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Macron’s popularity takes a hit

  • July 2018
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Macron’s popularity takes a hit

The struggle of choosing the chicken over the egg

While listening to a podcast, I stumbled upon a definition: CEO capitalism. To make it short, this expression describes a situation in which the decision-making progress of corporations is impeded by the fact that they have to answer to the mood of the investors. This means that any long-term planning a CEO wants to make, is a risky decision because the results could be disastrous at the beginning, but pick up in the long-term. Problem is, many investors will not wait for the long-term results and will jump ship much earlier, thus complicating the very effort the CEO was making. To be clear, nobody is forcing these companies to be on the stock market and it is a clear advantage to be able to rack up so much capital so quickly on top of the fact that a positive mood of the investors could bring you out of a slump you wouldn’t be able to get out off normally.

The observation was meant to highlight the decision-making process of the person in charge and to draw some similarities between the role of a CEO and that of a Prime Minister in most western democracies. In particular, I want to talk about Emmanuel Macron and the recent “bodyguardgate”. To quickly summarize, the former personal bodyguard of Macron, Alexandre Benalla, have been caught on tape violently attacking protesters on the 1st of May while wearing police gear and acting nearby other policemen. This hit the President particularly hard and, even though he condemned the fact and Benalla took full responsibility, it seems like it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The president popularity was steadily but surely dropping but, up until now, he could and did interpret it as a temporary setback. Reforms, they say, first create loud discontent but then, if successful, silent success. And one thing we can say about Emmanuel is that he is trying the way of the reform and he bet on the fact that he was being seen as a tough but necessary medicine and that in the long run, France would have benefitted from his cure. Now though, this vision is cracking and the oppositions have been given a golden gun to use against the President. Granted, this doesn’t mean he’s done, but this disaffection of the electorate with politics runs deeper than just the relationship between them and Macron. Let’s not forget that his very party and election were called an experiment to subvert that very trend that was and is affecting every democracy in the west.

Now, in a world that outside the west (and often within too) is mostly run by the strongman figure, leaders that do not preoccupy themselves with re-elections or immediate popularity, the western leader reminds me of the CEO in the current economic system: hard decisions are necessary but he has to convince the investors and the consumers that his vision will prevail and benefit everyone if only they allow him some wiggle room. We can even say that Emmanuel has it easy compared to some other western leader who cannot even count on a stable parliamentary majority or are in need of much greater reforms than France. Nevertheless, if we can take a hint from the financial world, is that if you personalize your brand, if the CEO is also the face of the company, then he must also be as close to perfection as possible in terms of personal and public life. Just ask Elon Musk.

Closed Society Foundation

  • July 2018
  • Ágnes Szűcs

Closed Society Foundation

Bannon to open far-right think tank

The two presidents gave a speech after their negotiation in front of the White House. Even if they were working hard to sell as a victory the pure fact that after many hours of negotiation they agreed to continue the negotiations, the two guys couldn’t have been more different. US leader Donald Trump used an overly-simplified langue: limited vocabulary, short sentences and strong accent on some of the very basic words in order to make the message pass through.

But even if European Commission President Jean-Clause Juncker spoke with a light French accent revealing he’s not a native speaker, he looked far more eloquent and intelligent with well-composed sentences and finely chosen expressions. One could really see the difference between a real politician and an outsider, who made his success by telling again the real politicians.

As Trump proves it over and again, one can easily win elections by shouting oversimplified lies against certain groups of the society, but when it comes to actual governance and diplomacy, the emotional rhetoric is simply not sufficient anymore. Even if he arrived in a hostile environment, the political veteran and wise Juncker easily achieved what he wanted. Trump might try to sell the “deal of the no-deal” as his victory, but in fact it is Juncker who won. Not only this battle, but precious time for the EU to work out its trade policy and not to be suffocated by retaliatory taxes and customs.

But we just can’t lie back cheering over the triumph of classical European politics. Trump’s media strategist and ally-enemy-ally Steve Bannon announced to open a far-right think tank in Brussels in order to prepare for the 2019 European Parliament elections. In an interview to the Daily Beast, he blatantly explained that the aims to promote an alternative for American financier-philanthrope and the populist’s favourite scapegoat George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which promotes the values of liberal democracy. Bannon is willing to give election advice to Eurosceptic and far-right parties.

God save us from Bannon’s strategical media advice because he is hilarious. He has already proved itself to get elected the most incompetent and less trustworthy president of American history. In my nightmares, I see Marine Le Pen, the Spitzenkandidat of a new far-right political group to taking Juncker’s chair over. Referring to his German family ties, she would hire Nigel Farage as her chief of cabinet, who would soon kick out Martin Selmayr from his highly disputed position of secretary general. The delegation from the AfD would change offices with the remaining CDU MEPs, given the German far-right significantly outnumber the Christian Democrats. Hungarian government party Fidesz and their Polish friend Law and Justice would join the new far-right EP political group, just like the Italian MEPs representing the Lega or 5 Stelle and the Dutch populists spreading the words of Geert Wilders. At the first plenary, they propose full membership to Turkey, hoping that with the new MEPs from Erdogan’s AKP they would get the two-thirds majority in the Parliament, just copying the well-working Hungarian recipe.

But it’s time to stop here because I have good news. Far-right and/or populist parties can achieve impressive results if backed by witty and immoral media caesars like Bannon. But their success story stops at the night when the election victory is announced. They build their promises on selfishness and hatred, which is of course very appealing for the human nature. But this mentality prevents them from cooperation and compromise, which is the basis of well-functioning politics. No matter how genius he is, Bannon’s “Closed Society Foundation” won’t be able to reconcile the populists and promoters of illiberal democracy and make them work together in peace. Therefore they won’t ever be able to govern Europe. Just like Trump is unable to lead the US.

What is a ‘European’?

  • July 2018
  • Natalia Domingo

What is a ‘European’?

Criminalizing humanitarian assistance threatens the post-1945 European identity

 

This past year, the European Union has seen an emergence of new challenges which have brought its identity to question.

 

How do you define what it means to be a European? This question is subjective and given the large diversity of cultures between 28 different countries, there is no single definition. As a Canadian, I am not one to determine which definitions are most fitting, but from my outside perspective, I believe that despite the range of opinions on what a European is, majority, if not all, of Europeans can agree on one thing: they are united in their diversity. The next question is: what are they united for? Well, I believe that the purpose of this unification is something that can be found in the EU’s many treaties and documents. But in the midst of the migration crisis, I find it most necessary to refer to the Treaty of Lisbon as the foundation of Europe’s solidarity. Article 1A states that “the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” Enshrined in a document such as the Treaty of Lisbon, these principles are not up for debate for many European citizens.

 

From July 12th to July 15th, the first “Le festival des Passeurs d’humanité,” or “Festival of Humanitarian smugglers,” took place at the Roya Valley, located on the Franco-Italian border. The festival was a symbol of European citizens’ welcoming sentiment to migrants, as well as a call for new migration policies. The same weekend, European citizens sought another form of condemnation of Europe’s migration policies through a demonstration which took place in Ventimiglia, Italy. Ventimiglia also stands as the commencing point of the 1,400 km Solidarity March for Migrants, occurring between April and July 2018, and continuing to Calais and London.

 

These movements are a response to the EU’s handling of the ongoing migration crisis and the controversial laws which have been put in place to punish EU citizens who assisted migrants in need. In 2002, a European directive was adopted regarding the unauthorized entry, transit, and residence of migrants and imposes sanctions against individuals who assisted in these activities for “financial gain,” excluding those who are assisting for humanitarian purposes. The directive was intended to target human smuggling networks and EU member-states were given the responsibility of implementing it into national law. However, numerous countries have implemented it without the humanitarian exception.

 

As seen with any law that leaves ambiguity in its definition, the solidarity offense can be misused against legitimate humanitarian assistance efforts. In the case that an individual is charged under the law, the subject can receive a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a €30,000 fine. This poses a serious threat to innocent humanitarian workers and European Parliament members have called upon the European Commission to define the law more clearly. However, insufficient dialogue has been developed over the implications for misapplication.

 

As a result, numerous cases have been initiated across the continent against European citizens, and pressure has been placed to dissuade others from joining in. For example, Hungary’s parliament approved a package of bills that criminalizes helping illegal immigrants, terming it the “STOP Soros” law, after George Soros, a Hungarian-born US billionaire who bid $500 million towards the needs of migrants, refugees, and host communities throughout the world, but most notably, Europe. While the Hungarian government claims that the new legislation asserts the will of the Hungarian population, human rights groups within the country, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, have condemned the law and warned that “instead of giving protection against persecution, the Hungarian government has decided to join the ranks of the persecutors.” As a result, the European Commission sent a letter to the Hungarian government regarding its breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights—a first step in a legal process that could remove Hungary from the European Court of Justice.

 

However, Hungary is not the only EU member-state attempting to exercise the controversial law against humanitarian work—in the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos, Mytilini, two humanitarian workers from the Danish NGO Tea Humanity and three humanitarian workers from the Spanish NGO PROEM-AID, who assisted incoming migrant ships in Greece, were on trial under charges of attempting to smuggle asylum-seekers on the island. Unsurprisingly, the defendants were acquitted of charges, but the case highlights the grey area of the 2002 directive. Meanwhile in Italy, the offense is focused on the activities of NGO-chartered boats providing assistance to migrants attempting to cross the sea. On March 17th, 2018, ships charted by the Spanish NGO ProActiva were seized in Italy after it had refused to return 216 rescued migrants to the Libyan coast guard. While the ship has been released and conspiracy charges have been dropped, charges for assisting in illegal immigration are still pending.

 

The migration crisis has largely painted a picture of member-states at odds with one another in establishing a collective response, however, a reality that is given less attention is the dispute between the European Union and European citizens. While the EU is failing to provide legitimate humanitarian assistance to the many migrants embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe, EU citizens have sought to take matters into their own hands—finding solidarity across the continent. One example is “We are Welcoming Europe,” a coalition of over 170 civil society organizations in Europe who have claimed that “since our governments are struggling to handle migration, we—European citizens, students, volunteers, families, unions and communities of faith from all walks of life—have stepped in to help.” However, “our right to help is being criminalized as Europeans are being arrested, fined, and intimidated for simply offering humanitarian assistance to people fleeing persecution.”

 

The ‘solidarity offense’ pushes humanitarianism into the political world and impedes on important principles, such as neutrality, impartiality, and independence, which have stood as the basis of its functioning since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions. Humanitarian assistance should be given where it is needed, regardless of a victim’s nationality, race, religious belief, gender, or political opinion, and it should be inoculated from politics. Instead, as the director of the Institute for Race Relations, Liz Fekete, states in the organization’s report ‘Humanitarianism: the Unacceptable Face of Solidarity,’ “the imperatives of a deterrent asylum system mean that ‘border defense’, not the protection of life, remains the priority at Europe’s frontiers,” and “those who take refugees to a place of safety, or feed or clothe them, are deemed guilty of unpatriotic displays of unacceptable solidarity.”

 

The misuse of the 2002 Directive by some EU member-states fails to reflect the organization’s very own principles such as respect for human dignity, freedom, solidarity, and justice, set out in the Treaty of Lisbon. While the principles in article 1A refer to affairs within EU member-states and its citizens, article 10A of the Treaty of Lisbon states that, “the Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity.”

 

Thus, the European Union’s interests to create peace and prosperity, to respect human dignity, rights, and freedoms, and to stand in solidarity for these principles, were not intended to stop at its borders. Its experiences with war pushed it down the ambitious road of uniting citizens with those they once perceived as ‘enemies’ under a single European identity, in order to establish a shared peace. Under this new identity, the compassion to provide a helping hand to others, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has become enshrined in the European.

 

And these values have not been completely forgotten—Cédric Herrou, a farmer in France and hero to many humanitarians in Europe, was on trial and faced threats of imprisonment for helping close to 200 migrants enter France from Italy when the French government secured the border in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris attacks. However, the nation’s highest constitutional tribunal found Herrou not guilty after referring to France’s motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” which arose during the French Revolution and was later enshrined in its constitution. While the law does not dismiss government efforts to fight illegal migration and smuggling, fraternity is a constitutional principle that Herrou exercised when providing assistance to migrants he believed needed it.

 

In the face of the migration crisis, some have separated from the memories and lessons of war and politicians have begun to play on this for popular support, thus abandoning the post-war European identity. However, as the “We are Welcoming Europe” movement states, “this is not the Europe we want. Together we can reclaim those acts for what they are: reflecting our European and human values of community, compassion and kindness.” Although politicians are failing to uphold Europe’s values, citizens, such as Cédric Herrou, are stepping in to show the world that the post-1945 European identity, one which puts respect for basic human rights, freedoms, and dignity at the forefront, will always remain.

Trump meets Putin

  • July 2018
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Trump meets Putin

What does that have to do with Europe?

 

Source of the photo: Reuters

 

Right after the NATO summit, President Donald Trump scheduled a very important meeting with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. This comes in the midst of the so-called Russiagate, dealing with the alleged meddling of the Kremlin in the 2016 US general elections. They chose an EU country to meet, but a historically neutral one—Finland.

 

But what could they have discussed in the long two-hour meeting and what does it mean for Europe? First of all, the very fact that they met is already a good deal for Putin. For Trump, these bi-lateral meetings that he likes compared to the big G-7 or G-20 ones, where the US political and economic weight gets diluted, are intrinsically giving his interlocutor the status of equal and raising him to the level of the “Leader of the free world”. Of course, he’s not the first nor the last American president that will meet with another leader, but it highlights the fact that Putin’s geopolitical strategy is working and that Russia still plays a major role in the political world.

Having said that, we know for sure that Putin’s experience in politics runs much deeper than Trump and that he has absolute control over the decision-making process, or at least the geopolitical one. Trump, on the other hand, even without being overly enthusiastic in preparing for these meetings, can count on the absolute dominance of the US in economic, military and geopolitical terms but has to deal with the fact that he cannot promise too much, since Congress is effectively the true holder of power in the US.  Nevertheless, we can imagine two crucial requests from the US president: first, to limit Iran’s presence in Syria. At the moment the US are very much focused on limiting Persian influence in the Middle East, which is something Russia is very keen on doing already but it’s complicated by the fact that they know very well they couldn’t have achieved (or maintained) much in Syria without Iran’s support. Second, and this is of more direct interest to us Europeans, Trump asked Putin to cool off the already pretty cold relationship with Germany. The two nations do not like each other and that’s no news, but regardless, their relationship is co-dependent as evidenced by the fact that they are willing to strain the relationship with Eastern Europe in order to complete the Nord-Stream 2 pipeline, bypassing the east and linking the German market directly with Russia. This relationship, or better the potential of it, is what has worried the United States since the end of World War 2. At the moment, the White House is at odds with the EU that, for an American “pet project,” they now feel has become too functional for Germany and this could greatly affect the balance that the US has kept in the Continent for 70 years. For this reason, Trump has chosen Germany in particular as his target, as he feels it is the one he could have the greatest effect on, since the export-lead economy of Berlin (we are talking about over 40% of the GDP in export) could suffer greatly by the proposed tariffs while the US economy exports only account to around 11%. This means that it’s Germany that needs the current world order more and that the retaliations could only partially affect the US. The disproportion between the two is what the US are exploiting at the moment and, it seems, successfully so.

This is, from what I can tell at least, the scenario in which European/NATO countries have to play in. While Jean-Claude Juncker and many other have promised “tit for tat” retaliatory tariffs on the US, it is clear that the whole EU as it stands still greatly relies on the goodwill of the other global actors and, of course, lamed by its own internal instability, imbalances and power dynamics. Having realized they cannot count on the US anymore, it’s a given—but the situation is more grave than that: the US is not going to merely be less supportive of the EU, they could (and do) very much make the integration process more difficult on top of all the other destabilizing factors and players already. So if the ally overseas is not much of an ally anymore, that doesn’t mean we should jump straight to enemy. The US is still the most powerful country on the planet by a long shot and it can do much to damage an already fragile equilibrium. Of course it’s also in their interest to maintain stability in the continent, but a small rocking of the boat is already enough to make people jump ships. Keep steady, acknowledge the situation, and act accordingly.

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