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

by Valentin Steinhauer

This goes out to all the EU enthusiasts of my generation. To those out there in their twenties, spending their time studying the EU, working with or within the EU. To those who are or have been on Erasmus and those participating in the European Voluntary Service. Simply put, to anybody of my generation who is enthusiastic about the European project. It’s time to tell our side of the story.

We are the most mobile generation to date. While our parents were often confined to geographical, political and socio-economic boundaries, the concepts of space and time have been redefined and continue to change in our globalised world. This high level of mobility comes both with great opportunities as well as a price to pay. The downside of mobility is a feeling of uprooting. The more mobile we are, the less predictable our future. Relationships and friendships are as often created through mobility as they are burdened by it. Nevertheless, we do not want to complain because mobility, for us, means choice. Having the choice to stay abroad is a privilege.

As a German, I have studied in the Netherlands for almost four years, spent my Erasmus exchange in France and lived in Belgium for an internship. However, sometimes I still catch myself forgetting that the opportunities provided by the European Union, most notably the right to move, study and work freely across the continent, are only exploited by a minority. Indeed, what we need to realise is that our borderless life is often far from people’s reality at home. Thus, telling our side of the story is not about saying how great we are. On the contrary, it is about saying how lucky we are.

Nothing is more dangerous than a situation in which the ones who are benefitting the most from integration forget about the people at the core of the project. Inequality of opportunity is what ultimately poses the biggest threat to Europe. The European Union can never sustain itself as an elitist project. Today, most Europeans do not spend much time abroad, except maybe for holidays. Thus, encouraging mobility remains the most vital tool to make Europe a real life experience. However, while mobility can and should be strengthened, we urgently need to direct our attention at how to bring the EU closer to the people right now.

With this in mind, we also need to ask ourselves how we can contribute to shift the European Union from the realm of the abstract to the world of the tangible. The benefits of integration may appear obvious to you, but they appear less and less obvious to the majority of the people. While this is certainly an obligation for politicians, I strongly believe that our generation’s privileges come with obligations, too.

European integration has given our generation opportunities and possibilities we would not have had without it. Thus, we need to ask ourselves what our legacy will be when the next generation reaches its twenties. Will they look at us as the generation who effortlessly left the stage to Farage, Le Pen, Wilders and co., or will they see something different in us?

Far from saying that the EU is flawless, we nonetheless have to contest that it has become the preferred victim of populist movements across the continent because it can easily serve as a scapegoat for others’ failure. While there seems to be an army of critics out there, ready to attack the EU, Brussels’ defence appears unorganised and all too afraid of the enemy both outside and inside its walls.

It is important to remain critical about the European Union, but it is also time to stand up for the things we love about it. In doing so, we are not engaging in a selfless act but rather in an act of self-preservation. Efforts to reverse integration, to restrict our freedom of mobility, to replace bridges with borders – things we witness at the moment – are ultimately actions aimed at our way of life. To cut a long story short, although a borderless continent has been given to us, it does not mean that they will never again take it from us.

Hence, it is time that we start telling our side of the story. A story which is different from the one told by populist parties but also different from the one told by politicians traditionally in favour of the European project. Discussions on Brexit, migration schemes, or Eurozone bail-outs are important, but do not make Europe approachable for its citizens. Despite all current problems, Europe needs to remain a positive experience for its people if its nations are not to drift apart any further.

In many ways, our generation has embraced the European project like no one before us. We combine the memory of a violent past with the privileges and opportunities of the present. We are the last generation to have had the opportunity to speak to family members who have witnessed Europe’s bloody past. I had the chance to talk to my grandfather who spent his twenties on Europe’s battlefields. By cherishing the memory of our grandparents, we honour the single most important heritage of our generation.

What follows is that our side of the story must be one of principle. Never shall we allow nationalists to gain the upper hand in Europe again. However, too many of us have remained silent in the public debate. Despite the rise of ‘Neo-Nationalism’ across Europe, we have remained invisible on the streets of Europe. Despite the efforts of some Member States to reconstruct borders between our nations, we have kept watching.

I believe the time has come to stand up and start telling our side of the story. Yes, mobility often comes as a double-edged sword. It has the power to create as much as it has the power to destroy. However, whereas you can always lose what you have by staying where you are, truly new experiences can only be made by moving forward. Thus, our story is one about creation. About European friendships, jobs, families, love, hope, future, freedom and peace. A story worth sharing because it is worth preserving.


Image by Rock Cohen, taken from flickr

Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Marsida Bandilli

Albania is a relatively small country, located in the South-East of Europe. It has a population of approximately 3.5 million people. Its neighboring countries are: Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. In its western side, Albania is flanked by the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Italy is the closest country, across Adriatic sea. The capital of Albania is Tirana, one of the most important cities in the country. Tirana is a hub, where most of the economy, politics and administration takes place. Contrary to the outmost prevailing believes, Albania indeed is a very rich country. Its richness stands on: history, myths, legends, culture and hospitality.

The Culture

If it ever happens that you come across Albania, there is one particular element that you would definitely notice, no matter the city you are visiting. “Let’s grab a coffee” is one of the most popular expressions, for Albanians of every generation. Albanians, they do not simply love their coffee, but they would rather “get drunk” in coffee. There is a bit of mystery in every single grain. Coffee is the bittersweet taste of life, that puts everyone in a perpetual state. It makes you talks and discuss about everything: starting from politics and education, to travel, religion and relationships too.

Hospitality: the generous and friendly treatment of visitors, is one of the core values for Albanian culture. Whenever the guest or stranger knocks on the door, you greet with a warm smile and make him feel home. The best meal is prepared and the most comfortable shelter is offered, because the guest is always special.

Albania has an old and enriching history. Great myths, tales and legends are still much alive in the mountains of Albania. One of the fragments that demonstrates Albania’s ancient cultural landscape is the old town of Butrint. The historic cities of Berat and Gjirokastra are inscribed as rare examples of architecture. They are a true witness of the wealth and diversity of urban and architectural heritage of Albania. The country itself offers a spectacular and diverse terrain: mountains and sea, rivers and forests. Very rare it is the Albanian language. It belongs to the European family of languages, but strands in its own branch without any close relatives. The country is well-known for its religious tolerance between the Muslim and Christian communities.

European Integration

So far, Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization. A major achievement that was largely congratulated was the official candidate status of the EU. For a long time, Albania was considered a potential candidate country for the EU Membership. In June 2014, in recognition of its progress, the European Council granted EU candidate status to Albania. Major achievements were applauded, but after advancement of reforms in key sectors, there will be an opening of the accession negotiations. The last progress report about Albania-EU relations came out in October 2014. Progress in specific areas was marked towards fulfilling the political criteria and towards becoming a functional market economy, visa roadmap, public administration etc although more efforts should be made for example in the judiciary system, elections and so on. Local elections took place just a few months ago in the country. Rather than that, key European representatives are visiting Albania, for the sake of strengthening more collaboration with the EU in general, but with other counterparts in the region, in particular. The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel visited Albania in the beginning of July, followed by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

But something is sure: if you ask the public opinion about what do they think for enlargement: almost 90% of them would say that they would like Albania to be a member state of the European Union. If you put everything into historical perspective: the restriction of movement, of living and generally building your life in Europe- was an unimaginable phenomenon, before the 1990s. Most of people see European Union as one of the biggest political constructions of Europe. It doesn’t represent just a project, it is rather the idea of belonging to the continent, the European identity, solidarity and promotion of “united in diversity”.


It is also unquestionable that the eagle- the messenger of highest gods is spreading its wings from the highest cliff of the stiff mountain of Albania to Europe and everywhere in the world: “Albanians have a vision. They are an indispensable part of the European identity. Their enriching history and vivid culture are a real testimony why Albania is a small but a very precious-stone of the Mediterranean.



Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Admir Čavalić

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with 4 million people, located in the heart of the Balkan region, sharing borders with Croatia in the West and North, with Serbia in the East, and with Montenegro in the South.

It has a very rich history in which we had Illyrian and Slavic tribes, the Roman Empire, Bogomil heretics with their Bosnian Church, several Bosnian kings, the arrival of the Ottoman Empire and the spread of Islam in Europe. Afterwards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, followed by the beginning of World War I in Sarajevo, the birth of the Yugoslav state, then World War II with Partisans fighting in hilly Bosnia, later communist Yugoslavia with its charming dictator, in 1992 the declaration of independence. But also the start of the four-year war with the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. Since then and until today – the era of transition and Euro-Atlantic integrations.

The political complexity

What makes Bosnia and Herzegovina politically so interesting is the complex administrative-territorial system of the country. Basically there is a state-level government with three presidents, under which there are two entities with their governments, and as a third part a district called Brčko. The first entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina covers 51% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is mostly populated by Bosniaks (mostly members of the Islamic religion) and Bosnian Croats (mostly members of the Catholic religion). The Federation is further divided into ten cantons (following the Swiss model), where each canton has its own government and budgets. Cantons are formed by cities and municipalities.

The other entity is called Republic of the Srpska and is accounting for 49% of the territory and is mainly inhabited by Bosnian Serbs (mostly Orthodox religion). Unlike the Federation, which is highly decentralized, the Republic of Srpska is centralized and below the entity government there are only cities and municipalities.

Finally, the Brčko District is independent of two entities and is often referred to as a Hong Kong of Balkans. All in all, the above-described structure implies that we have a total of 14 governments, 13 Prime ministers and 136 ministers. The head of the state is made by three presidents, each of the three constituent nations by the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats).

Economic paradoxes

The political complexity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is further forced by frequent political conflicts that are mainly inspired by nationalism. This leads to the country’s economy being totally ignored, and the existence of some remarkable paradoxes. Regarding the labour taxation for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina is among the first in the World (on 100 euros, the state takes 72 euros). This is one of the reasons why the country is the world’s record holder in youth unemployment, with a rate of 57.9% of young people unemployed. There are also lots of other problems of course, from the labor market and tax policy to bad legislation and business conditions. Let us add that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are the least economically free in Europe, and on the 97th place worldwide on rankings by Index of Economic Freedom.

However, one sphere of economy is among the healthiest in Balkans. At the same time it is the only sphere that local politicians do have no control of. It is the monetary sphere, ie, printing money. The local currency called the convertible mark (BAM) is pegged to the euro through the Currency Board. Bosnia does thus not have the ability to control its currency, which is therefore extremely stable and always worth 1.95 against the euro (1 euro is 2 KM). Interestingly, the currency uses the name „mark“ because during the war the German mark became the dominant currency of confidence among various nations.

EU integrations

Where we can be optimistic and hopeful for Bosnia and Herzegovina is the determination of its citizens to join the European Union as a full member, and to integrate further with NATO, too. Therefore, the ultimate political goal of any political party, regardless of whether they are left or right, moderate and extreme, is the European Union. The level of support among citizens is incredibly high, with more than 80% of citizens supporting EU membership. Therefore, the 2015 is often called the year of reforms for Bosnia and Herzegovina, because this year we signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, but also started serious reforms within the framework of the so-called reform agenda which was created with the help of EU.

The aim of the reforms is the liberalization and deregulation of the domestic economy, and the reduction of fiscal liabilities with the of increase fiscal discipline and privatization of the rest of commanding heights of the Bosnian economy. Ruling political parties that are center-right are working on this, although the unions and the public are often opposed.

In the long term, the vision is that Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes a competitive EU mini-states that will offer its relatively cheap and skilled labor force, but also actively compete with their companies in the European internal market. Even today, many Bosnian companies are doing subcontracting work for multinationals and EU companies. By joining the EU this trend will increase, and we will further work on economic integration as a long-term condition for peace and prosperity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as generally on the Balkans.


Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Marko Kebe

You could tell a lot of Slovenia just by looking at its position on the map of Europe. By saying this I am not refering only on geographical features but moreover on its political and cultural characteristics. Slovenia is indeed a unique case of a country that combines various different landscapes and natural beauties within only 20,273 km2.

Slovenia as a heart of Europe where “the Alps meet the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plain meets the Karst” is something you would normally read in a tourist catalogue about Slovenia. It is maybe a bit pretentious calling ourselves “the heart of Europe” but from where I am standing we can allow ourselves this little mischief since we are indeed very much proud of our unique blend of various natural, cultural and architectural features.

Pretentious as it might be, Slovenians are generally considered to be rather humble and obedient when it comes to the relations with other countries. Throughout its history up until its independence in 1991 Slovenia has always been subjected to the authority of different royal houses and supranational entities from the rule of Habsburgs to the more recent one of Yugoslavia (let’s leave EU alone for a while).

When discussing my country and its role in international affairs with the students from abroad I frequently like to mention our anthem Zdravljica (The Toast) by France Prešeren which is one of the most pacifist and enlightened anthems I’ve ever came across:

“God’s blessing on all nations,

Who long and work for that bright day,

When o’er earth’s habitations

No war, no strife shall hold its sway;

Who long to see

That all men free

No more shall foes, but neighbours be! “

The seventh stanza of Zdravljica – The National Anthem of Slovenia

So, where does this inability to fulfill its interests as an independent actor stem from? And why have Slovenians decided that it is time for a more modern approach when dealing with other nation states? Well, first of all, Slovenia is a relatively small country when it comes to the population with its 2 million inhabitants. It’s economy is – as you can imagine – comparatively small with approximately EUR 45bn EUR of GDP in 2014. Putting its smallness aside Slovenia always had a very healthy balance of trade in merchandise where exports always exceeded its imports. Slovenia’s merchandise exports in 2014 rose by 6.9% to EUR 23.04bn, an all-time high, while imports grew by 2.4% to EUR 22.65bn (Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia). Trends seem to be improving and hopefully our generation will once be able to escape these shackles of crisis and depression we have constantly been reminded of throughout our youth and studies.

Oh yes, as small as Slovenia is, the tentacles of the globalized economy haven’t spared her, quite the opposite, Slovenian economy has been badly hurt by the financial meltdown. Large cuts in public spending have been necessary to avoid international bailout not to mention the ongoing plans for privatization – the topic where a lot of blood is spilled when it comes to political rivalry. Slovenian reputation in international affairs has indeed fallen quite significantly from a model transition state to a near financial fiasco.

While the economy was booming everything was safe and sound but the flaws of inadequate regulation in economic affairs became much more obvious and painful once the crisis hit the small but beautiful Slovenian shore (figuratively speaking of course). It has become apparent that the bad management of some state owned companies can be ascribed to the clientelism which was inherited from the ex-Yugoslav regime where the line between business and politics was very much blurred. Slovenia has therefore been regularly pointed out as being on top in Europe regarding corruption in it’s business practices (Watch Ernst & Young’s: Europe, Middle East, India and Africa Fraud Survey 2015) – definitely not something we can be proud of.

I would have to confess that there really exists a certain ambiguity when it comes to Slovenia(ns), which brings me back to the idea I have pointed out in the beginning. As much as Slovenia is divided in its natural diversity so it is divided in its political and cultural sense. As I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, we face quite some difficulties regarding transparency and meritocracy. We really are somehow divided between the German way of keeping things in order and more of a hang loose approach which is prevailing on the Balkans. Translated into the language of politics, we are strongly trying to give an impression of a westernized state with strong economical and political discipline, whereas our actions and customs aren’t really speaking in favor of it.

Cultural divergence is on the other hand something we have to cherish and respect: you wouldn’t believe how many different dialects we have in such a small area; practically every micro region has an accent and a culture of its own. Although a lot of young people are searching for opportunities in bigger cities such as Ljubljana or Maribor, a normal Slovenian will always stay somehow attached to where he/she comes from (if not in any other way, than by his accent).

This of course brings us to the question what does it actually mean to be a Slovenian? Or “what are Slovenian stereotypes”, which is something I get frequently asked? These are the questions I was never able to answer fully and probably never will. This of course doesn’t mean that we are a nation without a significant character or purpose, rather contrary, I think our struggle and ability to reach independence gives us enough leverage to be proud on our small but beautiful Slovenia.