Wednesday 1 October 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?


Parliament Single Seat(s)? Europe’s peace in Strasbourg, EU democracy in Brussels

Posted by on 28/09/14
The journalist Richard Hill asked me for a contribution on the ‘single seat’, for the upcoming magazine of BECI, the Brussels business organisation. Here is the full version of my view, taking a broader view than just costs and time.   ” The European Parliament’s Single Seat campaign has been going on for years, mainly [...]

Constant dying in the Mediterranean

Posted by on 22/09/14
By Bernhard Schinwald Two tragedies in which hundreds of boat refugees died on their way to European shores, caught the headlines of international media outlets. What has less attracted their attention are fatalities of comparably minor incidents. Between the beginning of 2014 and the end of August 2’000 people did not survive the passage to Europe.

Survival in a Greek detention centre for immigrants

Posted by on 22/09/14

I had never been in a detention centre for irregularly residing migrants before trespassing, a few days ago, into Amygdaleza. Amygdaleza is in the outskirts of Athens, a few kilometres north of what is widely referred to as the cradle of democracy. Along with the members of FEANTSA migration working group, I have access to Amygdaleza thanks to a social worker hired by the Greek police and paid by the EU in order to assist around 40 unaccompanied minors, between 10 and 17 years old, who are detained in a part of the centre.

We first visit the service where unaccompanied minors are kept. After a short presentation made by a psychologist, who is also policeman and the responsible for the service, they open us the gate and let us in where the young people live. In the dark corridor we are surrounded by teenagers and we glimpse at the rooms where the young guys sleep in small beds one next to the other. They show us a room where they dispose of two computers and from a TV screen a journalist from the BBC is talking about the Scottish referendum on independence.

We talk to the young guys who look disappointed when they realise we are not there to take them away nor will we actually be of any immediate help. Some tell us they have been there for three months, some say six, other eight, other even more. They are supposed to stay in detention for a maximum of six months and then moved to tailored services. Actually, what is most painful does not seem to be the length of their detention but rather the lack of information regarding what will happen to them. They come from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh. A guy from Guinea has been living in detention centres for about two years – he first was in Mytilene and then was moved to Amygdaleza. With his parents dead, a brother in Belgium and a sister in Germany with whom he lost contact, he wishes – to my surprise – to stay in Greece. He seems a smiley guy and now is happy he can speak French with me. He does not feel very comfortable with his English and is now asking the social worker, struggling with the few words he knows in Greek, a specific product for his dreadlocks. A young Bangladeshi was with him in Mytilene and had a similar path to Amygdaleza but, unlike the Guinean, he looks depressed and hopeless. He is afraid to be sent back to Bangladesh and he is frightened not to know for how long he will have to be detained here.

They show us where they play football. It is a 35-40 square metres pitch with bars all around its perimeter and with a concrete roof that does not allow any view of the sky. On the pitch a ping pong table – they guys tell us – was brought by two policemen right the day before our visit, probably to make the place look more entertaining. Therefore, today there is no chance to see the skills of a Syrian guy who is introduced to us as the strongest player among the young inmates. I told him he looks like Ibrahimovic. He seems flattered and amused by the comparison and laughingly points out that Ibrahimovic was born to refugees escaping from war-ravaged Bosnia.

Most of them asked for asylum but still have not received any update about their requests.   They want us to know their stories and they are aware that what has been happening to them is unfair and infringes the law. They know more than I expected, they are 15 – 16 years old but their eyes are older. One loves to draw, another makes handcraft, they want to learn Greek and some wish to play football for Olympiakos. But all their energies and hopes are wasted in an endless detention with no access to education nor to vocational training, to sport or any other kind of activity. A few of them will be moved to a shelter but most of them will just stay there until they are sent back to the country they wish to flee. Today the guard is a policeman who constantly makes jokes; he is loved by the guys who tell me that not all are that kind. Other policemen are insensible, even cruel. I hear stories about guys mistreated, beaten up in a few cases.

Later on, we move to one of the camps for adults. Overall, 4 000 irregularly residing immigrants are detained. A few days earlier a riot had to be placated. I am told the riot burst because a few policemen wanted a few inmates to stop praying and when they refused they were beaten up. We are not visiting the camp where this recently happened though we enter into another where a riot occurred one year ago. We can still spot a few containers that were burnt and are still not fixed since that happened. While we trespass into the camp, a notice reminds me that what I am about to see was funded for 75% by the European Union, through the European Return Fund. How can a place where EU legislation is so clearly infringed be funded by the EU is a mystery to me.

As soon as we are in, tens of people approach the grids that separate us from them. They all come out from containers, each of which hosts eight of them. Under the eyes of policemen, we get close to the grids and start listening to their stories. Those who can speak English voluntarily translate for their mates. Contrary to what the policemen told us about the decent conditions in which the inmates live, they say the water at their disposal is smelly, they tell us that when they have health problems only one out of five is actually examined. Some have been there for much longer than 18 months, an Afghani on his twenties tell me he has been there for almost three years, another points out that in 12 months he has been detained in this camp he has never been interviewed.

I feel useless – I should be here to answer questions rather than ask them. I was told that in Greece there are worse camps than this one. I was told that in other detention sites, people are squashed in small jail cells so much that they have to stand and struggle to get the chance to at least lean against the wall for some comfort. The fact is that it does not need to be worse than this to hurt. I was somehow prepared to witness these living conditions but that awareness does not prevent me from feeling guilty. Because Primo Levi is whispering in my ear that I, who live safe in my warm house and who find, returning in the evening, hot food and friendly faces, I must consider if this is a man.


Roma health conditions in Europe: a worrisome picture emerged from the new report

Posted by on 22/09/14

On the 4th of September 2014 the European Commission published a report on the state of health of Roma populations in Europe which points out that discrimination towards Roma has direct consequences on their accession to housing, health care and education. The outcome of the report is that Roma manifest some worrying characteristics when it comes to health, such as shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and higher risks of infectious diseases than the non-Roma people.

Data were collected in the 28 EU countries plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland by Matrix Knowledge in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, the European Public Health Alliance and individual national researchers on behalf of the Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (Chafea) and DG SANCO. The main obstacles to this huge research, which covers the period 2008-2013, were the non-homogeneity of Roma populations and the insufficient data at the national level on their health situation. Notwithstanding the obstacles, common patterns among Member States and among different Roma groups emerged. Unfortunately they disclose a worrisome picture which asks for a more integrated approach among Member States in order to deal with this problem.

The life expectancy of Roma is 10 to 20 years less than the rest of the population. In Croatia the difference is around 10 years (66,6 years compared to 77), in Hungary is also 10 years less for men but around 18 years less for women. In Belgium, the Brussels municipal Social Services estimate that Roma have a life expectancy of 55 years and their health is even poorer than that of refugees. Roma populations also present higher rates of infant mortality observed in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic. In addition, they are also more vulnerable to outbreaks of measles and hepatitis A, B and C. The 2009 outbreak of measles occurred in Bulgaria concerned primarily Roma, since the 89,3 of the infected people were of Roma origin.

All these problems derive from difficulties they face in accessing health care systems in the Member States. The existing barriers are of several nature and they all need to be addressed in an efficient way.

One problem is administrative in nature and regards the lack of registration of these people in national population registers, which prevents them to have access to primary care services in many States. This is aggravated by social exclusion and lack of health care education of Roma. In many cases they are not aware of the possibilities available or they simply do not understand the information given. Linguistic and literacy barriers play an important role in the reduced use of the available services. Therefore States need to address these issues by providing interprets for appointments and simply written and translated material regarding health problems.

What contributes to the existing situation is also a discriminating attitude of the health care professionals combined with a lack of trust by Roma towards them. There is also a cultural element which plays against prevention. The report discovered a high level of use of acute hospital services, but very little use of preventive care, such as vaccination, adopting of healthy diet or doing physical activity. A first solution to this would be that of using health mediation programmes and providing training for health care professionals and reading material on Roma culture and, in particular, on relations between men and women inside this culture.

A special attention regarding gender issues is necessary since the report pointed out the severe condition of Roma women who are more disadvantaged than Roma men and other women because of traditional gender roles. They receive a more limited education than men, which leads to even less employment opportunities, and experiment physical and social isolation and poorer living conditions if compared to Roma men. All these factors lead to maternal health risks such as early and late pregnancies and poor access to antenatal care. They are also subjected to higher risk of domestic violence and mental health risks due to the subordinate role in Roma communities.

What can be done?

        In the end, the report calls both for a coordination among Member States, and also for tailored responses to the particular needs of each Roma group, or population, present on the territory of every State.

The EU has made considerable efforts to better Roma populations’ conditions. Among those we remember the organization, in 2008, of European Roma Summit on Roma Inclusion with the aim of discussing these issues at the highest decision-making levels, including national and regional authorities and involving civil society. This Summit was followed by the creation of the European Platform for Roma Inclusion. In 2011 the European Commission adopted the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) up to 2020. Member States were asked to prepare NRIS in order to deal with the challenges of Roma integration. Again, in 2013, the Commission made a proposal for a Council Recommendation on effective Roma integration measures in Member states with the aim of improving the effectiveness of their measures to achieve Roma integration and to coordinate the NRIS. Also the European Parliament deals with Roma issues, in particular LIBE Commission is responsible for EU strategy on Roma inclusion. In addition there are some EU agencies, such as European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and CHAFEA which are working on the same issues.

The point is that all the instruments adopted at EU level are non-binding, so it is up to Member States to implement these recommendations. The idea is that national governments should make efforts in order to improve the literacy and skills of Roma people and combat the discrimination they are exposed to through campaigns which bring together civil society and Roma populations. The critiques made to the Member States were that of lack of political will for real commitment in this field, manifested by the retards in using the available European funds allocated to Roma inclusion.

(Ana Daniela Sanda)

To know more:

Roma Health Report: Health status of the Roma population. Data collection in the Member States of the European Union:

The situation of Roma women: FRA data analysis:

Report on the implementation of the EU framework for National Roma Integration Strategies:

Nea say files:


Classé dans:NON-DISCRIMINATION, Protection des minorité

Suck it and See: Scotland and after

Posted by on 22/09/14

Winning the referendum on Scottish independence has thrown the British Establishment into a mighty tither. Only the Queen, whose mother was a Scot, emerges with dignity intact.

Not that things would have been very much calmer if the answer had been Yes rather than No. The fact is that without a written constitution to regulate referenda – their frequency, their threshold, and their mandate – the still United Kingdom (sUK) has no systematic method other than party politics to deal with constitutional change.

Reforms with profound consequences for the vitality of democracy and the efficacy of government to produce public goods are being made on the hoof, in a haphazard and even irresponsible way. There is no precedent for a Convention, at least in England. A simple majority vote in the House of Commons, with no threshold, is deemed sufficient to tamper with the constitution.

So it is to this partisan muddle that the country must now look for constitutional reform. As none of Britain’s seven political parties are in favour of doing nothing with the constitution, we must conclude that the status quo is not an option.

One need not be optimistic. Even Tony Blair’s reformist government with a large Commons’ majority managed few constitutional reforms: the removal of a number of aristocrats from the House of Lords; the creation of parliaments with limited legislative and budgetary powers in Edinburgh and in Cardiff; the election of two fairly eccentric Mayors of London; and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The coalition government since 2010 has failed on almost all counts: a botched referendum on a non-proportional electoral system for the Commons; a failed reform Bill for the House of Lords; and, worst of all, an EU Act in 2011 whose main effect is to impose a referendum on the hapless public about continued membership of the EU, possibly as soon as 2017.

The flight to referenda is the desperate recourse of political parties having lost the will or capacity to face up to informed and decisive debate at Westminster. Populism, however, is no guarantee of democratic legitimacy, as Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (and many others) could aver. Plebiscites are good at shaking up the established order but seldom of any use whatsoever in settling complex constitutional issues.

There was no more futile claim made by either side in the Scotland campaign than their insistence that the vote last Thursday was the final decision about Scotland’s membership of the UK. As early as Friday, after losing by 45% to 55%, Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist leader, was talking seductively of the prospect of another future referendum. Even David Cameron spoke of having only settled the matter ‘in this generation’. It certainly cannot be ignored that Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire, has voted to leave the United Kingdom. Twitter had soon converted the Better Together slogan of the ‘No thanks’ campaign to Bitter Together. Salmond and his likely successor Nicola Sturgeon pointedly missed a service of reconciliation in Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral. I guess a generation in politics is about one decade long.

Cameron might have seen off Salmond, who resigned later that same day, but he has not satisfied that (large) part of his own Tory party which now marches to the beat of UKIP’s drum. The Prime Minister’s proposal immediately to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on ‘English’ matters at Westminster hardly smacked of magnanimity in victory. It is a wonderful conceit shared by many in London that a change in the rules of procedure of the Commons amounts to radical and durable constitutional reform.

It is interesting to consider the future of the UK in the light of what has happened in Belgium. Belgium’s national problem is not identical to Britain’s, of course, and is complicated by a sectarian language issue that does not affect Anglo-Scottish relations. But Belgium’s answer has been, over the years, to install and then tweak a federal system of government under a constitutional monarch who is a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha cousin of Queen Elisabeth II. Today, Belgium’s federated kingdom serves to accommodate the jealousies of its component regions and the competing claims of its political parties. What dominates the media day-by-day in Belgium is not so much the confrontation between Flanders and Wallonia but the politics and the politicians of the country’s big cities: Ghent, Antwerp, Liege, Charleroi and Brussels. Decentralisation in Belgium is the mundane political, economic and social reality. It is a bit costly and surely complex, and nobody fools themselves that the national problem is ‘settled’ for good.

There are lessons to be learned here for the UK. When self-government was invented in Flanders under Spanish tutelage, the English and the Scots sat up and took notice. They should do so again. Britain is not Belgium, but it is quite Belgian in needing to become a more sophisticated democracy.

The first lesson is to revive the federal idea in Britain. A system in which each level of government is coordinate with each other but none is hegemonic seems to be a rational starting point. Federal law has primacy, as indeed does EU law, but checks and balances preserve harmony. The dominance of England, being so big, must be catered for by its sensible partition into large regions. London is already a powerful city-state. Four regions in the rest of country would work well as functional polities: the South East and East Anglia, the South West, the Midlands, and the North. Within these regions, once-powerful municipalities, the engines of economic growth, should be restored to their former glory. A decentralised NHS could scarcely do worse than the current behemoth. Whitehall should be stripped of its omnipotence in education. Autonomous local government, with assets at its disposal, would compete healthily for investment.

The federal solution is above all a pragmatic one. The House of Lords would do well adapted as a federal chamber. The rehabilitation of federalist thought might make the Brits understand Europe a little bit more. And a federal United Kingdom, with Home Rule for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alongside powerful self-confident English city-states, might prove to be a more convincing basis for the future of the European Union than the old, creaking nation state. Worth a try. Suck it and see, in the best British tradition of constitution mongering.

Andrew Duff is a former local government Councillor and Member of the European Parliament. He is a federalist and a Liberal.


Yesterday Scotland, tomorrow the EU? Are there lessons for the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ camps?

Posted by on 22/09/14
Staying or leaving?
If David Cameron wins the May election he has promised an In/Out EU referendum by 2017. Even if he does not it is still probable there will be one at some point. National referendums are rare in the UK so with the Scottish vote we have a rare glimpse of what the EU referendum campaigns could look like. What should the nascent In/Out camps take away from it?

In trying to understand the motivations of the Scottish voters Lord
Ashcroft's poll, conducted after the vote, sheds some interesting light. Voters made up their minds late in the day - 52% of voters made their mind up this year with 18% in the last month. The main issues driving independence voters were disaffection from Westminster and concerns about the NHS. Uncertainties over the pound and pensions drove the No side. 70% of Yes voters said they agreed with "The principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland" while No voters also felt the risks of independence were to great and conflicted with their attachment to the UK.

So are these findings and the Yes/No campaign relevant to a UK referendum on EU membership? here are some key issues:

Scottish Yes/No
EU In/Out
The need for a clearly thought out alternative to the status quo
The Scottish 'Yes' campaign came unstuck on some key elements of their proposition. Notably confusion over the £ and EU membership. The difficulty ‘Yes’ had with these key policies dogged their campaign
The nascent EU ‘Out’ campaign has a similar problem as there is no settled view. What relationship will the UK have with the EU after exit? Will it be the EEA, a new free trade agreement, what will access to the Single Market be etc and what are the political trade-offs. 
Harnessing optimism
The 'Yes' campaign was good at harnessing the ‘future’ and ‘change’ as a campaign weapon. The ‘No’ side failed to put forward a comparable future vision for the UK focusing instead on the risks of independence leading them to be portrayed as ‘negative'.
It will be difficult for the ‘In’ campaign to portray an optimistic vision of an EU future, given the likelihood of ongoing problems in the Eurozone – it will probably stick to pointing out what it sees as the risks of leaving.

It remains unclear whether the ‘Out’ campaign will be able to manage to transform itself from campaigning against the EU’s negative record to wholeheartedly putting forward its own positive vision.
Who leads the campaigns matters - can they claim to be the anti-establishment?
In Scotland the ‘Yes’ campaign was united, had message discipline and was led by the First Minister of Scotland. This gave it the credibility of office and the ability to set the scene while remaining an outsider/underdog in relation to Westminster at the same time.

By contrast the ‘No’ campaign was cross-party, divided and although ‘backed’ by the UK government was simultaneously seen as 'the Establishment' while being in opposition in Scotland.

It is unclear who the ‘In’ and ‘Out campaigns will be led by. However, on the basis that David Cameron is content with his renegotiation, the ‘In’ will have the advantage of the head of government and all the main party leaders.This could leave the ‘Out’ campaign run by UKIP and a number of backbench MPs.

Although the ‘Out’ side would have the advantage of being ‘anti-establishment’ there would be a large imbalance in credibility and official resources that could tell in the campaign.

Foreign interventions helpful /

The ‘Yes’ campaign had to endure a series of interventions against them from UK allies and others including the USA, Australia, Germany, Spain, NATO and the EU.  
While foreign interventions in the EU referendum are inevitable some will be more effective than others. While UKIP will not lose any sleep over an admonition by Mr Juncker, Germany or France, they may suffer some damage if Commonwealth allies or the US express a desire for the UK to stay in the EU.
Business interventions - do they matter?
'Yes' had to put up with major Scottish and UK companies threatening to relocate out of Scotland in the event of independence. To counter it Yes managed to organise some pro-independence business voices but the overwhelming balance of the warnings weighed on the campaign.
‘Out’ like ‘Yes’ is likely to have to endure a slew of major companies questioning the case for exit, particularly larger businesses. This too will be countered by pro-exit business voices. Without the currency issue to worry about, the business question will be about what market access the UK would have to the single market (see alternative to the status quo section above).
Emotional appeal of staying / leaving?
While 'Yes' managed to mobilise significant emotional appeal for independence the residual emotional appeal of the United Kingdom was also considerable.
The emotional appeal of the EU institutions in the UK is close to zero. While it is clear that the emotional desire to leave the EU is felt strongly by confirmed 'Outists', it is less clear what role political identity will play among the undecideds.
Devo Max / EU Devo Max - key to the middle ground voter?
While the campaign started as a polarised Yes/No campaign it quickly switched in the last week into a No+Devo Max v. separation. This managed to win over some of the wavering middle ground to No. For that to work the credibility of the offer being delivered was key.
The In/Out campaign will start from the basis that ‘EU Devo-Max’ has either been achieved or has failed. This will have a huge repercussion on the campaign. If the negotiation is still on-going and is in the form of a last minute ‘EU Vow’ it is unlikely the credibility of those offering it will be enough to swing the result.
Turnout and the undecided voters - Age groups voting
The Yes/No campaign had a very high turnout and a high level of voters who made their mind up in the last month.

Older people tended to support the UK and younger people independence. As turnout was universally high the normal higher turnout among older voters probably did not tell.

An In/Out referendum is likely to have a lower turnout and a higher level of undecideds, making the last month and weeks of the campaign key.

Older voters are more likely to vote for 'Out' and younger for 'In'. However, with a lower turnout older voters are more likely to make their voice heard.

Wild card issues
The Yes/No campaign spent a lot of time discussing the supposed ‘privatisation’ of the NHS - a policy area already devolved to Edinburgh.
Immigration aside, the dry nature of EU policy could mean the In/Out campaign comes to focus on unpredictable issues.
Rogue polls - who might they help?
The close nature of the polls probably drove turnout and drove ‘shy unionists’ who may have taken the result for granted to vote.
Polling is also very likely to be a large driver of the 'In' / 'Out' campaigns but it is unclear who this might benefit.

Once the dust from Scotland’s ‘No’ settles, what are the implications for the UK’s EU renegotiation?

Posted by on 21/09/14
Act in haste - repent at leisure?
The big question over Scottish independence may have been settled but the campaign has thrown up a whole host of further questions concerning the UK's constitutional settlement that will need to be addressed in the near future. We look at some of these questions and at how they could impact on the UK's EU reform agenda. 

What’s the plan and schedule for devolution negotiations and implementation?

When it looked like a 'Yes' vote might be on the cards, the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems pledged a new raft of powers for the Scottish parliament over areas like taxes, spending and welfare, with proposals due to be tabled in January. Speaking this morning, Cameron announced that discussions over a new settlement for the rest of the UK and England in particular - would take place "in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland".

Given that this will include - in Cameron's words - "a decisive answer" to the long-standing West Lothian question (ensuring "English votes on English laws"), it remains to be seen whether this timetable is realistic (some MPs are calling for a full constitutional convention). Labour have said they are committed to "looking at the issue" but the party is divided, with some senior figures including Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander rejecting the option of Scottish MPs being excluded from votes only affecting English matters (which could deprive a potential Labour government of a majority on such votes). We simply do not know how far-reaching this shake-up will be and a quick and amicable cross-party consensus cannot be taken for granted.

Could this spill over into the general election campaign?

If the devolution question isn't on the way to being settled, it could conceivably play a large role in the general election campaign; the Tories and UKIP would take up the English cause, Labour and the Lib Dems would be stuck somewhere in the middle while the SNP would play the 'another broken promise by the Westminster establishment' card (unless the Scottish and English questions are considered separately). Not only would this displace debate about EU reform from the campaign, but growing English resentment at Scotland's privileged position within the UK could further boost the UKIP vote. Nigel Farage is already deftly positioning himself to take advantage. A strong UKIP vote would of course put pressure on any government (particularly a Conservative one) to take an even tougher line during the EU renegotiation.  

How will it impact the EU renegotiation/referendum timeline?

If the Tories end up back in government but still have to wrap up the constitutional questions it could prevent the government from hitting the ground running on EU reform and renegotiation. Given the scale of the challenge this is far from ideal. Furthermore, as we have warned before, we believe that Cameron is already behind the curve on finalising targeted reforms and road testing them with governments and business across Europe. In the end though, it is hard to see how Cameron could get away with shelving his planned 2017 EU referendum, given the pressure he would be under from his own party.

David Cameron’s Asymmetric Referendum

Posted by on 21/09/14
In the world of financial speculation there is something known as an asymmetrical trade. This means that the downside is very limited – or none at all – and the upside is considerable. I have long thought that the in/out referendum in Scotland was a superb move by David Cameron, but reading his speech this [...]

So, Mr Putin and Mr Farage – what lessons have you learned from the Scottish Referendum?

Posted by on 21/09/14

The Scottish referendum made for magnificent drama. At risk a 306 year old Union. The disintegration of an ancient kingdom. A monarch awaiting the fate of her kingdom in an ancestral palace in the Scottish highlands. A weepy Prime Minister. A feisty independence fighter. The haunting sounds of bag-pipes echoing through the Scotland’s fabled mists. Saltires and the cross of St George fluttering atop mountain peaks.

No wonder the world was hooked.

This morning the audience awoke to the realisation that the dream of an independent Scotland was pie-in-the-sky. A notion for romantics not realists. With the Scottish economy so tied up with England the risk of going it alone was just too high. Wages. Pensions. Currencies. Trade. Investment. The danger of a staggering economy. At the end of the day economics trumped patriotism.

But hey, that’s democracy for you. Those who live in the free world, with constitutional democracies and a legitimate application of a substantive Rule of Law know that patriotism is secondary to economics. Jobs, income, pensions, low inflation those are what voters really hold dear – not a few extra miles of some God-forsaken, pot-holed road leading to a regional airport littered with the bodies of young soldiers and civilians.

It is apt that six months after the so-called democratic referendum in the Crimea the UK should hold a referendum. You’d have to be a self-exiled, hermit living amongst the puffins in the Outer Hebrides not to have noticed the difference between the two. Yet, there are still those who cling to the theory that the referendum in the Crimea was somehow legitimate and that Russia’s aims in annexing this land is perfectly within Russia’s “geo-political” sphere of influence. The two referendums couldn’t have been more different but for those who still don’t quite get it they are spelt out here.

Rather than witnessing the massing of troops and tanks on the border between England and Scotland, we saw desperate, sweating politicians running up to Glasgow and Edinburgh from Westminster, literally pleading with the voter to stay part of the Union. This is a rare moment to treasure and enjoy. It is not often that real power resides in the people and not the leaders of the main political parties.

Not once did we hear talk of anonymous, heavily armed “little green men” in army fatigues appearing here there and everywhere, trying to influence the way voters should decide as opposed to how they would like to vote. Rather, we witnessed a bunch of British celebrities leaving their mansions in the home-counties hot-footing is to Scotland to sing songs and hold rallies pleading with the Scottish to stay part of the Union.

The referendum was organised over two years not seven days. This gave enough time for there to be not one, not two but three televised debates between the two parties where the pros and cons of both sides were aired. Plenty of time for comment and debate allowing voters to make an informed choice not a rushed one.

Above all, best of all, there was plenty of satire. Those Westminster politicians may have looked teary-eyes, hot under the collar and frantic but they never once looked peeved, piqued or proud when things weren’t looking so good for them.

The Yes campaign accepted defeat with grace happy in the knowledge that they will not wake up fearing unknown thugs might drag them from their cars as they head off to work this morning only to disappear into the dark forests of Scotland’s highlands never to be seen again by their families.

That is how to hold a democratic referendum that the international world can recognise as legitimate. Alex Salmond and his fellow politicians who worked day and night over the past couple of months to persuade the electorate to vote for Yes to an independent Scotland and the 44.7% who dearly hoped Scotland could go it alone will be gutted but they will pick themselves up and begin a new process of negotiations with Westminster as was promised them in the dying days of the referendum

Nigel Farage, England’s equivalent in sentiment, if not temperament, intelligence and nature to Scotland’s Alex Salmond may also want to take note. Dreaming of independence from Unions is one thing. Getting the electorate to vote for it is something different all together.

Should there ever be an “in” “out” referendum in the UK on EU membership the voter will put their hands on their wallet and know which way to vote. Nothing wrong in holding long established traditions in great affection, nothing wrong in being proud of one’s heritage, nothing wrong in enjoying the colour, pageantry and music that define who you are. Unions that uphold the Rule of Law – be it the Union between Scotland and England or the Union between the United Kingdom and 27 other EU member states, allow room for that – plus they guarantee you a better economic deal than would otherwise be the case.

There is one big difference that UK voters may want to consider. Whilst Cameron, Milliband and Clegg were all desperate to keep Scotland in the Union and prepared to make last-minute concessions in an attempt to keep the Union together, can the same be said of the EU’s other 27 member states? It seems highly improbable that Merckel, Juncker or Hollande will rush to London, with tears in their eyes and sweaty palms, begging the UK to stay in the EU. You never know. Could happen – but it is hard trying to envision such a scenario.


Lecciones del no escocés, abran paso a su majestad la democracia

Posted by on 21/09/14

No cabe duda que la mejor medicina que el ser humano ha inventado para garantizar la convivencia en sociedad es la democracia. Por dura e incómoda que pueda resultar siempre a los perdedores, el libre ejercicio del voto es siempre la forma de expresión de la voluntad popular y la única garantía del respeto a los derechos de las minorías. Quien teme el gobierno del pueblo, pues, amparándose en el concepto legalista, es decir, el del gobierno de la ley, lo único que trata a la postre es saltarse a la torera por intereses particulares la capacidad de expresarse de los ciudadanos. Algo que se suele escamotear con los típicos argumentos paternalistas de los gobernantes que justifican el hurto de la democracia por nuestro bien, desde una posición de visión privilegiada de las cosas. Gran Bretaña como escenario del referéndum de Escocia se ha convertido en estos tiempos en los que impera la dictadura de las visiones materialistas bajo el reinado de los mercados, en un ejemplo único de libre determinación sin el más mínimo atisbo de violencia, ni siquiera verbal. Una lección histórica de fair play democrático que debería servir de espejo en el que mirarse Europa, en vez de seguir jugando a la amenaza del precipicio que supone la ruptura de la Unión. Lo que se basa en decisiones en las urnas construye un compromiso sólido muy superior a lo que deciden media docena de mandatarios en torno a una chimenea sin luces ni taquígrafos.

El resultado, pues, de las urnas es inapelable y deja bien a las claras que los escoceses y solo los escoceses, no los ingleses, los galeses o los norirlandeses, a los que no puede corresponder decidir el destino de Escocia, son partidarios mayoritariamente,  hoy por hoy, de seguir perteneciendo al Reino Unido y no ser un Estado independiente. No debería olvidarse a nadie el único dato cierto de esta consulta vinculante porque si lo primero es reconocer la victoria de la democracia, acto seguido debemos reconocer también la victoria del no. Los nacionalistas escoceses no pueden presentar una derrota como una victoria, su objetivo era la independencia y el pueblo no les ha dado la razón. Mucho tendrán también, por tanto, que reflexionar quienes llevan a sus partidarios a las urnas para perder porque el ejercicio de soberanía no tiene fecha de caducidad, pero indudablemente el paso por el voto frustra para generaciones el anhelo de independencia. Dicho esto, en la batalla por el sí Escocia ha ganado mucho. Primero el reconocimiento como nación y su deseo de mayor autogobierno. Ese 45% de apoyo es una llamada de atención muy clara a Londres que obliga al gobierno y al parlamento británico a dar pasos hacia una mayor autonomía en las decisiones que les compete de los escoceses y una gestión más directa de sus recursos. El estatus entre Inglaterra y Escocia cambiará en base a una negociación pragmática y realista de las dos partes. Esa es la primera consecuencia que podemos extraer del resultado del referéndum.


Respecto a los protagonistas de este bello episodio político, como siempre que se extreman posiciones y se pone a la población en la difícil circunstancia de decidir cuestiones gruesas, quedan todos seriamente desgastados. El premier escocés Alex Salmond, impulsor y principal artífice de la campaña del sí, ha sido derrotado y su dimisión le honra. Dependerá de la habilidad negociadora de su partido el coste que tenga para los nacionalistas en los próximos comicios generales. Para Cameron, al que en las últimas semanas los sondeos le han colocado al borde del infarto, la victoria le permite salvar los muebles in extremis, pero queda en una enorme situación de debilidad ante el ala más conservador de los tories y esa mayoría antieuropeísta que cabalga a lomos de Inglaterra.  Los laboritas, salvando la figura recuperada del ex primer ministro británico Gordon Brown, uno de los puntales decisivos del no al final de la campaña, han visto como el debate se centraba en el modelo de sociedad que querían los escoceses para Escocia, sin que su discurso diluido en Inglaterra sirviera para frenar el ascenso del sí independentista. Porque en esta consulta no sólo ha votado la ciudadanía la pertenencia a un Estado u otro o tener un himno o una bandera. El nacionalismo caduco y rancio de identidades simbólicas y base histórica de batallitas del abuelo, no tiene cabida hoy en un mundo global y que cambia a velocidad on line. Lo que está en discusión es el modelo de sociedad que esa identidad diferenciada defiende. Lo relevante es la forma de organizar los recursos propios para un reparto más justo y equitativo de los mismos y no para un cambio de titularidad de unos poderosos oligarcas por otros. Un nuevo Estado debe ganarse la voluntad de su pueblo de serlo porque ofrece a sus ciudadanos la posibilidad de ser más libres y más felices, de otra forma volveríamos al juego de tronos medieval.

En Escocia el sí ha avanzado desde posiciones iniciales del 25% cuando se anuncia la consulta, hasta el 45% del resultado final a base de propuestas sociales frente a un gobierno y un modelo actual de sociedad inglesa, liberal basado en los recortes de prestaciones y servicios públicos. Y solo cuando la opinión pública empezó a acercarse a la decisión de la independencia, Inglaterra se parapetó en el discurso apocalíptico y los chantajes desde Bruselas de salida de la UE, por otro lado, harto infantiles pues no parecería lógico que una Europa deficitaria energéticamente negara la entrada a una Escocia independiente convertida en el país con más petroleo del viejo continente. Esa lección también debería servir en el proceso de construcción europea. La gente quiere participar en los grandes debates de fondo que condicionan el destino de una sociedad. No están dispuestos a decidir solo sobre una lista cerrada el consejo de administración que va a gerenciar su país los próximos cuatro años. Fijémonos en ese 85% abrumador que ha votado en el referéndum escocés y tomemos nota de que se deben abrir nuevos cauces de comunicación y participación innovadores de los políticos con los ciudadanos. Una nueva forma de hacer política,  tantas veces demandada y aun por descubrir y poner en práctica.

¿A Europa cómo se le queda el cuerpo después de la cita escocesa? Pues poco más o menos como se te queda después de una ducha escocesa que te somete a un cambio brusco de agua caliente a agua helada. Muscularmente relajada porque un sí habría supuesto un efecto dominó en aquellos territorios y no son pocos que la Unión albergan anhelos independentistas. Bruselas respira hoy aliviada como lo hacen muchos de sus jefes de Gobierno. Pero todos saben que el precedente obliga a reconocer la grandeza de la democracia y que requiere de una reformulación del proyecto que afiance las herramientas comunes, pero que permita a la riqueza diferencial encontrar cauces de participación en las instituciones.  La visión federalista de Europa sale claramente reforzada del referéndum y más aun cuando los acuerdos entre ingleses y escoceses avancen el el autogobierno de éstos. Los deseos recentralizadores legalistas tratarán de olvidar el 18 de septiembre de 2014 pero todos recordaremos que ese día los escoceses votaron.

El siguiente escenario de expresión de voluntades identitarias debería ser Catalunya, así lo ha expresado la mayoría de las fuerzas políticas de su Parlament y de sus ciudadanos a través de sondeos de opinión y de manifestaciones multitudinarias en sus calles. Son condiciones muy superiores a las que llevaron a Cameron y Salmond a pactar la consulta. Sin embargo, parece evidente que en España el gobierno de Mariano Rajoy optará por la vía legitimista para negar el derecho de expresión a los catalanes. Y  Bruselas como siempre sumisa a las decisiones de los gobiernos de los Estados miembros calificará la decisión de asunto interno de España y se lavará la manos ante el no a decir si o no que Rajoy impondrá al president Mas. Se equivocan los dirigentes de las instituciones europeas no entendiendo que no vivimos en el siglo XIX cuando las fronteras aislaban a los ciudadanos y la diplomacia o las armas resolvían los problemas. Hoy como europeos lo que le concierne a los escoceses le importa a los catalanes, como lo que les importa a los alemanes, les ocupa a los vascos. Decidir nuestro futuro en común pasa se quiera o no se quiera por poder decidir primero lo que sucede en mi solar, pero con unas reglas del juego democráticas iguales para todos y que se respeten los derechos de cada cual. De otra forma seguiremos en el mercadeo y los repartos del dinero, un pasteleo que no tiene credibilidad alguna entre los ciudadanos. Lecciones de una ducha escocesa.


Hopefully the Scots said ‘NO’

Posted by on 21/09/14

Since the debate over Scotland stirred up and the insinuations with similar cases started to formulate (e.g. Catalunia, Corse, or even Transnistria) I could hardly see any positive relation with the Scotland being completely independent as a sovereign state – and therefore as candidate member-state for the EU, the possible turbulence of British and Scottish pound in the global market, the way these two separate states would live with each other in a number of issues that would surface. Especially in this period of time for the European Union, such a development would possibly be destructive in various ways for the EU, Britain and Scotland itself – even if the YES side had a strong saying on Scotland’s sufficiency on building its future alone.

On the other hand, the outcome of the referendum brought about – or it is going to bring about- significant changes for the other members of the Kingdom as well, like the Wales and Northern Ireland. In the months to come PM David Cameron is expected to address such concerns / developments and capitalize the profits of “NO” both in terms of his leadership as well as for the people of the UK.

The second thing to point out is that in any case, the referendum itself brought a significant evolution on the way social and political demands should be addressed. In the EU we have hardly enjoyed the power of direct democracy as the Scots did last Thursday. We have hardly given to the people of Europe the right to respond massively in issues that concern their future. In this respect, it is also vital to highlight how interesting and articulating was the political debate and the arguments of both sides in the case of Scotland. We still believe that representative democracy is the means of absolute expression of the people, but we still miss that there are other means of democratic participation other than a 5-year round elections that can definitely bring more enthusiasm and be more didactic for both the electorate and decision-makers.

To that end, I do reckon that the referendum in Scotland was of paramount importance for the EU and its constituencies. But from that point, we need also to ponder upon the correlation between this referendum and other ones that might take place in the near future for cases allegedly similar to Scotland. If we still believe, as Europeans, that the EU or each of the member-states cannot work together and address the concerns of our era in smaller units -meaning through the split of the current sovereign states without vital or insurmountable burdens to deal with- with decreased powers and more prone to indecisiveness, then we can no longer exist together. Those who were correlating the case of Scotland with that of Kosovo or BiH or even Catalunia, have nothing else in mind than the thirst to see the EU being drawn into new adventures of illegitimacy and instability. It is different to let the people decide what their fate might be through a referendum and different to hope for partition.

As citizens of the EU we need to stick together and fight together for a better future, no matter how hard this process might be. It only takes to see what other states face in adjacent regions when not embarked in a democratic Union of states. From Ukraine to Argentina, we can assess the merits of being part of a club of states that need to support and co-exist with each other, even if some member-states exert more power than others. In this respect, and with reference to Scotland’s referendum, our goal is this: to strengthen democracy and citizen’s participation in the EU, try to improve the wrongdoings of policy-making, and understand that we are living in multicultural societies where compromise and accommodation of different needs have to be preserved and negotiated. Not to fall apart.

Students observe democracy as it happens: Scotland

Posted by on 21/09/14

An election observation mission by AEGEE-Europe was present at the Scottish Independence Referendum held on the 18th of September 2014. Setting its main focus on the representation of the youth in Europe, the mission had as its goal to enhance democracy by ensuring the transparency of the voting process and the compliance with international voting regulations.

The ongoing debate whether Scotland should be independent from the United Kingdom reached its culmination with yesterday’s referendum. The public opinion on the matter had been divided during the campaigning process: preliminary polls had predicted an even distribution of votes on either side, with  “yes” and “no” leading the race at different points in time prior to September 18th.

During the day of the Referendum,  8 polling stations throughout Edinburgh were visited by the mission. These were chosen based on  socio-demographic data collected beforehand. Thus it was possible to observe different electoral settings in and outside the core city. Of particular interest for the mission were the voters aged 16 to 18 who, in a new electoral development, were allowed to cast their vote for the first time. To the satisfaction of voting officials, this new demographic embraced their newly-gained right to vote and most adolescents did not appear to be less educated in procedural matters than other voters.

The observers of the mission also focused on how the rules of procedure were being followed and if there would be any irregularities on the part of the voting officials or the voters themselves.  Due to the high standards set by the electoral commission however, only few incidents were noted, thus, the general adequacy of the voting procedure was not impaired.

It can be positively noted that a high rate of registration (97%) testified the eager participation of the population, which was also ultimately reflected in the high final turnout.  Conversely, the high attention of the media could have been perceived as being detrimental to the secrecy and liberty of the vote: at some polling stations, the press was witnessed to have asked voters for their voting preferences prior to them entering the polling station, thus possibly subjecting them to artificial pressure.

According to the latest counts, the people of Scotland have voted against the independence from the United Kingdom, Analysts claim however that the results point towards further devolution or a federal system that might be implemented in the next years.  The results of the referendum, while independence has become unattainable in the near future,  the wish for more self-governance has not ceased to exist.

AEGEE-Europe has since its foundation strived for an inclusive and integrated Europe and hopes that the further steps will lead to a mutual agreement and give all British regions a place in  Europe that suits them. The members of the AEGEE election observation mission express their gratitude for the cooperation with the electoral commission of the referendum.

Article is written by Adrian Browarczyk, Carlota Rego, Felix Linsmeier, Niek Mereu and Idil Warsame.
Pictures by Adrian Browarczyk.

Not the best start for the new French government

Posted by on 17/09/14
The new French government, led by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, yesterday won its first vote of confidence in the National Assembly. That was expected, but the big news is that Valls and his government have fallen well short of winning an absolute majority.

269 MPs voted in favour, 244 against, and 53 abstained. The absolute majority is set at 289 votes.

Most importantly, the voting records reveal that 31 MPs from the Prime Minister's Socialist Party chose to abstain. Back in April, when Valls sought the confidence for his first government, he got 306 votes in favour. Hence, yesterday marked a substantial step backwards.

The outcome of the confidence vote seems to confirm that the 'left wing' of the French Socialist Party remains opposed to the economic policies being pursued by Valls - which in substance means remaining critical of the approach defended by the European Commission, Germany and other northern eurozone countries.

Incidentally, these divergences forced a cabinet reshuffle at the end of August - which saw the ousting of the three most left-leaning ministers, notably including Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg.

French history shows that it is possible to govern without an absolute majority in parliament. Another Socialist Prime Minister, Michel Rocard (widely seen as one of the political mentors of Valls), did it between 1988 and 1991.

However, it remains to be seen to what extent Valls will be able to push through the wide-reaching reforms and sizeable spending cuts demanded by the EU if he fails to win back the full support of his own party. As an alternative, he may try and strike deals with the smaller centrist parties in parliament - but the success of such a move would be far from guaranteed.

Indeed, this is hardly great news at a time when the French economic situation is not encouraging, making it essential to move forward quickly with the necessary measures.
The road to recovery may have just become longer and bumpier for France.

Macedonia rams into yet another ‘historic’ controversy with Bulgaria

Posted by on 15/09/14

“On the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia, the Czech Television and Barrandov Studios Prague, along with co-producers from Slovakia and Slovenia, have shot a film entitled “Cyril and Methodius – The Apostles of the Slavs“. This historical saga, under the directorship of Petr Nikolaev, is advertised as the first Czech movie in the “docudrama” style (similar to analogous historical productions of BBC).

The film publicity, however, has angered the spirits on the Balkan Peninsula, who have been focused on the following claims:

“This Czech-Slovak project is conceived as Pan-European and takes into account also the historical facts and events that have relevance for other nations, including the Poles, Russians, Macedonians, Serbs, Greeks, etc. The project was also presented to “His All Holiness” Bartholomew (Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, the presiding Archbishop of the World Orthodox Church) and received a positive response.”

Firstly, a number of reactions have come from Bulgaria. As is known, the First Bulgarian Empire saved the work of the two holy brothers Cyril and Methodius by hospitably accepting a group of their disciples and appointing them as prelates, bishops and teaching priests in the medieval Literary Schools of Preslav and Ohrid to pioneer the translation of religious books to Slavic (Old Bulgarian) language, thereby spreading throughout Europe both the Glagolian Slavic script and the in situ created Cyrillic Slavic alphabet (which is today used by many nations around the globe). Hence, the Bulgarian public opinion and media have been revolted by the omission of Bulgarians among the nations which the film addresses.

Simultaneously, the Greek observers and media have been extremely irritated by the explicit mention of “Macedonians” as a nation whose ethnicity is currently questioned by both Greece and Bulgaria, due to numerous historical reasons. Greek media have also been astonished that a film with such claims has allegedly been endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, given his firm previous position not to recognise either a Macedonian state name, nation and language (as per the steady policy of Greece), or a Macedonian Orthodox Church (as a result of its uncanonical schism with the Serbian Orthodox Church).

In turn, the media in the Republic of Macedonia have indeed been excited by the alleged “recognition” of a Macedonian nation by the Czech movie makers and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Thus, the Macedonian media did not miss the opportunity to bombard their EU neighbours with a new massive cannonade of hatred speech by using plenty of rather colourful epithets and expressions (often of racist nature) which make every untrained ear to blush from shame.

As a result of all this media noise, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has issued an official statement on behalf of His All Holiness Bartholomew to declare the following:

“In connection with mass media publications in Greece, FYROM, Bulgaria and elsewhere regarding the production of a Czech film about the life of the holy Thessaloniki Apostles Cyril and Methodius, which concern a presumed position allegedly expressed by His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we state hereby that the Patriarch has nothing to do with the case of this film, whence we categorically deny everything published on that occasion.”

In the light of this unambiguous declaration, the most logical question is what might be the motivation which urged the cinema makers to advertise their film by misusing the Ecumenical Patriarch’s name in such a deceptive way? Is it only due to the understandable wish for adding prestige and intriguing moviegoers in order to increase public interest and resulting sales?
Observers, who are familiar with the political life in the Republic of Macedonia, suspect however some hidden reasons driven by much stronger material and political interests.

Pro-opposition Macedonian media published lists of dozens of companies and properties in the Czech Republic, claimed to be owned or controlled by Sasho Mijalkov – a cousin of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and key member of his nepotistic governmental clan. Mr. Mijalkov is a graduate of the Prague University and director of the country’s secret services (Administration for Security and Counterintelligence). Macedonian authorities are extremely sensitive towards any release of information regarding this “Czech trace”. For instance, one of the opposition leaders, Mr. Ljube Boškoski, who attempted to unveil these mysterious estates in 2011, has been eavesdropped during the whole electoral campaign which ended with his immediate arrest, accusation, conviction and jailing. Then, under unclear circumstances in the prison, he signed letters of excuse to Mijalkov, Gruevski himself and his mother, whose names have been involved in the scandal. Thus, the case of Ljube Boškoski has been mentioned in the 2012 Human Rights Report of the US Department of State as an example for political imprisonment.

On this background, evil tongues on the Balkans repeatedly blamed the Czech Commissioner Stefan Füle for not applying all stringent EU accession criteria to the Macedonian EU candidacy and for alleged attempts to accept the country through the “back door”.

The above suspects have also been enhanced by the previous involvement of the Czech Barrandov Studios in co-producing of the highly controversial Macedonian film “The Third Half” which embittered the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia.

In conclusion, the unfortunate promotion of the recent Czech production “Cyril and Methodius – The Apostles of the Slavs”, by exploiting misleadingly the Ecumenical Patriarch’s name, demonstrated clearly how circumstances beyond the cinematography and historical truth can spoil a noble initiative. Instead of uniting people and nations to enjoy a piece of art and to celebrate together the two holy brothers and illustrious Patrons of Europe, a counterproductive effect of creating controversies and confrontation might be achieved. It seems that the human nature did not change so much between the 9th and the 21st Centuries.”

Miroslav Rizinski
Civil society activist, political observer and
former political prisoner in the Republic of Macedonia (2007-2011).

Jean-Claude GSOH*

Posted by on 10/09/14
By Andrew Duff One knew, of course, that Jean-Claude Juncker is well possessed with a dry sense of humour. How delightfully on display is his sharp wit in the disposition of portfolios to his new college of Commissioners.