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Bucharest Calling: – “Tracing Integration Policies Through Structured Dialogue”

  • July 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Bucharest Calling: – “Tracing Integration Policies Through Structured Dialogue”

The Centre For European Progression goes to Bucharest

Source: Tracing Integration Policies Through Structured Dialogue

We recently had the chance to go to Bucharest, where we met up with our partners from across Europe. NGOs from Italy, Bulgaria, Malta, Romania, Finland, Austria, Portugal and Estonia, as well as CFEP from Belgium, are all represented in the TRAIN – Tracing Integration Policies Through Structured Dialogue project.

This project comes under Key Action 3 of the Erasmus+ Programme, and seeks to use the Structured Dialogue method to develop recommendations on migrant integration policies following input from young people.

To cut through the Euro-jargon, what this means in practice is that there are three Key Actions in the Erasmus+ scheme and all funded projects have to come under one of those umbrellas. Our project falls under number 3 – Support for Policy Reform – as it seeks to gather young people’s views on how to reform integration policy.

 

This is where the Structured Dialogue comes in. The European Commission wants to work with civil society organisations to hear from young people themselves. The Structured Dialogue takes place in cycles of three Council presidencies, lasting 18 months. The current cycle involves the Romanian, Finnish and Croatian presidencies and has a particular theme – ‘Creating opportunities for youth’. Each EU country carries out a national consultation of young people and youth organisations during the 18-month period.  The participating organisations’ role is to provide a more direct link between youth and European policy making, by holding discussions with young people in their respective communities in order to hear their views and experiences surrounding migration and integration.

 

The closing event will be held in Brussels in June 2020, organised by the CFEP. This is when the results of the dialogues will be submitted to the European Commission, in the form of concrete policy recommendations.
Over the last few days, CFEP and our partners met to discuss the Structured Dialogue, the project actions and best practices on integration from our countries. It was particularly interesting to hear about our partners’ experiences. For example, our Finnish partners have a number of members with a refugee background, and our Estonian partners have a dance company as part of their NGO and are working on connecting Estonian and Russian speaking communities. In Austria, our partners have discovered that young people need time and explanations in order to confidently take part in policy discussions. Finally, in Malta, our partners have experienced a disparity in treatment of migrants based on their wealth and their country of origin. Equally, they found it interesting that in Belgium, integration courses are mandatory for most non-EU newcomers.

Source: Tracing Integration Policies Through Structured Dialogue

Our next steps as a group are to discover more about how these different policies work on the ground, and to develop recommendations for Europe as a whole based on the views and experiences of young people.

If you or your organisation wish to participate in this project, please contact hannah.bettsworth@c4ep.eu.

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Italy and the Franco-German Alliance

  • April 2018
  • Daniela Floris

Italy and the Franco-German Alliance

Panel debate on the result of the Italian elections

 

26/03/2017

 

 

 

Franceso Ronchi, political advisor to the S&D group in the European Parliament started the debate by calling the elections as a turning point for the modern Italy’s history. From his point of view, it’s not only a turbulence but a hurricane that can radically change the whole Italian landscape.

 

He explains that the traditional mainstream parties have been wiped out. Ten years ago, the predecessor of Forza Italia and the Democratic Party scored together more than 70 percent of the votes. Now, they got only 32-33 percent. In 2008, the Lega Nord got 9 percent together and the Five Star Movement didn’t even exist. Now, they score together 50 percent. The left has a long list of defeats, though. But in the past, they could always go back to their basis to rebuild the movement. This time is different because only 10 percent of the blue-collar workers supported the Democratic Party, and their other core group, the civil servants have also turned their back on them. The “Italia rossa” or the the red Italy doesn’t exist anymore.

 

Mr. Ronchi gives three reasons for these changes: migration, economy and democratic renewal. Since 2014, more than 600 000 people have entered Italy illegally. The government didn’t have a consistent and coherent attitude towards this phenomenon. During the first year, they tried to cover up the problem. Then the minister of interior affairs said that the migration can threaten the country’s democratic stability. The fear has weakened an already struggling society.

 

The economic situation is also problematicin Italy, points out Mr. Ronchi. Besides showing their  achievements, the mainstream parties should have told the truth to the voters. The elections have also confirmed that Italy is confronted by a democratic crisis. Political opportunism, patronage and corruption have undermined the faith in the government. A member of the Italian parliament has changed his party nine times in the last five years, which is a systemic characteristic of Italian politics.

 

The speaker believes that the elections results can be explained by something deeper, which appears everywhere in Europe. From Greece to France, voters are fed up with the existing political order. It is challenged by all of its three pillars. Many of the voters are skeptical about the representative democracy its institutions, like the parliament, the trade unions and the political parties. The Lega Nord and the Five Star have been able to interpret these feelings. The last one has introduced a new way of a more direct democracy and spread the message that politics can be made without the traditional politicians and hierarchy, creating a kind of horizontal structure.

 

The Lega Nord opts for the vertical vision of a strong leader who has the power to decide and the borders of our local communities. The Lega defines the identity by ethnicity, while the Five Star identifies themselves as “being the people”.  Our society is also characterized by a greater hostility towards the free game of the liberal market, which has changed a lot since the 1990s.

 

Mr. Ronchi considers that Italy can be the laboratory to test if these tectonic shifts would be able to make a remarkable impact on Europe. The election results have already shown that the foundations of the whole European project, the liberal political order, the borderless zone of Schengen and the free market-driven economy are profoundly challenged.

 

 

Federica Sabbati, the vice president of the European Movement International starts her presentation by quoting some figures. Italy has always been one of the most pro-European amongst the Member States of the EU, but the last general elections hasn’t brought an unexpected hurricane, it was building up for some time. Data from the European Council for Foreign Relations rank Italy 23rd out of 28 Member States when it comes to individual support for the EU, which is considerably lower than the 10th position a decade ago. Moreover, according to Eurobarometer, only 34% of Italians tend to trust the EU and a similar number want to get out of the EU, which is second place after Greece.

 

She continues by saying that these statistics are very different from the trends when she arrived in Brussels ten years ago, which is disheartening for a pro-European. She explains the decline of the EU’s popularity in Italy with the financial crisis and the overall health of the economy in the country. What we saw in these elections was one party and a half campaigning very strongly on an anti-EU ticket and have, in fact, toned it down compared to the period before the elections. The Five Star Movement was one of those parties calling for Italy to get out of the Eurozone. The Northern League as well campaigned on criticizing the EU but focused more on immigration and how Italy would have dealt with the crisis in a better way if it hadn’t had the limitations from the EU. A transversal argument used in the campaign was how the austerity measures imposed to the country were limiting the growth of the country.

 

Ms. Sabbati was a candidate of a party called +Europa (in coalition with the Democratic Party) and one of the few party with a clear pro-Europe agenda. They argued that these problems could be solved by more Europe and not less. But in the end, they got 2,55%, so the electorate wasn’t convinced by their reasons. Unsurprisingly, the ratio of pro-Europe Italians abroad is much higher. The +Europa have got an overall 8% in the European constituency with peaks of 15% in countries like France and the UK. She pinpoints the economy as the major catalyst for the decline of support vis-à-vis the EU. Eurobarometer surveys has shown that the biggest issues for Italians are first unemployment, second immigration and third comes the economic situation. Arguably the economic situation and unemployment go hand in hand which means that the economy has played a big role in this decline. Politicians have being saying for years that the Eurozone is not working for Italians and therefor is unsurprising that people link the current downturn with the common currency. Same argument goes for immigration where Italians feel left alone bearing the blunt of the crisis even though many migrants continue on to Germany and Sweden. The fact that Europe is blamed for all of this “evils” and Italy is not, of course, explains why Italians feel that Europe is indeed to blame. On the issue of trust of the institutions, historically Italians have not trusted them but still the polls show that they have give more trust to the European rather than the Italian institutions. Furthermore, on the topic of the liberalization of the market, the speaker thinks that it’s still thought as a positive thing that Europe brought to the country. She works with businesses from Italy and they know that the common market is helping the Italian economy as well, especially because Italy is an export-based economy.

 

Ms. Sabbati finally talks about how Italians have the perception that their voice counts less than others while on the other hand of the spectrum Denmark and Germany’s citizens are more satisfied in their representativeness in the Union.

 

Our third speaker, Rosa Balfour, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States points out that other countries should recognize how quickly Italy has shifted from being a pro-European country to becoming an Eurosceptic one. The change started during the second Berlusconi government, when they took a clearly stand behind US President George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and questioned their European alignment. It was also the period when all the political parties engaged into a blame game with Brussels, which has really articulated the debate how the EU membership is perceived in national politics.

 

Ms. Balfour continues with a slightly contradictory point of view, claiming that the Italians feel to be abandoned by Europe in terms of the adaption to the Eurozone and the support for tackling the flux of irregular migrants. The European Union has failed to produce relevant policies that resonate with citizens’ desires. The recent elections can also be considered as a negative assessment of what Europe has done for Italy.

 

 

On the other hand, this phenomenon can’t only be related to Italy. In the whole world, there appears to be a very little space for rational choice to assess policy. The Five Star has governed without very much success in several cities, including Rome, but people still voted for the movement again. The Democratic Party has tried to perform an evidence-based campaign, focusing on the achievements. But even if the government has some positive results in the social sphere, nobody cared about, like it happened with the remain campaign proceeding the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. The major lesson for Europe is that it is not sufficient to produce better policies that responds to the voters’ needs and preoccupations. Identity politics matter a way more.

 

Ms. Balfour calls for watching out for the alliance between the far-right and the center-right. In Italy, this cooperation has existed for a long time. The Forza Italia used to be a populist party, and only considered as a center-right party after these recent elections. The Five Star can be placed with difficulty on the left-right spectrum, but the speaker argues that their policy proposals are closer to the right. The traditional right’s shift to the far-right is a global phenomenon. It is happening in the United States, in Austria and many other countries by making alliances or taking over far-right political agendas.

 

The forth lesson is about the Five Star. The expert admits that one can debate about the party’s democratic functioning, but they do indeed a lot of on-line polls, which is why they are considered innovative. They have created an on-line system that allows outsiders to participate in politics and bypasses all traditional political communication. The Five Star Movement has captured the people’s desire to participate in the decision-making in a different way and they use technology to do that. So, we can conclude that the crisis of the political participation that empowers these parties.

 

Ms. Balfour is convinced that Italy has played a very constructive role in the European integration from the beginning as a bridge-builder. In critical moments, it has found solutions to move forward. For the moment, we don’t know what kind of government will emerge. Possibly, it will be very weak and quite likely Eurosceptic, so it won’t play that historically constructive role, which might be difficult in the crucial moment when France and Germany start to work on bringing new ideas about the future of Europe. With the leave of Britain, the participation of other countries becomes even more important. The Member States will have to refocus in their alliances, while neither the Fiver Star, nor the Leage, and not even the Forza Italia are equipped to do this because they have been focusing on other issues and don’t have the necessary connections.

 

Italy’s positions are also weakened because there isn’t any other European state that would push forward country’s interest in alliance with Roma. Spain is deeply involved with its constitutional crisis, while Poland is getting to be some sort of rough state, while the Northern countries are already put forward proposals that block France’s measures favoring the South, including austerity and rigidity in the way the Eurozone is managed.

 

 

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Let’s Tweet Again – Fake News and Social Media

  • February 2018
  • Daniela Floris

Let’s Tweet Again – Fake News and Social Media

Event Report

05/02/2018

 

 

The discussion was opened by defining fake news and how things should be done regarding the fake news. It is important to distinguish different types of fake news. First of all, we have satire or parody, whose aim is not to provide harm, but to satirize real life events. Then there are false connections, that do not support the content. After that, we have the misleading content, which frames something or an individual. Also, we have false context, imposter content, manipulative content (Photoshop example) and there is the fabricated content, where 100 percent is false. False information is spread with the intention to create confusion and artificial emotional response, with a political or economic interest. The unregulated environment helped them to foster this.

Press publishers have been caught unprepared with the transition from analogue to digital. The European Commission has acknowledged that, and proposed reduced VAT for e-publications. The cost for producing quality news is much higher than producing fake news. The efforts that social media are starting to make to tackle misinformation should be further incentives by the European legislator. The future legal landscape should be formed to support quality content and to prevent additional burdens to the market. Critical thinking needs to be developed as it is the cornerstone of democracy. Ideally, tackling fake news by human intervention should be a part of corporate responsibility of online platforms. Considering the resources that companies have, much more has to be done.

After that, the discussion moved on to differentiate the term fake news from disinformation, especially politically, as the concept of fake news is often misused. Disinformation is defined as a deliberate spread of false information. The debate then moved on to Russia, whose breakpoint was the war in Georgia in 2008, when Russia started the disinformation campaign through channels such as Sputnik and RT. They are very lucid in tailoring the messages to their targeted audience in their spheres of influence. The Lisa case in Germany was an excellent example of disinformation, as it was a made-up case of refugees raping a young Russian-speaking girl. A similar example was made-up in Lithuania as well, but fact-checkers managed to react quickly.

The discussion then moved on to the social media, and specifically practices and ways of tackling bots and fake news on Twitter and Facebook, especially Twitter, due to its openness. French elections were pointed out in particular, where fake accounts with a Russian background were endorsing certain French presidential candidates, and were at the same time following RT and Sputnik. A famous example is the Macron Leaks, which happened 3 hours before the closing of the French presidential campaign, where an apparently huge scandal was produced on Twitter that Macron is funded by Saudi Arabia, which was made-up with reportedly leaked information and emails. It all originated from a US based alt-right activist.

 

 

The focus of the discussion then moved to Italy, which is holding parliamentary elections on March 4th 2018. There is not a strong Russian influence in Italy, which lacks a fact-checking culture. There is currently a rise in Euroscepticism, especially anti-Euro sentiments fostered by certain political parties, which the fake accounts are trying to promote.

The moderator then pointed out how the attention on this issue is often focused on Russia, but we mustn’t forget that other actors, especially extremist within EU member states or the USA, are also active in the proliferation of fake news. Some of them are also able to have financial gains from them, thanks to the increased traffic to their websites and the way online advertisement works. So how can we identify them and be effective against disinformation?

It’s not easy to cut an income stream from this people, in addition to the fact that many from the extreme want and like to share this news to promote their point of view. Aside from the bots, the people who share this news do it for the emotions they get from it or the emotions they want to emphasize. So what could we do? We are trying to communicate the message to the large audience that does not want to consume this kind of media. Some will say it’s wasted time since the people who do consume it already want to believe in them, nevertheless it’s important to stop it before the minority becomes the majority.

This news are easy to make, for example, while studying a Macedonian fake news farm, Channel 4 was highlighting how high operational costs were to find who was spreading disinformation, while even a teenager could easily Photoshop the Euronews logo onto anything, with little to zero cost. It is unlikely that this teenager would have any political idealism behind his move, but the accessibility made it easy for him to get some money with low effort. What we can do is keep promoting critical thinking in schools as well as with the adults. Media literacy is something the state should promote and some countries are indeed starting to implement some legislation about this.

The debate then moved to regulations. Recently the German state is moving towards a new regulation that will punish the platforms that fails to take action against fake news within 24 hours. This would mean hiring a permanent staff just to tackle this problem. So can we stop fake news through legislation or should we tackle it at the micro-level? The risk is to promote censorship and limit free speech so it’s a sensitive issue. The media prefer to remain self-regulated if possible, and limit how much the government can dictate the terms of information. Regulation at the EU level could be dangerous; maybe it would be better to do it at national level, since every member states have a different media situation. On the other hand the national government intervention could be a double-edged sword, since some member states are moving towards a more authoritarian approach, which would mean limiting the power of the oppositions by giving the government carte blanche to decide what is hate speech or fake news and what isn’t. There are in fact existing legislation that we could implement more effectively, all the while defending our values and freedom of speech. There are cases, like in Ukraine, where regulation has become a matter of national security but in general we cannot have a blanket solution that applies to everyone.

 

 

An interesting contribution from the audience called for investigating more in the process of algorithms doing editorial choices, and emphasizes the need of transparency. The comment praised the German “NetzDG” law because it makes social media sites accountable.

The speakers expressed diverse opinions on the issue. It is said the Facebook makes a lot of money without producing literally anything, while at the moment it has 30 people working on FakeNews for 2 billion users. Nevertheless, some changes have started during the US presidential elections. The Twitter has made three public announcements, clarifying the exact number of Russia-related accounts and showing that they retweeted Donald Trump’s contents 370 thousand times. These release show that social media sites are able to act if they feel the pressure for more openness. It’s not only that governments who should push them for change, but also the users and civil society organizations should advocate for more transparency on FakeNews and editorial choices.

At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that we voluntarily give our private lives to these companies and they voluntarily sell it to the advertisers. When we want to influence them, we should take it into consideration that they these social media sites want to make money at the end of the day.

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Europe of Regions – Event Report

  • November 2017
  • Edo Katanic

21/11/2017

– EUROPE OF REGIONS –

THE IMPACT OF THE CATALAN REFERENDUM ON THE EU

 

Aleix Sarri Camargo (MEP Policy Advisor, ALDE Group) started the discussion by emphasizing that the Europe of regions does not exist, and that regions as such in Europe cannot interact with the European Union without restrictions. He addressed the Catalan movement and explained his arguments on the need of it. He claimed that the Catalan society as such is very cosmopolitan and multicultural, an open and inclusive society that tries to be more connected with the world, especially in the framework of globalization. After that, he discussed populism, by stating that in Europe populism has developed not in metropolitan areas, but in rural areas, which are left behind both socially and economically.

 

Centralised states like France, Greece, England (not the UK), which centralise taxes, infrastructure, etc. are opening up arguments for populism. He argues that rural areas with the lack of infrastructure cannot attract investments. Regarding Catalonia, he claims that it has been left behind and that it could not completely control its tax system and schools. He believes that the European Commission is supporting Spain by turning a blind eye on Catalonia.

 

The second speaker was Marc-Andre Desmarais (MEP Policy Advisor, ECR Group), emphasized that the Europe of regions is something idealistic, in terms of independent regions, though regionalism by itself is well served by the EU. Scotland is one of those regions that have a parliament, own educations system, and can collect some taxes. Scotland has its distinctive institutions of education, law, and religion, together with the robust civil society that bolster Scottish consciousness. Regarding the Scottish National Party, in the past they were against the European Union, claiming that the EU would take away Scottish identity and a lot of powers. Scotland has only had a parliament since the late 1990s, after voting for it in a second referendum. As time went by, EU integration allowed Scotland to lobby effectively the EU, especially through Scotland Europa.

 

For Scotland, the whole EU interaction helped promote its regionalism while emerging as a way to bypass London. The closer the ties were with the EU, the better it was for Scottish power. The independence referendum a couple of years ago was the limit for Scottish nationalists. If Scotland became independent, no one would have any idea how Scotland’s ascension to Member State would be negotiated with the EU, especially concerning its relations with the UK. Ultimately, member states would have to vote for Scotland joining the EU, and Spain understandably would have problems with that.

 

Realistically, the impact of the Catalonian referendum will deter nationalist movements throughout the EU. The EU explicitly stated it would not interfere in internal matters of its members, despite violence in Catalonia. Member states were very shy regarding the issue, which also points to many problematic things regarding international law. The concept of self-determination of people is still ambiguous and was mostly thought during the decolonization process, so the question for international law remains. He thinks we will see a new era of regionalism in Europe, where the regionalism movement will see the EU as a leverage to their member states, but at the same an institution that will hinder anything that comes close to total independence. If the EU finds ways to reform itself, then the Europe of regions idea could happen. Finally, he discussed the recent general elections in the UK, where the Scottish National Party significantly lost, and as a consequence, it delayed the chances of a second independence referendum.

 

 

The third speaker was Vincent Laborderie (Lecturer at Université catholique de Louvain), agreed largely with the previous speaker. Regionalism and EU membership is compatible. He quoted the statute of the NVA, the main Flemish nationalist party: “The goal for NVA is to have a Flemish state within a federal European Union”. Today, the EU is made of nation-state. It is not a federal Europe; otherwise Catalonia would be independent. The Catalan referendum message is very clear. It is forbidden to split from another country if you do not have an agreement with the central state. It is like that not only in Europe, but it is an international practice. There is always a conflict between two concepts in international relations. The right of people to self-determination versus the respect of the sovereign state. The exception is Kosovo. The interesting thing about it is that the most important countries that recognized it openly claimed that it is an exception, a unique case.

 

In Europe, there are only two regions on the verge to be possibly close to independence. It is Scotland and Catalonia. Apart from that, the real movements across Europe are autonomist, not separatist. It is interesting to see why nation-states refuse for Catalans to have a referendum. Regarding the Flemish movement for independence, it is almost dead. The NVA is now participating in the federal government. It is interesting to compare it with separatist parties. In Quebec, the separatists never participated in the federal government, in Scotland same thing. In Spain it is very complicated, they participate but these parties are small. They always participate in exchange for more autonomy.

 

But now, the NVA decided to participate in the federal government, without any more autonomy. There was a small split in the NVA, when their president said that the goal is to participate in the next government, even if there is no more autonomy to gain for Flanders. Regarding the exiled Catalan leaders in Belgium, the Flemish nationalists have solidarity for Puldgemont, but they will not do anything specific about it.

 

After the speeches, the moderator Nicolas Balcell posed a question on regionalism as a way of bypassing the nation-state in the EU, and what could be the outcome of it, as well as what will happen in Catalonia after the upcoming regional elections in December. Aleix Sarri Camargo stated that the situation after the elections is uncertain and that the recent events have shown how surprisingly things can develop. There is a strong possibility that Catalan people will vote 50 percent for the independence parties and that democracy will be restored. Camargo added that more member states do not mean more problems for Europe. He believes that Catalonia could be an added value to the European project.

 

Marc-Andre Desmarais believes that in some ways it is able to bypass member states. Regions can work around pragmatic. Independent regions would be a no-go for the EU, as every member state would have to agree on that. Vincent Laborderie believes nothing will change after the Catalan elections, regardless of the results. Regarding the EU, we cannot bypass the member states. All of the regions have representations here in Brussels only because of their countries membership in the EU. After these remarks, the audience engaged in a discussion on the topics.

 

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