Politics & The WorldUncategorized

The recent Dutch election results are currently celebrated as a sign of hope for pro-European voices and a moment of glory for democracy in Europe. One group that claims to have made a contribution to the defeat of populism in the Netherlands is the movement #Pulse of Europe. Supporters demonstrated on public squares across Europe to the Dutch slogan ‘blijf bbij ons’ – stay with us.

Over the course of the past weeks, this protest movement has increasingly been covered by the media. In recent years, street protests across Europe have been anti-European, anti-immigration, anti-austerity or anti-Trump protests. Yet Pulse of Europe is different. It is not directed against something – but for. Last weekend the new civil movement has again managed to rally thousands of people across Europe – yet foremost in German cities – on the street. Their common cause:  demonstrating for Europe, notably to display an optimistic spirit and a positive atmosphere of hope. An atmosphere that was further fueled by the recent election results in the Netherlands. Under the umbrella of Pulse of Europe people have now gathered every Sunday since eight consecutive weeks in various city centers across the continent to demonstrate for Europe and the EU.

But what does this movement actually stand for and what do its supporters aim for? The origins can be traced in the German city of Frankfurt – which could be considered at the “pulse of Europe” by means of its central geographic location and as the siege of the European Central Bank. Pulse of Europe officially proclaims its’ objectives on its website: to contribute to the persistence of a united democratic Europe that is based on values such as respect for human rights and freedom of speech, a Europe which “secures peace and guarantees individual freedom, justice and legal security”. Shocked by the success of right-wing populists in the UK and the US and the surge of populist parties in Europe, its supporters aim to show that “the majority of people believe in the fundamental idea of the European Union, its reformability and development and does not want to sacrifice it to nationalist tendencies”. Due to the fact that the public debate is often dominated by „destructive”, anti-European-voices, those that still believe in a common European future should stand up and become more visible.

Dutch election results as a first victory

Certainly, Pulse of Europe incarnates the hope to wake up European societies and create a pro-European momentum against the backdrop of national elections in major EU member states. The Dutch election results were among the hottest topics for discussion between protesters in Germany. One of the lead organizers of one of the events argued on stage that the fact that Geert Wilders did not win the Dutch election was also due to the influence of Pulse of Europe. People in the Netherlands would have seen the protests, for example in a video on Facebook with the title ‘blijf bij ons’ , which has been watched more than 35.000 times. While the spectre of a PVV-led government is off the agenda for the moment being, populism is still prevailing throughout Europe. When French voters hit the ballot boxes in about a month’s time from now,  the biggest fear of a pro-European citizen is a victory of the Front National which would at best alienate one of the EU’s founding members and at worst lead to a Frexit and the threat to the very existence of the Union.

On March 25th Europe’s heart rate will accelerate

In Cologne/Germany, more than 1000 people gathered at the local pulse of Europe demonstration last Sunday. Demonstrators could be heard speaking German, French and English. Speeches from people of different origin were held on stage and a Ukrainian woman reminded the crowd that people in Kiev have paid with their life(s), demonstrating for the same European values as the people present in Berlin or Strasbourg. The following protest march was very slow and more of a Sunday-walk with the family than a hectic outburst of anger. Only very few people were yelling one of the previously distributed protest chants and crowds of children which had been brought along by their parents were playing with soap bubbles. The atmosphere was calm but pleasant as people were talking. This is how it looks like, a moment of European identity. Next weekend, on the 25th of March Europe will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The treaty is often described as the birth certificate of the EU. This weekend the pro-European protest movement will very likely reach a new peak, although other protest movements such as the March for Europe might lead to a more uncoordinated distribution of potential demonstrators. Either way, on this day Europeans will be visible.

 What is the real potential of the movement?

Men and women of every age group were present in Cologne, but one could see that the majority of the people were white and in their mid-thirties/forties. By their style of clothing, the overwhelming majority could be identified as middleclass or upper middleclass people. Frankly, the demonstrators were exactly those people that benefit the most from the EU. As an eye witness one could not help but being reminded that the EU is often described as a neoliberal project of the elites. The people present were all beneficiaries of the neoliberal capitalism that is an inherent part of the EU as an economic project. It is a project that has no mandate for social policies and has less to offer to people that are left behind in such a type of economy. Liberal European values are worthy to celebrate, but the European Union is very far from being perfect.

The EU needs to come up quickly with answers if the crowd is to look different and more colorful on future occasions. One answer could be a Union that becomes active in the field of social security and that stands up for a fair distribution of wealth, an EU that emphasizes its basic principle of solidarity. Arguably, for such an EU many people would go on the street. Such an EU – strong and united – could safeguard peace, prosperity and liberal values. It could shape the globalized world of today and tomorrow, so that no one in Europe feels left behind. Certainly, it would do better than any national state in the face of powerful tax evading multinational corporations or superpowers like China. This might be the real potential of Pulse of Europe: to revitalize European solidarity and to give the EU the mandate it needs to become a Union which everyone would be willing to support on the street.

 “In 2045 our grandchildren should celebrate 100 years of peace in Europe”

The upcoming weekend is indeed a moment to celebrate and to show support for the European values. Europeans reject an overly bureaucratic Brussels administration yet they crave for a free open society that is based on liberal values, prosperity, free movement of people, goods and services and foremost peace on the European continent. Why not join the movement (yourself)? Pulse of Europe pursues noble goals that are worth considering, especially when looking ahead to the future. One demonstrator’s sign read as follows: “In 2045 our grandchildren should celebrate 100 years of peace in Europe”. This peace seems to be endangered by the current surge of right wing populism. Resistance is imperative if the success of populism is to be curbed in favour of a united Europe. Geert Wilders has not won a majority in the Dutch election, but he still captured the second most votes of all parties. If not winning the election, he managed to shape the public debate, triggering the winning party VVD to adopt increasingly conservative lines.

The political struggle in Europe continues. Arguably the strongest argument to defuse the claims of right-wing populist comes from one of the populists’ own myths: When movements like Pulse of Europe rally thousands of people for the European cause, populist demagogues will have a hard time presenting themselves as the voice of the majority. To prove the demagogues wrong and to prevent uninformed decisions such as the Brexit to happen again, people should consider going for a nice spring-walk to their city center next weekend. And thereby contribute to the future of our continent. Democracy has been suffering long enough from lazy democrats. Therefore this article ends with the famous call of Stephané Hessel: Indignez-vous! Time for outrage! and feel the pulse of Europe.


Politics & The World

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is dead. It was never really popular on either side of the Atlantic, but the election of Donald Trump finished it off. The socialists in Wallonia and the labor unions in Germany can thank the new men in the White House for doing what they could not.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström already announced that “TTIP will probably be in the freezer for quite some time, and what happens when it is defrosted, we will have to wait and see.”

But it seems unlikely that the negotiations will ever warm up again. Donald Trump has made it very clear in his “Plan To Rebuild the American Economy by Fighting for Free Trade” that he intends to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is already signed but not ratified. Even NAFTA, the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which has been in place for more than 20 years, could be terminated under his presidency. Stopping TTIP would be the least drastic step among the changes that U.S. trade policy is going to experience in the coming years.

However, withdrawing from TTIP is the last thing to do if Trump intends to rebuild the American economy. A study by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) concluded that the economic benefits for the United States are 95 billion Euros (103 billion US dollars) by 2027; around the yearly GDP of Utah.

Protectionism has never made a country great again, and America will be no exception.

The main problem of many trade agreements is political. The benefits are spread out over many while the costs are concentrated on a few, who organize to oppose them. TTIP would create a net employment gain of 750,000; a number large enough to employ the working population of New Hampshire. But undoubtedly some people will become unemployed, and they do not care if some Washington think tank points out that their job losses are counteracted by the hiring of many more workers elsewhere.

This is exactly where most of the resentments against trade agreements originate. People are concerned that they will lose their jobs in a world where the pace of change keeps accelerating. It is easy to point to the nearby company that had to close down, but it is much harder to recognize the benefits consumers and workers enjoy because of cheaper goods and a more prosperous economy. As such, the gains for the U.S. from free trade are easily forgotten.

U.S. policymakers did a poor job of addressing the concerns of large parts of the population for too long. 68 percent of Trump supporters say, “free trade agreements have hurt them or their family” and the result of this frustration were seen last Tuesday. Yet the Trump administration would be even more in the wrong to give in to the temptation of isolating the U.S. economy from the rest of the world.

Fortunately a middle path exists. Additional support for workers who are laid off when the economy adjusts could be incorporated into the trade agreements. Or the highly debated investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments, could be scrapped. Such adjustments would not only be supported by Trump voters, but could find bipartisan backing from the Democrats as well. A renegotiated TTIP could not only strengthen the U.S. economy, but also help to unite this divided nation. Let us hope this is what Trump means when he promises to “appoint tough and smart trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers.”

Politics & The World

Since the Brexit vote in the UK there has been a lot of speculation concerning the next countries to leave the European Union. France is being repeatedly named in those lists. There are several reasons why France is not likely to leave the EU any time soon. 

While British politicians are fairly unpopular in Brussels, French MEPs make up the core of the political groups and their messages, especially those who have pushed political integration and centralization. Joining the EU bureaucracy is considered to be a capstone to a successful political career, and a chance to be considered a “real” statesmen.The French political class is quite committed to the EU project. 

Moreover, there is substantial evidence that the French population overall  has a relatively high opinion of the EU and its institutions. Polling conducted after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom backs this up: in a Paris-Match/iTELE poll in June of this year, only 35% of the surveyed people supported the idea of France leaving the European Union. A similar TNS poll only found 33% supporting the same. This trend is also confirmed by the current lead and importance of 2017 presidential candidate Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, running on the platform of being  “a European” while favoring political integration in the EU. The pro-EU Juppé is the current leader of the field in his primary with 42% (with only 28% going to his chief rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy), and therefore the most likely to become the next president.

The French May Be More Easily Bullied than the British 

The Brexit reactions from EU officials only prove what the general trend of the European Union is: join our club or we will bully you. After creating a single market and restricting trade policies of its members, the EU then forces those who do not give in to accept all the edicts of the European commission — or else. If some sectors of the French population begin to push for separation, the EU will again get the fear machine rolling to prevent other countries from leaving.

This can be seen in the very language used by the pro-EU side, and leaving the EU is routinely described as “leaving Europe” as if being in the EU is synonymous with being European. Obviously, Europe as a continent (physical) is quite different from the European Union (political), but equating the two makes every potentially defecting country feel the effect of physically drifting away. It’s the playground bully telling his friends not to play with one particular kid so that he obeys the rules.

Perhaps the biggest factor in applying pressure against separatists is the press. While the British press has been, to put it quite frankly, enormously critical of the EU at times, the French press doesn’t feel this need at all. In the UK, the press pushes the parties, in France the parties push the press. News sources are either state-run or affiliated to one of the two main parties, of which both praise the European Union above all else.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the editorial of the major newspaper Le Monde wrote:  “We believe … that ‘Brexit’ will release some of the darkest forces working European views today: regressive nationalism, a rise in far-right protests, and — here and there — threats to democracy.” Le Monde’s conservative rival publisher Le Figaro expressed its worries that the UK vote would trigger a referendum in France: “The risk is great as other countries rush into the breach opened by the United Kingdom.” The left-wing Libération seemed content with the result, because the UK had been in the way of further integration, of a ‘common project.’ Les Echos started the day by titling that the day of the referendum would remain a black day for Europe.” (Source) The state-broadcaster France Télévision was visibly in shock, then followed its own anti-Brexit agenda for weeks by showing the “plummeting British stock market.” The influential political radio station Europe 1 blasted the Brexit vote by inviting (of all people) Tony Blair on the air, reassuring listeners that “it is possible to find a deal for the UK to remain part of the European Union.”

France’s Earlier Referendum 

In 2005 the French electorate said “No” to the EU constitution. The reason for that was that French voters feared that the EU would impose “a neoliberal economic model” and reduce the standards of social security in the member states. In response, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy teamed with other European leaders a backroom deal called the Treaty of Lisbon, but made it quite clear that there would not be a vote on this new treaty at all. The Dutch and French failures to pass treaties through the referenda process taught the EU a lesson: referenda shouldn’t be allowed.

The EU is Insurance for the French Regime

This is by far the most important part of this argument that absolutely needs to be made: France was a strong voice for solidarity in the Irish and Greek bailouts, with support from the public, because the EU and its central bank will be France’s best insurance policy in the next crisis.

French politicians have learned from the legacy of François Mitterrand. In the early years of his administration, Mitterrand set to work implementing a variety of hard-left policies. These policies so crippled the French economy that Mitterrand was forced to take a hard pro-market turn just a few years later. Many French politicians today still believe Mitterrand compromised far too much. 

For this new breed of pro-EU leftist politicians, the strategy is clear: it’s full speed ahead. No reforms, no apologies. Should hard left policies appear to fail this time around, well, the European Central Bank can just step in. Since the European Central Bank must deal with the consequences of France’s drain on the euro, the rest of the continent will have to bailout the République, where even outside of a crisis, the French debt level is among the highest in Europe at almost 100% of GDP

Politics & The World

On 20 March 2016, the siblings Javid and Nahid Raoufi and their friend Abdul Majid Rahimi arrived on the Greek island of Chios after having fled Afghanistan via Turkey. Upon arrival, they were detained in the so-called „Hotspot“ of Vial, an EU-initiated registration facility for asylum seekers converted into a detention centre. There, they had to endure abhorrent detention conditions: neither did they have access to medical care nor was the food sufficient or of acceptable quality. The sanitary conditions were appalling, with frequent cuts in water supply and extremely dirty toilets and showers.

Their story is not only one about personal suffering, but about the EU abandoning its commitment to human rights and international protection in the name of migration control. The day Mr and Ms Raoufi and Mr Rahimi reached Chios, the EU-Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, known as the EU-Turkey Deal, entered into force. It declares that any irregular migrant arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey will be sent back. This includes asylum seekers with inadmissible or unfounded claims. In exchange, the EU promised to resettle one Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian returned and to put in place a humanitarian scheme to take in more Syrian refugees from Turkey. The EU furthermore pledged to provide 6 billion € to support Syrian refugees in Turkey and to allow Turkish nationals visa-free entry into the Schengen Area. It is probably not very contentious to state that deporting asylum seekers to a country which hosts 3 million refugees, is mired in civil war and governed in an increasingly authoritarian fashion can hardly be considered a policy of providing international protection in a spirit of solidarity. What is more, the implementation of the deal raises serious questions as to its compliance with human rights and EU asylum law.

At Vial, Mr and Ms Raoufi and Mr Rahimi claimed asylum and on 19 April they filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. They claim that they had not been informed of the reasons for their detention, that their detention was arbitrary and that they did not have access to legal aid or representation. Greek law allows for the detention of asylum seekers of up to 25 days with a possible extension of up to 3 months. The current policy appears to be to detain anybody arriving irregularly on the Greek Aegean islands for 25 days and then to release them with a restriction order, limiting freedom of movement to the island concerned, but the three claimants have been detained for longer. The complaint also alleges that the detention conditions at Vial amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The claimants’ reports in this regard have been confirmed by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch: In both the open and the detention sections of the “Hotspots”, extreme overcrowding forces people to sleep on the floor and in small tents. The hygienic conditions are extremely poor, with toilets overflowing and feces covering the surrounding floor. Medical care is either absent or insufficient and asylum seekers report frequent violent clashes and high levels of sexualized violence and harassment, which the Greek authorities did not provide protection against. Frequently, women, families and unaccompanied minors are not provided separate accommodation.

This state of affairs violates EU asylum law and the European Convention on Human Rights in multiple ways. Under the EU Reception Conditions Directive, detention of asylum seekers must be based on an individualized assessment. It may be applied only if a less coercive measure would not be adequate and if it is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. The policy to automatically detain all asylum seekers violates these requirements. Furthermore, both the EU Reception Conditions Directive and the European Convention on Human Rights require that detainees must be informed about the reasons of their detention and be granted the possibility to challenge its legality before a judge – this did not happen in the case of Mr and Ms Raoufi and Mr Rahimi. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

Furthermore, the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment; the EU Reception Conditions Directive grants asylum seekers an adequate standard of living which guarantees subsistence, protects mental and physical health and, in any event, covers basic needs. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that detention conditions in Greek detention facilities for asylum seekers amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment – the claimants had been detained in overcrowded facilities under appalling hygienic conditions, without access to showers or clean toilets. Judging by the complaint of Mr and Ms Raoufi and Mr Rahimi as well as NGO reports, EU funding and support have not prevented the same deplorable and illegal detention conditions from materializing in the „Hotspots“.

Besides the illegality of the detention practice, the plan to return asylum seekers whose application is declared inadmissible to Turkey raises serious legal issues. This part of the deal is applied via admissibility interviews on the basis of which the Greek Asylum Service determines if Turkey is a safe third country or a first country of asylum for the interviewed asylum seeker – the logic being that a person for whom this is the case can avail themself of protection in Turkey.

For a country to be a safe third country under the EU Asylum Procedures Directive, there may neither exist a risk of persecution nor of serious harm, e.g. through torture or armed conflict. Furthermore, there must be no risk of a further deportation to a situation where such risk exists and there has to exist the possibility to apply for refugee status and to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. For a country to constitute a first country of asylum, the applicant must have been granted refugee status or enjoy an otherwise „sufficient protection“ in that country. It seems logical to assume that the requirements for such sufficient protection should be as demanding as they are with regard to the safe third country standard.

As of 15 June, the Greek committees that decide on the appeals against inadmissibility decisions of asylum claims have denied that Turkey is a safe third country in 70 out of 72 cases. This is because there are NGO reports about mass expulsions of asylum seeking Iraqis and Syrians to their countries of origin from Turkey as well as about violent rejections of asylum seekers at the Turkish borders. Furthermore, the committees doubt that the temporary protection status which Syrian refugees are granted in Turkey amounts to protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention, as it is often only granted with unacceptable delays, does not allow for access to the labour market and is only of temporary nature. Non-Syrians can obtain a „conditional protection“ status – however, this hardly seems to be applied in practice. Against this backdrop, returns to Turkey cannot be considered safe, although the Turkish government has provided assurances that deported Syrians will be granted temporary protection and that other returned persons will be protected from deportation to a situation where their life or liberty would be at risk. The appeals decisions demonstrate that the Greek institutions are capable of providing an independent scrutiny of the deal’s implementation. But as they call into question the entire scheme, they also put the Greek administration under enormous political pressure to overcome this obstacle to a smooth execution of the deportations.

The EU Commission maintains its assessment that Turkey is a safe third country and that the temporary protection available to Syrians amounts to protection in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention. It welcomed a recent reform which changes the composition of the Greek appeals committees and scraps a second hearing before the appeals decision – ostensibly to speed up proceedings. Most commentators however fear that the recomposition of the committees will undermine their independence; in an open letter, members of the previous appeals committees accused the Greek Migration Ministry of recklessly trying to clear the way for mass deportations to Turkey.

Hence, the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal violates EU asylum law and the European Convention on Human Rights in multiple ways: with regard to the legality of the detention of asylum seekers in Greek „Hotspots“, the appalling detention conditions and the assumption that asylum seekers can safely be returned to Turkey. This has not hindered the deal’s implementation, although article 2 of the Treaty on European Union declares respect for human dignity, human rights and the rule of law to be amongst the EU’s founding values. The EU and its member states seem content to betray their values, as long as this brings down the arrivals of asylum seekers at their shores. It is people like Mr and Ms Raoufi and Mr Rahimi who bear the cost. Ms Raoufi reportedly intented to commit suicide twice since being detained.



Simon Rau also published this article already in March on the Mercator Blog: https://nefia.org/blogs/Simon-Rau/The-implementation-of-the-EU-Turkey-Deal-betrays-European-Values

Pitching Europe

The EU often deals with issues that are not sexy, especially to young people. Yet, these topics still matter – a lot. With Politix EU we want to trigger a more informed debate about Europe through a better understanding of the underestimated extent of EU legislation. We want to inspire especially young people for a unified and effective Europe and present them with an instrument, which allows them to be able to actively engage in the European debate and shape it.

We believe that people are generally communicative, social beings who enjoy discussing with each other – also when it comes to politics. Yet, when European politics are concerned, most people do not feel sufficiently informed and do not want to get their head around the mess of cryptic information. They feel powerless and without a voice. However, representative democracy is based on interaction between citizens and decision makers. Lack of this interaction in the digital age appears out-dated and unnecessary. Politix EU breaks down the complicated EU law-making-process and facilitates access to information – e.g. by integrating elements from successful and frequently-used social networks especially young users know very well: They can get informed by reading a short abstract of an EU legislative proposal – we call them “bills” – and vote on whether they like it or not (Thumbs up, Thumbs down) – just like on Facebook or YouTube. Users can also comment and share bills through social media and compare how their vote in their home country compares to votes in other countries. We want to give young citizens the chance to get informed and feel empowered to raise their voice and share their thoughts on legislative proposals with the world.

In short, Politix EU is a one-stop shop platform that aims to make citizens aware of EU policies shaping our everyday lives – in plain and simple language. Our goal is to close the feedback loop between politicians and citizens, meaning we want to show citizens what an abstract legislative proposal could mean for their lives and give them the chance to share their opinion on the proposal with policy-makers and the community around them.

We believe that projects like this are imperative to keeping the European spirit alive and to deeply anchor the sentiment of European citizenship in people’s mind. In terms of our own European identity, we have partnered with the European Student Think Tank and the Student Forum Maastricht and are working with a grant from Advocate Europe (which is part of the German Mercator Foundation).


If you are also passionate about digital democracy, simplifying politics or just interested in the project, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch via email or our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

also, check this youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41nyExkKX44

Pitching Europe

The European crisis has been long, savage and multifaceted, and from today’s vantage-point there is precious little light to be glimpsed at the end of the tunnel. Headwinds from the global financial collapse of 2008 have sent the economy spiralling off course, with a cycle of debt and austerity drawing in every EU country to a greater or lesser extent. On the union’s periphery, Ukraine and Syria have been consumed by civil wars, the latter manifesting in the worst refugee crisis on European soil since 1945. The radical-Right is on the march once more, and we see their mirror image in the perpetrators of recent terror attacks against our capital cities. Not so long ago, Europe was the future – but now its governing institutions are enfeebled, its citizens angry and fearful, and its position in the world increasingly in question.

What can be done? The Project for Democratic Union was founded to make a case which we know many of our leaders accept but few are brave enough to support: the only way to resolve Europe’s present crises and contradictions is to drive forwards to full EU integration. Contrary to the claims of Eurosceptics, there are no national solutions to problems that are more transnational than ever before, and now would be the very worst moment for us to retreat back behind our national dividing-lines. Instead, we have a bold vision for a federal European republic that is both radically democratic and a force for stability and justice in an increasingly uncertain world.

Under our plan, austerity would be ended and the euro saved by a single, one-time mutualisation of all member-state public debt, consolidated in a new federal treasury. The armed forces of all member-states would be dissolved and reconstituted as a federal defence force, capable of providing a robust deterrent against further Russian aggression and, if necessary, perform a conflict resolution role in the Middle East. And, most importantly of all, the EU institutions would be radically reformed as a new federal government with a directly-elected European president, a cabinet of ministers and a bicameral legislature with full democratic oversight.

Beyond these core elements of a federal state – which together guarantee the solvency, security and democracy of Europe – subsidiarity is our key principle. European countries are suffering from a democratic deficit on all levels of decision-making, and we want to see as much power as possible devolved to the state, regional and local level. A European federation also has the potential to heal many of the social divisions caused by the system of unitary nation-states – to take just one example, linguistic and cultural minorities would no longer face second-class status due to being caught on the wrong side of a national border.

This vision runs very much against the grain of conventional opinion as more and more of our leaders jump on the bandwagon of Eurosceptic populism. Even if full integration is the most cogent proposal for Europe’s future, it will not come about on its own – we will only win the argument by convincing a majority of our fellow citizens, which is why the PDU needs your help. We are looking to build a grassroots movement of people, especially the young, who are suffering as a result of the present malaise and want to see change. We want to spark a movement for a unified and democratic Europe.

We are a new organisation, and still small, but we have already started to shift the debate about the direction of Europe’s future. We have offices in several major European cities and we always have opportunities for project assistants, but we are also clarify that we want to break politics out of the usual elite spaces of the university, the think-tank and the corporate media. If you are willing to take the initiative, we are ready to support a start-up group in your area. We are waiting to hear from you.

Out of the ashes of its last great crisis, the Second World War, Europe built an era of peace and prosperity that was unimaginable only a few years earlier. With similar imagination and determination, we can do the same again today. One future; one Europe.

Pitching Europe

  • by Riccardo Venturi 

True “Euro-Enthusiasts” always think optimistically about the possible reforms that could re-shape the European Union, reversing what is probably its biggest crisis ever. There has been a lot of discussion on the various formulas capable of improving the political status of Europe and its legitimacy among the citizens, and on the related measures changing the current economic models towards greater integration and sustainability.

The 1989 Generation Initiatives places itself amongst these “visionaries”. However, we believe that, before and besides thinking about a way forward for the EU, we must clarify what Europe is and what being European means in a wider sense, in order to achieve concrete results. That is why the Initiative focuses primarily on civil society, putting Europeans, specifically the youth, at the centre of its agenda.

Following this premise, we can easily affirm that European integration cannot be considered a goal by itself, our scope cannot be simply political and must go beyond this dimension. We do not aim at involving people in a project designed to “generate” a common identity. On the contrary, the 1989 Generation Initiative believes that – as we are already de facto Europeans citizens, with all the things that this entails – we need to get practical customs clearance for this fact by developing projects accessible to everyone. The next generations in particular will not be willing to think about their lives without the conditions, the situations and the privileges that relate to the status of EU citizen. Thus, in order to re-define the European project, we must adopt a bottom-up approach based on the common ground of personal experiences, professional advantages, eased mobility and channels of interaction deriving from the EU, and expand it. In fact, this spiral of opportunities is already feasible in Europe right now, thanks to an existing reality made of common values, expectations and rules that we all share.

In the long term, this scenario could further evolve into the idea that moving, living, working and studying in different countries and languages could be “routine” for any European citizen. The cultural barriers would be necessarily strained by these habits and the emergence of a prevailing European dimension would be the natural consequence of this process, as it has already happened to millions of people. To accelerate the course of the events and achieve these outstanding objectives, the 1989 Generation Initiative bases its projects on the so-called “Erasmus spirit”, potentially broadening its outreach to the entire society. Hence, we call for two specific policy proposals following the above-explained approach in two crucial areas: education and the media.

In relation to the first one, we aim at introducing a “Pan-European Accreditation Agency of Education” capable of breaking the borders between the national education systems and the different kinds of learning, closing the formal gap between formal and non-formal education. Basically, any institution offering training activities and courses could submit its application to the Agency, that would in turn evaluate the offered courses according to the compatibility with its overall goal and quality assurance of the learning outcomes. This policy not only has the potential to increase the overall quality of the educational space by promoting integration between the different systems, but it could also create new meeting spaces for all the European citizens involved in education or in the life-long learning. Most importantly, we believe that this reform will leave an important footprint in the educational paths of the next generations that will have increased opportunities to choose their study or training destination abroad.

At the same time, as the 1989 Generation Initiative considers civil society a natural engine for projects and ideas that could favour intra-European interactions, this is especially true for the media sector, where the new forms of communication and social platforms are changing the old national and vertical system of information. The proposal of a “European Media Incubator” entails a funding scheme articulated in Key Actions that is supposed to facilitate the development of a common European public sphere in general and of pan-European media grassroots projects in particular. Projects would simply need to be in media, demonstrate a European dimension and have a potential for viability. That being so, this platform would combine in an integrated approach funding, services, mentorship, logistical support, know-how as well as training for journalists and non-professionals. This would foster greater public debate on European themes across the continent and would also start a mechanism through which multi-national media projects would be easier to set up.

To conclude, with these two proposals, we envisage concrete ways through which European youth can take ownership of the European project, combining their direct interests and expectations with an environment full of new opportunities. After all, we cannot talk about Europe without putting the main characters at the centre of its stage.

Politics & The World

by Fabien Segnarbieux

Out of all the upheaval provoked by the influx of refugees and the destabilization of the Schengen area, one country has distinguished itself from others. Lesser known than Viktor Orban or the new Polish government of Beata Szydło, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has systematically refused the idea of a refugee quota and embodies the impossibility of the EU to strike a deal on the question.

A vicious circle is ongoing. If EU states cannot agree with each other, then it prolongs the absence of a political answer towards a system which is inefficient today. Schengen’s destabilization is therefore worsening which paves the way for individual national decisions and so on… until a compromise is reached – or the end of Schengen.

Thus, not only threatening the whole Schengen acquis, fierce Slovak opposition reveals political (cultural?) differences that question the European Union as a political identity. Is the Union facing the most important challenge of its history? The question needs to be asked.

One must know that even on his crusade against refugees, Robert Fico remains a politician running for a third mandate as Prime Minister. In campaigning for the legislative elections taking place today, Fico labelled himself “defender” of the country against refugees and the orders coming from the European Union. His campaign slogan was ”We protect Slovakia” (Chránime Slovensko) and he fuelled it with populist rhetoric.

The monitoring of “every single Muslim” would be ongoing while Slovak citizens would be enduring an “immensely high” security threat [1]. The Paris attacks and the events in Cologne were also used to keep the focus of the elections on the migrant crisis rather than on other domestic issues [2].

Already benefiting from the Slovak fractured opposition, Fico skilfully exploited the refugee question and is likely to secure a historical third term even though the formation of a coalition could be needed [3].

Nonetheless, “Super” Fico’s stance is only the tip of the iceberg as the refugee quota triggered a united refuse across all political lines. Only the Slovak President Andrej Kiska has called for “more understanding of EU solidarity” [4] and political divergences come up only in regards to the acuteness of filling a lawsuit against the EU quota system.

For the current Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak (former UN high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina), the proximity between politicians’ and citizens’ views is clear: “The political leaders in Slovakia respond to the feelings and expectations of the Slovak citizens,” (…) “I don’t remember any other issue where our national position — which is really built on the feelings of people — has been so much in contrast with what is expected of us from our partners”.

Likewise, according to a Eurbarometer survey from spring 2015, only 37 % of Slovaks are feeling positive about immigrants from other EU states and 17 % for immigrants from outside EU (the EU-28 average is 51 % and 34 % respectively) [5].

Trying to explain such a reaction, Western European media pointed to the lack of previous multicultural experiences linked with colonies or the physical separation from the rest of Europe by the Iron Curtain. However, historians such as Eloise Adde and Roman Krakovsky prefer to recall the “imperfect” process of nation-building of the Central European states [6].

The former Austro-Hungarian Empire was a land of multiculturalism where different communities coexisted. It is the implementation of nation states in the aftermath of WWI that altered the political mosaic of the region.

Indeed, in the case of former Czechoslovakia, minorities like Germans, Hungarians or Poles were significant enough to be seen as “possible challengers” to the Czechoslovak majority. The Sudeten crisis profoundly marked popular imagination as it somehow brought this fear to life. This crisis not only led to massive expulsion of “ethnic-Germans” but also provides a good example of how minorities and the nation state can be antagonistic towards each other.

In a similar theory, the French historian Catherine Horel developed the idea of a proper martyrology fuelling a “myth of weakness” in the Central European region. This martyrology would go hand in hand with a complex of inferiority and fierce nationalism to balance it.

What does that mean in other words? One must look back into history and look at how national communities were built rather than invoking a lack of multiculturalism to understand the rejection of refugees in the Central European states.

Thus, the dispute over a refugee quota badly hides what could be seen as cultural differences hardly reconcilable. It is also likely to have an adverse effect as Central European countries benefit from Schengen. A political backlash cannot be excluded as they could be accused of double standards by other states.

Slovakia whose border crossings between Bratislava and Vienna are higher than anywhere in the EU[7] will assume the presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2016. It will then be interesting to observe how Slovakia will handle it and what reactions arise.

If “political divergences” arise, it will definitely confirm that the refugee dispute has weakened the normal course of conducting politics between EU states. This is why the refugee question is of the utmost (political) importance, it questions the whole European Union as a political project.

Update (March 8, 2016):

“It will not be easy, I am saying that very clearly”, Fico stated after he won the elections with 28,3 % of the votes without winning the absolute majority. The formation of a new government remains uneasy given the amount of parties (8) that have reached the 5 % limit to enter parliament. It is also important to note that the far right radical party LS-Nase Slovensko entered parliament for the first time of its history with 8 % of the votes.



Image by European Council, taken from flickr


[1] http://www.politico.eu/article/slovakia-fico-migrants-refugees-asylum-crisis-smer-election/

[2] For another example of populist rhetoric from the same article.

“The only way to eliminate risks like Paris and Germany is to prevent the creation of a compact Muslim community in Slovakia“

[3] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/01/21/slovakias-general-election-the-impact-of-the-refugee-crisis-is-likely-to-push-robert-fico-back-to-power/

[4] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/10/08/why-slovakia-has-become-the-focal-point-for-opposition-against-eu-refugee-quotas/

[5] From the article before

The table can be accessed here : https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CPhCVo1WoAAmpGo.png:large http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/01/21/slovakias-general-election-the-impact-of-the-refugee-crisis-is-likely-to-push-robert-fico-back-to-power/

[6] http://visegradinsight.eu/central-and-eastern-europe-and-the-refugee-crisis/

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/05/is-the-schengen-dream-of-europe-without-borders-becoming-a-thing-of-the-past


Pitching Europe

The European Union (EU) is facing a deep political crisis. With increasing pressure coming from the refugee crisis, with an in-or-out referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU approaching and with the risk for the Schengen area of dissolving, the EU’s political integration process is once again called into question.

As Eurobarometer data for the last decade shows, the percentage of citizens believing that the EU membership is not benefiting their country is on the increase along with the number of individuals who feel ‘mistrust’ and ‘anxiety’ towards the EU. In the eyes of European citizens, the EU is often seen as a remote institution, which lacks the political will to reform and make a difference in their daily lives. For years, European leaders have blamed ‘Brussels’ for their troubles at home and criticised its ‘behind-closed-doors’ decision-making process. Consequently, citizens’ engagement and participation in European politics has progressively been dropping as shown by the trend of voter turnout at the European Parliament elections, because they feel like their voice is not being heard.

Two issues have been identified by the 1989 Generation Initiative as significantly contributing to the EU’s lack of legitimacy. On the one hand, the lobbying industry is inadequately regulated and largely dominated by the most resourceful multinationals. They have greater access to decision-makers to promote their interests and as a result, lobbying activities are mostly confined to the same portfolios such as Energy, Digital Economy and Financial Markets. On the other hand, the Spitzenkandidaten system used in the 2014 European elections has shown signs that campaign personalisation increases voter turnout. However, several problems hampered the last elections and need to be adjusted. The process of nomination of the President of the European Commission needs more visibility, more authority and a greater European dimension to fully reach its potential.

The 1989 Generation Initiative has elaborated two policy proposals that aim to improve the transparency, accountability and representativeness of the European Union.

We call for the introduction of a mandatory register of lobbying activity applicable to all EU institutions (European Parliament, European Council and the European Commission) to increase transparency in the dealings between EU decision makers and outside interests. In the new system, all human resources and capital invested in lobbying by registrants will need to be declared as well as additional information about involvement in EU committees, forums, intergroups or similar structures. The objective is to create a ‘legislative footprint’ that include public records of all meetings and external inputs during the legislative consultation process. In practice, the ‘Transparency Register Secretariat’ will be attributed additional resources and will be in charge of managing the register, of running checks and of imposing sanctions whenever the rules are infringed.

By making the institutions more transparent and holding actors responsible for their actions and decisions, the EU will earn the support and trust of its citizens. In the words of the European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans “It is just as important to enable citizens to know who we meet and why, as it is for the Commission to maintain an open and regular dialogue with stakeholders”. Moreover, the more open the EU decision-making process is, the easier it is to ensure balanced representation and avoid undue pressure and illegitimate or privileged access to information and decision-makers. We believe this reform will encourage a larger variety of external actors to get involved.

Transparency, accountability and representativeness are fundamental to encourage European citizens to participate more actively in the political life of the EU. To this aim, we also propose the direct election of the European Commission (EC) President.  By fully incorporating the Spitzenkandidaten procedure in the European Parliament (EP) elections, the candidate of the majority parliamentary group will automatically be appointed as the president of the EC. Such a revolutionary institutional reform will enable European citizens to hold both the EP majority parliamentary group and the president of the EC accountable for their actions and to sanction or reward them every five years. The message we advocate is the importance to give European citizens a voice in deciding the direction of the EU and ensuring that this reflects the will of European citizens. As the candidates for EC president will be elected on the basis of their European parliamentary group and political standings, citizens will be better able to better understand the programmes of candidates and make an informed decision about the future of the EU, being less vulnerable to populist rhetoric.

With these two reform proposals, we envisage that the ‘access to voice’ and ‘access to information’ to all European citizens will be fundamentally boosted. This is a critical step forward to enable European citizens to engage with EU politics and fully be part of the European project.

Politics & The World

by Erik Kemmling

This week the twelfth round of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started – and the deal is as controversial as ever. TTIP has been one of the most prominent European issues of the past years. It triggered a mass politicization in 2015 but has recently lost a bit of its salience because of the refugee crisis.  Nevertheless, just like the refugee crisis, TTIP will accompany us throughout the new year. It is therefore important to recap and reflect now in order to have new food for thought for 2016.

I personally have decided to be against TTIP and I hope it will be rejected. Nevertheless, I see it as a distinct chance for Europe, especially with regard to its democratic accountability. How do these views fit together? At a first read such an opinion seems completely devious. In the coming paragraphs I will show why it is not, but first, it is important to recapitulate arguments in favor and against the deal.

Since it is a trade agreement, economic reasons seem to be of capital importance. Yet, calculations about potential GDP growth on each side of the Atlantic are rather questionable, as some studies show.

Another argument in favor of TTIP is its geostrategic importance. The US is the closest partner of the EU and is particularly needed considering the EU’s lack of hard power. Arguably, France and the UK have strong militaries but still no mission can be carried out without the help of the US. Also, since the enlargement process has come to a halt, the main soft power source of the EU has become toothless. The result is that countries in the European neighborhood and elsewhere favor cooperation with the China over the EU. China invests in development, but without demanding the respect of human rights in return, which is welcomed by many authoritarian leaders. Thus, an agreement such as TTIP that could foster EU-US relations would potentially increase the EU’s influence globally. For the EU’s geopolitical strategy TTIP is beneficial.

Let’s turn to the criticisms. Concerns over data and consumer protection have been among the most commonly cited. Just think of the famous chlorinated chicken. However, the main criticism is the lack of democratic accountability. Despite of what the chief-negotiator Cecilia Malmström might say, TTIP has several distinct characteristics that make it undemocratic.

First and foremost, the style of the negotiations. To test if something is democratic one can use the characteristics defined by Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Implicit in those characteristics is that government by the people preconditions opportunities for discovering and validating choices that best serve the citizens’ interest. In short, transparency is vital for democracy. Yet, the negotiations have not only been in-transparent but held in secret. This has been a major reason why the European public became suspicious and why the issue became popular. The Commission tried to respond to this criticism with various measures. Since recently, EU parliamentarians can go to reading rooms and have a look at parts of the documents but are not allowed to copy, photograph or even speak about the content. It is hard to speak of a real improvement in terms of transparency here.

Second, the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS), allowing companies to sue governments for profits they missed out on because of changes in policies. Governments will fear massive state losses and refrain from social, cultural and ecological policies that would otherwise benefit European society. This cannot really be considered government for the people.

So where do we go from here?  Understandably, a big part of European society is against this very undemocratic treaty that will have devastating effects on the environment, consumers and national governance. Others consider TTIP economically and strategically indispensable for the EU’s role in the world. Where should we stand? Should we stop it? Can we even stop it? Considering what is known about TTIP at this point, the reasons to be against outweigh the reasons to be in favor. Yet, decision-makers do not seem to deviate from their course. 2016 will be a year of debate and protest again.

Despite all the quarrels about TTIP there is a third perspective I would like to introduce. TTIP as a chance for the EU.

TTIP has led to mass demonstrations across Europe. People stand together in a solidary manner and fight for what they like about the EU, ranging from culture, consumer rights and the environment to democratic principles that are not yet completely in line with neo-liberal capitalism. Those demonstrations mark a true European moment. Those are the kind of moments we need in times of a lack of European solidarity, Schengen possibly at threat and alarming developments for example in Poland. TTIP has put a big part of European society on the same page. The treaty politicized the European public and enhanced European civil society.  Active citizens are what a healthy democracy needs and active European citizens are what the EU needs.

For years, one of the most common criticisms of the EU has been its lack of democratic legitimacy, characterized by a weak EP and a technocratic Commission that is said to have lost the connection to EU citizens. The gap between citizens and decision-makers seems to have been too big for too long, TTIP being the latest example. The European Commission and national leaders could now listen to the people and make the treaty acceptable. This would at least mean full transparency and no ISDS. If the treaty becomes one that is shaped by European citizens it would silence critics of the EU. It would prove that the institutional setup of the EU is democratic enough and that civil society can compensate an inherent problem of democratic accountability. People would see their voice matter in the EU. At this point we need to stop dreaming. Nothing points to this utopian compromise.

Therefore, I personally hope to see a rejection of TTIP. Even without TTIP, the US will remain the closest partner of the EU. But despite the apparent strategic tragedy, TTIP will have created a European civil society, a civil society that has defended the rights and principles of the EU. Maybe we should start to consider this a strategic asset for the EU in a global order.

Image by Mehr Demokratie/Friends of the Earth Europe/Lode Saidane, taken from flickr