood. Rather, the party has opted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy, based on the rejection of the concept of the Italian nation-state called Padania. Padania, the Latin term for the basin of the River Po, has never existed geographically or historically, but the Lega Nord has attempted to construct it so to justify its political claims for the protection of the region’s economic interests. The party has been successful in creating this ‘ethnicity’ by exploiting the issues faced by citizens of northern Italy, through interpreting and adapting their concerns to its own political project. Lega Nord’s argument is that the South of Italy is the bearer of all wrong within Italian politics and society, and Italy’s central government is corrupt, wasteful, bureaucratic, and biased towards the South.[4] This strong anti-Southern discourse is the main element within Lega Nord’s political agenda, and it is what allows it to create a socio-cultural identity for the North by using the South as the ‘other’ to fear.

Many of the claims the party makes in regards to the South are misleading and inaccurate stereotypes, but the party’s ability to reproduce such anti-South sentiment in the North is the reason for its growth.  One of the party’s main arguments throughout its existence, and one of the main push factors for the referendum, are the economic differences between the North and the South which the party ascribes to the alleged contrasts in culture and mentality, claiming that the north has a superior value system and culture than the lazy and egoistic South. “Although this clearly misses the real and full explanation for the socio-economic differences between the North and South of Italy, it is a powerful discourse for the party and one which is seen as a correct interpretation by a good deal of supporters and activists of the party.”[5] From these inaccurate identity depictions, Lega Nord has argued that the South maintains its languor as it reaps the benefits of the North’s high-producing economy, explaining the demand for greater regional autonomy to better reap the benefits of their economy alone. In othering the South the Lega Nord has managed to articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North. It has utilised racist ideology, based on cultural rather than biological differentialism, and accompanied it with a racist subtext through which negatively evaluated characteristics are attributed to the ‘other’.[6]

 

The origins of the North-South divide:

This chasm between the North and South of Italy has been a long-standing feature of the Italian nation-state from its creation. It developed after unification in 1861, and stemmed from the South’s inability to match the industrial progress of the north. However, it is an inability that is linked to a broader, national development failure rather than the inferior value system and culture tied to the South by the Lega Nord. After Italian unification the main factor that separated the North and South of the country was the process of industrialization. While the North was able to industrialize because of its natural endowments that attracted factories, the South did not. This is because Italy began industrializing through the second wave of industrialization instead of the first. Had the state developed the technological know-how correctly, Italian development would have been faster and more contemporary, as it would have depended on human resources, with proper training across the territory, leading to a more balanced development between North and South.

As the industrial divide became more and more evident in the post-WWII era the Italian government made massive policy interventions in favour of the Mezzogiorno, the South, through what was called the Cassa del Mezzogiorno. This policy’s goal was to promote economic development in the South through the creation of infrastructure via funding from the more prosperous Northern regions. However, this policy did not create the conditions for autonomous development. Rather, supporting capital-intensive activities instead of promoting tourism for example, in an area so abundant in labour as the South of Italy, turned out to be short-sighted—a mistake probably attributable to the economic milieu of the time. These mistakes became evident during the 1970s crisis, which involved the collapse of a large part of the new heavy industries in the South. Once the top-down strategy failed Italy lacked a new or consistent approach, and instead regional policy was redirected towards unproductive expenditures, in such a way that it probably even favoured the enforcement of organized crime and the decline of social capital.”[7] Nevertheless, the South was crucial to the economic development in the North, as it was the South of Italy which served the dual purpose of providing an extensive market for products produced in the North as well as a source of relatively cheap and skilled labour. Therefore, the economic development of the North of Italy was facilitated by its links to the South, a truth that the Lega Nord does not acknowledge in its political rhetoric.

Conclusion:

Thus, when asking whether the results alone of these referendums will determine a stronger north-south division within Italy it is evident the answer is no. This is because these referendums, although symbolic, hold no true political weight as it is up to Rome to make the final decision. Moreover, greater regional autonomy would not translate to an absolute secession from the nation-state as political and economic collaboration with the South would still be required to certain extents. However, it is the long-standing, racist, and inaccurate rhetoric behind Lega Nord’s reasoning for the referendums that is deepening the divide. This same rhetoric is what leads to an underestimation of the economic potential of the South in terms of agriculture and tourism alone. An underestimation that is based on a population’s ignorance of their territory’s potential, an ignorance which is then exploited by regionalist parties like the Lega Nord. The issue has always been the same – economic disparity between the North and South of Italy. Thus, the solution would be to reign in the South’s economic potential and make use of it, stripping the Lega Nord of its imperative discourse of how the North’s successful economies should not be used to fund poorer areas in the south of Italy.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Giuffrida, Angela. “Italian regions go to the polls in Europe’s latest referendums on autonomy.” The Guardian. October 20, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/italian-regions-go-to-the-polls-in-europes-latest-referendums-on-autonomy.

[2] IBID

[3] Masters, James, and Valentina Di Donato. “Two Italian regions vote overwhelmingly for greater autonomy.” CNN. October 23, 2017. Accessed November 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/21/europe/italy-lombardy-veneto-vote/index.html.

[4] Giordano, Benito. “A Place Called Padania?” European Urban and Regional Studies6, no. 3 (1999): 215-30. doi:10.1177/096977649900600303.

[5] Giordano, Benito. “Italian regionalism or ‘Padanian’ nationalism — the political project of the Lega Nord in Italian politics.” Political Geography19, no. 4 (2000): 445-71. doi:10.1016/s0962-6298(99)00088-8.

[6] Bull, Anna Cento, and Mark Gilbert. “The Lega Nord and the Politics of Secession in Italy.” 2001. doi:10.1057/9781403919984, p. 174

[7] Fenoaltea, Stefano. “I due fallimenti della storia economica: il periodo post-unitario.” RIVISTA DI POLITICA ECONOMICA, March & april 2007, 341-58.

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Catalonia: “Chronicle of a Coup Foretold

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By Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro, a first year History and International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, and author of the diplomatic history book “Limitando el Poder, 1871-1939: Historia de la Diplomacia Occidental”

The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters. The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters.  The independence referendum held by the Catalonian regional government has been the greatest challenge to Spanish constitutionalism since the failed military coup of February 1981: held without any guarantees or electoral census, the referendum wasn’t an expression of democracy but of disloyalty and treachery. The referendum, and the later proclamation of independence in Catalonia, was the sad finale of coup d’état organised by democratic leaders.   Yet this coup, disguised with democratic principles, goes far beyond October 1st: for over a month, democratic boundaries and freedoms were defiled by the regional government and those loyal to it. For over a month, those who claimed to be crusading for democracy, outraged the freedom and the liberties of the citizens of Spain and Catalonia: this is the chronicle of their coup foretold.

The origins of the coup Catalonia is the region with the largest self-government prerogatives in Europe: the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the Statutes of Catalan Autonomy (1979 and 2006) give the Generalitat (Government) powers over Education, Treasury, Taxation, Commerce, Tourism, Health, Agriculture, Police…; these offices are held by the consellers (councillors or regional ministers).  The financial crisis of 2008 hit Spain badly, causing economic and social hardship. Catalonia, the second richest region in the country, also suffered greatly. In a policy of inter-territorial solidarity, Catalans felt their money was being increasingly taxed by the central government and used to support poorer regions of Spain: this was the genesis of the myth of “España nos roba” (Spain steals from us), created by the right-wing nationalistic president, Artur Mas, who was trying to cover up the precarious economic situation and several corruption scandals within his party (CiU). Thus, the sentiment of independentism started to mushroom once again in Catalonia: Mas’ government pledged to call for a referendum of independence with which to break from Spain. The Spanish Constitution provides with legal parameters and procedures to do so was any region to desire its independence: Catalans didn’t proceed by these legal parameters and several times denied debating their project in the Chamber of Deputies.  In 2016 the pro-independence coalition Junts Pel Sí won the autonomic elections and, thanks to the parliamentary support of the anti-capitalist party CUP, managed to form a government in Catalonia although Carles Puigdemont, and not Mas, was now in charge. His government started developing an anti-constitutional policy seeking a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017, after a referendum was held. Amidst the growing tension between Barcelona and Madrid, Puigdemont refused to negotiate with the central government: his unilateral and illegal referendum was the immovable condition for any prior negotiation with Madrid.   Spanish government couldn’t accept.

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The Parliament of Catalonia after the Autonomic Elections of 2016: Junts Pel Sí had 62 deputies but needed CUP’s support to achieve absolute majority (68). Grey= Junts pel Sí (pro-independence); Yellow = CUP (pro-independence, anti-Capitalist); Blue = PPC (Conservative); Red= PSC (Socialist); Orange= Ciutadans (Centre); Purple=Podem (Extreme Left) (Wikipedia – Parlament de Catalunya, 28/3/2016)

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

In early September 2017, Puigdemont and his parliamentary group began their coup, which was to culminate in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence of late October. Using their majority in the Regional Parliament and their control over the Chamber’s presidency (held by Carme Forcadell, member of Junts Pel Sí), Puigdemont started bypassing all of his constitutional obligations: the Parliament’s agenda was subsequently and suddenly changed to the convenience of Junts Pel Sí without informing any of the other parties in the Chamber, on-going commissions regarding Health, Education or other topics were suspended, and government refused to undergo the control of the Chamber – something it is obliged to do weekly. No longer would President Puigdemont answer the questions of the Opposition or intervene in Parliament, always under the aegis of loyal Forcadell. In the meantime, Puigdemont’s government allied with the pro-independence associations (Catalan National Assembly, of which Forcadell was a member, and Omnium Cultural), beginning to use coercive measures to promote independentism among Catalans – the leaders of these associations are currently imprisoned, charged with the crimes of sedition and intimidation.  The coup’s machinery began on September 6th, when Mrs Forcadell altered the Parliament’s agenda without informing the Opposition’s deputies: Parliament’s organisms, monopolised by Junts Pel Sí members, approved Forcadell’s petition to change the agenda and vote two laws proposed by the government: the law calling for a referendum on October 1st and the Law of Political Transience, which would proclaim a republic and open a constituent process after the referendum.

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The deputies of the Opposition leave the chamber in protest for the illegal modification of the parliamentary agenda. The laws were voted without the Opposition present in the Chamber (El País (6/9/2017) picture by Massimiliano Minocri)

After 40 years of dictatorship, in which the entrance to the Parliament of Catalonia had been walled, Junts Pel Sí had once again expelled democracy from the Chamber. Forcadell went through with the vote; the Opposition’s claims weren’t taken into consideration nor were the Chamber’s letrados (high lawyers) allowed to speak against the presidency’s illegal acts. Parliament’s Regulation was broken; Junts Pel Sí celebrated with a loud applause, claiming to be one step closer to freedom from oppressive and non-democratic Spain.  The following days, the Spanish Constitutional Court declared both laws illegal and outside constitutional parameters.

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

Despite the Constitutional Court’s verdict, Puigdemont and his allies continued to organise an illegal referendum using public funds.  On October 1st, the referendum was hold without any guarantees or electoral census. Having already been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, judges ordered National Police officers and Civil Guards to seize the ballot boxes and close the polling stations illegally opened for the referendum. Many mayors of Catalan towns denounced having been threatened to open polling stations in their municipalities. In the meantime, Catalan autonomic police (under Puidgemont’s control) hindered National Police officers’ actions and refused to abide judicial orders: their captain, Major Trapero, ordered them to do so, under pressure from Puigdemont’s government.

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The pro-independence associations Puigdemont had been closely working with encouraged violent resistance against police forces. Amidst the chaos, many people took the opportunity to vote several occasions in different polling stations; later that day, the Catalonian government stated that means had been in place to avoid this situation and totally denied it. Once again, the referendum was declared illegal by high judicial organisms. Only Puigdemont and his allies recognised the result. King Philip VI addressed his people on October 3rd and delegitimised the referendum. No country or international institution recognised the results nor Puigdemont’s Declaration of Independence on October 27th. Supported by the Constitution, Mariano Rajoy’s government, after giving Puigdemont several opportunities of coming back to legality, implemented Article 155 which, with the support of the Senate, gave the government full powers to restore legality in a rebellious region. On October 27th, a few hours after the Declaration, Rajoy dismissed Puigdemont and his councillors, taking over the autonomic government and calling an Autonomic Election on December 21st.

The international community supported Rajoy and his government. Soon after their destitution, Puigdemont and four councillors fled to Belgium; the Vice-president and the remaining members of government were imprisoned, accused of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement. Puigdemont’s departure to Belgium accelerated the process by which Justice Lamela ordered the arrest of other government members, fearing they could also flee.  The political turmoil unleashed by Puigdemont has had catastrophic effects on Catalonia: not only has the economy suffered from the exodus of over 1000 firms since mid-September, but the society has been morally fractured between those for independence and those against it. In the midst of the crisis, the Catalan economy is growing at a slower rate and the whole of Spain’s economic recovery process has been endangered. Puigdemont had several occasions of withdrawing from his claim and calling and Autonomic election before Article 155 was implemented, yet he rejected these options and fled leaving his colleagues behind. Was this the president supposed to bring prosperity and international recognition to the Catalan Republic?  Spain has proved to be a strong democracy in which the rule of law is invincible. Puigdemont’s adventure was born cloven and without any possibility of success. The members of his government now await a firm judicial verdict which could sentence them to thirty years in prison, and he is under an international order of arrest.  Illegality after illegality, defiance after defiance, Puigdemont has pledged the greatest challenge to Spanish democracy since Tejero’s military coup in 1981. But, just like him, Puigdemont has failed to break Spanish democracy and its national sovereignty. What he though was a crusade against the oppressive Spanish state turned out to be a chimera: Spanish democracy remains strong and firm against anything which can endanger the rights and liberties of the Spanish people.

 

 

 

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German General Elections: Europe – Quo vadis?

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By Julia Huentemann, 2nd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today.

The Results

Last Sunday 24th September, the German citizens elected a new parliament – the Bundestag – and decided to let Angela Merkel serve another four years as German Chancellor. Starting her fourth consecutive term, she now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl. Even though nobody actually doubted that Merkel respectively the CDU would make it, the result is far behind optimistic expectations and means a weakened position for Merkel.

Having run in office as German Chancellor for twelve years and being the leader of Europe’s largest economy since 2005[1], experienced “Mutti” Merkel tends to be seen as the ultimate safe option for stability in Germany and Europe in turbulent times on the political stages at home and abroad. But Merkel’s popularity plummeted significantly in 2015 as a result to her controversial immigration policies and the result reveals that her public support is less broad than assumed.

Even though the CDU gathered most votes with about 33%, this result means a loss of almost 9% compared to the elections in 2013. It would be ignorant to talk about a victory and it forces Merkel to find new partners for the required majorities to build a government, since the present coalition partner SPD is not willing to function as such any longer. Facing extreme losses of votes itself the SPD understands its role in the opposition working on a profile that significantly differs from that of the CDU. Moreover, there is to notice a growing resistance towards Merkel from members of the CSU (CDU´s sister party) who have been claiming a maximum limit of migrants and blame Merkel for the bad outcome.

With the main centre parties CDU and SPD both enjoying considerably less popularity, the actual winner of the 2017 General Elections is clearly the hard right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), the first nationalist party to win seats in the Bundestag after 1949. This development is alarming and reveals that nationalist and thus anti-European tendencies are also very popular in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany, which makes further European integration – as recently claimed by the French Premier Emmanuel Macron – more difficult.

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The political landscape in Germany

Led by Angela Merkel, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is Germany’s main centre-right party and has been advertising its election campaign with the slogan “For a Germany where life is enjoyable”.  It is said to rather represent employers´ interests and its dealing with the recent Diesel affaire can be taken as an example for this claim. The Conservative Party is most likely the equivalent in GB. Despite having lost ca. 9 % compared to 2013, the CDU remains the strongest party with about 33 %. It needs to be considered that this result is the sum of CDU´s and CSU´s (her sister party) votes.

Its main competitor on the political landscape is the SPD (Social Democratic Party), Germany’s main centre-left party. According to its slogan “It is time for more justice: securing the future and strengthening Europe” the SPD is focusing on justice and equality in a strong Europe. It is said to rather represent the employees´ interests and can be seen as the pendant to the Labour Party in GB. Led by the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, whose candidature had sparked an initial rise in support that subsided shortly after, the party has experienced a severe defeat with only 20,5 % of the votes compared to about 25,5 % in 2013.

The third popular party with almost 13 % nationwide became the right, nationalist, Euro-sceptic AfD (Alternative for Germany). Having welcomed Brexit and Trump, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party is now represented in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and in the Bundestag as the National Parliament. Ever since 2015 with the constant influx of migrants, resentment and fear towards Merkel’s welcoming migration policies had been rising, feeding into the AfD’s plan of attracting support. Having increased ca. 8 % in votes since 2013, AfD leading candidate Alexander Gauland claimes that the AfD is “going to reconquer our land and our people”[2]

There are three more parties represented in the new Bundestag having exceeded the threshold of 5 percent: The FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) enjoying a support of 10,7 % (+ 5,9 %) of the votes, The Green Party focusing on environmental issues with 8,9 % (+ 0,5 %) and the Left Party standing for anti-Capitalism and women´s rights with 9,2 % (+ 0,5 %).

In this new parliament the two main centre parties unite just about half of the votes while the other half is shared in almost equal parts by four smaller parties. This distribution of seats is unprecedented in the German Bundestag and means a challenge to find a governing majority.

The Reasons

Of course, this is mere speculation, but taking into account the findings of political research AfD´s performance can be understood as a kind of protest against the establishment and especially against the “GroKo” (Great Coalition) which obviously has been experienced as a political standstill. Only a minority of those who vote for AfD are actually convinced of its program, but rather wanted to demonstrate resistance against current political practice. The fact that there hardly seems to be a significant difference between the program of the established parties also might have fostered the seduction to vote for the AfD. [3]

It is most likely that this result also reveals dissatisfaction with Merkel´s immigration policy. Obviously, politicians in office have failed to recognize public fears and worries and to take them seriously enough. I strongly believe that most of my German fellow citizens are willing to help refugees and welcome them as valuable members in our society, provided that they are willing to live according to our western democratic values and do not violate our laws. Unfortunately, some of them did and to the annoyance of the victims they mostly went unpunished. This is a policy hard to understand and a clampdown might have helped to avoid this development. I am confident that 13 % for the AfD is not an expression for anti-refugee or anti-European attitude but rather an expression for dissatisfaction about how politicians deal with the challenges coming across with refugee influx and European integration.

 The Consequences – for Germany and for Europe

Merkel needs to form a coalition and without the SPD the only realistic option is CDU/CSU with FDP and the Green Party. The CDU/CSU is also referred to as ‘black’, the FDP as ‘yellow’ and the Green apparently as ‘green’, which is why this combination is called the ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ relating to the Jamaican flag.

Even though there seems to be a general willingness to cooperate, content-related overlaps need to be identified and especially in terms of the European process this could become a matter of dispute. While the Green openly professes a strong Europe, the FDP is more reserved, especially when it comes to a shared fiscal policy. Inspired by the idea of negotiating the impossible (‘Fluch’ = ‘curse’), DIE ZEIT (a serious German weekly paper) titled as follows:

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It will be interesting to see, if, respectively how, the three of them will negotiate a compromise, because this will not only determine Germany´s but also Europe´s future.

Emmanuel Macron already expressed his worries that a coalition with the Liberal Party might cause problems for his plans concerning the European development. It is just smart and fair that he brings forward his claims before the coalition negotiations start, because they should be part of the negotiations.

And finally I don´t want to miss mentioning that the SPD as the leader of the opposition in Parliament inevitably stands for a pro-European course and will hopefully provide some positive impulses whatever the government brings forward. This could be one of the issues where the SPD could differentiate from the CDU/CSU in its next campaign. And as we have learnt from Macron: it is actually possible to win an election with pro-European claims against all odds.

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/24/germanys-general-election-all-you-need-to-know.

[2] http://www.tagesschau.de/newsticker/liveblog-bundestagswahl-101.html#Reaktionen-bei-Union-und-SPD.

[3] http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/btw17/index.html.

 

 

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Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of German Unity

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st year International Relations student at King’s College and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today. 

Helmut Kohl – the Chancellor of the German Reunification and a pioneer for the European Unification – died Friday 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87.

Leaders from all over the world issued their grief about the loss of a great politician and a great European patriot in an official European ceremony in Strasbourg on 1 July 2017. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission and a close friend of Kohl, delivered an emotional and very personal speech recalling that neither the EU enlargement towards the East nor the introduction of the Euro would have been realized without Kohl. Bill Clinton, former US president, said ‘farewell my friend’ and stated that Kohl´s legacy is the chance to be part of something bigger than the personal career: the striving for a better world with mutual respect where no nation is dominated and no nation dominates others. The French president Emmanuel Macron praised Kohl´s merits concerning the German-French relation as a foundation for a united and peaceful Europe and called to appreciate and maintain these achievements. He remembered the legendary act of reconciliation with Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl holding hands at the graveyard of Verdun. Finally, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who had dissociated from Kohl during his lifetime, addressed the audience full of praise about Kohl´s life achievement: when he entered office in 1982 Germany was divided, when he left office in 1998, Germany has been reunited and the European unification has been in great progress. Without Helmut Kohl millions of people, including herself, would not have had the chance to live a life in freedom and peace and this is why she bowed before him in gratitude and humility.

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Even though Kohl was not without controversy in Germany, undisputed tribute was paid to him for his unshakeable confidence in the German Reunification and the European Integration, his commitment and his political instinct for the feasible. He realized the unique opportunity for a German Reunification with the blessing of USSR´s Michail Gorbatschow and the Western nations and courageously took the chance before the historic timeframe closed again. Due to his integrity, his solid reliability and his political fairness he enjoyed the highest respect and strong confidence among the political leaders and therefore managed to overcome the concerns about a reunited Germany.

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Besides his belief in the German Reunification he had a vision of a united Europe which became the driving force for his acting. As a graduate in History he was well aware of Germany´s responsibility and his political goal was to contribute to a free and peaceful community of all European nations with a united Germany amidst it. According to Juncker he saw the euro as a means of ensuring peace in Europe and therefore fought for the introduction of the euro.

A ceremony in Strasbourg, at the heart of Europe and the border of Germany and France, is symbolic for Kohl´s political legacy. It is now up to us to maintain this legacy and to make Europe great (again). ;  )

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The anatomy of TERROR

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By Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a first year War Studies Undergraduate at King’s College London and European Editor for International Relations Today.

 10:35pm Monday, May 22nd 2017. Massive explosion taking place at the Manchester Arena, shortly after the end of 20.000 people packed concert.

Two months earlier, on March 22nd, a 52-year-old British citizen drove a car into the pedestrians on the south side of the Westminster Bridge.

The timeline of the UK terrorist attacks started to count more and more incidents and deaths of the innocent since the beginning of the year, leading the detectives into the hunt for a terrorist network, especially after the Iraqi Islamic State’s responsibility claim over the bombing which happened earlier this week. However, the public proved itself to be increasingly confused in the attempt to contour a broader understanding of what the terrorists are looking for in their operations – or even better – what the real terror is meant to achieve.

Considering that UK has just been through the worst attack since 2007, the polarization of a pure anti-humanity agenda, successfully restored under the international spotlight since the beginning of the year proved once again, its underlying permanent influence over the global society, regardless of the geo-political targeting of the attacks. Therefore, what is actually primarily important to understand is the concept that describes best the perpetrators’ intentions in their offensive procedure, which essentially relies on the very definition of terror. They aim for publicity (which by its own means both attracting other individuals or groups on the side of the perpetrators and breaking the rational will of the targeted mass), they generally intend to deteriorate the image of a recognized government in the eyes of both the world and their own citizens, they inspire a super-wave of collective guilt amongst the individuals and ultimately, strive for a socio-political (and sometimes economic) paralysis of the targeted state-system, once the faith and the support of the masses are completely lost. From this point of view, UK’s constant response to the attacks can be theoretically interpreted as being antiterrorist, because it mainly relies on collective national security measures meant to keep sheltering the rights of the citizens and the rule of law. However, the increasing density of the attacks does raise some vital questions about the state’s protective capability, given the large numbers of casualties caused only since the beginning of this year. The more successful attacks, the lower the people’s faith in their own security and safety and implicitly, the lower the trust in the state’s protective ability. So what will happen next?

It is clear that unlike the Unites States, the British government does not see terrorism as warfare, nor does it look at it through the crime analogy. What UK has actually done so far is considering terrorism as being a matter of disease, which implies a cause-symptom treatment based on arrests and increased prevention through additional security measures. It is certainly important to note the achievements of this approach, as so far the danger of a social paralysis has been avoided and regardless of the extent of the destruction caused by the perpetrators of extreme violence, life went on. But how long will this last for?

A more relevant idea to bear in mind when dissociating terrorism is that due to the ever-changing nature of the phenomenon (including the targeting vision, the conduct of the operations, the tactics and devices used etc.), there is not and will never be a clear, comprising and universally valid definition for the case. This fact itself plays an important role in the broad understanding process of how and why the perpetrators act the way they do against the society. The psychological view of the attacker prototype does explain the individual’s perspective before and during the ‘pull of the trigger’, as it acknowledges the psychological map and processes taking place in human mind, which are, to a certain extent, quite similar to the ones of a soldier on the battlefield. It fails, however, to identify the vague transition between the ideological, religious, political, economic or personal motivation of an individual to carry out an act of extreme violence and the actual process of making it happen. In other words, there is no clear link between the theory and the practice of inducing terror. What is more, the group cohesion theory can barely justify the determination and outstanding operational focus of the terrorist groups and yet, it does not even reach the lone wolves’ case studies. Perhaps, this is one element that makes the latest London attacks stand out in the series of the recent attacks, because if the individuals acted on their own, one can hardly identify – not to mention understand – the mental realm of the terrorist. Thus, there is a general state of confusion between the target and the shooter. Unlike traditional warfare, the war on terror is not just asymmetrical from the grand strategic point of view, but it is also extremely irregular when it comes to the individual level of analysis.

Therefore, the thinner the correlation between the victim and the killer, the more endangered the conditions of life, regardless of the geographical zone discussed. What is certain, though, is that the continuation of the attacks against the human society has become in the past decades, an inherent matter of reality. Whether the hits similar to the one Britain took earlier this week will intensify or not, it is important to remember that terrorism is now a big part of the world we live in. The attackers are not prone to fundamental changes on any level of analysis, but what needs consideration is how (from the citizens to the states and to the international community) the society will ‘digest’ and cope with this traumatizing reality and the first step on this path is actually deciding whether the surviving mechanism of the world as we know it is actually that bulletproof against terror as we thought it was.

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Marine Le Pen and women’s rights: a personal opinion

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By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.

Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.

A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:

  • Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
  • Marine Le Pen does not mention this.

 

  • When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
  • Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.

 

  • When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
  • Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. [1]

 

It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this[2]. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.

On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’.  Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.

I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too.  How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?

Bibliography:

[1] <http://www.rtl.fr/girls/identites/macron-le-pen-le-match-des-programmes-pour-les-droits-des-femmes-7788256778&gt;.

[2] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.

 

 

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Is Romania finally making its first steps towards democracy?

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By Luca Patriniche, a first-year History undergraduate at King’s College London

The newly-appointed Social-Democratic (PSD, now in coalition with ALDE) government of Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency ordinance (OUG13), during the night of 31 January 2017, which alters the Romanian penal code and reduces penalties for abuses of power. The order stipulated more lenient punishments for corruption. There was also an amnesty for those convicted of certain corruption offenses, which amounts essentially to the legalization of corruption. PSD proposed further measures that would ban protests deemed to be of “extremist nature” and free from jail those serving sentences of up to five years for offenses including abuse of power. All these measures would be a clear breach of democratic principles – they bear an uncanny resemblance to the new measures passed secretively in the night by the illiberal Law & Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Similarly to PiS, PSD’s first line of defense to criticism is their pro-social measures to ‘help the poor’, that are ‘the will of the people’.

The main beneficiary of PSD’s ordinance would have been the PSD president Liviu Dragnea. PSD won parliamentary elections in December 2016 with 46% of the vote, but President Klaus Iohannis (of the National Liberal Party, or PNL)’s anti-corruption drive since 2014 bars those with convictions from public office, thus preventing a Dragnea premiership. Dragnea has a suspended two-year sentence for vote-rigging and is being prosecuted in a separate case for abuse of power. The proposed changes would likely be made with the intention of making Dragnea prime minister. The changes would pardon and shorten the sentences of those convicted of corruption, including of many PSD politicians, and allow future abuses of power.

For a week after 31 January 2017, there was every night (in temperatures often below minus 10 degrees Celsius) between 300,000 and 600,000 people protesting in Romania (population of 20 million), making them the biggest protests since the Revolution of December 1989 against Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The protests have continued, albeit in much smaller numbers, as protestors want to ensure the Grindeanu government does not try to introduce a watered-down version of the ordinance after the proposals were withdrawn and Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned. They call for the resignation of the entire Grindeanu cabinet. There were large protests outside Romania as well, in the Romanian diaspora of 4 million (compared to 20 million in Romania).

“Awaken, Romanian, from the deadly slumber into which the barbaric tyrants have sunk you!”[1] These opening lines of the Romanian national anthem, a song often sung at the protests for its message of liberty and patriotism, show the cynicism of the protestors and the mismatch between the reality of political, economic and social life in Romania and the optimism that followed the 1989 revolution. Corruption continues to pervade everyday life in Romania, and many are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the country’s trajectory in the past 28 years and its prospects, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries that are perceived to have transitioned more successfully since 1989. The protests are in favour of well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions.

Other popular slogans showed the same bitterness. Referring to the defensive way in which former Justice Minister Iordache avoided uncomfortable questions 24 times at a single press conference with “altă întrebare” (“another question”, in English), there were also cries of “altă întrebare, altu’ între bare” (“another question, another one behind bars”), calling for Iordache’s imprisonment. Protesters denounced the PSD as the “red plague” and declared that Ceaușescu was not, in fact, dead, but alive and simply disguised as Dragnea. References were also made to the 1990 ‘Golaniad’ protests against the transitional National Salvation Front (FSN) government of Ion Iliescu, during which the protestors often sang: “Better to be dead than a communist!” That 1990 protest called for the barring of former Communist Party (PCR) officials from public office; people have the grievance today that old members of the party, or those who formed advantageous connections pre-1989, are still privileged, or even that the style of governance today and lack of transparency and integrity resembles the old days.

Other popular slogans refer to the PSD’s late-night decree signings (“like thieves in the middle of the night”) or the anti-democratic nature of the decrees (“in a democracy, thieves stay in jail”) , but they all use the idea of this PSD government and many before them since 1989 having consistently stolen and blighted Romania’s chances to improve herself. Cynicism and bitterness reflect the national feeling about politics since 1989.

To understand this latest bout of anger at politics, one should consider the last year and a half in Romanian politics. The fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest in October 2015 killed 64 people. Already lax safety regulations were said to have been avoided by way of a bribe to the local council, thus helping the fire to spread. Corruption had killed. This sparked a wave of anti-government protest, eventually resulting in the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta (PSD), himself facing allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, plagiarism of his doctoral thesis, and of being involved in the suspicious ‘suicide’ of a prosecutor. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA), under Laura Kövesi, continued Iohannises anti-corruption drive with renewed strength, arresting many politicians. After one year of technocratic government, the December 2016 parliamentary elections returned the PSD to power. The fact that a new party, the urgently-named Save Romania Union (USR) came third, being led by Nicușor Dan (an academic turned activist) and Clotilde Armand (a French businesswoman turned activist), shows the dire situation in Romanian politics. PSD then proposed Sevil Shaiddeh for prime minister, which President Iohannis vetoed on the grounds of her inexperience and thus vulnerability to being exploited by Dragnea, as well as because of her husband’s previous role as a minister for tropical and subtropical fruit in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry from 1988 to 2010, the government of Assad. This sparked a minor constitutional crisis which ended with the eventual formation of the Grindeanu government in January 2017, whose actions have provoked the recent protests.

he above does not answer the question but is essential to understanding the nature of the protests and having an idea of how successful protest can be. The fact that hundreds of thousands, a sizeable chunk of the Romanian population, turned out to protest peacefully, often in bitterly cold weather, shows great determination. The fact that the government soon backed down on its proposals and that Iordache resigned shows that protest can have a significant impact on policy. This would appear to be the first step towards true democracy and rule of law. The effectiveness of protest in causing political change depends on local conditions such as the flexibility of rulers and the determination, co-ordination, and mobilization of protesters. In Romania’s case, these factors in 2017 were, at least at face value, very much in favour of the protesters. However, the victory for the protesters is provisional; there is a long battle for them to safeguard Romanian democracy.

Romanians’ resilience is commendable given 28 years of underwhelming political development and proposed political changes that are clearly anti-democratic, and which endangers much-needed attempts by Iohannis and the DNA to fight the corruption that is endemic and damaging to the Romanian economy and society.

The protests inspired civic creativity. Considering again the protest slogans, one can see they show bitterness, but they also show humour and creativity; a hint of positivity, in other words. They show a unique Romanian style of protest. The protest has been common in Romania since 2012. Protesters are therefore energetic, enthusiastic and organized. Volunteers provide protesters with food and tea and keep peace amongst the protesters, so as to avoid attracting police responses. The streets can thus act as the main guardians of democracy if the politicians are not so keen to protect it. The Romanian culture of protest since 2012 has tended to be less conflict-based than elsewhere and it makes use of modernity. The protesting becomes humorous – funny custom-made posters were used. A good example of this is a play on a Coca-Cola advert: “Enjoying Coca-Cola since 1886” became the sarcastic “Enjoying corruption since 1989”. Video projections of Romanian flags onto buildings and huge puppets, particularly of Dragnea in a prisoner’s uniform, have also been used. These show cynicism but also creativity and satire – protest is not about displaying anger, but it is satire instead. The protesters show passion but are good-natured and fun. “Distracție plăcută!” (“Have a good time!”) was often wished to those going to the protests. The protests’ humour and good-naturedness are advantageous because it makes the protests less obviously ideological and less antagonizing and more an occasion for unity against a clear problem of corruption.

Protesters have made good use of technology. It helps their cause as well as it has helped to gain significant international attention for these protests. Social media can be used to further deride incompetent politicians. Social media enables a leaderless, inclusive and fairly spontaneous movement. The protests have also echoed modern tastes; many slogans and signs resembled Facebook messages or tweets. #rezist has become synonymous for the 2017 protests. Iohannis’s election in 2014 was aided by many sharing a “keep calm and vote Iohannis” photo and by making him the most “liked” European politician on Facebook.

Romanian protests have also managed to unite those fed up with corruption and poor governance, providing unity across different socioeconomic groups. A Facebook video of an elderly Bucharest street cleaner went viral, as she was shouting passionately at the young protesters to rise up and to be brave Romanians and take back their country after the politicians stole it. A desire for the rule of law unites these people who previously might have been politically detached by disillusionment. They have consolidated their unity in the last few years since it has been more or less the same demographic that has been protesting at each wave. As these people tend to be young, there is an element of being different from mainstream society, often associated with the older generations and the poor, rural population, particularly as these groups are seen as voting PSD and seen as having been paid by PSD to stage counter-protests in PSD’s favour.

he humor, unity, creativity and modernity of the protests may well be able to cause real political change, but that would require a real grassroots anti-corruption movement, similar perhaps to Beppe Grillo in Italy. Despite the undeniable Romanian energy for protest, there is no such movement with the level of impact that Grillo has. There are further problems; the protesters were not united on certain issues, such as how to engage the police, after a few incidents of hooliganism. PSD remains dominant in Romanian politics also, despite all the bad press for it.

The DNA and Iohannis are spearheading the anti-corruption drive, but they are not innocent either. Iohannis risks politicizing the protests by declaring himself explicitly on the side of the protesters against the Grindeanu government, and the DNA’s quick prosecutions suggest it benefits from a privileged but questionable network of information-sharing.

A reform of public services and government institutions is needed for there to be a truly democratic political class. This would mean local authorities, national and state institutions need reform, like the army, police or postal service. Local and national authorities must be created such that they are compatible with a competent and honest Western EU state. This would mean cutting through the networks of influence, nepotism, and corruption that make up Romanian ‘godfather capitalism’, which combines several elements. First, there is the renewed influence of the Orthodox Church (Romania is currently building the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world in Bucharest), arguably primitive, unwanted and unnecessary. Second, there is almost exclusively non-violent corruption (bribery) and incompetence among untrained politicians. Third, the lack of training of politicians, exacerbated by a poorly-paid political class in a country where voters and politicians alike are not so much ideological as simply looking to make some extra money where possible, leads to incompetent, incoherent government. This puts the political class in conflict with the justice system, but collusion between the two sides blocks the transition to a truly democratic political class.

The minimum gross monthly salary in Romania is 1450 lei (about 235 euros); the average gross monthly salary is 3130 lei (about 685 euros). A deputy in the lower house of parliament has a starting monthly salary of 5400 lei (about 1180 euros), not including perks. Perks include a certain immunity from prosecution, which is useful when the justice system would otherwise pursue corrupt politicians. People are left with little money after their living costs, so find it difficult to save. Thus many voters are tempted by PSD promises of higher salaries and pensions. The politicians are better off, but still poor by European standards, and given their position of power, are likely to abuse it and try to make extra money where possible. This problem affects all. The only political ideology becomes to make extra money where possible. Politicians have frequently migrated across the political spectrum to different parties, including between PSD (centre-left) and PNL (centre-right). The result of prioritizing personal profit itself is the outcome of a lack of funding and incentives, leading to incompetent, incoherent and dishonest politicians and political parties.

This is added to the social problems that entrench the old power networks. The Romanian diaspora numbers almost 4 million. The younger generation is tempted to leave but the old and the poor (many of them PSD voters) remain and continue to vote PSD, which as the largest party, attracts the networks of corruption and dishonesty. The other parties are not necessarily less corrupt, but PSD enjoys an unhealthy political dominance. The inter-generational rift does not help. Furthermore, the quality of the education system, apart from a few good schools, is declining. Like other public services, quality is stagnant because of lack of funding and incompetence. As many jobs are in the public sector, Romania also has many individuals dependent on those in power, which only further entrenches dishonesty.

Protests are undeniably effective in Romania in bringing about the short-term change of policy and politicians. OUG13 was cancelled and Iordache resigned. That brought some relief from endemic corruption and satisfied citizens’ dissatisfaction with corrupt politicians. The magnitude and ingenious methods of the protests consolidate the street’s role as a visible and influential actor in politics and politicized many. International attention on Romania, partly a result of Romanians’ use of technology to make others abroad elsewhere aware of the situation, would certainly have pressured the government to act as it did. However, there are many rifts in Romanian society, as shown by the mostly old people who were at the pro-PSD counter-protests, having been told Iohannis would cut their pensions. Deep reform is needed to stem corruption and entrenched networks of elitism and dishonesty. The political system would have to become more coherent and honest as well. There are also the very tricky demographic problems to solve. The population is ageing and declining, and the young and skilled go abroad, so the result is that it is very difficult to put more funding into services like education. Political parties like USR offer hope of a more honest future, but there is still a long way to go before such parties become large enough to have influence. If the current young and educated generation keep to their ideals of honesty, then that is encouraging for the future. However, this should not disguise the fact that deep reform is needed. The protest was able to cause political change, but without deep reform, the post-1989 situation of stagnant political development may well continue, in other words, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.[2] A large grassroots political movement for honesty, of which these protests are a small first step, would surely be a step towards that. The protesters’ determination alone won’t bring true democracy, but one has to wait to see whether their determination can develop into a serious political movement to challenge the status quo.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Romanian National Anthem, Desteapta-te, Romane!, (lyrics by Andrei Muresanu)

[2] Daltrey, Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

 

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How Refugee Admission could save, and not destroy the UK

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By Paula Koller-Alonso, a first year History & International Relations King’s College London undergraduate

Trump’s travel ban has urged us to take a second look at the refugee crisis and the new cataclysm of migration diaspora. Politics and opinions on the topic are generally split between conservatives believing that the immigration influx will create a security breach and liberals encouraging the intake of refugees as a chance to be humanitarian heroes. Yet between the polar opposites, one consequence of the crisis has not been substantially analysed: the idea that mass refugee intake might just be what saves the UK demographic and economy.

The British parliament voiced a plan in 2015 to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next years, which seemed reasonable and morally noble. However, this plan was mainly limited to unaccompanied children, at times, as Amnesty International’s newest campaign reveals, tearing families apart and prohibiting the entry of these kids’ parents. Furthermore, 20,000 refugees is a marginal number compared to what the UK’s neighbours are accepting: In one weekend in 2015, 20,000 refugees were welcomed in the city of Munich. 13,000 refugees alone arrived on a Sunday, more than the total number of refugees seeking asylum in the UK in the whole of 2015. To put that into perspective, 20,000 people are only equivalent to 0.03% of the total population, whilst Germany expected 800,000 asylum seekers in 2016, which was a total 1% of their population. So then it has to be asked – why is the UK so afraid to be more generous in their humanitarian aid to give asylum to refugees fleeing civil war?

Having watched the media in recent months gives a partial answer to the question. An increased number of terrorist attacks, many linked to radical terrorist groups, in Western Europe creates an atmosphere of fear and an increase in security protocols. Trump’s travel ban itself forbid the entry of citizens from targeted Middle Eastern countries, stating that it was “about terror and keeping [the] country safe”. However, apart from discriminating against a religion and ethnicity, the travel ban and the refusal of a higher number of refugee intakes, also obscures the advantage a country can gain from receiving asylum seekers.

Considering OECD statistics, the birth rate in the UK has gradually decreased in the last 45 years. As a result, concerning the demographic development, there has been an increase of 4.23% in the elderly population, and a decrease of 6.3% in the young population. Admitting refugees in the UK would therefore strengthen the demographic gap in the population, which would benefit the country in a long-term perspective. Consequently, it would reinforce economic productivity, as its increased labour supply would fuel the GDP and taxation backflows. The UK could then be placed on a higher power basis in the international system, through its increased economic strength – a necessary and welcomed step in the wake of the post-Brexit Sterling devaluation.

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Reference: OECD.org

Although it seems morally incorrect to refer to refugee asylum as an economic policy to strengthen the country, it may be necessary to highlight these advantages in order to urge politicians to turn a humanitarian crisis into a political requirement. There are still more than 4 million Syrian refugees displaced in the Middle East, and now is the time to welcome them, rather than reject them – not only because it is inhumane not to do so, but also because it could highly benefit the UK.

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TTIP, CETA & Co.: BOON OR BANE?

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st Year International Relations Student and Editorial Assistant for International Relations Today.

Strasbourg. On 15th February, 2017 the European Parliament ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada, best known by its acronym CETA. According to the EU Commission, this is supposed to be the most modern, advanced and progressive free trade agreement ever constructed, since it goes beyond just removing customs duties and takes people and the environment fully into account. By doing so, it will set a new global standard for future trade agreements.

“It will help to generate growth and jobs by boosting exports, lowering the cost of the inputs businesses need to make their products, offering greater choice for consumers, and upholding the EU’s strict standards for products.”[1] This is how both the European Union and the Canadian government are currently advertising CETA to the public. The underlying optimistic and innovative tone seems quite convincing and implies that the free trade agreement will mean a significant step forward for Canada and the EU.

In his speech, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about better incomes for workers, entrepreneurs who will have access to new customers, consumers paying less at the checkout counter, manufacturers who can expand their global reach, and more predictability and transparency for the “engineering, architecture, and information technology” sectors. In short, he said “CETA is a framework for trade that works for everyone”[2], from the companies level all the way down to consumers.

If  CETA is obviously so beneficial, why is it so unpopular among the European public?

There are still many remaining skeptics who forecast that instead of soothing nationalism, the ratification of CETA will actually encourage populist movements across Europe, since the benefits of the trade agreement will disproportionately accrue to upper income earners, leaving working class people behind. If you do some research on the matter, you can easily encounter websites promoting a European-wide petition against CETA and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), the pending trade deal between the US and the EU, which already caused a lot of unrest recently. Those websites refer to CETA and TTIP as “dirty deals”[3] and is presented as the cause to global poverty, inequality and injustice. But, what exactly sparked this upheaval about TTIP and what does this have to do with CETA?

TTIP negotiations began in February 2015 and, once information was leaked, the content was  considered somewhat alarming, especially with regard to TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda which will seek to bring EU standards on environment and food safety closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70% of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients while the EU does not permit GM food. The same quality gap exists in the environmental standards as well. While the EU’s regulations are stricter towards producers, obliging them to prove a substance’s safety before using it; in the US quite the opposite is the rule: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. It does not come surprisingly that, once it was leaked, this information caused some doubts about the benefits of such a trade agreement.

However, what appears to be even more essential is the fact that the process of negotiations has been highly secretive, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents or Freedom of Information requests. For the public, who has no say in whether the treaty goes through or not, this issue necessarily raises some questions about the democratic nature of the decision-making processes and thus of their governments’ self-conceptions.

Following TTIP, CETA now raises these same questions, as again the European citizens did not have much of a choice on whether to ratify this agreement or not. Decisions are being taken on behalf of the citizens without even asking or informing them on crucial matters. In the context of the current crises Europe is going through, this could encourage the lurking, constant rise of nationalist populists. Anxieties, be they irrational or not, about jobs being lost to Canada due to competitive advantage foster the dissent towards national governments as well as the EU and at the same time pose the risk of creating a framework for populists to rise.

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Only the future can tell whether CETA, TTIP & Co. mean a boon or bane for Europe, because a reliable prognosis seems impossible in our globalised and complex world. But irrespective of future economic effects, and even though such agreements are likely to have very beneficial spillover effects upon political relations, the controversial discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of CETA reveals one aspect very clearly, namely that the EU commission should pay more attention to the concerns of the European civil society when constructing future trade agreements. The fact that more than 3.5 Million people (almost 7% of the European population) have already signed the petition against CETA and TTIP undoubtedly sends a clear message to the EU Commission including all its member states, implying an urge to change policy direction.

 

Bibliography:

[1] European Commission. Trade; Policy; In focus: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ceta/&gt;.

[2] National Observer. Baloney Meter: Will free trade with the EU benefit everyone in Canada? Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/02/23/news/baloney-meter-will-free-trade-eu-benefit-everyone-canada&gt;.

[3] War on Want; Fighting Global Inequality. What is CETA? Retrieved 27th Feubrary, 2917 from <http://www.waronwant.org/what-ceta&gt;.

The Independent. What is TTIP? And six reasons why the answer should scare you. Retrieved 27th Feburary, 2017 from <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html&gt;.

 

 

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Is Putin being ‘Trump-ed’ by the Media?

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By Gloria Trifonova, a first year War Studies student at King’s College London.

Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for over a decade now – from Prime Minister to President and back again, he has become a symbol for the post-communist Russian political system. Recently, he has been taken out of the spotlight as the media has found a new villain, Donald Trump, who took the world by storm by winning the US Presidential election in 2016. Has the media truly abandoned their beloved Russian scapegoat for everything that is wrong in international relations? 

Given that we now live in a world where executive orders and tweets provoke a similar outrage in the public, it seems Putin is only a side character in the new season of American Horror Story: The White House. We hear about him as if he is the irreverent best friend that is only there to push the development of the main character forward with snooty comments and late night phone calls we never get to hear.

 

While the media has been concerned whether Trump and Kanye had tea or coffee, Putin has been on the move. His recent visit to Hungary seems to have strengthened Russo-Hungarian relations and may result in Hungarian support for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia. Furthermore, with pro-Russian socialist electoral victories in Bulgaria and Moldova in 2016 it is likely that EU stability may be experiencing turmoil other than BREXIT. Moreover, Russia has managed to keep its relations with Turkey relatively stable thus far, despite a few hiccups along the way resulting in taking down of a Russian war plane in 2015 and a few Turkish soldiers dead by a Russian military jet air strike in 2017. The two historically antagonistic states have taken up a common campaign against ISIS and this is decreasing diplomatic pressures of the past.

 

Military cooperation in Syria has also helped better Russia’s relations with Iran and many independent media sources suggest that Putin is going to attempt to dissuade Trump from his hard stance on Iran, as Trump has recently threatened further sanctions and of course employed his supper villain catch-phrase “nothing is off the table” in regards to further action if Iran doesn’t stop testing missiles. It would be interesting to see Putin’s strategy regarding Iran, traditionally in opposition to key US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, instead of theorizing about how the Russian leader will handle this delicate diplomatic issue, the mainstream media is concerned with the crisis of the day – why did Nordstrom drop Ivanka Trump’s line indeed?

Perhaps it is a positive development that Putin has been outshone in the media. For too long the West, which likes to presents itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the face of the “borderline fascist dictatorships” of the East, has exerted hypocrisy in criticizing his every move and the election of Donald Trump only reveals this further. The US, which for years has deemed Russia racist, homophobic and radical has elected a man, who is the poster child for all those terms. But this is not all about Trump. It seems the moral code the US has applied to Russia over the last decade evaporates when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Not once has the US condemned their oil donor, which enforces punishments for homosexuality ranging from imprisonment and fines to corporal and capital punishment. Furthermore, crimes based on racism occur just as often in the West, but the US, for example, seems to forget its own Trayvon Martins and Mike Browns, while patronizing Russia for being racist.

Also, it seems mainstream media in the West never truly grasped the position of Putin in Russian politics. The tendency to glorify leaders in Russia has deep historical roots. Modern Russia is a produce of both its Tsarist and communist past. In both cases, whether we speak of Ivan the Terrible or Stalin, a strong leader, whom the people believe in, seems to be an intrinsic part of keeping such a vast country together and Putin has ensured the resurgence of Russia in world order and this has secured him the support of the public. Culturally, Russians look for strength in their leader more than anything and Putin is a “killer” as Trump himself has referred to him.

Thus, maybe given that the spoon-feeding of propaganda by the mainstream media does not solve any problems; it only creates a smokescreen for the gullible Western public, who needs a moustache-twirling villain, it is time we start analyzing Putin’s agenda objectively. As he even said in his 2007 Munich speech – “Just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I mean ideological stereotypes, double standards and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking.” It is high time we let go of such thinking.

 

Bibliography

Donald Trump seeks a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin, The Economist, Feb. 11th 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21716609-it-terrible-idea-donald-trump-seeks-grand-bargain-vladimir-putin 

Russian Foreign Ministry Following Putin’s Orders on Boosting Embassies Security, Sputnik News, Feb. 12th 2017, https://sputniknews.com/world/ 201702121050595855-russia-embassy-security-measures/

 

‘US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting’, Routers, Feb. 11th 2017, https://www.rt.com/op-edge/377079-iran-sanctions-trump-revolution/

 

The new power couple: Russia and Iran in the Middle East, European Council on Foreign Relations, Sep. 13th 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/ summary/iran_and_russia_middle_east_power_couple_7113

 

Putin Swaggers Into Hungary as Europe Wonders About U.S., New York Times, Feb. 2nd 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/world/europe/ vladimir-putin-hungary.html?_r=0

 

Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova, The Guardian, Nov. 13th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/ 13/pro-russia-presidential-candidates-tipped-to-win-in-bulgaria-and-moldova

 

‘Wars not diminishing’: How Putin’s iconic 2007 Munich speech sounds today, Reuters, Feb. 10th 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/376901-putin-munich-speech-2007/

 

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