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.  

Continue reading “Tackling the EU democratic deficit by increasing the representativity of the European Parliament”

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.

414918350_92a3fea6e5_o

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

Female Genital Mutilation: An International Response

FGM. Three letters that have a power to send chills down any spine. It is incomprehensible that someone else could choose to excise a part of a human body, a piece of flesh, and someone’s womanhood.

Also known as female circumcision, FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, ie clitoridectomy and infibulation. Mainly preponderant throughout Africa, but also in the Middle East and Asia, it also occurs on our doorstep due to the constant migrations of vulnerable populations to Europe, in particular asylum seekers and refugees. The girls at risk can be as young as the age of 5. This is not a medical procedure: it has no health benefits. Neither does it stem from any religious beliefs. The justification for this procedure is solely cultural.

So why am I writing about this? Does it affect us? You and I are privileged to be in a position where it is our prerogative to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice. Freedom of speech is not a luxury – we own it. We have a power to raise awareness and protect our equals in this world. These cultures can seem worlds away from ours, which may marginalize the issue. Furthermore FGM is not always a priority and comes second to so many other forms of violence. Although strategies and conventions have focused on this cruelty, the fact remains, that according to the WHO, over 125 million girls and women in the world at this moment have been cut and numbers are perpetually increasing. Having access to this knowledge, how can we remain passive?

Before attacking this custom and banning it, it is important to understand why it prevails, as it is difficult to persuade those who uphold and carry out this practice to uproot a deeply entrenched custom overnight. It is still a sensitive topic in many countries, and one that must be addressed with prudence and diplomacy.

For the parents who submit their child to FGM, it may not be considered harmful, an assault or a violation. It is the belief that this is what must be done as a rite of passage to allow a girl to transition to womanhood (cultural and gender identity) or to prevent her from tendencies such as promiscuity or sexual deviation. It is seen as part of a “cleansing process”, to hinder bodily secretions and odours accompanied with maturity. Moreover, it is a means to ensure the purity of the female when presenting her to potential partners. These may be considered as protective measures, but the essence is that it remains a violation of human and women’s rights (it contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), the right to life, physical integrity and health.

The social convention theory illustrates how it has become the norm to carry out this practice on girls without their consent, or their realisation of the potential future impact on their lives. This is thus the challenge: to convince not just a minority of the population, be they male or female, to break free from the social norm, but to educate the majority so that they understand the damage, and change their ideology in order to introduce a reversal of expectations. This is established through dialogue.

The United Kingdom is home to a wealth of cultures, including some for whom this practice is commonplace. The country therefore has an important role to play in eradicating this brutal act.

Educating our teachers, healthcare professionals and students at school to remain vigilant about the early signs of those at risk of an imminent procedure or to the symptoms of those who have just been cut is paramount. Signs such as a lack of integration into society, isolation from participating in physical activities, long trips to countries performing this rite and subsequent social withdrawal should be looked out for. It is imperative to provide support in the face of further complications: lasting physical effects, reluctance to seek medical attention, infection and other organ damage, as well as emotional or psychological repercussions.

Resources should be available for those who require legal guidance, and stricter measures put in place for offenders to be prosecuted. In 2003, the Female Genital Mutilation Act declared it illegal to arrange FGM outside of the UK regardless of whether it was legal in the country it takes place. However despite the criminal penalty being up to 14 years imprisonment in the UK for taking girls abroad, until this day no convictions have ensued.

We must recognise that in cultures where FGM is prevalent, avoiding the procedure can be considered as defiant, and individuals concerned are threatened with punishment. This changes the shape of their society from one of safety, to one of endangerment. However culture cannot be a means of justification for breaking the law or violating ones rights.

Abolishing female circumcision involves a multi-disciplinary approach: prosecutions, medical examinations, reporting of violence…

International governments have the manpower to support local communities to introduce educational campaigns. But we must circumvent the existing issues with these campaigns: they are mostly short term and small scale. It is time to think big: implement programmes, but monitor progress and evaluate their effects. Targeting those in power such as tribal leaders, healers, soldiers, and turning those people into role models will influence the communities who seek guidance in these leaders to follow suit. The other side of this coin however is the economic incentive for these matriarchs of society who are well paid for the procedure. Hence despite the steps taken to educate the local population, there is still a need for solutions. This is the ideal intersection for change and collaboration, partnerships and networks intertwined are key.

The access to media and other communications also enables us to propagate a message like a ripple in a pond across borders and achieve a much-required change and combat gender-based violence. There is a movement, but a more urgent effort is crucial to reach all corners of the world.

Rani Chowdhary

A View from the Think Tank: Talk First, Fight Later.

Editor’s Note: This was written before the Commons vote on air-strikes in Syria, but serves as a well-thought through indictment of an ill-thought through rush to war. It is a long read, but an important one. 

The terror attacks that took place on Friday 13th of November 2015 have proved to be a catalyst for a shift in policy away from the containment of ISIS to its destruction. Parallel to this there has been a shifting discourse concerning not only the nature and identity of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but also of European and western society. The long term cultural impact of recent events has yet to be revealed. However, in the immediate term it is important to present three questions. A) What is the regional context in which ISIS operates? B) How can ISIS be defeated? C) How can regional stability be established? Continue reading “A View from the Think Tank: Talk First, Fight Later.”

TTIP – A corruption of Europe’s own making

Uniting citizens across Europe, bashing TTIP has been a welcome unifier for a continent in chaos. TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a trade treaty the European Union is currently negotiating with the US. Whatever our internal differences may be, Europe is united in its dislike of extreme American capitalism. Conservative, liberal or socialist, in the US we would all be shades of Democrat. Right? Well, maybe yes, but US capitalism and its horrors are only a part of the problems inherent in TTIP. We Europeans are to blame for its real problems. Continue reading “TTIP – A corruption of Europe’s own making”

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Again: Western Delusion and Syria

Editor’s Note: this was initially published on October 30th, before the attacks in Paris, so some references to summits are out-of-date, but the analysis still stands. 

This isn’t working, is it? Ever since the US was enticed into the Syrian Civil War two years ago, once again under the delusion that it can ‘fix’ the Middle East, the conflict has only grown more chaotic, convoluted and deadly. It’s a familiar narrative; from 2002, when President Bush identified Iran, Iraq and Syria as part of an “axis of evil”, American, and very often British, military forces have with impunity entered Middle Eastern states under the pretext of defending the national interest, only to withdraw years later leaving in their wake a great many dead and displaced. This author believes that if the concerned Western forces are to save Syria from total state-failure they must recognise, firstly, the failings of similar recent forays into the Middle East and, secondly, the singularity of the Syrian conflict. Continue reading “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Again: Western Delusion and Syria”

NATO and an Ethical Foreign Policy: A Reply

A few weeks ago, in our first blog of the academic year, Steven Male compellingly argued for a more ethical foreign policy, and posited several suggestions as to how this may be achieved under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Within this piece however, there was one aspect that I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with – the idea that membership, and unquestioning support, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was absolutely key to any ethical foreign policy. I felt this played into the common, and flawed, assertion that Putin’s Russia is an expansionist, imperialist power bent on world domination, and that only NATO’s expansion could stop it. I, and in fact many pre-eminent scholars on Russia, including McCgwire, Rynning, and Karabeshkin, disagree with this, both on the idea that Russia is indulging in unprovoked expansion, and that NATO is either a protector of European security or an ethical body. This author believes that if NATO is to perform as an ethical body in foreign policy, or represent a genuine protector of European security, it must undergo a process of self-examination of its actual effectiveness, and a reappraisal of its behaviour. Continue reading “NATO and an Ethical Foreign Policy: A Reply”

The Need for a Unified EU Response to the Ongoing Refugee Crisis

The displacement of millions mainly due to the ongoing Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS have left Europe facing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. A united European response is essential if the values and, indeed, the existence of the European project are to be sustained. This author believes that the current issue of refugees should be detangled from the wider immigration debate and that a coherent response must be found to give asylum to those fleeing persecution.

Continue reading “The Need for a Unified EU Response to the Ongoing Refugee Crisis”

A European Dilemma. Austerity or Democracy for Greece?

A few months ago this author wrote that enforced austerity in Greece was undermining democracy. That, even if loans were repaid and debts exacted, the political cost of pushing people towards anti-European and anti-democratic radicals, would be so much greater in the long run for the future of Europe that no monetary sum was worth the risk. Instead, it argued, Europe should give Greece the economic space it needs to grow. In the heat of this latest crisis, it is necessary to examine first whether this prophecy has come true, that of greater radicalisation, and also whether the prescribed medicine is still the correct one. Continue reading “A European Dilemma. Austerity or Democracy for Greece?”