5 reasons why Britain is better off in the EU and 5 reasons why the EU needs the UK as its member state

Britain and Europe are stronger together. Although this may very much emulate the “Remain” campaign punch line, I argue that the latter do not usually emphasize on the benefits that the European Union (EU) has from having a Member State such as Britain, in its core membership. At the same time, there are many reasons for why the UK is better off in the EU. This post outlines and briefly discusses these issues.

In the last four years I have worked and lived in the UK. Prior to that I have worked in Brussels for two years outside and within EU institutions acquiring knowledge on how the EU policy-making processes function. Being financed by a British university to undertake doctoral research on why countries like Bulgaria and Romania have problems in using European funds, I have lived in Loughborough, Southampton, Glasgow, and currently in Edinburgh. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to see different areas of the UK, meet fellow students and locals, and, hopefully, get a glimpse of real Britain. After a first few difficult months of accommodating to life in the UK, I have now come to appreciate this country and its people. Therefore, as a continental Eastern European and as a junior academic currently living and working from Scotland, I would be highly disappointed if British citizens choose to leave the EU.

There are other reasons as well why I think, first of all, that the UK is better off in the EU, and secondly, that the EU needs the UK as its member. These are now briefly outlined below.

 

Five reasons why Britain would be better off in the EU

  1. Fighting social inequality and the effects of climate change. The latter do not only affect the UK, but are global challenges that require coordinated responses. Britain still has much to prove in terms of fighting economic and educational inequalities. Secluding itself and choosing a more solitary path may not be the wisest step to take. For instance, as shown by the Panama Papers leaks and as emphasized by a criticized David Cameron, the UK still needs to take robust measures as to fight tax evasion, chase down multinationals who don’t pay taxes and contribute to a fairer society.
  2. The British economy benefits from EU membership. Britain has largely benefited from the EU Single Market. Many British businesses seem to thrive due to the immense economic opportunities and the trade undertaken with other EU countries. This trade will not disappear overnight, however, the structural principles underpinning it will have to be renegotiated in the context of a potential Brexit. Moreover, wider European policies such as Cohesion Policy and Common Agricultural Policy have had a good, although difficult to measure, impact on less developed regions within the UK and have strengthened British farms and produce.
  3. Human capital from Europe supports the UK. European economic immigrants, either from Spain or from Romania, contribute greatly to the British economy. The vast majority of migrants pay taxes to the HMRC. Moreover, instead of working in the country were they were prepared, thousands of doctors and nurses choose to supply the NHS with a much needed workforce. Immigration has a devastating economic and social impact on the migrants’ countries of origin and affects the economies of those countries. This is an aspect very much neglected by British politicians and the media when they deal with this topic.
  4. Common European laws and rules crafted in Brussels are beneficial to Britain. Britain profits from common European rules be them in terms of roaming charges, workers’ rights or environmental protection. The UK can develop such legal frameworks on its own. However, in doing so, it will not benefit from the expertise amassed by 27 other countries and the different circumstances that contribute to developing and enforcing these laws. Moreover, to argue that Britain doesn’t have a say on how these rules are designed and applied is nonsensical. British influence in Brussels is and can be even higher in the near future. Nevertheless, the question should be not about its influence but more on the ability of the EU as a whole to craft rules for the common good with input from the UK.
  5. British universities benefit widely from EU funding. This strengthens the capacity of universities and enables them to invest more in research useful for society. A potential Brexit will not only reduce the level of funding towards research being carried out in British universities, but may generally affect the education sector in this country. It must be stressed that nowadays obtaining a job in a British university is a very difficult endeavour. Fewer funds from the EU for research related purposes will not only make things worse for academics struggling to stay afloat, in a more and more corporatized university environment, but may affect the quality of education delivered to British students.

 

Five reasons for why the EU needs the UK

  1. Europe is stronger with the UK as its member. The UK belongs to Europe not only from a socio-economic point of view but equally from a cultural and historical point of view. Without equating the EU to Europe as a whole, one must stress that both the former and the latter would be incomplete without Britain as its member. In this respect, a Brexit will constitute a historical event of no contemporary precedent which will be a blow not only to the EU project but to Europe in the wider sense.
  2. Britain can hold the balance of power in the EU. Britain is a country very much respected in Europe and is an economic, social and cultural powerhouse which has always inspired other countries whether on the development political institutions, social progress and human and minority rights. By leaving the EU, Britain will allow the German-French duo to dominate the European project. Britain’s political and socio-economic model, as well as its unquestionable soft power, provides a counter-balance and an alternative model for the EU as whole.
  3. Brussels may and can be reformed with Britain at its helm. The EU is a complicated political and institutional beast whose policy-making processes are indeed opaque and difficult to understand and follow. However, the idea that Britain is not influential in Brussels is absurd. By attending more than forty Council of the EU and EU Parliament sessions, I could witness first-hand the strong interest of other Member States in UK’s official positions and opinions. In this respect, Westminster can contribute to a more accountable Brussels and arguably to a less elitist and more democratic European project, which may manage to overcome the shock sustained from the current rise of nationalist and populist movements.
  4. European integration doesn’t have to be a British remit. The European integration project cannot progress without the unanimous decision of all its Member States. Technically, that is a fact. However, the UK has always benefited from opt-outs and a special “status”, as the current British Prime Minister likes to argue. Although that often raises eyebrows among other EU members, the UK could retain its peculiar status if it decides not to leave “the compound”.
  5. The UK has to contribute to a Europe of the 21st century. The UK can contribute to a modern European project. In this respect, British insularity and isolation are not feasible options, especially if it wants to find solutions in order to tackle the above mentioned challenges and to collectively address the contemporary social, political and economic diseases affecting our societies.

 

Having said that, the popular decision following the referendum on the 23rd of June can pave the way not only for a consistent and stable United Kingdom but to a potentially reformed European Union (irrespective of the fact that this sentence indeed emulates David Cameron’s rhetoric). However, a vote to stay in doesn’t necessarily mean that the referendum will solve the British question once and for all and its future relationship with Europe. However, as argued above, there are many reasons for why the relationship between the two is mutually reinforcing.

Advertisements

Dealing with the Brussels attacks’ – the quality of institutions vs cultural arguments

As an academic I am interested in questions regarding the quality of institutions, the quality of government and ultimately in the quality of politicians and policy-makers that govern our societies. The big question mark following events in Brussels was how could this happen exactly in the heart of Europe? Many words have been said of Belgium being a “failed state” but without any concrete evidence this is to my mind nothing more than a fallacy.

One potential answer for what is happening in Brussels has to do with with the overall environment in which young people can become radicalized.This is an alternative explanation to the abused, and extremely poor quality, “clash of civilisations” explanation.* Which extremists from the Islamic State would definitely want you to agree with. Simply because it empowers them.

Brussels is a fascinating city because it brings together people of different social, economic and religious backgrounds. For two years, I lived 5 minutes from the Maalbeek metro station that was attacked last week, in Saint Josse Ten Noode.

I always used to get out from the station under the big bridge and walk to my house through the Marie-Louise or Ambiorix park. However, these parks separate an extremely wealthy area of the city by one of its poorest. You can find luxurious restaurants very close to extremely poor shops and bars. What I am trying to say is that instead of looking at external factors, the people of Brussels have to question whether or not the partly segregated areas and the differences between rich and poor create an environment rife for extremism.

To find another plausible answer to these questions, we can also examine differences in intervention. For instance, in the link below you can find a testimony from the mayor of Mechelen, a Flemish city only one hour away from Brussels.** He argues that the secret for a lack of problems with Muslim youth in his city has to do with the following:

“You create a climate of people living together and not left behind and that’s the first step in preventing people to get frustrated, isolated and radicalized. Compared to other cities we give more money to prevention. We have youth workers, we have subsidized youth clubs and people who work in neighborhoods very closely to one another.”***

In other words, the city tries to create the right environment for people of all backgrounds and not allowing those with problems to drift away.

The question then is then who should create this environment? Firstly, politicians have the duty to do so. It has long been argued that the quality of politicians has to do with the poor development of some Brussels neighborhoods (that may be the case although concrete evidence needs to be seen on this). However, it is clear that political agents like the mayor of Mechelen would play an essential role in implementing the right mix of policies to address this issue.

Secondly, and probably most importantly, I think it is the overall community that has to organise itself and act together in a spirit of cooperation and solidarity. In this respect, the nouveau European Brussels middle class has to mobilize itself and address these problems by providing innovative social and economic solutions, and above all by trying to create an environment that doesn’t emphasize on socioeconomic status.

Finally, dialogue is a simple but effective solution. The different parts need to communicate with each other. The Brussels Communes need to organise public debates in which people will open up and find solutions to these collective problems. This is not anymore an isolated incident. It is a societal problem that all of us need to address.

*The clash of civilisations and the advocates of intervention only encourages a confrontational perspective that does nothing to alleviate the core problem, namely how communities themselves assume responsibility for these issues.

**Some would say that Flanders is obviously more developed and more likely to have inclusive policies as compared to the Brussels region or Wallonie. I think this cultural argument is a false. More and more academics point to the quality of institutions as one of the most important factor. For instance, in a research based on experimental methods, Zhang et al 2016**** found that if you give Italians the right fiscal institutions they will be inclined to pay their taxes much more than the British. Such an argument can also be tested for the differences between Flanders and Wallonie.

*** http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35897299

****http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article…

Governing a dysfunctional state: The challenges facing Romania’s new technocratic government

Following the resignation of Romania’s Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, a new ‘technocratic’ government led by former European Commissioner Dacian Cioloș entered office on 17 November. Neculai-Cristian Surubaru assesses some of the key challenges facing the new government. He argues the government may have a limited window of opportunity to implement reforms, but that it is becoming increasingly clear Romania’s established political parties are now facing significant public opposition, particularly from younger generations of Romanians.

Recent developments taking place in Romania present an interesting case for students of politics. Following the Colectiv club tragedy in Bucharest, manay people took to the streets to protest against corruption and what they saw as the irresponsibility of government officials in dealing with the disaster. In many ways, what they were rallying against was the dysfunctional nature of state institutions.

The events opened a new window of opportunity and for several days it was felt that the contract between society and the state was being renegotiated. Reinventing the polity was a core demand of many of the young people that took to the streets. One year before, a similar window of opportunity had emerged when Klaus Iohannis was elected as President of the country in November 2014.

On the back of the protests, and following pressure from members of his own Social Democratic party (PSD), Victor Ponta resigned as Prime Minister. It was the first major internal political crisis that president Klaus Iohannis had been forced to deal with. According to the constitution, he had to nominate a new head of government with, ideally, the nomination receiving agreement from all parliamentary forces. Iohannis organised several consultations with the main parliamentary political parties, as well as representatives of civil society (a novel development).

Before a final decision was made public, there were many internal and public quarrels on the nature of the new government. Against this backdrop, some relatively inconclusive evidence appeared to suggest that many Romanians favoured a politically neutral and technocratic government. The Romanian President duly took this on board and nominated a former European Commissioner – Dacian Cioloş – to form the new government.

Romania’s ‘technocratic’ government

Following the publication of the new list of potential ministers, it became evident that many of those nominated were not in fact technocrats in the strictest sense of the term. The Cioloş government is at best a patch-work which includes some political heavy weights, EU-oriented technocrats and a few civil society representatives. Yet, many were baffled by the appointment of a 28 year old resident physician and male model (Andrei Baciu) with close ties to a National Liberal (PNL) member of the European Parliament (Cristian Buşoi).

This nomination provided a glimpse into the secret deals reached between the President, the new Prime Minister and members of the political class, in order for the latter to convey their support in Parliament. The deal allowed some people working in the “system” to obtain a ministerial office. For instance, the minister for regional development, Vasile Dâncu, has close ties to the leadership of the Social Democrats.

In addition to these examples, several Brussels based professionals were incorporated in the new government. These individuals worked mainly at the European Commission and for the Romanian Permanent Representation. This has constituted a second political novelty for the country over the last few weeks, and possibly with little precedent in other EU nations. These ‘Euro-technocrats’ are believed to be more reformist in character and were potentially hand-picked by the designated Prime Minister.

Finally, several members of civil society organisations were nominated for office, including the head of the American Freedom House NGO, Cristina Guseth. Her nomination was however withdrawn after a poor showing during the questioning process in parliament, which she nevertheless passed. This was yet another sign that MPs were instructed to vote en masse for the new government, even at the parliamentary hearings stage.

Two factors are apparent in these developments. First, members of the new cabinet were selected in a somewhat hasty manner, with no rigorous selection principles in place and, unfortunately, not in a very transparent manner. Second, the new government is largely a patch-work that reflects the compromise reached by President Iohannis with members of the political class, which was necessary in order to safeguard political support for the new Prime Minister.

Despite this fact, there are still many potential reformists and new faces running major ministries. The key issue is the extent to which the new cabinet will have the ability to manage their ministries effectively, and the degree to which their work will be inherited from their predecessors.

Governing the dysfunctional state: the different faces of politicisation

The concept of the ‘dysfunctional state’ is illuminating in the Romanian case. There are several streams of academic literature focusing on issues of state governance and these streams all deal with the idea of dysfunctional and poorly governed countries. Yet politics lies at the core of this dysfunctionality and is mediated by processes of politicisation.

Positive politicisation would be the ability of politicians to provide guidance and support to the state apparatus, in line with various political principles. By contrast, negative politicisation is not only the inability or unwillingness to provide such support, but can also refer to the adoption of measures or corrupt behaviour that will affect the functioning of state institutions. Overall, we can see politicisation as a wider societal phenomenon in which politicians will seek to influence, or hold a strong grip, on many aspects of state governance.

Three very different examples from Romanian contemporary developments may provide an insight into the way negative politicisation may manifest. First, the presidential elections of November 2014 were criticised for being poorly organised abroad on the basis that this would prevent the Romanian diaspora from expressing its clear political choice for Iohannis. And, indeed, there was some reasonable evidence showing that the government, led at the time by the presidential favourite Victor Ponta, did not allocate sufficient resources to polling stations outside the country.

Second, there has been a notably poor performance on the part of the Romanian authorities in managing and absorbing European funds, particularly the 19.6 billion euros of Structural Funds it was allocated for 2007-2013. Here, previous research has shown that a lack of political support towards specialised institutions has damaged the latter’s ability to manage these resources.

Third, the recent tragedy at the Colectiv club fire has shown how several state institutions (local city hall, Department for Emergency – ISU), as well as private firms, simply ignore rules in the area of health and safety. In this context, some investigators have followed petty corruption leads in which club and bar licences have been granted in exchange for bribes to local officials and even safety inspectors.

Overall, the negative role played by political officials is the glue that links all these different events together. Politicisation affects the nature of many state institutions, rendering them dysfunctional. With all this, it must be said that representatives of the above institutions, be they diplomatic staff, public funds administrators, local civil servants or firemen/doctors, are to a good extent capable of carrying out their duties in a professional manner.

The importance of politicisation is that it prevents this from happening. It renders their work obsolete or channels their energy towards achieving politicised goals. Therefore, one can argue that at the core of this dysfunctional state is simply the inability of political elites to provide decent leadership, guidance and solutions. Given all this, the question is how will the new Romanian government manage to fulfil its role?

The challenges awaiting the new government

Several key challenges await the new ‘technocratic’ government. First, given its limited political mandate and its image as a transition government, Dacian Cioloş and his associates will have limited capacity to enact substantial reforms. Its brief governing programme was watered down several times since being launched. For instance, the provisions for urgently amending legislation on electing mayors and heads of County Councils (in two rounds) was taken out, most probably due to political pressure.

This may show the extent to which parliamentary political forces are keen to limit the damage that the new government may be able to inflict on them. Given that Romanian administrative changes may only be instilled through new legislation, the Parliament will take advantage of its role as veto player and block any legislation that will be seen as “dangerous”.

Second, every Romanian child learns in school about the great fights between the Romanian Voivodes and the Ottoman Empire. When faced with the threat of war, one strategy adopted by the first was to scorch the land and poison fountain water so that the invaders would be slowed down in their advance. To a great extent this is a strategy adopted by many Romanian politicians when vacating office. Many of the problems that the new government will inherit may take years, or a radically different approach, to solve.

For example, the Ministry of Transport has been one of the most politicised administrative bodies in the country. Its satellites, such as the Romanian National Highway Company (CNADNR) and the Romanian Railway Company (CFR), have suffered from years of mismanagement, corruption and acute politicisation. Reforming these companies is an incredibly difficult task that not even a strongly mandated political government would aim to tackle.

Third, many second-level political officials are political party associates. Liviu Dragnea, the head of the PSD, has publicly stated that the new Prime Minister will not (be allowed to) replace politically associated personnel. In many ways, the functioning of state institutions is hampered by the negative role played by affiliate political staff. In exchange for political support, the new government has vowed not to carry out what was blatantly referred to as “administrative purges” of political personnel. The technocrats of the cabinet may face strong resistance from many of these political affiliates, who often hold the political keys to Ministries, drawing on clientelistic ties in order to reinforce their status.

Finally, Romanian civil servants are used to political changes and know what these entail for the public administration as a whole. The lack of assumed responsibility or a general sense of apathy among many of those working in the local and central public administration can clearly be linked to processes of negative politicisation. One of the greatest difficulties for the new government will be to motivate civil servants. The new government programme talks about a “professionalisation of the public administration” and carrying out “evaluations based on competence and performance”. Although these principles were always on the public agenda for public administration reform, they were never carried out. The potentially short life span of the Cioloş government may not help solve this issue.

Any hope for reform?

One of the key achievements of the recent street protests was that they highlighted the inability of the political class to manage state institutions. This dysfunctionality was one of the core concerns of demonstrators, generally captured by the slogan ‘corruption kills’. One year after being elected as President, Klaus Iohannis has reiterated that there is a need for a reformed political class. In his view, often expressed through social media, new political movements and parties are necessary to challenge the current establishment.

Street protesters and/or civil society representatives were particularly polarised on this issue. It is increasingly difficult to imagine new political movements emerging from ‘the street’. Although some innovative forms of citizen consultations did develop during the protests, they did not yet materialise in any political movements.

What is clear for many established political parties is that the status quo cannot hold. Street protests, regular consultations with civil society and a good display of management skills from the new government may put more pressure on them to reform. Some parties have stated that they will put forward new faces during the upcoming elections in 2016. There are thus some signs that old parties are willing to at least adopt changes in principle, superficial though they may be.

Whatever the case may be, the new Cioloş government will have to act quickly. It has a limited window of opportunity to deliver on some promised, yet limited, reforms. It will act under the constant threat of internal political sabotage or external political opposition from the parliament, and its legitimacy will be easily eroded if it doesn’t deliver results. This will give heart to those political parties sitting on the outside who would like to regain power and return to business as usual. In that case, street protests may again be the only viable option for those trying to reshape Romanian politics.

POST as edited and published on the LSE Europp blog:

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/11/25/governing-a-dysfunctional-state-the-challenges-facing-romanias-new-technocratic-government/

Cronica unor alegeri (ne)aşteptate: rezultatele alegerilor din Marea Britanie şi implicaţiile lor pentru Europa

Glasgow, 8:30 am, la colţul străzii patru muncitori polonezi fumau o ţigară şi discutau probabil rezultatul alegerilor britanice. Ȋn piaţa George, centrul politic al oraşului, e linişte deplină. Peste noapte, Scoţia a devenit galbenă, culoarea Partidului Naţional Scoţian (SNP). Din 59 de circumscripţii scoţiene, 56 au fost preluate de partidul condus de carismatica Nicola Sturgeon. Cu toate acestea, rezultatele alegerilor au fost neaşteptate din multe alte puncte de vedere. Se pare că guvernul britanic va fi dirijat ȋn continuare de către David Cameron care a obţinut mult mai multe voturi decât oponentul său principal, Ed Miliband. Articolul de faţă analizează pe scurt situaţia dinainte şi de după alegeri concentrându-se pe trei mari chestiuni: campania şi potenţiale explicaţii (la cald) pentru aceste rezultate; consecinţele alegerilor pentru Marea Britanie şi finalmente, implicaţiile alegerilor pentru Europa.

Aseară, la 22:00 pm, exit poll-urile au luat prin surprindere pe toată lumea. După numărarea votului ȋn 632 de circumscripţii electorale din 650 (la 11:30 am) se pare că acestea au fost parţial confirmate sau chiar depăşite. Partidul Conservator, ȋn fruntea căruia se află David Cameron a obţinut 325 circumscripţii iar Principalul partid al Opoziţiei, Partidul Laburist condus de Ed Milliband, a obţinut 228 de circumscripţii. Laburiştii au pierdut Scoţia, una din bazinele lor electorale tradiţionale, ȋn faţa SNP. Pe de altă parte, Partidul Liberal Democrat, condus de Nick Clegg, vice-premierul britanic şi partener de coaliţie al Conservatorilor, a fost pur şi simplu spulberat, pierzând 46 din circumscripţiile pe care le-a obţinut ȋn 2010. Se pare că Partidul pentru Independenţa Regatului Unit (UKIP) condus de Nigel Farage va obţine doar un loc ȋn parlamentul de la Westminster. Rezultatele sunt extrem de neaşteptate pentru unii. La câteva zile ȋnainte de vot, având ȋn vedere o serie de sondaje de opinie, se specula doar cum va reuşi Cameron să supravieţuiască.

Rezultatele partiale ale alegerilor după numărarea voturilor ȋn 640 (din 650) de circumscripţii

Rezultate 640

Sursa: BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

Ce s-a ȋntâmplat pe durata campaniei politice

Campania a demarat ȋn martie şi cele mai vizibile momente au fost certurile legate de şi propriu-zis dezbaterile televizate dintre liderii partidelor politice britanice. Din punctul meu de vedere, campania a fost fadă, cu mesaje neclare şi cu o ȋntrepătrundere dintre platformele conservatoare şi laburiste. Părea la un moment dat că nu există diferenţiere politică ȋntre mesajele lansate de Cameron şi Miliband. Deficitul bugetar britanic, sistemul naţional de sănătate (NHS) şi construirea de noi locuinţe au fost printre principalele subiecte disputate. Starea economiei, mărirea salariului minim pe economie şi relaţia cu Europa au urmate pe lista subiectelor discutate. Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) şi Natalie Bennett (Green Party) au fost printre singurele care au avut un mesaj puternic anti-austeritate şi anti-conservatori. Mult mai mult decât Ed Miliband. UKIP a mers ȋnainte cu o platformă anti-imigraţie şi anti-UE care nu a prins la fel de bine pe cum s-ar fi crezut. De notat este faptul că nici un partid nu a abordat ȋn mod substanţial chestiunea sărăciei şi a inegalităţilor sociale adânci din această ţară.

Mulţi se aşteptau la o creştere spectaculoasă a Partidului Laburist sub Miliband. Se poate ȋnsă ca figura stângace a acestuia, ȋn comparaţie cu figura macho-manierată a lui David Cameron să fi convins mulţi votanţi neafiliaţi. Mai mult, se poate observa că foarte mulţi britanici sunt mulţumiţi de roadele măsurilor adoptate de Cameron ȋn ultimii ani. Economia britanică s-a redresat după criza financiară globală iar Tories au obţinut un capital de imagine pozitiv de pe urma reducerii deficitului bugetar. Astfel, unul din principalele mesaje ale lui Cameron a fost de tipul “nu schimbaţii caii ȋn mijlocul vadului” care a prins la public, ajutat şi de o serie de ziare şi tabloide care au menţinut această retorică. Colegul meu de apartament e un tânăr profesionist scoţian care a plecat aseară acasă pentru a vota, ȋmpotriva curentului din regiune, cu Partidul Conservator. Deşi mă pot ȋnşela, există mulţi tineri, profesionişti, şi ȋn general clasa de mijloc, care votează cu Conservatorii, spre deosebire de ȋn mare parte fostele zone industriale care au rămas ataşate Laburiştilor. Unii comentau mai devreme pe Twiter că dependenţa Partidului Laburist fată de sindicate şi lipsa de prestanţă a lui Miliband a dus la scorul slab obţinut de Laburişti.

Totodată, având ȋn vedere că platforma Laburistă nu suna foarte diferită de cea conservatoare există şansa ca mulţi dintre votanţii indecişi să fi votat Cameron pentru că nu Miliband nu oferea nici o garanţie că va menţine nivelul creşterii economice sau pur şi simplu nu oferea o viziune nouă, nu avea o bază solidă de critică pentru Cameron. Acestea fiind spuse, trebuie luat ȋn calcul şi faptul că sistemul britanic este unul care favorizează stabilitate politică. Ȋn ultimii 60 de ani, Guvernul a fost Conservator 1951-1963, 1970-1974, 1979-97, 2010-2015 şi Laburist ȋntre 1964-170, 1974-79, 1997-2010. Astfel un guvern de 10 ani e ceva normal.

Pe fundalul referendumului pentru independenţă, sentimentul pro Scoţian s-a manifestat ieri la urne iar sistemul electoral a netezit calea către succes a SNP. Trebuie spus că interpretarea rezultatelor strict pe circumscripţii poate fi ȋnsă ȋnşelătoare. Sistemul electoral majoritar britanic de tip – the first past, the post – presupune că acela care câştigă cel mai mare număr de voturi ȋntr-o circumscripţie obţine fotoliul de parlamentar ȋn Camera Comunelor de la Westminster. Există 650 de parlamentari şi 650 de circumscripţii. Pentru a se forma Guvernul e nevoie de o majoritate de 323 de locuri iar Cameron are ȋn acest moment 325 de fotolii. Acest sistem produce o serie de anomalii electorale (de văzut figura de mai sus). Deşi UKIP a obţinut mai mult de 3.7 milioane din voturile exprimate ei obţin un singur fotoliu de parlamentar. Pentru 10 milioane de voturi, conservatorii obţin 318 fotolii de parlamentar.

Care sunt implicaţiile alegerilor pentru Marea Britanie

Ȋn urma rezultatelor de aseară, mulţi politologi se vor scărpina ȋn creştetul capului şi vor pune la ȋndoială o serie din teoriile vehiculate ȋn domeniu. Deja, legea lui Duverger conform căreia un sistem de vot majoritar va produce două partide, este contestată. Din punct de vedere politic, Liberal Democraţii lui Nick Clegg au fost decapitaţi şi drept urmare partidul său va juca ȋn următorii ani un rol marginal. Există voci care solicită demisia lui Ed Miliband şi pentru a putea căştiga următoarele alegeri Partidul Laburist va trebui să se reformeze. Alegerile arată că UKIP este un partid care poate să adune voturi şi să facă gălăgie, ȋnsă ca urmare prestanţei slabe există şansa ca Nigel Farage să demisioneze.

Parlamentul de la Westminster va găzdui o noutate – peste 55 de parlamentari din Scoţia. Delegaţia condusă de Alex Salmond va fi una extrem de vocală pentru cauza scoţiană şi va reuşi să pună beţe ȋn roate Guvernului condus de Cameron. O potenţială consecinţă va fi transferarea de noi puteri către Scoţia pentru a modera solicitările pentru independenţă.

Dacă Cameron va forma Guvernul status-quo-ul va fi menţinut ȋn termeni de echipă şi de direcţii politice. Guvernul său conservator de dreapta este pro mediu de afaceri, inclusiv pentru City şi activităţile districtului financiar al Londrei. Reducerea deficitului, aplicarea de măsuri de austeritate şi reducerea cheltuielilor bugetare vor continua. Cameron merge mult pe principiul „Big Society” care presupune „ȋmputernicirea cetăţenilor” şi favorizează reducerea intervenţiilor guvernamentale.

Deşi referendumul Scoţian pentru independenţă este o oportunitate care o apare ȋntr-o singură generaţie, dacă Guvernul britanic va fi format de către David Cameron, acesta a promis că va organiza ȋn 2017 un referendum pentru ca britanicii să decidă dacă vor să rămână sau nu ȋn Uniunea Europeană. Astfel, există speculaţia conform căreia dacă britanicii decid să părăsească UE, atunci se vor adânci diviziunile cu Scoţia şi SNP va folosi această scuză pentru a organiza un nou referendum pentru independenţa Scoţiei. Lucrurile se vor complica astfel şi mai mult.

Implicaţiile alegerilor britanice pentru Europa?

Rezultatele alegerilor pot provoca un puternic cutremur politic la nivel european. Posibilitatea organizării unei referendum şi un potenţial „Brexit” cum este denumită potenţiala ieşire a Marii Britanii din Uniune va afecta ȋn mod structural construcţia europeană. Având ȋn vedere problemele zonei Euro şi cele legate de Grecia, Uniunea Europeană trebuie să-şi dea seama din timp de potenţialele implicaţii ale alegerilor de pe 7 mai.

Retragerea Marii Britanii din Uniunea Europeană ar putea avea consecinţe drastice şi ar presupune nu doar o redesenare instituţională, ci şi o reconfigurare a politicilor financiare UE (e.g. Politica de Coeziune) de pe urma cărora profită ţări ca România. Brexit ar presupune reconfigurarea polilor de putere din cadrul Uniunii. Motorul franco-german va căştiga teren şi va conduce ȋn mod dominant destinul politicilor europene. Menţinerea Marii Britanii ȋn UE nu va fi benefică doar pe plan economic, ci şi pe plan politic, prin balansarea tandemului Berlin-Paris. Totodată, retragerea Marii Britanii nu va fi nu doar o lovitură politică, economică şi de imagine pentru Uniunea Europeană, ci şi una culturală, având ȋn vedere legătura dintre continent şi insulele britanice.

Acestea fiind spuse, cel mai ȋnţelept lucru ar fi menţinerea coeziunii la nivel european şi adoptarea unei poziţii non-arogante şi parţial conciliatoare din partea autorităţilor de la Bruxelles faţă de perfidul Albion. UE trebuie să rămănă deschisă faţă de doleanţele Marii Britanii. Deşi asta intră de multe ori ȋn conflict cu agenda integrării europene, şi cu ideea de mai multă Uniune, consecinţele Brexit ar fi mult prea adânci. De aceea campania pentru Marea Britanie ȋn Europa trebuie să ȋnceapă astăzi.

We are all one. A perspective on the need for cultural and political solidarity after Charlie Hebdo.

“I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as a plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was Man.” Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273) [i]

“We must believe in the possibility of a fuller life, or in the possibility of progress to be able to progress at all.” William Du Bois (1868-1963) [ii]

The events that took place this month in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper have been devastating in many ways. They resulted in a tragic loss of life which is not acceptable in any way, as it is equally not acceptable what is happening in eastern Ukraine or in northern Nigeria, or in other parts of the world where extremism of all sorts takes root and affects the lives of millions of people. The events that took place in Paris have had a strong impact on the moral fabric of Western societies and have the potential of reigniting societal tensions and conflicts. It has increased violence between communities of all sorts and of different beliefs and it has again managed to create a new “Other” that politicians and the media have been keen to point the fingers at. If this continues it will be highly damaging to the idea of unity and can affect the progress made until now and future generations. In this sense, I would like to argue the following: the events in Paris should teach us, Europeans and people from all over the world, to be more emphatic and to show more solidarity with people of different gender, class, race, religions, political or sexual orientation. In other words, to enhance our cultural solidarity. It is the diversity of the European people and the strength of its culture that can tackle internally bred fanaticism of all sorts, be it political or religious based. I will reflect on this in the following paragraphs pointing to some of the re-occurring questions I had in the aftermath of the events.

Europe is a cultural construct and the European Union is based on both cultural and political foundations. We should understand that our differences strengthen our identity. Much of the way in which the media has portrayed things was misleading, drawing on a wave of sentimentalism which inherently led to demonizing some communities. Nowadays, in the social media world, news travel at the speed of light. But prejudices and biases can travel faster. As much as I was adhering to the Charlie Hebdo cause I found it difficult to say “Je suis Charlie”, not because I didn’t believe in what they stand for, but because I felt this would create a rift and lead to the development of labels such as “Us” and “Them”, which in this case, I think, exacerbates the problem and creates a politics of exclusion.[iii] This was pointed out by other authors immediately after the event. For instance, Cas Mudde argues in an Open Democracy piece during the 7th of January that “Too often Islam and Muslims are treated as foreign, either linked to immigration or to a foreign country/region. But the majority of Muslims in most European countries are citizens, born and raised in Europe.” [iv] 

I would go even further and not delineate between European Muslims and people of the same belief that are based throughout the world. Muslims are wrongly condemned as a community. They are some of the people that have endured horrific problems within and outside their own community. I will always remember the conversations that I had with Abud, an older colleague of mine from Sudan, with whom I worked in a kitchen dishwasher in a Dutch restaurant. There is no “Them” in this story but only “Us”. The “them” is only a handful of fanatics and a whole community should not be judged and labelled due to what 0.00001 % have committed. Even the previous statement I’ve made may be illogical because it assumes that the fanatics are part of the community and that there is a community A and a community B. In fact, we are all one, part of the same world. If political, economic and religious inspired ideas have divided us, they can also be the source of our re-connection. However, before that one element needs to be addressed.

Freedom of speech is a concept that needs further update. Voltaire advocated for an uncensored society and for challenging all types of authority.[v] Inevitably, all the discussions in the aftermath of the Paris killings lead to the idea of free speech. Freedom of speech has helped topple authoritarian regimes and injustice and has contributed to progress in many fields. As much as I am an adherent to this value, I am also an advocate of the idea that there should be a strong public debate about what is freedom of speech in contemporary society and when does it become something else.[vi] As much as intelligent and critical of everyone the Charlie Hebdo satire is, it may have been that the editors did not fully understand the cultural implications of their statements. This was much debated after the tragic events. I think that reflections on freedom of speech should not be dealt in an obtuse, one sided manner. For instance, I liked how the debate unfolded in some parts of the British media[vii], possibly because some of the views expressed were closer to mine.

In this respect, when freedom of speech creates problems within and between communities, that are not suffering from oppression, injustice or cultural discrimination, then a question mark should arise not only on the effects of freedom of speech on the latter three, but also about the elements themselves. In other words, if communities that seem democratic, equal and prosperous prove not to be inclusive, then some of the tenets of freedom of speech can be harmful. To be more concrete. Theoretically it may be that the concept of freedom of speech has not been updated in time as to reflect on the wider changes within European societies. By this, I mean that the European standards of the term need to be audited and improved alongside to the change within the society itself. I am not saying that freedom of speech should be cast aside or censored because it might offend other members of the community. What I argue is that the concept should not be used by only some members of the society at the expense of others. This often can lead to oppression, injustice or cultural discrimination.[viii] Freedom of speech should apply equally to every member of the society as long there are some cultural checks and balances in place and when the rule of law is respected. However, to my mind the root of the problem is possibly even deeper.

Tackle the hate at the core. La Haine[ix] is a well-known French movie that depicts the life of three young people, with an immigrant background, that live in riot-ridden Paris suburb. It speaks to many about the every-day life inequality in France, about racially and class abused youngsters, that can turn violent. The movie also shows that the destiny of each individual is subject to complex circumstances. I am not an expert on the situation in France and probably my French friends have a more in depth understanding of how things have evolved from in France since the 90’s. However, the events in Paris may show the failure of La Republique in many different respects. First, treating every individual as a French citizen is a flawed state logic because it entails that everyone, irrespective of background, will be similar to someone with strong French roots living in Bordeaux or Lyon. This of course can lead to a lack of integration and alienation and can create the basis for some lost souls to develop. In light of these issues, I could not stop asking myself the following questions: How a can a handful of fanatics develop such strong ideas? What are the conditions that drive them to cause violence in the first place? How is the State helping to integrate its young citizens and what is it doing to enhance inter- and intra-community dialogue and solidarity? These are some of the most fundamental questions that should be addressed by the French authorities, possibly with even more urgency than the enhancement of anti-terror laws.

Second, politicians should glue communities together and not contribute to further dividing them. The statements made by figures like Le Pen after the events shows how dangerous opportunistic political discourses can be. The fact that a handful of World leaders showed up for the “Solidarity march” may have been visible, although many pointed to the poor democracy and free speech CV’s of some of those present.[x] With all this, politicians should think deeper about what initiatives they can launch in order to tackle extremism and to ensure societal solidarity. From this point of view, the European Union, and especially the European Commission, should be a strong advocate of cultural solidarity and promote it through various actions and programmes. Provided that they can mobilize the communities themselves at the grass-root level, and not through what may be an inefficient top-down approach.

Third, although an overstatement, it seems to me that countries like the United Kingdom or Belgium are more open in promoting the diversity of each individual, irrespective of their political or religious beliefs. In the UK this came across well during the debates about the events. It’s not only a matter of “political correctness”, as some people would call it, but it’s really about a genuine connection between communities. It’s about respecting differences and minorities, and to allow them to prosper and develop alongside the mainstream parts of the society. Apart from tackling with hard issues such as authoritarian regimes or religious sourced violence, promoting cultural solidarity will probably be one of the key challenges of the 21st century.

Finally, there is a need for everyone, you and me, to act responsibly, deal with injustices, and challenge the mindset of people around you. As emphasized by a letter from Albert Einstein to William du Bois (philosopher and American civil rights activist that inspired Martin Luther King) one of the keys to fighting racism was to challenge inferiority sentiments.[xi] Therefore, address the apocalyptic advocates that live in your circles and challenge their views. I think that everyone has a duty to contribute to improve the connection between people and to reach out to all sides. That’s why Ahmed and Charlie we’re one, and cultural solidarity should be part of their legacy.

[i] The Philosophy Book, 2011, DK London, p. 86

[ii] The Philosophy Book, 2011, DK London, p. 234

[iii] http://rabble.ca/columnists/2015/01/false-debate-between-freedom-expression-and-religious-extremism

[iv] https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/no-we-are-not-all-charlie-and-that%E2%80%99s-problem

[v] The Philosophy Book, 2011, DK London, p. 147

[vi] http://www.vox.com/2015/1/12/7518349/charlie-hebdo-racist

[vii] http://www.newstatesman.com/media-mole/2015/01/question-time-versus-newsnight-charlie-hebdo-how-get-it-right-and-very-very-wrong

[viii] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/01/14/terror-in-france-implications-for-muslim-integration/

[ix] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFKkAeiUOmw

[x] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-paris-march-was-an-emotional-display-but-also-one-full-of-hypocrisy-9973675.html

[xi] http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/06/albert-einstein-w-e-b-du-bois-racism/