Saturday 22 November 2014

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When people in Brussels look out to the 27 EU countries, they tend to forget that hardly anyone looks back. Polls and election turnouts confirm that for vast parts of the EU population, the national perspective prevails a long time before the European one. What lessons for the European Union to be learnt?


25.000 EU experts in each EU country

Posted by on 20/11/14
The EU is a complex game in which Brussels has a key role in close connection with the 28 capitals of the EU Member States. In previous messages I identified the 100.000 EU actors in Brussels, and now the “local EU actors”, those working in the Member States, will be mapped out. On the executive [...]

How close did the Dutch come to ditching the euro?

Posted by on 19/11/14

The Guilder - was it close to making a comeback? 
Yesterday, former Dutch Finance Mininister Jan Kees de Jager, who held the role until November 2012, revealed something very interesting. Apparently, the Dutch government, together with the German govenrment, made contingency plans during the height of the eurozone crisis for the two countries to ditch the euro. A “team” of lawyers, foreign policy experts and economists were employed to investigate different scenarios,. One was to reintroduce the “guilder”:
"The team met regularly on Friday afternoons, but could also be present very quickly in case we needed to make a decision"
He also revealed how Germany was closely involved but other countries were less keen to prepare:
"Some countries considered the fact that several scenarios were being discussed in Europe already very scary. Remarkably enough they did not do this. We were one of the few countries[to discuss scenarios], together with Germany. We even had a team discussing scenarios, Germany-Netherlands.”
Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem also admitted that the Dutch government was at one point “preparing for the worst case scenario”, saying:  
 “Heads of government, including the Dutch cabinet, always said: ‘We want to keep the euro together and to keep the euro as a single currency.’ That said, we also looked at what would happen if that didn't succeed”.
Dijsselbloem added that no guilder notes were actually printed, and unlike de Jager, he refused to confirm whether Germany had made similar preparations.

This of course is in line with what we've heard before. The Dutch Central Bank has already admitted it made some contingency plans for a euro exit in 2012, while De Volkskrant has revealed that, in June 2012, Prime Minister Mark Rutte threatened the possibility of the Netherlands exiting the euro. Nevertheless, the detail and the format of the planning highlights just how seriously this was taken.

We can't help but feel it puts the continuous protestations by ECB President Mario Draghi that the single currency is  "irreversible" into a new light...

Outcry from Greece, a dissolving country

Posted by on 18/11/14
By Dimitris Rapidis Four years of harsh economic austerity are certainly not a fundamental factor for a country to dissolve. But as 2014 comes to an end, we might state that Greece is a state in full dissolution.

The Nordics: A point of reference for the European Union

Posted by on 16/11/14

Last week, I was asked to discuss the potential lessons for the European Union from the Nordic Models at the Nordic Labour Movement congress SAMAK. For me, three points seem essential:

First: Freedom and prosperity needs to be created through opportunities and challenges!

Democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law remain guiding principles of the European Union. The mission has remained to promote them beyond the borders. This is why the subsequent enlargements have been so important, marking historical turning points from which onwards people in different states hope to lead lives enjoying freedom, dignity and prosperity. But what once has been a common desire now is rather taken for granted. Democracy seems to appear rather as a static arrangement that is there because it is agreed upon in treaties. It is not seen as an ideal that requires all to assume responsibility for its constant development. Therefore the populists have a space to promote a discourse of fear, they build upon disenchantment and despair. They grow stronger day-by-day, trashing democratic politics and actors involved. And they will, unless challenged properly, increase in numbers.

This is the most important lesson the European Union has to learn from the Nordics: More freedom is needed and it is not given. Everyone has to accept their duties but can demand their rights are respected. Respect and freedom are the basis for a fertile ground for progress and unity.

Second: Only equality of labour standards ensures long-term progress and social welfare!

The historical objective of the European integration process was to establish mechanisms of inter-state cooperation that would protect people from conflicts, poverty and hunger. While the traditions that underpin different post-war welfare systems may differ, the overall principles of equality and social justice have been common and hence allowed to speak in terms of an ideal of a European Social Model.

The vision of a Social Europe is to ensure that the common effort for the Union translates into an improvement of living and working conditions. It has always taken a lot of persistence to negotiate compromises, especially when the strategies for social transformation take a long time to show results. So when they finally reach that stage, the benefits of them are often already taken for granted.

This is also one of the reasons, why some of the welfare arrangements have evolved to be old-fashioned, not really sticking to our changing society. However, while the crisis hit, conservatives have made no differentiation and social provisions in general have become the first target of austerity.

The social objectives must translate into both labour and social policies. However austerity policies in many Eurozone countries have significantly impaired the possibility to put forward a new framework on progressive labour and social policies. The recent years have seen detachment of the debate on these even within the progressive movement.

Furthermore, European added value must not be mistaken for competing on the national level at any cost. An essential is the European labour standards. There is no trade off between efficiency and equality.

Progressives must reopen the debate and embark on the struggle for quality employment for all. This is especially essential now, when they are working for proposals for a re-industrialisation strategy. Here we encounter one of the main lessons from the Nordics for the European Union to consider. The European Union has to continue to fight for equal labour standards and better income in all European member states. The Nordics have been strong in ensuring common standards based on respect but also based on strong and effective democratic institutions.


Third: Globalisation gives us the duty to re-define economic thinking!

Globalisation and its new challenges demand a redefinition of fiscal, monetary and global economic policy. Here both the Nordics and the European Union need to learn.

Fiscal and monetary policy should be seen as having the fundamental function of ensuring high-levels of aggregate demand. In addition and to fight against inequalities there is an essential need for a common European labour policy and a shift away from the current system of wage repression amongst the member states and amongst the different economic zones elsewhere.

A common international labour policy and a progressive harmonisation of labour rights and social protection could lead to a reasonably egalitarian income distribution and to an end to the current dysfunctional framework.

Modern global capitalism cannot remain an uncontrolled “wild” engine. Achieving significant increases in employment, growth and reducing inequality in Europe will not be easy, but it is certainly achievable. It will imply the implementation of a range of progressive economic policies at both the country levels and the EU level. These imply that the European Union will have to become more coordinated and more progress could only be achieved through international cooperation.

In this regard, a strong and active Union with an agenda of regulated international trade based on decent work for all is to be advanced. New protectionism and fear are not the answers. But this demands a creation of a strong moral and political legitimacy for economic and labour market policy as well as for new trade arrangements such as TTIP. It should become a model for such a new approach in international treaties and an answer to modern globalisation and capitalism.

When the Nordics are looking for a more human approach in the globalised world this should be done together with other Europeans and not separately. The Nordics are part of Europe and our continent will only remain strong when united. The challenges of our century are immense. Climate change, rising inequalities, technological advances, rising of new global powers, only to name the most challenging one.

European integration remains the only solid and serious alternative to tackle this. The nineteenth century created the labour movements as an answer to industrialisation. The twentieth century created the European Union as an answer to war and self-destruction in Europe. We should now create an answer to a human globalisation. All the lessons learnt need to be incorporated in order to ensure a better and a more prosperous Europe.



Eight Rhetoric Fallacies in the Campaign Ahead of Romania’s Presidential Elections

Posted by on 16/11/14

This fall, the Romanian people had to choose from 14 candidates running for the presidential seat. Among these, the current Prime Minister Victor Ponta, MEP and independent candidate Monica Macovei, former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea, former mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis, and former Prime Minister C.P. Tariceanu, were the most noteworthy candidates. Now, only Ponta and Iohannis are left in the competition. The winner will be announced after the second voting round on November 16.

Electoral campaigns in post-communist Romania are becoming increasingly eventful. The campaign preceding this year’s elections was no exception. Just to give you an idea of how the campaign was marred by lies, manipulation and twisting the truth, I have listed a number of rhetoric fallacies the candidates used to discredit their opponents or cover up their own mistakes:

1. The ‘appeal to pity’, defined as an attempt to induce pity to sway opponents, was used by Victor Ponta to answer to the resurfacing accusations of plagiarism against him: ”I am accused of something I did wrong 16 years ago. If I would have killed someone, after 16 years, I think I would have been set free. I think I have paid the political and moral price. It has affected me a great deal. I would be lying if I said that this scandal and the repeated accusations did not affect me. I have a question: how many decades do I have to pay for something the justice system deemed to be untrue, but part of the public considers me to be guilty of? “, he asked.

2. ‘Ad Hominem’, which means bypassing an argument by launching an irrelevant attack on the person and not their claim, was used by Ponta and members of his party when he suggested that his main opponent, Klaus Iohannis, is not a ”good Romanian” because he is a member of the German-speaking community and a Protestant (whereas a majority of Romanians is Orthodox). He also stated that, because he is an ethnic German, Iohannis is ”representing foreign interests’’ and that, because he does not have any children, he is not a ‘good’ person! Elena Udrea has also said that Iohannis talks too slow and that people should not follow his statements even when they are interesting. Iohannis has declared from the outset that he will not use ad hominem arguments in his campaign.

3. ‘Affirming the consequent’ – assuming there is only one explanation for the observation made – is what Elena Udrea did in commenting on Basescu’s accusation that PM Victor Ponta was an agent of the secret services: ”For us it was strange that he rose from the group of young lawyers and all of a sudden became the head of the Control Authority. I have no other evidence; I believe what the President (Basescu) is saying.”

4. The ‘appeal to design’ refers to a claim or suggestion that something is good just because it is nicely designed or beautiful visualized. Elena Udrea’s posters accompanied by the slogan ”Good for Romania” are a good example.

5. The ‘appeal to fear’ – an argument that increases fear and prejudice towards the other side – was used by Ponta’s political party in a desperate attempt to win over the voters of the opposition. They sent flyers to pensioners across the country announcing that Klaus Iohannis, the main opposite candidate, will cut pensions if he wins the elections.

6. ‘Begging the question’ (supporting the truth of a claim without any evidence other than the conclusion of that claim) was exemplified by Elena Udrea accusing Klaus Iohannis of putting pressure on the judiciary to postpone a court case in which he is accused of holding an incompatible office while he was mayor of Sibiu until after the elections.

7. ‘Suppressed evidence’: Ponta stated that during his mandate, Romania recorded the highest growth rate in the EU; 3.5% of GDP. He used 2013 as the year of reference, when the surprising growth was driven by exports and an abundant harvest. But data from 2014 suggests Romania re-entered a technical recession after two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, with a one percent decrease in the second quarter. The Prime Minister decided to ignore this evidence during the campaign.

8. ‘Circular logic’ has been used by Victor Ponta when he said that the budget deficit  caused by a planned 5% reduction of employers’ contribution to the social insurance will be covered by funds to be earned from the positive effects of this reduction, such as foreign investments. In other words, he is saying that the cutback is good because it will cover the budget deficit, which was caused by the cutback in the first place.

Unfortunately, such rhetoric fallacies are used daily by many Romanian politicians, not only during electoral campaigns. In particular, the use of ad hominem arguments is widespread, which seriously undermines the debate.

Factors such as the lack of political culture, a politicised media and an education system that does not encourage critical thinking and information literacy contribute to the success of politicians who are aggressive and unprincipled. This explains their re-election despite their poor performance in improving the country. It’s a vicious circle.

About the Author: Doris Manu (Romania) is currently studying at the College of Europe – Bruges. She holds a Master’s Degree in South-Eastern European Studies from the University of Belgrade and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Bucharest. She has completed several traineeships in Romania, Croatia, Kosovo, and most recently at the Delegation of the EU to Serbia.

Leftist Syriza blamed for being supported by the US

Posted by on 13/11/14

Greek politicians bickered yesterday (13 November) over the latest statement of the former US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, who said that Europeans wanted to “smash” Greece to make it pay for its mistakes.

In a meeting with EU officials in July 2012 (G7), Geithner said that Europeans had a hostile attitude toward Athens and wanted to “punish” Greeks for their financial irresponsibility.

More precisely, the American official stated:

Europeans came into that meeting [July 2012] basically saying: ‘We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us. They suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole basic thing and we’re going to crush them.’ [That] was their basic attitude, all of them”.

Most Greek MEPs did not reply to my e-mails asking for a comment, obviously trying to avoid “being exposed” to such a sensitive issue.


But centre-right MEP, Giorgos Kyrtsos (New Democracy, EPP) told me that “he is not convinced” by Geithner’s statement, as Americans and some anti-  European political forces in the UK, France, Italy and Germany highlight the Greek problem in order to indicate the weaknesses of the EU and hinder EU  integration process. He also slammed IMF’s ironic stance on the Greek issue, saying that it supports a public debt haircut but its statute does not permit it to  proceed to such a move. But what really impressed me was the fact that he attacked the US governments, saying that they have always supported Greek politicians “who believed less in the United Europe”. Two of them, he said, are (former socialist PM) Giorgos Papandreou and leftist Alexis Tsipras (Syriza leader).

The issue seems a bit more complicated as main opposition Syriza was also recently blamed for supporting Russia in Ukraine crisis. How can Syriza be blamed for being supported by the US while it opposed the EU sanctions against Moscow? How can it be Washington-driven as its MEPs voted against the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine and abstained in the voting for the EU-Moldova Association Agreement?


The counterproductive policies of the Israeli right and the Swedish green-left

Posted by on 11/11/14

The peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is suspended until further notice because both sides are obstructing it. The Israeli government, pressed by the settlement lobby, is continuing announcing new construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinian authority, afraid of its own extremists, refuses to continue the peace talks until a mutual acceptable agreement has been reached.

No wonder that the outside word becomes exasperated by the deadlock in the conflict and thinks that it can promote the restart of the peace process by recognizing the state of Palestine. It started with the new Swedish government, a minority coalition made up by the social democratic party and the green environment party, that recently recognized Palestine in the hope that it would send a signal to the moderate forces among the Palestinians and level the playing field in future negotiations.

The Swedish government also hoped that its recognition of Palestine would be followed by other EU member states but until now no other states have followed in its steps, not even other Scandinavian countries. The British parliament has adopted a non-binding resolution in favor of recognition. As EurActiv reported last week, the socialist group in the French parliament has drafted its own non-binding proposal for recognition.

This hardly indicates any momentum in Europe for the recognition of Palestine. After all the official EU position is that recognition today of Palestine would be premature. The European Council has often declared that EU will only recognize those borders that have been agreed by the parties to the conflict as the result of direct peace negotiations. To recognize Palestine today would mean to recognize an entity that doesn’t control its territory and part of which still is bent on war.

The Swedish government has been claiming that already more than 130 countries around the world have recognized Palestine, among them some EU member states. It forgot however to mention that many of these countries haven’t recognized Israel, including several of the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The EU member states that have recognized Palestine did it before they joined EU and before there was any common EU foreign policy.

There is nothing in international law that prohibits the Palestinian authority to unilaterally declare independence but to the outside world it’s a political issue that needs careful consideration. There are so many issues that remain unresolved. The future state’s borders, security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem, water – all are difficult questions that require mutually acceptable and agreed solutions.

Fortunately, there are already good ideas on how these issues could be solved, for example, in the so-called Geneva Accords of 2003. The parties have also already come quite far in previous negotiations and been close to a peace settlement.

However, there is one remaining stumbling block and this is the Palestinian refugee problem. It would be unreasonable and dangerous to recognize a Palestinian state that would not end the conflict but continue to pursue the issue of the refugees’ right to return to Israel. A premature and unconditional recognition of Palestine could therefore have an adverse impact on the prospects for a lasting settlement of the conflict.

While I can understand the rational for the Swedish recognition of Palestine, I’m also afraid that it has been influenced by domestic political concerns. Sweden has a tradition of carefully examining new political initiatives but in this case the new government decided to act at once on its own. The recognition issue also diverted the attention from burning problems in Swedish society and the need to achieve consensus in riksdagen (the Swedish parliament) on the new state budget.

I was also concerned when the new Swedish foreign minister entered into a “word war” with her Israeli counterpart as to whether achieving a peace agreement is as easy as assembling pieces of IKEA furniture. No, it isn’t. Solving the conflict is complicated – if it weren’t we would already have peace. Assembling IKEA furniture doesn’t require ”partners” but can be done by a single person who can read the instructions.

Premature recognition of Palestine might make the Palestinian government believe that it can achieve statehood without having to negotiate with Israel. In his speech some time ago in the UN general assembly, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas seems to have lost all faith in bilateral peace talks with Israel. While he during the first days of the Gaza war seemed to criticize Hamas for inflicting civilian casualties, he now accused Israel for war crimes and even genocide in Gaza.

The current Israeli government, on the other hand, seems to do everything to play into the hands of the Palestinians and to antagonize the outside world with its pro-settlement policy. Naftali Bennet, the minister of economy, recently wrote an article where he argued that the two-state solution isn’t feasible (INYT, 6 November). We already knew that this was his position but the article enables us to understand the flaws.

He makes an issue of that previous Israeli withdrawals from occupied territories haven’t resulted in peace but in terror attacks against Israel. Maybe it was because they were unilateral without any agreement with the other side?

He also outlines a plan for a “bottom-up approach” with focus on economic cooperation. It makes some sense. Economic cooperation is necessary and will serve as “bridges of peace” – as is the case in the EU. But it’s more than naïve to believe that the Palestinians would accept unilateral Israeli annexation of a big part of the West Bank – without even any land swaps – as Bennet proposes in his article.

The risk is that it may become a self-fulfilling prophesy if construction in the West Bank is allowed. It will not only obstruct the restart of the peace process but might also result in more people settling in the West Bank and voting for Bennet’s party and other pro-settlement parties who don’t care that the status quo is unsustainable. In such a situation the whole of Israel would be held hostage by a minority of its inhabitants and their vested interests groups.

To conclude: Both the Swedish and Israeli policies as described above are counterproductive. Unfortunately they also have a tendency to nourish each-other.

Cameron’s flawed understanding of a ‘vast’ amount

Posted by on 11/11/14
By Kevin Hannon Mr Cameron is appalled at the 'vast' amount as he called it being asked of the UK as its extra contribution to the EU. Putting the £1.67 billion EU contribution into perspective and context to show the real scale of the economic issue makes clear that our Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, has a strange notion of what is 'vast'.

25 years later

Posted by on 11/11/14
The photo of Chancellor Helmut Kohl in front of the Brandenburg Gate is incredible. But how will it be viewed in 25 more years? Chancellor Helmut Kohl in front of the Brandenburg Gate, 25 years after the launch a process that led to the reunification of much more than Germany (@bild). Of course it’s supposed [...]

L’Europe germano-allemande

Posted by on 04/11/14
By Georgi Gotev For several decades we were used to the French-German tandem. Now we have Germany all over the place.

Time to stop shooting the messenger

Posted by on 04/11/14

Repression against civil society is on the rise, as the latest alarming case from Montenegro shows.

by Mark Fodor, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

MANS, the Network for the Affirmation of the Non-governmental Sector, has for years been one of the most active and fearless NGOs in Montenegro, uncovering the numerous corruption scandals that plague the country and hinder improvements in the quality of life of its people.

It has long been subject to over-reactions from the authorities regarding its activities, but recent attacks by the Informer ‘newspaper’, considered by many to be close to the Montenegro authorities, have spilled over into the territory of the vile and absurd.

For the second time this year, in late October the ‘newspaper’ published offensive sexual images on its cover page and implied that they portrayed MANS’ Executive Director Vanja Calovic. The first smear campaign, in June, was launched after MANS revealed numerous irregularities, possible cases of political corruption and vote buying at local elections in several municipalities held in May this year. Its publication was a deliberate attempt to compromise her personal and professional integrity.

This repeated smear campaign against Calovic is threatening not only MANS, but also other civil society activists and individuals that dare to reveal corruption and organized crime.

The case is all the more alarming for taking place in an EU accession country, but is unfortunately not the only case, as Bankwatch recently showed. From Hungary to Russia; from Egypt to Azerbaijan, civil society is coming under increasing pressure.

The authorities’ capacity to respond appropriately varies: often the repression is clearly perpetrated by the government. In the ‘Informer’ case, where the smear campaign against Vanja Calovic is at least nominally carried out by the media, government institutions must move fast to ensure freedom of speech and respect of human rights of civil society activists. The Montenegrin government is responsible for ensuring the full appreciation of individual human rights guaranteed by international conventions and the Montenegrin Constitution, including in cases of individuals that are criticizing corrupted behaviour of the government.

We also expect that the new EU commission and Commissioner Hahn who is responsible for Neighbourhood Countries will clearly condemn such practices, and that the EU will back its words with action.

Romania’s media landscape – so near and yet so far

Posted by on 04/11/14
By Ivan Radev, AEJ-Bulgaria What kinds of problems exist in the country, which occupies the 45th spot on the Reporters Without Borders ranking list?

Youth Policy matters for the UN, for Italy not

Posted by on 03/11/14
By Melania Lotti For the first time ever, the United Nations convened a global scale event to draw attention on youth policy. The 1st Global Forum on Youth Policy took place in Baku, Azerbaijan on 28–30 October, as an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth together with UNDP, UNESCO and the Council [...]

Can the eurozone escape Italy?

Posted by on 02/11/14
About two weeks ago I found myself in a conversation with a lady at a dinner party. She spoke at length about Italy and kept repeating more and more loudly that “Italy has collapsed”. That may be true. In trying to make her understand my slightly more nuanced position I made the point that the [...]

Das europäische Ungarn 2014

Posted by on 31/10/14

Ist Ungarn doch noch zu retten? Das Zurückrudern des demokratiefeindlichen Ministerpräsidenten Viktor Orban bei der geplanten Internetsteuer gibt zumindest Anlass zur Hoffnung. Und man kann diesen Hoffnungsschimmer gar nicht hoch genug bewerten. Nicht allein wegen der Internetfreiheit, die für die Offenheit der europäischen Gesellschaften ebenso konstitutiv geworden ist wie für deren wirtschaftliche Prosperität. Orban war schließlich auf dem besten Wege, Ungarn auf allen möglichen Politikfeldern aus der europäischen Wertegemeinschaft herauszuführen. Er hat in den vergangenen Monaten fast darum gebettelt, aus der EU geworfen zu werden. Die autokratischen Herrschaftsformen in China, Russland, der Türkei und Singapur erklärte er unverhohlen zu seinem Vorbild und verabschiedete sich überdeutlich von den Freiheitsidealen der parlamentarischen Demokratie. Die Hilflosigkeit, die die Europäische Union im Umgang mit diesem Budapester Putin an den Tag gelegt hat, muss nun endlich überwunden werden. Und auch die lähmende Angst, die Ungarn zu verlieren. Nach dem Kampf gegen die Internetsteuer müssen Brüssel und die europäischen Leitmächte Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien auch gegen die Medienkontrolle, die rassistische Roma-Verfolgung und die offene Bekämpfung der Nichtregierungsorganisationen in Ungarn Front machen. Wer die erwachten demokratischen Kräfte im Land stärken will, muss jetzt Farbe bekennen. Die Zeit des Appeasement ist abgelaufen.