Compromise is not a shame

  • October 2017
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Compromise is not a shame

Parliamentary debate on Catalonia

The debate broke the so-called “silence” of the EU on the subject, but in the end it most agreed a solution must be found within the framework of the Spanish law through dialogue and compromise. Whatever this rhetoric will have any effect, we cannot know. For the moment both sides seem entrenched in their own position, unwilling to move a single inch to compromise. Whether this will go down in history as a seminal tragedy or as a bright example of compromise is up to Spain and Catalonia alone.

On Wednesday the 4th, the European Parliament gathered in Strasbourg for the plenary session and in the afternoon the topic at hand was the situation in Catalonia and the way forward.

President Antonio Tajani gives the floor to Frans Timmermans, first Vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner for the portfolio for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The speech begins with the Commissioner stating that:

“Our modern societies are based on three principles: democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights. The three need each other and cannot exclude each other. If you remove one pillar, then the other would fall too. Respect for the rule of law is not optional, but fundamental. If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change it, but you cannot ignore the law.”

This message is unequivocally directed at the Catalonian general government. He then continues by arguing that the images of Monday the 1st were regrettable and that violence is never a solution, nor a tool. Nevertheless, he continues, to uphold the rule of law it is sometimes necessary to use a proportionate use of force. He then highlights that even if he understands the need to express oneself, he believes that “an opinion is not more valuable than another opinion simply because it is expressed more loudly”. Finally, he confirms the official position of the Commission which is that this is an internal matter of Spain and must be resolved in the framework of the Spanish constitutional system. He then calls for the dialogue to open because “sitting down and discuss an issue, especially when we disagree, is what our Union is based on”.

This position was embraced by Manfred Weber, Chairman of the European People Party group. The EPP position mirrors almost exactly the Commission’s one and lays the blame almost exclusively on the Catalan Government and its “unreliable behavior” in calling the referendum. Having said all that, he proposes an “inter-Spanish” dialogue because the solution, he says, cannot be found in the European Parliament but in Spain itself. He then concludes by offering his personal view as a Bavarian by saying that he believes “Nation states are compatible with proud regions; Europe needs both strong nations and regional diversity” and urges the Catalan authorities not to take “irreversible steps” and to keep in mind that leaving Spain means leaving the European Union, with all that entails.

Next is the turn of Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialists & Democrats. He is also mostly in line with what Timmermans and Weber said before him and urges the Catalan government to stop “before going over the cliff”. A unilateral independence declaration, he says, it’s a provocation and would act like gasoline on the fire, after the “pointless Sunday referendum”. He goes deeper in his critic and says that fixing on the legality of the referendum is not pure legal wit, but the base of the system that has kept peace in Europe for all these decades. A system that is in place exactly to protect the weakest nations against the will of the strong. He then argues that we should look with less superficiality to the return of nationalism in Europe and that waving the flag of separatism, when you tend to exclude rather than include, you can be sure of where you stand but not where you will end up. He then continues quoting from François Mitterrand “Nationalism it’s war” and by offering a comparison between the situation in Spain and in Germany where, on the same day, one is fighting for divisions while the other is celebrating the reunification. European unity is the very essence of the project and we must strive to preserve it, he says. Nevertheless, he concludes, the situation had to be better managed. He addresses Prime Minister Rajoy and states that the Catalans and Spanish socialists proposed viable solutions, even if it meant modifying the constitution.

The first position critical both to the commission and to the Spanish government comes from MEP Ryszard Antoni Legutko from European Conservatives and Reformists Group. In his speech he points out what he believes is a double standard of treatment within the EU and calls the use of force by the Spanish government “appalling”. Nevertheless, his conclusions he calls for patient negotiations but he believes that the “riot police or the conspicuous silence of the EU will not make the problem go away”.

Next is the turn of MEP Guy Verhofstadt from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group. In his speech he starts by says that we have nothing to teach to Spain in terms of Democracy who came out stronger than ever from the dictatorship. Now, four decades later, Spanish democracy must cement itself again. Not by police force, but by creating a federal, multicultural and multilingual Spain in a federal multicultural and multilingual Europe. He then attacks the Catalan government for what he calls an irresponsible behavior that will create a fracture in Catalonia itself that will be hard to heal. Who will gain from this? The euroskeptics he says. Cooperation is key and he points out the the Basque country as a virtuous example to follow. He concludes with a practical advice: “in politics it’s not a shame to make compromises; when the choice is between the steps forward of a compromise or standing still due to purity, well then choose to move forward, however small the steps may be”.

After his speech, the rest of the speaker are united in condemning both the disproportionate use of violence from the Spanish government and the perceived ambiguity of the European Institutions.

Finally, Commissioner Timmermans speaks again to reiterate the need to respect the rule of law and by saying that creating a precedent could then be used against yourself in the future. Dialogue is paramount and he hopes the parties involved will come to an understanding soon.

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Mexican standoff

  • September 2017
  • Andrea Lotesoriere

Mexican standoff

Election nears and Italian parties are still struggling to reform the electoral law



A few months ago, the Italian political landscape seemed ready for a redo of its electoral process. It was all for naught as almost immediately the negotiations stopped and everybody went back to business as usual. At the time, the grand temporary coalition favored an electoral model based on the German one, famous for having stable governments.

Now talks have resumed since the end of the parliament’s mandate is near, but in the wake of the German elections results, it is clear now more than ever that what made the German model stable wasn’t the electoral system per se. The political situation has remained mostly unchanged in terms of alliances but has seen the right-wing parties gain considerable ground on the Democratic party and the 5star Movement.


This shift to the right is in line with the rest of the European results but in Italy has done nothing more than to cement the tripartite stall which would arise after the general elections. One immediate result of these

developments is the semi-official abandonment of the ius soli law, which would have granted an easier path to citizenship for migrants. Alternativa Popolare, a part of the government coalition, has officially stated their refusal to vote in favor of the proposed law, which can’t pass without their numbers. Furthermore, internal opposition in the Democratic Party is warning against supporting a proposal that has become very controversial for the general public and could seriously hurt the election campaign effort.

In addition to this, Matteo Renzi’s party must also guard itself against losing votes to the left as well. The former party members of Articolo 1 are fighting fire with fire and are trying to attract all the different small parties of the center-left universe in a single big coalition, which would then oppose the right-wing rhetoric instead of adapting to it. This could trigger a dispersion of votes from the Democratic Party, resulting in an even weaker position at the negotiating table.

The center-left is not the only one facing problems. The 5star movement just concluded their internal digital primaries, which crowned Luigi Di Maio as the official candidate for office. This procedure was not without controversy since he was the only “big name” of the list, the online voting was a target of many hacker attacks and, overall, it generally felt like an imposition from Beppe Grillo rather than an internal election. The movement is striving hard to remain focused on his core principles and ideologies but, especially since they elected a few important mayors at the last ballots, they are faced daily with internal struggles between pragmatists and idealists.

Furthermore, since its foundation the party has adapted and changed many internal rules it gave itself, like not being hosted in a television program or having candidates not being under investigation. What it hasn’t compromised on is the possibility of forming an alliance with other parties which are, in his electoral base views, the old and rotten politics that needs to go. This principle is a hindrance to the forming of a government since it’s impossible at the moment and for the foreseeable future, to be appointed in office without making any alliances. Given its stances, the movement could easily ally itself both with the Democratic Party or with the eurosceptic Northern League, but that would mean choosing a side and risk losing a big part of its electorate and handing it right over to the opposition.

Lastly, we have the revitalized center-right. While it is indeed true that the electoral trend is somewhat positive, they still face the problem of the leadership of the possible coalition as well as the big rift between eurosceptics and Europhiles. During the last local elections, the Northern League and Forza Italia run together and achieved victory in many key cities. The unity works but, unlike the last Berlusconi’s government, the two parties are now almost equally matched. Furthermore Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, is dealing at the same time with internal feuds between the old faction who values regional autonomy and his new party line who aims at gathering vote from the whole country and as such, give the party a more national spirit. This turmoil was more evident than ever during the last gathering of the party at Pontida, a small town that hosts the annual rally of the party, during which the founder Umberto Bossi didn’t get his chance to speak to the crowd for the first time in 27 years. For the moment the numbers favor Salvini in both the coalition and his own party but, at the same time, he is gradually toning down the attacks against Brussels in order to avoid the debacle of the Front National and other eurosceptic parties. He is, instead, focusing heavily on the security and legality topics as well as the immigration crisis, which has proven so successful for AfD in the last German elections.

In conclusion, even though the situation seems to be the same on the surface, all the actors are getting ready for the incoming electoral turn. All of the leaders will have to make hard choices before the campaign and then stick to them but, without knowing what kind of electoral law they will be facing, caution is paramount. Who will make the first move?

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Brexit – Just another Old Boy’s Club? UK accused of gender imbalance

  • July 2017
  • Sarah Broitman

“Just another Old Boy’s Club”

UK’s Brexit negotiation team gets bashed as being sexist 

Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images


A new debate is starting to bubble in the common Brexit discourse around Europe, it’s not about citizens’ rights or the single market as per usual; this time – it’s about gender.


The Labour Party of the UK recently penned a letter signed by 56 female MPs that urges British Prime Minister Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, to review the gender balance of her Brexit negotiating team.


“While women form 51% of the UK population, 32% of parliament, 50% of the shadow cabinet and 22% of your current cabinet, women form only 11% of the UK’s EU negotiating team – one out of nine. Our European counterparts, on the other hand, have women in nearly half of their team’s positions,” they write.


What do the numbers really mean?


So, there are the statistics, but numbers alone can’t tell a full story. Before we all fall out of our chairs and start screaming “dismantle the patriarchy!” let us discuss further in detail the effects that gender really does make in negotiations.


There is no arguing that gender equality should always remain a factor in all political advances, but we have to straddle a fine line between maintaining gender balance, and falling into “tokenism”, meaning to only include women on a negotiating team merely as placeholders to meet a quota. When we get to the point of tokenism, it only aggravates gender inequalities instead of mending them.


With May’s Brexit team, those who are defending the current gender balance are arguing that the gender of the negotiators is irrelevant and that those on the team are simply the best person for the job.This notion of meritocracy or technocracy is rather common in the EU, and in its true sense, is not an issue. Where things do become problematic, however, is when we look at why out of 32.2 million women in the UK, so few would be deemed competent enough to reach the highest echelon of bureaucratic positions. This is especially concerning when we consider that women actually make up a majority in lower level civil servant positions and rapidly thin out as they reach the more executive and powerful positions.


This lack of women at the top tiers of business and politics can be attributed to a few different factors, for example the longer and less flexible working hours demanded by higher level positions often discourage women from being chosen or opting to apply as they are assumed to have a heavier domestic responsibility burden.

Negotiations and Gender : Variety is the Spice of Life


Gender equality and how to approach it in the workplace is a sticky conversation – so let’s turn this debate on its head and approach it from a more utilitarian angle. Does a gender balanced team lead to a better Brexit deal?


As a 20-something year old charged with answering a difficult question, I did what all wise young professionals would do – I called my mom, Amanda Cooper, who also happens to be a female negotiator in mergers and acquisitions in Canada. Here’s what she said:

“A negotiation, often people look at that as the ending of something – but just as often it’s the beginning of something – and there’s a difference when you’re going to have an ongoing relationship” said Amanda Cooper, mother and negotiating extraordinaire. “A diverse team is a stronger team and has a much higher chance of a better outcome, and that would include women of course.”

She went on to explain that yes, successful female negotiators tend to negotiate differently than men, but more importantly, people negotiate differently with women on the other side of the table. And as per usual, she’s right. Mother knows best rings true here as studies actually back her up on this. It has been found that men tend to start at more extreme ends of the spectrum when negotiating with each other but tend to be more reasonable when a woman is involved. If anything, when a woman is involved there’s a tendency to overly compromise, which in a deadlocked Brexit doesn’t sound like the worst scenario.


Diversity in general is necessary to having a successful and comprehensive deal. Though endlessly intelligent and insightful, my mom is not the first person to point this out. Weeks before this now famous letter was penned, the Guardian’s Tania Branigan wrote her own piece eloquently lambasting the UK for their lack of both gender, racial, and age diversity.


This should be all common sense. Humans are inherently self-interested and are more inclined to consider their own struggles and positions first. Sure, many old white men have championed causes external to their own issues, but the fact is, it’s both less accurate and less likely to be brought up if someone from the affected group is not present.


Brexit will affect all 65 million people in the UK, but is being negotiated by those who represent a very small minority. It is reasonable for women and minority groups alike to be concerned that their interests will not be represented and that their needs will not be met.


On this argument, I have to side with the Labour Party in their concerns. But I do not agree that it’s as simple as throwing a couple more female bodies on the negotiating team. This is a symptom of an issue much bigger than Brexit. This comes down to the way that certain groups are systematically disadvantaged by societal norms.


We can (almost) all agree that Brexit is going to suck for just about everyone involved to one extent or another. By including varied perspectives in the negotiations, however, we can at least keep the sucking to a minimum and not let it overly dump on one group. So protest on women of the Labour Party, but remember that you’re not the only ones being left out in the cold on these talks. Youth, disabled people, and ethnic minorities all have unique concerns and will be affected differently by Brexit. Representing such a diverse group is obviously difficult for any one team of negotiators, but we can only hope the agreement reached by the EU and the UK is one that accounts for all their citizens.

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Long lasting Dutch negotiations

  • July 2017
  • Pierre François Di Stefano

Will the Netherlands break Belgium’s record of being without a government?

Four months after the parliamentary elections, the Netherlands still doesn’t have a government. At the beginning of this week, party leaders from VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie reunited in a new place, hoping that The Hague-based Johan de Witthuis will bring them some new inspiration. The week is about to end soon, but apparently, the national monument built in 1655 haven’t brought them the appetite for compromise.

The elections in March were seen by many as a fight between anti-European populism and Pro-Europe, where the future of Europe was at stake. The results were promising because Mark Rutte from the Liberal and Democratic Popular Party (VolkspartijvoorVrijheid in Democratie / VVD) won against Geert Wilders for the extreme right party “Party for Freedom” (Partijvoor deVrijheid / PVV).

The Pro-European forces might have won the battle, but not the war.  Thereal struggle just started the day after since the Dutch electoral system functions according to idea of proportional representation. Seats are distributed at the national level between the lists, or the groups of lists representing at least 0.67% of the votes cast at the national level. The proportional system obliges politicians to negotiate with all the parties; the value of your vote is proportional to their result of the elections. To advance the negotiations, the parties form a coalition in order to have more weight against the opposition during the negotiation.After the formation of the cabinet, the representatives can decide to give their confidence to the coalition or not.

And it is precisely at thisstage that the negotiations for the formation of a government are taken into account. Negotiations can take time, a lot of time. Like in the case of Belgium’s similar political system, which did not form a government for 541 days.

In the case of the Netherlands, four monthsare not so bad, but not that good either. Despite the inspiring spirit of the 17th century statesman Johan de Witt, parties haven’t managed to agree.

Naturally, a coalition is not simple, especially when faced with totally different ideas,and this can create barriers to the progress of negotiations.The case of the Netherlands speaks for itself. Janene Pieters, a Dutch journalist, writes for the Times NL:

The VVD and CDA again firmly stated that they will not work with anti-Islam party PVV and its leader Geert Wilders. Formation negotiator Herman TjeenkWillink asked VVD leader Mark Rutte and CDA leader SybrandBuma to put in writing why they will not form a government with Wilders. They dismissed Wilders as untrustworthy and “increasingly radical”, the Volkskrant reports”

“Over the past years Wilders hardened in his rejection of the liberal core values of our country”, Rutte wrote. As long as the PVV continues to “shame and insult” population groups, call the Tweede Kamer a “fake parliament”, “undermine the judiciary” and “refuse to take responsibility”, Wilders can not rule, according to the VVD leader. “To establish a stable government, mutual trust is indispensable and that is lacking.”

Got lost? It’s not a surprise. But it can get even more complicated, as the The Times NL reports:

Between the four parties, the D66 and ChristenUnie have the biggest differences in viewpoints on a number of topics, especially concerning medical ethics. The D66 supports, for example, assisted suicide at the end of a complete life, embryo examination and abortion, while the ChristenUnie is against. “I stay alert”, Pechtold said. “The differences are great. There are difficult conversations.”

Will the Netherlands break its neighbor’s record of survival without a government? Only the future can tell. We can only suggest the party leaders to inspire more from the life of Johan de Witt, who was ready to work together with various political groups from all the major cities in order to save his country.

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