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

          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


One year ago, I interviewed a recent Moldovan graduate from the College of Europe, Dinu Codreanu*, to talk about the trend of Moldovans applying for Romanian citizenship.

A 2013 study by the Soros Foundation Romania found that between 1991 and the end of 2012, 323,049 applications for Romanian citizenship from Moldova were granted. In 2011 and 2012, 100,845 and 87,015 applications were submitted respectively. The Brexit and the increasing internal polarisation of EU member states has not helped to reduce today’s EU criticism. However, taking an outsider perspective is helpful as it recalls the attractiveness of the European project

 Q: So far, more than 450,000 Moldovan citizens have applied for Romanian citizenship, How would you explain such a phenomenon?

This number can be explained by a series of reasons. First, it is how a part of Moldovans are seeing themselves ethnically. Indeed, an important part of the population considers itself as Romanian and sees Romanian citizenship as a rightful return to the “mother-nation” and historic country. The unofficial numbers of the last 2014 census in the Republic of Moldova (RM) confirm this trend: 23% of the RM‘s population considers itself Romanian. The second aspect is the practical interest of having a Romanian citizenship as it gives certain rights in Romania and, more importantly, in the EU.

Q: Could you describe in a few words what kind of benefits a Romanian passport would bring to you if you were to hold it?

If I was to have Romanian citizenship, I could benefit from the advantages conferred to the European citizens in the EU. In practical terms, it would be easier to find work, travel and live in EU member states. The administrative aspect is equally important as a lot of employers are reluctant to hire a person if they see the amount of bureaucratic work related to hiring a non-EU citizen. I wouldn’t have to apply for a residence permit to stay for longer periods of time in an EU member-state. Also, another very important point is the tuition fees for universities; as an EU citizen, they would be proportionate to my parents’ income, thus being considerably lower for me.

Q: Could you give me some personal examples of bureaucracy you faced with as a student?

While studying in France as a Moldovan student, I could see the difference between me and my friends having a Romanian citizenship. They were able to benefit from the social scholarship for students from the second year as EU citizens, a considerable financial help for this period.

Furthermore, they did not require the French “titre de séjour” (residence permit), a document I had to renew every year by bringing a long list of documents to the local prefecture.

I could travel freely in the Schengen area; however, the visa problem appeared when I tried to go to Ireland, a country outside Schengen. A simple tourist visa is extremely expensive and required an obnoxious amount of documents to bring to the embassy. A Romanian citizen does not even need a visa.

Q: A Bucharest-based prosecutor stated Moldovans were asking Romanian citizenship only because it gives the freedom to travel and work within the EU.  Beyond the Romanian affiliation, is it the freedom and rights of the EU that appeal to Moldovan citizens?

As mentioned before, being part of the EU is considered a crucial factor. Moldovan’s image of the EU is often as follows: an area of great prosperity and opportunity; a “civilized” area, where the rule of law and democracy have a real meaning in contrast to our dysfunctional government plagued by corruption. Of course, this image is to be nuanced: things are not so bright, however, this image persists. As the Moldovan process of European integration has a long and bumpy road ahead, lots of people are seeing Romanian citizenship as a way to individually integrate themselves in the EU.

Q: A few years ago, a dual citizenship controversy occurred in Moldova. Double citizenship was allowed and then banned; later on Moldova was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights forcing its reintroduction. How do Moldovan authorities react to this controversy?

Authorities have no problems with the trend of “Romanization” of the Moldovan population; indeed, it is considered as a right to come back to people’s ethnic roots and also a facilitation for many to find jobs abroad and send money back home.  However, the Romanization trend becomes more problematic when it concerns people who have high positions in the public sector and government. Indeed, it is sometimes seen by the pro-Russian or Moldovan nationalist parties as Romania interfering in our own internal affairs.

Q: A union with Romania is often debated. Does it threaten Moldova’s destiny as a nation state?

The question of uniting with Romania comes up in the public debate quite often and the majority of the population seems to be in favour. As for the idea of Moldova as a nation-state, this is a very new idea, which has never existed before our independence in 1991.

Furthermore, Moldova is often considered a state without a nation. The idea of a Moldovan nation and language is linked to the efforts to forge a new sense of belonging and solidarity between the inhabitants of Moldova but also to differentiate ourselves from Romania.

This rhetoric is for instance used by the pro-Russian political parties so to answer your question, I would say the idea of unification with Romania is present but not seen as a priority because of the bad shape of the economy and corruption. As for the threat aspect, it is perceived as a menace by the part of the population which does not see itself as Romanian.

Q: By signing the association agreement with the EU, Moldovan authorities conveyed a political message to its citizens: “Moldova’s future is in the EU” ; isn’t it again an evidence of EU soft power in Moldova?

In my opinion, it could be considered soft power by the EU. I would even go so far and call it a “model power” as it is attracting without having this objective clearly stated.

Indeed, only the perspective of being a “European state” is a considerable argument in the internal politics of Moldova.  The EU is maybe not capitalizing enough on its attractiveness because of the unclear objectives of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The Eastern Partnership was created to tackle the EU’s internal enlargement fatigue. The latter is not an integration policy but at the same time, its methodology is founded on the enlargement procedure. This is a big cause of ambiguity regarding the integration question. Will the Eastern Partnership countries further integrate with the EU in the future? This absence of a clear integration objective is making the EU power more diffuse and its policy less consistent.

*Dinu is a Moldovan graduate from the College of Europe who finished the Master of Arts in European Union’s (EU) International Relations and Diplomacy. He holds a Bachelor in Social and Economic Administration and a Master in International Relations from Paris I University, France.


Adrian Mogos and Vitalie Calugarenau, “How to buy EU citizenship”, “https://euobserver.com/justice/117551“, accessed 15 August 2016

Romanian National News Agency, “http://www.agerpres.ro/english/2013/04/03/over-323-000-application-files-for-romanian-citizenship-solved-in-1991-2012-soros-foundation–19-45-19“, accessed on 12 August 2016

cover image from: http://www.pes.ro/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/moldova-01.jpg

Politics & The World

by Lisa Hermanns

The Brexit was surprising. Not only for Europe, not only for David Cameron, it also surprised many Out-Voters. The irony of this decision that apparently nobody took seriously, and only few in Europe had hoped for, is its arbitrariness. Nobody seems to know what will happen now. The Treaty of the European Union states in Article 50 that each Member State is free to leave the Union in accordance with its national constitution and that the conditions for such a case need to be negotiated with the Union. Yet, the way out of the EU is not laid down in detail. It is for Great Britain to submit its request to leave now, yet since Cameron and other government persons responsible do not hurry, uncertainty remains for the other Member States as well.

If the results of the referendum had been differently, everybody would have known what was to happen. It is surprising that a state would leave the EU anyways, and its founders did not envision such a situation. Indeed, Article 50 providing for such a case was only introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. Seven years after the ratification of this treaty, the scenario often depicted as a deathblow to European integration, could now occur.

On the global stage without Great Britain

And what exactly does the possibly leave of Great Britain mean for the EU and its Member States? Does the Brexit say more about the EU and its condition than about Great Britain? This is at least what Brendan Simms, Professor at Cambridge University, stated during a lecture at Maastricht University. The lack of transparency is often criticized about the EU, as well as it being alien to its citizens. The EU is pictured as an inefficient module of bureaucracy, to whom the curvature of cucumbers is more important than actual political problems. Internationally, the EU is often not respected as a partner in negotiations. These views and accusation do, however, not take into account that the Union is constraint by the way it shares competencies with the Member States. The latter try to keep their say in as many areas as possible. This behaviour is an explanation especially for the EU’s weakness on the international stage, as the 28 national representatives of the Member States always side-line the EU.

But while these states are worried to see their interests undermined if they were represented together with 27 others, European heads of states and governments do not seem to realise that their individual national interests do not matter extinctly on the international stage.If the interest of 500 million Europeans was represented unitarily, the international influence would be much more substantial compared to one voice speaking for 83 million Germans, another one for 9 millions Swedes, one for 60 million Italians and so on.

European Future

It is self-evidently not realistic to think that the interests of European states always converge. Otherwise no one would think it necessary to represent their national interests independently. Yet, the existence of the EU proves the ability of Member States to agree on common aims. Why should they do so only internally and not in global matters? For Great Britain, a state enjoying international recognition in global affairs, the EU has always mainly served economic purposes. Even EU-critical prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in favour of more European integration in the Single European Act of 1987, which completed the single market. If the EU concerned itself with topics non-related to trade, however, Great Britain was less enthusiastic. That is just why their leave is a chance for the Union to progress. Member States can risk more integration and reform the EU’s competences in a way to make its working more effective.

A reform does, however, not necessitate new competences for the EU. One step towards more efficiency would be to change the decision-making procedures in a way that would allow faster decisions. For instance, legislation by the Council of the European Union (national ministers) and the European Parliament could be designed more constructively: consultations on the intentions of both institutions could take place already before the European Commission brings forward a proposal.

If Council and Parliament likewise had the right to initiate legislation, the possibility to contribute common proposals could reduce the lengthy bargaining that usually follows a Commission proposal. Of course, these internal reforms would hardly alternate the EU’s global position. Yet, Great Britain’s possibly leave should encourage the Member States to reflect on the EU’s global meaning, and it should help them realise the Union’s value. If Barack Obama tells a nation like Great-Britain to get to the back of the line as an individual state, what does this even mean for other European states?


This article has also been published in German at firstlife.

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.

Politics & The World

On June 23rd, the UK will decide whether to stay in the European Union. From a European perspective, what is frightening about this debate is not the xenophobic and often racist rhetoric used by parts of the anti-EU camp, but the nerveless arguments put forward by the EU-supporters.

There is a very simple and often entertaining way to get a glimpse of what many Brits have to deal with in the current Brexit debate. One merely has to go to a supermarket or local newspaper kiosk and read the headlines of The Daily Mail or the Sunday Express. With one hundred percent certainty (!) one will find the word “migrant” on the first page. Begging, stealing and raping their way through the island, Brits have to be careful because wherever they go, there will be a sneaky Syrian behind the next corner, ready to take their job and infect their children with what-have-you.

While this might seem quite irritating, strangely familiar to some extent and possibly ridiculous, what is actually scary from a European perspective is not the overt racism of the far-right but the ambitionless, unemotional conduct of the supporters of Britain in Europe.

The main part of the Brexit debate in the UK centres on the economic costs or benefits of staying in or leaving. While the Vote Leave campaign claims that the UK pays about £350 million to the EU each week – a number that ignores the vast economic benefits and subsidies the UK gets in return – the pro-EU camp spends a lot of effort refusing these claims and pointing to the economic benefits of staying. As a result, their arguments have pejoratively been labelled ‘Project Fear’. Boris Johnson and his fellows make repeated emotional appeals to British citizens that hardly contain any argumentative power. Comparing the European Union to Hitler was but the last expression of this trend.

Emotional arguments are often used in political debates and not necessarily condemnable. They can help creating a feeling of collectivity and shared interests as opposed to the political antagonist. As such they are essential for democratic discussion. It is therefore all the more frustrating to see the pro-EU side’s reluctance to appeal to emotions and ideals. The project of European integration is a great ideal and an emotional issue. Bringing 28 member states together in shared supranational institutions is a difficult task that cannot solely be dealt with in a technical manner. Mutual understanding of the historic importance of this unique enterprise is necessary as well as a shared vision for future development. The lack of emotional support that is currently spreading all over the Union and normally inherent to Euro-sceptics, seems to also have befallen the British Europhiles.

Tony Blair in March has criticised the EU supporters for not showing enough passion. He noticed a lack of enthusiasm among those campaigning to remain, and he is right. The Brexit debate is too self-centred on the advantages and disadvantages that the decision taken on June 23rd would have for the UK. When asked at a Brexit debate at the London School of Economics and Political Science why the pro-side so significantly lacked passion and an emotional appeal, the author and journalist Hugo Dixon said that Brits simply were “pragmatic” and that the debate should therefore focus on “practical things” rather than “ideals”.

Leaving the rhetoric power of emotional appeals entirely to the anti-EU side is a problematic and possibly dangerous endeavour. What is at stake is not just “a matter of economic realism”, to use Tony Blair’s words again, but also “a matter of political idealism”. The EU supporters should finally appeal to the great narrative of a united Europe that is crucial for maintaining peace and allowing its members a strong, united voice in the international sphere, rather than allow their opponents to nail them down on the economic, self-interested narrative.


Image by Gwydlon M. Williams.

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

Politics & The World

by Hoai Tram Nguyen

People who know me call me a European Federalist, as I admire the way in which the EU’s foreign policy is conducted: with the long term goal of peace, democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, sustainable development and good governance. But the truth is that the EU has two faces when it comes to its foreign policy. On the one hand, the EU is trying to promote its values in the world. On the other hand, the EU is prioritizing economic benefits over its own values. These economic benefits are particularly prominent in the arms trade business. Though limited research has been conducted within this highly sensitive field, I am convinced that exporting arms is never the road towards a stable, peaceful world. In this article I will show that several Member States (MS) have exported arms to the Middle-East, and in particular to Libya. I am therefore wondering: is the EU contradicting its own norms and values by exporting arms to conflict zones?” The arms trade is a phenomenon that I strongly oppose, as it is hypocritical and contradictory to everything the EU is standing for. One can simply not promote democracy, peace and stability in the world, while simultaneously undermining this by selling weapons.

When the civil war broke out in Libya in 2011, many refugees were stranded on Lampedusa. Italy argued it did not have the capacity to solve this problem on its own, and turned to the EU for help. The people fleeing from this civil war were on the run from Gaddafi’s violent regime. The alarming part in this story is that the weapons used against the Libyan people were manufactured in Europe and exported by EU MS. Data [1] shows that the worth of the military equipment exported to Libya by MS exceeded € 900 million prior to the civil war (2005-2010). In particular, Italy exported more than € 300 million worth of arms to Gaddafi’s regime, including bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, rifles, military vehicles and so on. This is the same country that turned to the EU for help when it became confronted with the results of its own arms trading by being overwhelmed by Libyan refugees.

I must also stress the other side of the story; in short, all this does not mean that MS can export arms without facing difficulties. Officially, there are eight criteria set out in the Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP that must be considered before granting export licenses of military/arms exports to a third country. The Common Position has been adopted as a politically binding tool within the CFSP, yet the CFSP still remains intergovernmental – making it non legally binding. Research conducted by Hansen & Marsh (2015) shows that many MS did not take these criteria into account in the case of Libya, resulting in a high volume of arms exports. I would like to emphasize three of the eight criteria:

  1. Respect for human rights conditions in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law;

According to Amnesty International, human rights conditions in Libya were consistently violated by the regime. These reports warned that small arms and military vehicles could be used for internal repressions. Hansen & Marsh’s research shows that the UK exported military vehicles nonetheless, ignoring the reports. Hence, if you have seen photos in the headlines of vehicles patrolling the streets in Libya during the uprising in 2011, you know where they might have come from. Also, the New York Times reported that cluster munitions from Spain were used against civilians in Misrata by the regime.

2. Existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted with the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions;

In relation to the redistribution of arms, MS should have abstained from exporting arms to the Gaddafi regime. The past has shown that the regime has re-exported these under undesirable conditions to, amongst others, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone and many more.

3. Preservation of regional peace, security, and stability.

This criterion should have clearly prevented arms exports to Libya as there was a serious threat of instability. Gaddafi’s regime had not shown itself to be a responsible partner to trade arms with, as it had been in conflict with several of its neighbors: it supported military coups in Ghana, and had several territorial disputes with Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia.

In sum, taking the above mentioned points, one can conclude that the EU must put more pressure on its MS to refrain from exporting arms. Even if there is only a slight doubt that the arms will be re-distributed in the wrong hands, MS should not export them. Especially if we look at the situation in the Middle East now. Libya was just an example, but for all we know, there is a possibility that ISIS is fighting with weapons manufactured by EU countries. However, it is important to note that EU countries are not the only arms exporters in the world. As a matter of fact, next to France, the UK and Germany, the countries with the largest arms industries are China, the USA, and Russia. Five of these countries are Permanent Members in the UN Security Council to “maintain international peace and security”. Ironic, isn’t it?

To a certain extent, the EU has contributed to regional instability, increased the levels of armed conflicts, and failed to preserve peace. Thus, regarding the current situation in the Middle East, it can be concluded that the EU has been acting in a hypocritical way by exporting arms, knowing that the consequences will go against its own values. War and conflict can be a great business for countries with big arms industries as they can profit from these “ideal-suited-situations”, a phenomenon that prevails over values for peace. But if we want to have sustainable peace in the world, I urge all arms-exporting countries in the world to stop exporting!

Image by ϟ†Σ, taken from flickr

Career & Education

Since 2014, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is one of the new components of the Erasmus+ program. It offers an opportunity to applicants aged between 17 and 30 to spend 2-12 months volunteering abroad, most often within the non-profit or non-governmental sector.

However, the EVS remains unknown to many young people across Europe. That might be one of the reasons why very few consider it as a valuable working experience, or even as a way into the job market. Moreover, the term ‘volunteering’ might come with a specific/negative connotation evoking a free time activity rather than something connected to professional development.

Whatever the reason might be, it seems that the European Commission is either putting little effort into spreading information about the EVS, or does a bad job at disseminating them. Certainly, this program has been left behind in terms of promotion, especially in comparison to the Erasmus+ exchange semester.

The promotion of the EVS usually depends on the local organizations offering vacancies. Increasingly, social media play a role too. Vacancies are posted in a number of unofficial Facebook groups, not only for the EVS, but also for a rising number of youth exchanges under the Erasmus+ program action.

Attitudes among young Europeans towards the EVS also vary considerably across EU member states and partner countries. Many young people in Germany – and presumably in other western European countries, view the EVS mainly as an opportunity to spend a gap year between high school and university abroad while improving their language skills. On the other hand, people from the central and eastern European countries approach the EVS more as a working opportunity, although the language aspect remains very important for them too.

Most interestingly however, especially young people in the EU partner countries (e.g. Ukraine, Moldova) have become increasingly aware of the EVS, since it constitutes a relatively easy way to be able to work in an EU country without complicated visa application processes. Interestingly, as opposed to volunteers from Western Europe, the young people coming from elsewhere are usually older (in their mid-20s) and hold either a Bachelor’s or even Master’s degree.

But what is it actually like to work as an EVS volunteer? Can it really be seen as a relevant work experience?

The EVS offers a lot of perks. The move abroad is made very easy, one could perhaps say as easy as possible. Everything from accommodation and address registration to insurance with unusually wide coverage is taken care of. This includes even assistance with buying tickets from one’s home country if needed. A financial assistance is also provided. While the exact remuneration depends on the country, it generally falls short only slightly of the earnings for most European interns or trainees. Maybe only someone who has already moved to another country to either study or work ‘on their own’ before can appreciate this to the full extent. Besides having the time to simply enjoy the new country, participants can take care of those aspects of the EVS which might not be as well organized.

Anyone who has ever taken part in an Erasmus+ exchange semester during university studies, or even in a short-term youth exchange mentioned before, knows that it involves lots of bureaucracy. This can lead to difficulties with regard to general organization, delayed payments, and a long list of other problems. This, of course, goes for most EVS stays too. While the above mentioned assistance when moving to another country might not always go as smooth and the application process can take up to one year, the main problem probably lies in the stay itself, which is governed by few rules given by the European Commission.

However, this ambiguity in the European Commission rules, as well as in the hosting organization requirements, might be exploited in favor of the volunteers. Participants can, to a large extent, shape their experiences themselves. With a proactive approach, it is feasible to focus on the tasks a person is interested in and over time gain more responsibility in the organization. The organizations are after all required to respond to the needs and wishes of volunteers, and there are quite a few channels available for participants to voice their concerns or complaints if needed.

In this sense, there is more pressure put on the ‘employer’ than in a conventional job or traineeship. Needless to say, for the things to go smooth, proper research about the hosting organization and clear communication of one’s goals and wishes before the arrival is crucial. There are a high number of organizations participating in the EVS program and it cannot be expected that all of them have been verified to meet certain standards.

It is clear that the EVS is a particular kind of working experience, which might or might not be well accepted by future employers. However, especially in times when entering the job market is becoming increasingly difficult for young people, it might be an option to enrich one’s CV and gain skills.

Working experience abroad in an international environment is something that has almost become a must nowadays. Add a great opportunity to practice a foreign language and the EVS starts to seem like the right choice. And whether or not the stay turns out as expected, how you will choose to sell your experience afterwards is entirely up to you!

image by Knokton, taken from flickr