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

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 Arne Langlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image by William Murphy.

Politics & The World

by Louise Bicknese

Populism in Europe is on the rise. In times of hardship, for example when there is an economic or a refugee crisis, calls for a scapegoat and for the strengthening of democracy whip up a lot of support. There is an interesting divide in the populism of nowadays: in Northern Europe, the populists are rather right-wing, while the populism of the South is integrated with a left-wing ideology. Why, and what are the consequences for European democracies?

First, let’s discuss what populism exactly is. Even though the parties are ideologically very different, there are a couple of things they have in common. Most of all, their appeal lies in their return to nationalism. They target the ‘common man’ among the voters, those who feel betrayed or cheated by other groups in society. This is usually paired with a severe suspicion against Europe; everything is decided by ‘Brussels’ and the loss of national sovereignty is mourned, which poses difficulties for European integration in the future. This stance may be rooted in the austerity measures by the EU, which have alienated the (self-perceived) victims of these measures.

The difference, however, lies in the choice of the scapegoat. While the North often points towards immigrants as the main culprits, the Southern populism is much more anti-establishment, as the original populism used to be. In assessing the Northern parties, I am for example talking about the Sweden Democrats, UKIP, Front National, the Dutch PVV etc.. Southern parties would include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Five Star Movement in Italy. Especially the latter parties enjoy major support in their respective countries, with some even in the government (most notably, of course, Syriza). Even though populist parties sometimes have huge ideological differences, their nationalism can work as a connective factor: think of Syriza forming a government with the right-wing populist party Independent Greeks.

However, populist parties do not just wreck havoc and get a lot of headlines; they also change the political discourse throughout Europe. Theirs is a discourse of anger and fear that reaches even the people who are not among their voters. Populism assumes a divide in society: one between the people and the ‘oligarchy’. They force the governing, stable parties to defend themselves against claims of elitism. Their party programme may not be the most well-grounded, but this is compensated with charisma and an aggressive rhetoric. With these characteristics, populists tend to take over debates, especially during election campaigns. Is that dangerous?

Most prominent politicians tend to think so. Herman van Rompuy called populism ‘the biggest danger to Europe’, with others calling it a ‘virus’. This distinctly negative view of populism may result from a history of totalitarian populist regimes, or from frustration of the establishment. However, there might be some advantages to populism. It reaches layers of society that normally do not participate actively in democracy. By expanding the interest of the public in their own democracy, by expanding their participation, parliament (as the outcome of their votes) can come to represent a larger part of the population, thereby increasing its own legitimacy.

It’s safe to say that populism has good effects as well as bad effects on democracy and political discourse. On the one hand, it may increase the legitimacy of the democracy, but on the other hand, the discourse of paranoia and suspicion it spreads may lead to a divide in society and an increase in tension, especially the Northern, right-wing populism. The marginalization of minorities is an important aspect that cannot be overlooked and the over-generalizing division between two seemingly homogenous groups can be dangerous in a multicultural society. A politician shaking things up a bit might not be the worst thing every now and again, but populists thrive more as opposition parties. Governing parties ought to stand above these kinds of discourse and be a little more serious.


Picture by Bloco, taken from flickr