Politics & The World

          by Cristian Mihai Lazăr.

In the last year Romania has inarguably found itself in a most decisive period for its future as a state. The importance derives from the internal politics that are outlined especially after the last elections, the parliamentary elections on December 11. Roughly one year after the protests that followed the tragedy of the Colectiv club (which resulted in 64 deaths), the protests which swept down a political government and consequently led to the establishment of a technocratic government, both for the legislature and the executive, it was now imperative the regain the political and popular legitimacy. This could not have been achieved in any other way except through the prism of democratic elections.

The campaign for this year’s legislative election was dull, lifeless and did not generate any collective emotions. Of course, the candidates were mainly responsible for this situation, but also a new electoral law was among the reasons as well – a law that is very rigid regarding the operations and financial expenses that can be conducted during the campaign. In comparison, ‘on the other side of the coin’ are the campaigns that are conducted in the USA, which are characterized by huge campaign budgets and popular entertainment aspects. Besides the two traditional political parties PSD (Social Democratic Party) and PNL (National Liberal Party) in competition for the confidence of voters, not even the new political parties (most of them having old personalities) managed to attract a substantial number of Romanians to vote. Speaking about the categories of voters: on the 11th of December the young people, unlike in the presidential elections when there was a massive presence of the youth which made the difference in the final outcome, this time they remained indifferent and less willing to vote. With a lack of a collective emotion and surprises, the elections confirmed what was already outlined: a predictable victory for the left wing. Nevertheless, the proportions were surprising.

After the political left lost the power last year in consequence to the public revolt which swept down the social-democratic Prime Minister, the PSD and the left wing parties secured a crushing victory receiving 45.47% of the total votes. We can observe that the victory of the Romanian political left wing was in accordance with the trend that already had formed in the East and South of Romania (as well as in both the Republic of Moldavia and in Bulgaria the left wing parties have achieved victory in last month’s elections). We can speak about a remarkable comeback, after the consequences of last year’s protests when the confidence in the party has decreased incredibly and the former Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, became prosecuted for corruption (an accusation which he denied). Nonetheless, the withdrawal from the government a year ago and the appointment of a cabinet of technocrats were a political-saving solution. In this way, the PSD basically managed to be at the same time in opposition and in government, keeping the key positions in the state both at local and central levels. Permanently, the socialists showed themselves hostile to the technocratic government, blocking any measure or attempt to reform a politicized administration. The “triumphing march” of these elections was also assured by the demagogic voracity and populist irresponsibility seen in some parts of the promoted government program. In brief, if the PSD program becomes reality, Romania would witness salary and pension increases, the elimination of half of existing taxes, a gigantic hospital built in the capital of Romania, new regional hospitals and no less than five new highways (it was not said when will it happen though, we shall see).

Managing this election victory won´t be easy, especially because the problem of this party will be to nominate a Prime Minister who can carry out this political program. The first option seems to be the current leader of the party, Liviu Dragnea – who is now being sentenced to 2 years of suspended prison for electoral fraud. However, the Romanian law does not allow the appointment of a convicted person into the government. The most recent political movements are showing that Liviu Dragnea has succumbed to pressures of the law enforcement and Sevil Shhaideh will probably represent PSD`s nominee and thus the future Head of Romanian Government. About Sevil Shhaideh, it is known that she is one of the closes political friends of Liviu Dragnea. In any way, in confrontation between the popular will and the rule of law, Romania cannot afford another political crisis at this moment. In these outlined circumstances it remains to be seen how the political hegemony of the PSD will evolve.

At the opposite side of this triumph we can notice the great failure of the main opposition, the National Liberal Party. As a consequence to the election outcome, the president of the party resigned the day after the elections. The problems of the party were not acute, but rather chronic. The symptoms of the defeat were also visible at local elections, where the results were far below expectations. The failure was generated by a lack of vision, and the lack of vision was generated by a lack of leadership. It may even be said that the PNL has participated at these elections without leaders. The message they promoted lacked substance and was more focused on the possible damage of a PSD victory. However, there seemed to be a few positive signs as well as the party came up with new candidates, promoting many young people and a fresher elite in different policy areas. The reforming of the party is relevant not only for its own salvation as a political party but also to provide Romania with a powerful right-wing in its politics spectrum to assure a viable balance of the political powers. They need to get rid of the tired portraits and adopt a persuasive, combatant, and articulated speech. The National Liberal Party must become again liberal more than ever.

The astonishing item of the elections was the appointment in the Parliament of the USR (Save Romania Union) party with a redoubtable score of 8.87% of the votes for a party which is less than one year old. This party managed to win the confidence of Romanians that are unsatisfied with the “system” and with the current political class. Lacking experience and based on criticism so far, this young political party emerged as the third force in the new Parliament, despite limited resources and logistics. More than ever, they will need an offensive energy, strength, and most of all in order to assure their existence in politics, they must find an ideological identity.

The former president of Romania, Trăian Băsescu, has claimed himself to be the main opposition for the future left wing Cabinet along with the Popular Movement Party whose leader he is. This is a new party, participating in its first parliamentary elections and becoming part of the new legislature by passing the electoral threshold.  In order to ensure a sustainable coalition, PSD will also be supported by ALDE, a party which is led by the former liberal Prime Minister C. P. Tariceanu. The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania, a party of minorities, is the other party that managed to be appointed in the Parliament and it has great chances to form too a coalition with PSD and be in government together. As a positive item, unlike in many European cases, fortunately the current nationalist-xenophobic voices did not win the confidence of voters and failed to be appointed into Parliament these elections.

In the 11th of December the voters have expressed themselves in a categorical way. As in any democracy, the majority speaks and the manifested option cannot be contested. Its implications will be major. During this mandate, in 2019, Romania will be one of the countries to hold the presidency of the EU Council. Thus, another reason why the votes of Romanians given on the 11th of December will weigh a lot more, influencing both the national and European political spectrum.

Image by Janrito Karamazov, taken from photopin

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

Politics & The World

Reading opinion pieces on Europe nowadays, it increasingly seems like there are only two possible positions one can take. On the one hand there are those the others call Europhiles. Those that argue that the European Union is integral to our lives nowadays. It brings security, wealth and a common culture. Then there are those labelled by their opposite numbers as Eurosceptic. Preferably, they would see the Union dissolved and all sovereignty returned to Europe’s nation states. To them, the Union is a bureaucratic monster, a waste of tax-payer money and a threat to their respective nation-states.

I find myself in the curious position of identifying with both groups: a paradox if ever there was one. On the one hand, I love Europe. I feel European when I’m outside of Europe. I am proud to say I come from a continent that has produced Dvořák, Spinoza and Nightingale. To me, the EU as a sui generis polity is a marvel of cooperative diplomacy and progressive political ideology. Above all, there are many people with whom I don’t share a nationality, but with whom I can share a European identity, and I will always feel more connected to them than with many of my compatriots.

I am also incredibly sceptic of Europe and the EU. I could fall into many technical (and quite frankly, boring) arguments. I could fall into a critique of the Union’s neo-colonial policies, and its foreign policy hypocrisy. I could give examples of individual policies that have utterly wrecked many lives both within and outside the EU’s borders. I won’t here, because I see these issues as symptomatic, rather than causative. What is fundamentally wrong with the EU, is a complete lack of reflexivity, and the capacity to critically evaluate itself.

I do not mean to generalise that statement. I am certain there are many within the halls of the European institutions who recognise that the Union has problems. However, even if they voice that opinion, their voices are drowned out. Partly that is not their fault. The fact that many national, European news agencies have no EU-specialised journalist on their team means that investigative journalism in Brussels is lacking. Most of them simply translate press releases and call it a day. The few organisations that do have an extensive, critical, investigative coverage of the EU, such as the year-old European edition of POLITICO, are simply too elitist to have any impact on the majority of the electorate.

Regardless of its causes, the EU’s lack of reflexivity is a problem. It feeds into the populist argument that the Union is full of bureaucrats and technocrats, who do not care about the public. It means that, even when there is much international criticism on the EU, such as with the recent refugee deal with Turkey, European leaders pay no heed to that criticism and continue on their chosen road with blind devotion. In light of the Union’s many mistakes in recent years, and a refusal to own up to any of those mistakes, how can one not be sceptical?

Moreover, this lack of reflexivity has led to one big, glaring, unanswered question. What is the Union’s raison d’être? At times it seems like European politicians legislate on European policy “because that’s how it should be”. That is, and has never been, good enough. Every policy needs an idea behind, a justification of why it is important. The EU needs to take a long, hard look at itself if it wants to address this issue, and it needs to do it soon.

Still, despite my scepticism, and despite this fundamental problem, I believe in the European project, and in the Union. The European project has brought relative peace and prosperity. If I so wish, I can study or work in any European country, where I am protected by European law. I have met many people throughout Europe, many of whom I call friends, all of whom I respect and can identify with on some level. I am a European. And I love it.

So far, these arguments may seem redundant. All of them have been made before, by both proponents and opponents of the European Union. The point I wish to make here, is that all of these arguments are not mutually exclusive. And what Europeans need is an acknowledgment of this fact. The only way to do that is to engage all parties in constructive dialogue, regardless of opinion. That is a long shot, since human beings prefer to hear their own opinions echoed back to them, and hear again what they already believe. Yet it is the only way forward. Eurosceptics must learn to accept that Europe has been an integral part of their life for a long time. Europhiles must accept that Europe is very far from perfect, and much about it must change.

So yes, I am a Eurosceptic Europhile. But mostly, I am critical of both.


Image by sarflondondunc.

Pitching Europe

Anti-Corruption International (ACI) is an innovative non-profit organization aiming to bring together young people from around the world to research and combat corruption related issues, share experiences and develop ideas in a constructive environment to fight corruption and to put pressure on institutions to implement anti-corruption mechanisms. We know that ACI can bring about revolutionary change in the world and we are determined to make a world free from corruption a reality.  Following the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT), we were successfully established the 20th March 2015 and have been expanding across Europe and indeed the world, establishing national chapters and working on local and international corruption issues. Our first national chapter was launched in Dublin, Ireland, the country where the international organisation is now registered.

From our early stages of development we have sought to ensure mutual growth through collaboration, and working with partners such as the European Student Think-tank has been a tremendous help for the work we do. So if you are interested in ensuring corruption finds no home within Europe, then you are more than welcome to join the work we do. Over the next months we have a number of plans to revolutionise not only how corruption is discussed but to explore how it impacts core underpinnings of such important values as democracy, rule of law and development. For us it is important to ensure that young people use the energy and motivation to ensure that we harness their propensity for change and see real tangible results. In this regard, during the next few months we will be working on launching our first young African leaders summit in Uganda and also kicking off projects in Germany on whistleblowers and corruption. We are really excited to be a part of the Pitching Europe project: It is so important to highlight how valuable it can be to work together towards a common goal(s) and we look forward to working more with this initiative over the coming months and years to come.

Anti-Corruption International is looking forward to working with the EST in Macedonia within the next months, where we have a series of Anti-Corruption workshops planned to promote transparency and create corruption awareness amongst citizens and students.

President of Anti Corruption International, Jason Deegan, was an EST Ambassador two years before founding the organization. About his experience in ACI, Jason has stated:

“This is where I am writing from now, because of my experiences in the EST I have been inspired to work with young people from around the world to tackle a global issue, the issue of corruption. Within 6 months we have expanded rapidly and consider to do so, we are reaching out to build partnership with youth organisations such as the EST and will continue to work with young people from around the world in relation to how we can best tackle corruption”.

Pitching Europe


“The future is yours. Shape it, think loud. I ask you to succeed.” This was the ambitious mission that Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, president and patron of the 1989 Generation Initiative’s Conference on the Redefinition of the European Mission, bestowed on us in his closing remarks.

With the Eurozone malaise still looming over Europe, an unstable neighbourhood both in the East and South and waves of immigration that have spurred nationalistic relapses and plunged Europe into a deep identity crisis, the future of the Union is in jeopardy. Change is necessary! Yet, the European Union often seems exhausted or too politically remote and lacks the political will to reform itself. Fresh impetus is desperately needed – a new vision capable of inspiring and uniting in a fast changing world must be found.

Our generation, the 1989 generation – often decried as disinterested, disunited and disaffected – has to face the long-term effects of these new realities. We are the generation upon which the responsibility of future European leadership rests. Without our ideas, actions and ownership, the European project will decline, then founder. Our generation, the Erasmus-, Easyjet- and Euro-generation, needs to take on the challenge and assume a leading role in re-articulating the mission of the EU.


“A strong voice for the 1989 generation”

This is why we have founded the 1989 Generation Initiative. We are a team formed of more than 50 individuals from over 20 European countries and determined to mobilize our generation to give it a face and a stronger voice. We aim to create a pan-European process with the 1989 generation at its centre to envision and build consensus for the future of a united, democratic and inclusive European Union. Through broad engagement, intergenerational dialogue and vision-building, policy ideas can be developed and projects implemented that will add new dynamism to the European project.

To start this process, we have hosted the Conference on the Redefinition of the European Mission, which was attended by 25 renowned senior officials and academics, as well as 45 delegates from the 1989 generation coming from all across Europe. In four roundtables on European economic policy, institutional affairs, foreign policy and identity, we have developed eight specific proposals for policy reform.


The development of one uniting message

The United States of Europe are no more than utopia. Yet also the current European system, though noble in its ideals, has hit a wall. Which direction do we want the European integration process to go? What is the Union’s aim for the next 25 years? It seems that heads of governments act in opposition to the fundamental European values such as solidarity, some even against freedom of expression. EU member states are torn when it comes to fundamental questions: how to overcome the structural flaws of our monetary union? When can the basis of the current European public sphere, the Schengen area, be broken? What role should Europe play in the world? Are we to fight for an ever-closer Union, and if so, under which conditions?

These questions will be answered by debating a bold and new vision published in our Manifesto mid this year, and by proposing specific reform proposals which include for instance 1) establishing a single supervisory authority for capital markets as well as a common employment insurance, and 2) develop a new Security Strategy, comprising a Cyber security union, as well as installing a ‘Regional Cooperation Framework’ instead of the current Neighbourhood Policy. In the next month, we will publish these proposals in four separate articles in greater depth on this blog.


We are very thankful for Campus Europe and the European Student Think Tank and their great idea to establish this new project: it is time to get our voice heard and reenergize the European public space. We cannot do this alone. We need all of you – pitch in for Europe!


You share our enthusiasm for the European Union? You are unhappy with the recent developments that threaten to tear the Union apart? You have your own ideas of how to overcome these problems? In short: you want to contribute to a better European Union? Then sign up for our newsletter and get in touch, follow our blog on Euractiv, engage in our crowd-sourcing campaign, participate in our webinars and discuss with us the future shape of the Union. Have your voice heard! Come on board of the 1989 Generation Initiative and be part of one of the hottest European youth movements on the block!


Pitching Europe

Campus Europe is excited to announce the start of its  promising initiative “Pitching Europe” in cooperation with our partner, the European Student Think Tank. As a new category on Campus Europe:

  • We are aiming to bring together political and social youth leaders from all over Europe to share their ideas with a wider audience. Throughout the month, representatives of European youth organizations will take turns in presenting what they see as the most pressing issues of our time and generation, and outline their ideal solutions on www.campuseurope.eu and www.europeanstudentthinktank.com.

In case you are interested in joining the initiative, feel free to contact us via our email account pitchingeurope@gmail.com or write to either Campus Europe or the European Student Think Tank.

We are happy to provide you with more information on the initiative and hope you stay with us. Let’s pitch in for Europe!



Campus Europe Goes BalkansPolitics & The World

by Ivan Šuklev

July 25th, 2015. Five thousand refugees are desperately trying to enter the city of Gevgelija, a city that lies on the border of Greece and Macedonia. Their goal is to continue their long journey from the hells of Syria to their final destination, the paradise of Germany and Western Europe. On their way stands more than 2000 km of road, police brutality, negligence, President Orban’s well known stance and… corrupted Balkan politicians.

In the news nowadays, people can hear a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis that has hit Europe. How they escaped in order to live, how General Assad is killing his own people with his politics, how some of them may be terrorists in disguise sent from ISIL, how precarious their journey is (hint: remember the boy that drowned?) and how their arrival to Germany is a dream come true. But let me tell you a story that you won’t find in any of the news stations. Let me tell you a story in which you will understand just how this crisis has helped some of the politicians in the Balkans get rich, and not a single one of the Western European news agencies reports about this. After all, everyone knows that it’s all about the money, right?

As a guy who was born in the city of Gevgelija, I am well familiar with the ways of public transport. A bus ticket to Skopje (70 km from the Serbian border) is about 7 €. A train ticket costs even less, 3 €. This is because of the fact that Macedonia is a country that has a very, very low living standard (minimal pay check: 180 €/month) and ergo, the prices for public transport are very, very cheap. Except for refugees.

Several days ago, reports have surfaced which said that Macedonian police has acted upon the refugees stationed in the camp of Gevgelija with brutality. As a guy who is highly sceptical of every news agency, I decided to talk with some people who live closely to the railway station in Gevgelija (the refugee camp in Gevgelija is about 1-2 km from the railway station) and also to some local taxi drivers. What I found out was absolutely stunning.

The taxi drivers expressed their disgust towards the police and the local authorities in Gevgelija because the police was stopping them to transfer refugees from Gevgelija to the border with Serbia. This statement seemed pretty absurd to me, because after all, in the news reports every Balkan politician has said that they want to help the refugees to get to Germany. So, why did the local taxi drivers  come up with this frankly ludicrous accusation?

And yet again, the answer was – very simple. Money. Unknown to me or to the rest of Western Europe apparently, the prices for public transport are different if you are a refugee. Bus ticket to Skopje? 30 €. Train ticket? 25 €. Maximum capacity of a bus – 50 to 70 people, depends on the type of the bus. An actual bus filled with refugees – 100 people! Maximum capacity of a train with wagons – 400 to 500 people. An actual train filled with refugees – 800 people! And the local taxi drivers have also said that they witnessed how the police has boarded the refugees on the trains using police brutality and force. I insisted on seeing these busses with my own eyes. When I arrived at the railway station, I saw at least 20 busses parked, from 20 different firms, and not a single one was a public transport company. Not a single one has ever before showed up at the bus station and not a single one has ever made a transport from Gevgelija to Skopje. Then it all added up.

The Macedonian politicians from the government (a government widely known to be an authoritarian and in some instances even totalitarian) had sent these busses and trains because they saw an opportunity of a tax-free material gain. According to the local taxi drivers, at least 4 trains part from Gevgelija every day filled with refugees. That’s about 3200 refugees. A ticket costs 25 €. Daily, that’s about 80.000 euros. No receipts are being issued for the tickets, so these numbers are just speculative. They could be much, much higher. Daily, about 5-6 busses part from Gevgelija to the Serbian border. Roughly about 500-600 refugees. Around 15.000 to 18.000 euros per day.

And this continues on a daily basis. The local taxi drivers are stopped of doing what they are supposed to do (some were even beaten by the police for trying to stand up to them) and their hopes of getting actually paid to do what they are supposed to do – shattered. A taxi driver that looked resignedly at his fate told me in his final sentence: ‘That is just the way things happen around here. Not much we can do about it.’

So next time when you hear a report in the news in which it is stated that many refugees entered Germany or any other country in the EU, think about the fact that around 90% of them passed through Macedonia. Think about the money that went into the pockets of the corrupted Macedonian and Balkan politicians (Serbian and Croat politicians are accused of using a similar transporting scheme). Think about the horrors that the refugees had to endure. Think about the fact that in the Balkans, they had to survive a hell not much different from the one they escaped from.


Image by Fotomovimiento, taken from flickr

Politics & The World

by Arne Langlet

As it becomes ever more apparent that the current handlings of the crisis is unsustainable, policy makers are by now finally agreeing that is it the so called “root-causes” of the crisis that be tackled to in order to control and stop the flow. If the EU wants to succeed in fighting the current crisis, it has to implement changes now. Both, the creation of better legal entrance possibilities for refugees, as well as a the introduction of “European value codex” would be crucial steps on this way.

Violent incidents in refugee camps have started to occur more regularly, with reports of refugees discriminating, threatening and fighting other ethnic or religious groups increasing. How is it surprising that a bunch of men in their twenties, crowded together without chance to work, without clear legal status bored to death after a journey where they had to bite their way through, become violent?

In these situations, religion is a strong tool to regain dignity, and thus it is no wonder that it plays an important role in many of the incidents. Yet, Europe must make clear that no kinds of violence – especially along ethnic, sexual or religious lines – can be accepted.

Although the ratio of violent incidents may be very small, it managed to create a real feeling of fear among many European communities – and this fear, even if mostly unfounded, must be taken seriously. Not least because these emotions have increasingly bigger political effects.

If one wants to ease the public tensions with regards to refugees, declaring such fears as “ridiculous” does not help, but merely pushes those people into the arms of populists to claim to care. Instead, those fears have to be met in a constructive and comprehensible way.

The Syrian war has been going on since 2011. For four years relatively few refugees arrived, while most stayed in refugee camps around Syria, where each year the food was becoming scarce while the hygiene worsened. This shows that the act of traveling clandestinely from camps in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to central Europe is certainly not a comfortable and easy decision for most, but rather a last resort. It is taken only once the hope of a return to their homelands is destroyed.

As the journey is expensive and dangerous (also due to corrupt politicians on the Balkan), it also applies a clear Darwinian selection. Syrians without financial resources are almost sure not to get anywhere. Furthermore, 69 per cent of all arriving refugees are young men.The trip requires physical and emotional strength, it might include running for hours and resisting physically against police or other refugees. And here lies the big problem.

These men in their twenties learnt that you can only reach the destination illegally and if you have the money, the physical strength and possibly the ruthlessness to make the dangerous trip.

Hence, one of the first necessary changes would be to cut the element of the illegal journey, and to allow refugees to apply for asylum directly in their home country or in the refugee camps in the surrounding countries. With this measure, the EU could gain control again, and implement proper registration (ideally determining destination countries beforehand, according to a fair allocation key – but that’s a different discussion).

The EU is aiming at a similar direction by installing so called Hot-Spots, however only inside or directly at the EU’s borders. Yet, these spots would have to be as close as possible to Syria, to have the best effect.

Also the business of human-smugglers could be destroyed with this. Even though the proposed system would not give all applicants the immediate chance to enter the EU, it would foster the hope that doing so will be possible not only legally and cheaper, but also together with the whole family. This would ease the pressure of the flow and avoid new mass departures. Would you rather risk everyone’s live and all your savings now, or wait another few months or even a year to get to Europe legally? In the end, this would also buy Europe time to solve the real root causes!

Secondly, refugees could be obliged to sign a “codex” upon entering the EU, binding them to European basic values. It might be naive to assume that everybody would strictly adhere to the principles, but still a moral burden to adhere to them would be created, serving as a constant reminder. Furthermore, the alleged problem of refugees not knowing the local rules beforehand would be solved.

While the current system shows them that only illegal actions are rewarded, this could teach them that acting according to the legal system is rewarded instead. While some might argue that this would mean forcing “our” norms on them, it should be clear that respecting the very basic values of European society can be expected of all those who arrive. Everyone who enters this society is aware of this, and there is also no alternative.

The content of this codex would represent the basic European values of diversity, tolerance,  and equality of all ethnicities and religions – thus also creating an interesting public debate to truly determine and codify what we perceive as common European values. This would increase awareness and foster European identity.

The proposed measures will not automatically solve the situation but could buy us time to solve the real root causes, while facilitating the job of social workers on the municipal levels.


Image by Josh Zakary, taken from flickr

Politics & The World

by Arne Langlet

While the article on “Populism in Europe” (published on this website some days ago) discusses in a useful way some features of the rise of new parties in Europe, it falls victim to a dangerous fallacy. It departs from the flawed (but very mainstream) assumption that new parties in Europe can and should be classified together under the name of populism. A more critical analysis of this phenomenon leads to a very different conclusion however.

It is true that those parties commonly referred to as ‘populist’ parties may have some similarities, such as oversimplifying the political matters, addressing the ‘common’ man (if he exists) and possibly recent voting success. However, these similarities are ‘surface’ similarities. They describe superficial characteristics but do not touch the core of the political ideas of these parties.

Is it not of incredible importance that we judge political parties by their political ideas or programs, and not simply by some superficial characteristics? If we include voting success as unifying characteristic then all currently winning parties in Europe would be populist?

Nationalism on the other hand, is certainly not a unifying theme between the recently emerged parties. If we look at the party programs, the recourse to nationalism is not similar to left-wing and right-wing parties.

In the program of Syriza they envision a “European Debt Conference” or a “European New Deal”. Also Podemos foresees a common European solution to economic problems and aims to change the “current governance of the Euro” with the other European countries (Interestingly, many of the proposals actually involve transferring more power and sovereignty to Europe, even over sensitive fiscal issues).

Hence, both (supposedly clear examples of “populist” parties) see their country deep within the EU and envision a common European solution to problems. Not much nationalist propaganda to discover.

In the meantime, the Front National propagates “anti-immigration” and “anti-government” positions. Furthermore it calls for economic protectionism and hostility to the European Union and the Euro. The AFD calls for the dissolution of the common currency and re-introduction of national currencies and foresees a Europe containing only the common market. These role model right-wing populist parties hence put forward nationalist solutions in open opposition to the European Union.

If we compare these parties on the surface we could find similarities but comparing the surface would be quite a ‘populist’ perspective, hence a very oversimplified analysis!

It makes more sense to distinguish the quality of their political ideas.

And here lies the most important difference. The quality of ideas that propagate economic equality is completely different to the quality of ideas that propagate discrimination and isolation against other nationalities.

Even if you characterize promoting quality as discrimination against “richer” people, there is still a difference. While wealthy people are usually enjoying a privileged position in society, immigrants rarely do. Adding to the fact that ethnicity is an attribute firmly connected to a person through birth, impossible to get rid of.

In many cases, people who come into a country as foreigners possess less (economic) resources than the nationals of the host country. In most cases they also have a lower social status.

Therefore these individuals should enjoy the same or greater protection through society. Right-wing parties however propagate discrimination against foreign individuals. Hence, they put the role of the scapegoat on the more vulnerable persons of society and subject them to discrimination.

Violence obviously is not mentioned in any of the party programs and it is a popular argument that both extremes (left and right) might lead to violent outbreaks. But burning a Porsche does not have the same quality as burning a house full of asylum seekers.

If we use the word “populism” in order to describe both sides, we put them rhetorically on an equal level. Yet, the quality of their ideologies is completely different. If we follow both extremes, we arrive at completely different scenarios. By highlighting the potential danger to democracy in general we mislead.

Democracy is normally associated to values such as “inclusion” and “social equality (to varying levels)”, while “hostility towards foreigners” and “distrust in state (or EU) institutions” are not part of our understanding of democracy.

Although this sentence is highly exaggerated you could make a strong argument that left-wing parties are more democratic than right-wing. They are per se more inclusive than right-wing parties. By putting them under the same umbrella we risk increasing the influence of potentially anti-democratic and violent groups to the public discourse of our society. So please never refer to left-wing and right-wing parties commonly under “populism”.


Image by William Murphy.

Politics & The World

by Christoph Heuermann

Traveling through a wonderful country with equally bad reputation animates to write about its cause. I am in Mexico – a country where 100.000 people died in the last 8 years over something you might have already smoked or sniffed. Drugs – accompanying humans since the stone age – are currently prohibited in most parts of the world. Where drug gangs are not killing each other over lucrative trading routes, governments do the job, incarcerating thousands or just killing them over some outmoded laws.

While this might soon end, it has taken innumerable human lives until now. Indeed, the War on Drugs has failed. It still fails. Yet, there is hope. The movement grows. Most European states, with Netherlands as their forerunner, have always had a rather lenient attitude towards soft drugs, although many still hold them illegal. With the Czech Republic and Portugal effectively decriminalising drugs, especially Portugal with great success, there is need for other European countries to follow suit. Just recently, leading German economists demanded the full legality of soft drugs like weed.

Yet there is no need to be an economist to see the disaster of drug prohibition. An estimated market of 500 billion $ creates enough incentive to sell drugs, even if it is illegal. History has always proved this. Just let us jump back a hundred years to the United States of America, currently on the forefront of drug liberalisation with some of their states. A hundred years ago however, not only drugs like weed, cocaine and LSD were prohibited.

When speaking of drugs, especially people in favour of prohibition like to forget that they consume them every other day. Beer boozing bureaucrats probably implement the drug war under drug consumption. It’s just not called drug, but alcohol.

This thing called alcohol was effectively banned through most of the United States in the early 20th century. By 1900, half of the States were dry, prohibiting any sale of liquor. Yet as everyone knows, there is always a way around prohibitions. Like their modern day counterparts are ordering their drugs through dark web marketplaces like the infamous, now closed-down, Silk Road, Americans just ordered alcohol over the postal service from states allowing consumption.

Yet, naturally, peaceful trade like this could not be tolerated. The Interstate Liquor Act of 1913 closed the loophole. Instead of peaceful trade, violence grew as no more legal ways to obtain alcohol remained open. By 1917, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was proposed, though only ratified 2 years later and set to effect in 1920. It banned all hard liquor with more than 40 percent alcohol content, which was shortly after reduced to 0.5 percent by the Volstead Act.

Thus, alcohol remained fully prohibited in the United States from 1920 to 1933. With it, violence grew at shocking rates, with notorious gangsters like Al Capone exploiting the black market. Homicides during this periods increased by 78 percent, reaching its height at the end of prohibition in 1933 and rapidly falling afterwards. Criminalising the common man makes crime become common as well – an issue which is applicable as well to services like gambling or prostitution.

Although criminalizing it, the Prohibition was far from reducing alcohol consumption. It rather grew – as the statistic of an increase of 81 percent drunk drivers arrested during prohibition years shows clearly. Likewise, government corrupted and spend millions on law enforcement, cracking down regularly a few establishments, but never stopping the black market.

Meanwhile, death by alcohol consumption quadrupled due to increased alcohol content in black market booze. Short of alcohol, many people also turned to consumption of easier available drugs like opium with more severe consequences. All in all, the “Noble Experiment” as it was commonly called failed bitterly. In December 1933, the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment repealed the prohibition, causing president Roosevelts famous quip: “I think this would be a good time for a beer”.

“I think this would be a good time for some weed” is a phrase yet missing in parliaments all over the world. However, after having taken a heavy toll, many people slowly begin to finally wake up. In the case of current drug prohibition, one just needs to remember the experiment of American alcohol prohibition, because it sounds so familiar.

Drug violence shadows over all the Americas, while taking illegal drugs is far from uncommon in these countries. Bad quality drugs still kill a lot of people as do new artificially created drug products. Dangerous products, which normal people would never be exposed to if they had alternatives in natural drugs.

Still, hope rises when watching the success of Marijuana legalisation in Colorado and other American states. Crime decreases, innocent youth is released from prisons, and a now legal market heavily supports local economies. The consumption rate, however, increased only slightly. After all, what is not prohibited, loses value in the eyes of many.

Admittedly, to a full legalisation or at least decriminalisation in Europe there still is a long way. Self-interest and the fear to make themselves superfluous, drives international drug enforcement agencies and politicians to oppose drugs although actually knowing better. While bureaucrats booze beers, there will still be some more unnecessary deaths of innocent people. Like the European Union cannot prevent African refugees to enter its territory, it cannot prevent drugs to be consumed by responsible citizens. Like the former eventually drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, the prohibition of drugs is a tragedy on an enormous scale costing innumerable lives. Sadly, history is the best teacher with the worst disciples.


Christoph Heuermann, *1990, is the author of several articles about Europe, innovation, decentralisation and freedom. If he is not travelling the world, he studies political and administrative science in Konstanz, Germany. Having lived in Vienna, Berlin, Brussels and Madrid for long time, he is a strong advocate for a free and cosmopolitan Europe without borders. He currently works on his latest project, www.staatenlos.ch.