People or Pawns? The case of refugees at the crux of Greece-Turkey relations

The narrative regarding refugees and migrants has often been couched in negative terms, which has led in turn to the isolation of such individuals. This is partly a cause of the criminalisation of migrants perpetuated in the media, leading to xenophobia and racism, or top-down policies that do not take into account lived realities. This is clearly evident in the case of the EU-Turkey deal of 2016 – an agreement to discourage refugees from seeking asylum in Europe. It allowed Greece to send incoming ‘irregular migrants’ to Turkey instead – the latter would increase measures to stop illegal migration and would in exchange receive €6 billion in aid from the EU for its migrant communities; the agreement also included the possibility of resettling of one Syrian refugee in the EU for every one that Turkey let in. It is clear that this agreement is a political strategy benefiting EU countries at the expense of refugees’ rights, and despite being heavily criticised as such, it was still pushed forward. 

Turkey had essentially taken on the heavy burden of becoming Europe’s new buffer zone. The toll of this was not fully realised until February 2020 when Turkish authorities announced the reopening of the border shared with Greece amid accusations that the EU had not provided Turkey with the promised funding to support 3.6 million refugees within its borders. Following this, hundreds of refugee communities in the country rushed towards the border with the hopes of gaining entry into Europe, and according to interviews conducted on the ground by Amnesty International representatives, there were free buses ready to transport them to the border region. This political move to pressure the EU into more cooperation once again came at the expense of these migrants flooding the border, where they were pushed back violently by the Greek border security. 

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Weaponisation of Refugees: A New Low for Europe

In retaliation for ongoing sanctions imposed by the European Union on Belarus after its disputed presidential election in 2020, President Lukashenko vowed earlier this year to allow migrants to cross Belarus’ borders into EU member states. In a widely publicized move, Belarus is granting easily accessible tourist visas to migrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees residing in Iraq. Supposed travel agents operating in Iraq organize these special tourist visas and flights to Belarus, promoted by the Belarusian government, for desperate refugees. This loophole enables refugees to bypass treacherous boat trips across the Mediterranean and instead travel to Belarus, drive to its border, and walk into one of its three EU neighbour states: Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. Belarusian soldiers are even enabling refugees to cross their border. Consequently, the EU has accused Belarus of purposefully trafficking in migrants hoping to enter the EU in order to destabilize the region as part of a coordinated attack.

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Germany’s New Government: hope or old concerns for Eastern Europe?

The 2021 Federal Election brings substantial political changes for Germany. After 15 years, Angela Merkel will no longer be the chancellor, as her party, the center-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU), has suffered their worst ever result, with just 24.1% of the vote. The Voters favoured the center-left Social Democratic Party for Germany (SPD), which received their best result since 2005, the even further left Green party, and the classical liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). These three winners of the election are forecast to constitute the most likely ruling coalition, aptly dubbed the “traffic light” coalition after their party colours. While negotiations are ongoing and an alternative party arrangement remains possible, if unlikely, Eastern European (EE) states are already able to anticipate their strategies for interaction with Berlin.

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Volt Europa: A New Path to The European Dream?

Back in November, the Policy Centre for European Affairs ran a Hackathon on “European cohesion in the age of populism: How should the EU strengthen European identity to counterbalance Eurosceptic forces?”. Euroscepticism and populism aren’t the only forces causing division in Europe and threatening the European project, but the motivation behind this event was to try and understand in what ways the European Union (EU) could strengthen its internal ties in order to secure its future. This is a hard question, because the EU is not in the best position to fight these forces. The EU is clearly more than a conventional international organization, but it has not yet become part of policy discussions at a state level. Even if it wished to increase its influence and assert its leadership position, there would always be strong opposition to giving EU institutions the kind of powers it would need to do so. Perhaps the solution for the future of the European project may not exist via top-down approaches championed by EU institutions. Instead, a bottom-up political movement may be needed.

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Limiting Lies: The Need for Greater Regulation of the Tech Industry in Europe

Although Europe exercises some of the world’s strictest policies towards the technology sector, the EU is considering passing new regulations aimed at ‘gatekeeper’ platforms, including Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, to force big tech companies to remove dangerous content, hate speech, and misinformation. Renewed efforts by the EU to curb the spread of hate speech and misinformation are prompted by concerns over the recent growth of extremist groups, both within Europe and internationally, that are strengthened by their online communities.

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Political Entrepreneurship and Civil Society

Book Review: Catherine E. De Vries and Sara B. Hobolt. Political Entrepreneurs: The Rise of Challenger Parties in Europe. Princeton, United States: Princeton University Press, 2020. 

The European Union brings together 27 democratic member states, which all have individual domestic political arrangements. Issues that divide politics in one nation-state can lead to divisions in supranational decision-making and the increasing fragmentation of political discourse on a national level, therefore, represents challenges for the bloc as a whole. There is a need to study issue emergence on an European level in order to better understand the mechanisms that drive contemporary political debate. Catherine De Vries’ and Sara Hobolt’s work Political Entrepreneurs: The Rise of Challenger Parties aims to advance the academic debate in this field with a quantitative study about political issue emergence. While the work provides valuable insights into why certain parties choose to mobilise certain issues in their programmes, the book does not demonstrate why these issues become important in our society and how they are legitimised in our discourse. 

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Tackling the EU democratic deficit by increasing the representativity of the European Parliament

  1. Background

In recent years, political participation of European citizens has been decreasing. Voter turnout has declined from 62% in the first European Parliament (EP) elections in 1979 to 43% in 2014. At the same time, the 2018 Eurobarometer shows low levels of trust of citizens in the European Parliament (50%) and the European Commission (46%). Many critics argue that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit, noting that EU decision-making procedures are either inaccessible or excessively complex for ordinary citizens to comprehend and engage with. The latter accusation contradicts the notion of liberal democracy, which is one of the EU’s core values and a condition of membership.  

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Britain after Brexit: Now it must – again – define itself as a nation

Britain has left the European Union. The historic referendum has left the sitting government in hot water. Now, David Cameron has pledged to resign, the pound has dropped drastically, and the UK’s legislators are left with the daunting task of redefining themselves, as well as renegotiating with the rest of the world. For some, the day marks a reclamation of British democracy, whereby the people of the country now are free from the bureaucratic shackles of Brussels. For others, it marks a historical step back, sending Britain into isolation again with the prospects of recession on the horizon.

“What lies ahead is a monolithic task for British lawmakers to build an independent future for Britain, and forge a path to the future in law and trade.”

Indeed, Britain’s political scene will see great changes in the next few months. The Prime Minister lost his great gamble on the EU, announcing his departure from office by October. Meanwhile the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are declaring independence day. Likely, they will play a large part in the new face of the government. The result has also prompted Alex Salmond to call for a second independence referendum for Scotland, stating that it is the result of “Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will”.

This is a result that has been brewing for years, as anti-Brussels rhetoric has been on the rise from both sides of the aisle in British politics. For years, the political scene in the UK has been fiercely anti-Brussels. Now, with growing austerity and pressure on immigration what was once rhetoric has turned into a reality. ‘Remain’ campaigners were sure to make clear the risks of Brexit, and warned of an immediate recession. This morning, the FTSE 100 index opened with an 8% plunge, along with the sterling. What lies ahead is a monolithic task for British lawmakers to build an independent future for Britain, and forge a path to the future in law and trade. It must, again, define itself as a nation.

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Will Brexit be the end of the EU in general? Of course, this question has its roots not only in the rhetorical quips of the British government, but in the very structure of the EU itself. In the years to come, they will be facing referendum after referendum if they do not enact sweeping organisational reforms. Anti-EU rhetoric is high across many of the European countries and a fear is that this result will embolden nationalist movements across Europe, sparking more divide. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council has said that the European countries must meet to discuss the future of the EU and how they are to respond to the UK’s decision to leave. Facing disunity at historic levels both economically and politically, one thing remains clear: They must reform.

Britain’s history with the EU goes back to the Second World War. The European Coal and Steel Community banded together in the wake of WWII to align Europe economically to prevent the same kind of violent bloodshed. From then on it has created the common, and then single market, faced energy crises, dictators (General Franco, for example) and the environment. It has grown closer politically and in mutual defence, eventually establishing its own basis with the Lisbon Treaty.

“The EU must, too, redefine itself or face further disbandment.”

Britain joined the European Economic Community under the leadership of Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1973, supported by more than 67% of Britons in the 1975 referendum. The relationship was at times strained, with Thatcher pushing against a political union, and humiliation at “Black Wednesday”. But it also seemed to be growing ever closer, by way of Blair bringing the UK nearer to the Euro as well as enacting EU social protections. With all of its exemptions and powers in the institution, Britain will be invoking the Lisbon Treaty and packing its bags.

A project once known as ambitious and democratic has been widely labelled overbearing and bureaucratic. The future of the UK is at stake with economic and political pressures from within. The EU must, too, redefine itself or face further disbandment. We undeniably sit in times of ambiguity with regard to the future of both the UK and the EU. However, one thing is certain: There is a lot of work to be done.

Alexander Botashev
European Affairs Policy Centre President
King’s Think Tank

Podemos and the ‘Passive Revolution’

World politics is in the middle of a massive historical shift, marked by the economic and demographic decline of the Old Continent and the backlash against globalization and its uneven development of capitalism.

Domestic politics cannot remain unaffected, a fact directly reflected in the rise of anti-systemic parties nationally – UKIP, Front National, Podemos, Syriza, and 5 Stars Movement among the most important. And though each of these parties emerged from their specific national and historical contexts, all resulted from the omnipresent interaction of the current economic structure (a global economic crisis) and political agencies (the crisis of the liberal political class).

In Spain, the economic crisis hit hard on housing and employment, made more miserable by the chorizos – the term angry citizens use to describe their political representatives. These two events provided a very fertile social and political ground for a movement led by a leftist intelligentsia but which is described as socialist by the neoliberal hegemonic megaphones.

Podemos, the Spanish left-wing populist party led by Pablo Iglesias.

But what is Podemos from an ideological and operational point of view?

Podemos leaders follow, ad literam, the precepts of Ernesto Laclau and Antonio Gramsci, authors that they have studied professionally. On the one hand, one finds in Podemos the populist Marxism constructed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), the ideological basis of Latin American socialism. Laclau’s innovation was to move the focus of struggle from class conflict to the more general concept of “radical democracy”. His thought was akin to the tradition of operaismo (workerism), an Italian current popular in the 1960s and led by Antonio Negri, which portrayed the working class as the engine of economic development because worker struggles triggered capitalist reactions and technological advancement. This working class has nowadays become a “multitude” formed by any precarious and exploited individual – as Negri called it – or all those which are de facto outside the social contract, to put it in Rousseau’s terms. For Laclau, the task to lead such an undefined mass required a charismatic leader.

Meanwhile, the Podemos planning office is clearly haunted by Gramsci’s specter. The Sardinian thinker argued that the control of those hegemonic instruments, which allow states to reproduce domestic orders without using force, was crucial. But because a sudden change was no easy matter in the middle of subtle capitalistic ideological bombing, he theorized a “passive revolution”, a long-lasting process of penetration of the institutional fabric and a realistic plan against a society afflicted by widespread false consciousness and difficult to change.

All this considered, then, how does Podemos reflect this ideological package?

Beginning from “leadership”, Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias is a charismatic character who enjoys being in front of cameras and microphones. He is the one and only face of the party in most TV shows of the week. His “strategy for struggle” has focused on the cast, de facto highlighting that the conflict is not between low-wage workers and capitalists, but between ordinary people and a greedy casta which systematically puts its privileges and interests beyond those of citizens. Iglesias has succeeded in depicting politics as the problem of all, and this is how a group of leftist intellectuals has become a transversal political force despite the fact that some still describe members of Podemos as perroflauta, referring to their ponytails, dreadlocks and an apparently hippie-like life-style.

What Iglesias has done very well is to show how well he digested the Gramscian vocabulary and made the most out of “hegemonic instruments” thanks to an admirable ars rhetorica.

He has carefully chosen the issues that Podemos should bring onto the table of public debates – the constitutional reform remains a priority – leaving on the side issues which do not maximize consent. So far Iglesias’ strategy has worked, as demonstrated by the seats in the European Parliament and by the 70 seats in the Spanish one. This is just the beginning of his version of “passive revolution”. How will it work? He told the New Left Review that first it is important to grab the reins of government, only then it will be possible to shift to more socialist politics.

In a very spontaneous movement, tactics has now become the key word and Iglesias knows how to do them. The plan in fact sounds brilliant, but is Iglesias’ insistence on tactics to the detriment of important contents? As Iglesias’ second in command puts it: “we need to build an electoral war machine before the window of opportunity which has opened will close”.

But does not the authenticity, spontaneity, and differences that Podemos enjoy vis-à-vis mainstream parties risk being wiped away because of a religious use of tactics? For those that would like to see Podemos as the agent of a socialist turn in politics – like me – ahead of all these tactics looms dissatisfaction. Over the last year the divergence between mainstream parties and Podemos has unfortunately diminished. This can be seen from Iglesias’ personal use of space in television, the prevalence of electoral calculations over internal democracy, the support of Syriza despite the insistence of Greece accepting EU blackmail, the moderation of Iglesias’ posture regarding the European question and the guaranteed minimum salary. The much criticized 5 Star Movement, often told to be more right-wing, appears to be clearer and more radical on these points. While parties in Spain are struggling to form the government, Podemos put as an essential requirement for governing with the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party) the resolution of Spain’s regional questions, but it seemed odd not to have first stated that it will accept to rule with the PSOE only if there would be a restructuring of policies with a worker-friendly logic.

Here lies the problem of Podemos. If it continues to put tactics beyond anti-capitalist contents it will be difficult to see substantial changes in Spain. However, what is currently a small revolution remains a positive phenomenon in both Spanish and European politics.

 

Zeno Leoni, PhD candidate at the European and International Studies Department, King’s College London