Tag: European Union

The UK Election 2019

  • December 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

It’s right wing versus left, until the wings fall off our heads: the UK Election 2019


Source: Pixabay

Before the UK elections, the final YouGov model put the Conservatives on anywhere from 311 to 367 seats, with a prediction of 339. The magic majority is 326 of 650 seats.


In the cold light of day, the Conservatives hit the top end of that projection with 365 seats. What happened? How did it go so wrong for the Remain movement?


The election result cannot be wholly blamed on the electoral system, but this result will resurrect cries for reform. Under First Past The Post, if Candidate A gets 40% of the vote in Nowhereshire and Anytown, Candidate B gets 20%, Candidate C gets 20%, Candidate D gets 15% and Candidate E gets 5%, Candidate A is elected.


Unfortunately for the people of Nowhereshire and Anytown, they are now represented by an MP that 60% of voters didn’t want. This system leads to disproportionate success for parties that can count on concentrated support in particular areas and makes it harder for new and small parties to gain (and keep) a foothold.


The Electoral Reform Society modelled the 2019 election results with the kind of Proportional Representation also used in the UK European Parliament elections. The results were as follows:




Although the Brexit process will now drive forward, it is debatable as to whether that reflects the true will of the people. A proportional result would have led to a hung parliament and some difficult and possibly different decisions.


However, the UK is where it is. The Labour Party faces a massive hill to climb if it is to have any chance of returning to government. A centre-left British think tank, the Fabian Society, has analysed the scale of the challenge. The party needs to win at least 123 seats at the next General Election to have a majority of 1. That will involve regaining marginal seats, the seats lost in its heartland, and formerly safe Conservative seats where demographic change could give it a fighting chance. It will also need to take SNP held seats or work with them. An SNP-Labour government would require Labour to win 83 seats from other parties, which, again, would be a tall order.


They note that one of the reasons for the Conservative majority was the split progressive vote. In 56 Conservative seats, the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green vote combined was higher than the winning Conservative vote. The tragedy of FPTP, however, is not the whole story. Datapraxis, a polling and analysis company, has produced an initial report of the factors underlying the Conservative victory. It makes tough reading for British progressives.


In short, the Conservative victory was a result of ongoing Labour decline in its heartlands, combined with sceptical attitudes to a UK political system seen as rigged and out-of-touch, anti-immigration feelings, and a perception that social security and public services are being exploited by others. The UK has an ongoing tradition of sensationalist and misleading news, which has escalated with the rise of social media. Brexit provided a ‘way out’ to an imaginary renewed UK.


Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is the elephant in the room. He is fundamentally unpopular among the kind of voters Labour needed to retain. Datapraxis calls this the most significant factor in Labour’s decline. 52% of Labour Leave voters disliked him, and 48% of them disliked Johnson. They were potentially winnable – 54% of them listed the NHS in their top two issues – but they were turned off by Corbyn’s radical left-wing views, Labour anti-Semitism issues, and saw him as unpatriotic. Conservative Remainers saw him as a danger to the country that they were forced to avert by reluctantly continuing to vote Conservative despite their dislike of Johnson. 1.3 million Labour Remainers went to other Remain parties: in some seats, they could have made the difference by staying with Labour. Its late conversion to supporting a confirmatory referendum on Brexit stopped it from haemorrhaging voters to the Liberal Democrats, but the damage was done.


A short note on tactical voting: progressive parties have debated whether closer cooperation could have avoided this. The Liberal Democrats campaigned against both Labour and the Conservatives, and bad blood remains between Labour and the Lib Dems over the latter’s coalition government record. Labour supporters particularly resent Lib Dem defector Sam Gyimah for standing in Kensington, which narrowly fell to the Tories.


According to Datapraxis, the Liberal Democrats’ message about Jo Swinson potentially becoming Prime Minister was one of the worst-performing messages the company had tested in Europe. The message that Britain deserved better than Corbyn or Johnson was much better received. The party was unable to mobilise a strong, substantial campaign to match it and did not connect with the soft Conservative vote it needed to win over. Even if the two parties had made a full electoral pact, Datapraxis modelling suggests 78% of non-frontrunner progressive voters would have had to vote tactically – an eye-wateringly high success rate. Even if this were possible, under the model, the Conservatives would have remained the largest party in a hung parliament.


Finally, a summary of the Scottish question. The Scottish National Party (SNP) won 45% of the vote, and 80% of the seats, in Scotland. Many of its politicians have raised the question of a mandate for another Scottish independence referendum. However, as a result of the voting system, this mandate is also questionable. 45% is also the share of voters who backed independence in 2014. Only 10 SNP candidates got over 50% of the vote: it is mathematically possible for the other 38 to win by mobilising existing pro-independence voters. In any case, Johnson has clearly stated his opposition to a second vote, and the Scottish Government has made it equally clear that it will not repeat the Catalans’ mistakes.  Sturgeon has stated she will not hold a referendum without the consent of the UK government. The only certainty is that there will be political and potentially legal disputes. Even with consent, a referendum could not practicably be held before the 31st January 2020, and Scotland will leave the EU with the UK. Anything beyond that remains unpredictable.



A silver lining for UK progressives? Boris Johnson’s government has nobody left to blame but itself. Having won over traditionally Labour-supporting areas, they now have a voter coalition that includes formerly industrial Blyth Valley and affluent ex-Liberal Democrat seat Cheltenham. This is a naturally fragile group and may collapse under the weight of EU-UK negotiations on the future relationship. Corbyn may have been hated, but Johnson is hardly loved. Datapraxis found that he was described, time and again, across all age groups, political loyalties, and genders as ‘the best of a bad bunch’. If Labour can find someone seen as better than Boris, and the Liberal Democrats can build on their second-place results in the South, there is potential for a long, slow recovery.

Share on social media:

Everyday I Love You Less and Less: Here’s what you missed at our Western Balkans event

  • December 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth



The Centre for European Progression held a panel discussion on Monday 9th December entitled The EU and the Western Balkans – An End of a Romance? Our panellists shared some vital insights for the future of the EU and for the Western Balkans.


CFEP’s CEO István Szekeres began the event with a brief introduction to the topic.


The first speaker was one of the few MEPs to hold a Serbian passport, Andor Deli MEP (EPP), a dual national of Hungary and Serbia. For him, the EU accession of the Western Balkan states is personal. He knows people who have been waiting two decades to become part of the European Union.  He spent his younger years in Vojvodina, Northern Serbia, which were marked by travel bans, embargoes, and NATO bombing. These experiences make him want integration even more.


For Mr Deli, keeping Serbia on the European path is essential, but the pace of the process is too slow. The October veto has also led to a loss of trust between the EU and the Western Balkan states. However, he sees a chance for a reset and rebuilding of trust with the new Commission. The Western Balkans can serve as a litmus test. If Member States can reach an agreement on that, they may yet be able to tackle thorny policy problems in other areas.


Andreas Schieder MEP (S&D), the Chair of the Delegation to the EU-North Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee, spoke next. Before becoming an MEP, he was the Chair of the Austrian-Serbian Parliamentary Delegation. For Mr Schieder, the Balkan states are part of Europe and, by extension, should be part of the EU. He believes that the Balkan states must work with other countries to solve their regional problems. In that regard, North Macedonia fulfilled all the conditions. The promise that Western Balkan countries will be rewarded for solving tricky issues no longer works after Macron’s veto.


The whole European Parliament, possibly bar the Identity and Democracy group, supported accession talks. Mr Schieder met North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on the same day they found out the answer was No. He learned there is a risk of nationalist grievance-based resurgence surrounding the name change.  After the EU’s decision, early elections in North Macedonia will take place at the end of April. At this point, Mr Schieder noted there was a chance to approve the talks in a March summit. For him, as the talks do not begin immediately, it is possible to reform the enlargement process (as Macron suggested) and open accession talks at once.


Alexandra Stiglmayer, of the European Stability Initiative think tank, was the third speaker. She presented a variety of statistics on the Western Balkans and discussed several problems with the accession process. The first was its lengthy nature, which results in painful reforms for a distant future benefit. Another problem relates to the EU institutions. There are over 70 veto possibilities. Member States have to approve progress at each stage (application, official candidacy, negotiations). These vetoes often have little to do with the country’s actions, but with domestic views on enlargement.


She also noted that even if certain countries are ahead in the accession process, it doesn’t necessarily reflect their readiness to join the EU. North Macedonia, which has not yet begun negotiations, is ahead of Serbia in Commission assessments. Secondly, Commission reports are also vague and lack concrete details which could guide foreign investors or NGOs. Thirdly, she added that these countries lag far behind the EU average and do not get much help to catch up.


She noted the Commission often argues that the Western Balkans do not have the absorption capacity to spend their allocated EU funding. Romania and Slovenia do not spend their entire allocation either, and yet they have seen dramatic improvement. Committed governments, such as North Macedonia, would make use of the money. The monitoring mechanism also needs reforms to include merit-based and detailed key requirements. These would aid comparison between states and remove the potential for political vetoes. Her third, and final, proposal involves pre-accession single market access. This would involve the implementation of 60-70% of the acquis. It could also motivate politicians who otherwise think in electoral cycles.


Dr Isabelle Ioannides, a Senior Associate Researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and a Europe’s Futures Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, was the final speaker. She was cautiously optimistic about the chances of enlargement to the Western Balkans. It was not just any Member State that blocked the talks: it was France, which holds big sway at EU level and whose preferences cannot be overlooked. However, she noted that experts have had long-term concerns about enlargement policy and that there is a case for reform. These include ineffective development conditionality, double standards, and poor performance in Common Security and Defence Policy missions.


The risk, according to Dr Ioannides, is coupling enlargement reform to internal reforms. This could potentially push enlargement off the agenda. Shared responsibility is needed: willingness from below and pressure from above. She remained optimistic as a result of the continued pro-European and pro-enlargement majority in the European Union, and the re-election of MEPs with experience on the Western Balkans. The Commission should be given a chance, although she remains concerned not just about France, but other Member States which have questioned Albania’s readiness (such as Greece). Others still are happy to hide behind France’s veto. In light of the Commission resulting from backroom manoeuvres, she wondered if it would be able to stand up to the Member States on enlargement. For Dr Ioannides, enlargement was never a romance. It is a long-term process of hard work and sacrifice. Western Balkan countries need to understand it is a road of sacrifice, and the EU needs to be more understanding of the sacrifices made.


Audience questions touched on Macron’s non-paper ‘Reforming the European Union accession process’, the role of non-EU states in the region, Turkey, Ukraine, and, finally, the future of the region in 2030. Dr Ioannides did not think any of the Western Balkan countries would be members by that date. Ms Stiglmayer was more optimistic, perhaps seeing North Macedonia and Montenegro as members by 2030. For Mr Schieder, 2040 was a more realistic time schedule. By contrast, Mr Deli felt something had to happen by 2030 for the enlargement policy to remain workable.


The region’s future may be uncertain, but what is certain is that the EU-Western Balkans debates are here to stay – whether the Member States like it or not.

Share on social media:

Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Rights in the European Union

  • December 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Rights in the European Union


A disability rights protest in IrelandSource: Flickr (Sinn Fein)

If someone cannot get upstairs, that may be the result of a ‘disabling’ condition. A more modern approach suggests that disability is not an individual issue, but a social one. The inability to get upstairs is a result of society’s failure to provide another way of accessing higher floors.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place every year on the 3rd of December. In 2019, it was themed around disabled people’s leadership in sustainable development action. That is relevant everywhere, regardless of the national level of economic development. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals highlight disability. All countries have to include disabled people in their development plans.


The EU is no exception. The European Disability Strategy is one of the many policies which needs renewing. First, a brief note on terminology. The EU and UN refer to ‘persons/people with disabilities’. Many activists refer to themselves as ‘disabled people’. Different people prefer different terminologies. The author of this piece has dyspraxia, a condition which affects movement and coordination. In line with the author’s personal preference for the term ‘disabled person,’ this piece will also use that term when discussing public policy.


Secondly, a brief theoretical introduction. There are two prevailing ‘models’ of disability: the medical model, and the social model. The former sees the cause of disability as an individual’s impairment. The latter sees the cause of disability as society’s failure to include people. To take an example, under the social model, a wheelchair user is not disabled because of their inability to climb stairs. They are disabled because nobody has provided a ramp or a lift. In short: under the medical model, the impairment is the problem. Under the social model, society’s barriers are the problem.


Some inclusive reforms have taken place in the EU. The European Disability Strategy (EDS) 2010-2020 focused on eight main action areas. These are accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training. Many of these achievements are in the EDS 2017 Progress Report. Only some will be highlighted here. The European Accessibility Act was designed to harmonise accessibility requirements for particular products and services. It also defined how pre-existing accessibility obligations should be met.) New EU funding rules about accessibility and inclusion ensure respect for disability rights in EU aid projects.


Disability has also been mainstreamed in Erasmus+. Specific funding is available to help disabled students and staff take part. Calls for proposals now include accessibility criteria. Disabled young people are a target group for the Youth Guarantee education and training scheme. One of the main barriers to mobility is the lack of mutual recognition of disability status between the Member States. The EU disability card, piloted in 8 Member States, is a potential step towards EU-wide recognition.


However, there is still much work to do. The United Nations’ assessment of the EU’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) revealed some important shortcomings. The EU has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. Doing so would create a powerful tool for disability rights activism. Individuals or groups under EU jurisdiction could complain of CRPD violations to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It could then launch an investigation and request the EU act to avoid harming the victim(s). The Committee could also launch a full inquiry if the EU chose to accept its competence to do so. It may seem unlikely that the EU would mistreat disabled people. In reality, the first-ever country to be investigated in this way was the United Kingdom.


Indeed, institutionalisation persists in many Member States. The UN highlighted the issue of children living in institutions within the EU territory. They often lack access to quality, inclusive education within the mainstream state system. It was also concerned that the European Structural and Investment Funds were being used to support institutions rather than to support disabled people in the local community. Even worse, some Member States still engage in forced sterilisation and abortion: a human rights violation under the CRPD.


Some disabled people were also denied the right to vote in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. This is due to inaccessible voting procedures or reduced legal capacity/guardianship. The European Economic and Social Committee estimates that the latter deprived around 800,000 EU citizens of their right to vote. It also highlights that blind voters in 18 Member States cannot cast a secret ballot. They are expected to receive help from another person. 8 Member States have no form of distance voting, disenfranchising anyone who cannot attend a polling station in person.


Looking to the next 10 years, the European Disability Forum passed a Resolution at the 2017 European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities. They call on the EU to ratify the Optional Protocol as mentioned above. The Structured Dialogue is an ongoing cycle of communication between young people and the EU institutions, and the EDF seeks to duplicate this process for disabled people. Adequate funding for disability-related projects is an overarching concern throughout the Resolution. The EU must be aware of this in planning its next budget.


The EDF also raised concerns about discrimination against disabled people who also belong to other marginalised groups. An integral part of the strategy for the next 10 years must be inclusion, respect for decision-making power, and de-institutionalisation. The UN asked the EU to act on the detention of disabled refugees and migrants. It did not do so, and this must now be a priority for upcoming migration reforms.


It would be all too easy to focus on things like the budget and migration at the expense of issues like the EDS. For the EU to drag its heels over the production of a 2030 European Disability Strategy would be an unacceptable dereliction of duty. Disabled over 16s form 24.1% of the European population. Disability issues are not only those linked to disability rights. All EU decisions affect us, and nothing should be done about us without us.

Share on social media:

A Beautiful Summer? : the European-Mediterranean relationship

  • November 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

A Beautiful Summer

Source: Pixabay

The Euro-Mediterranean is often the neglected region of EU Neighbourhood policy. Its potential should not be overlooked.


In the European Union’s neighbourhood, most policymakers’ attention of late has been on the Eastern Partnership – not without good reason. However, what do we think of when we hear the phrase ‘Southern Mediterranean’? To many people, that likely calls to mind a migration route. It is so much more than that. At a recent Centre for European Policy Studies event, former Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, Fathallah Sijilmassi, discussed his (French-language) book L’Avenir de l’Europe est au Sud (The Future of Europe is in the South).



The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), as explained in the book, began in 1995 with the Barcelona Process which was designed to facilitate relations between Europe and the Southern Mediterranean. The UfM was founded in its current form in 2008. It brought together the 28 EU Member States, as well as 15 Southern Mediterranean countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Syria (suspended in 2011), Tunisia and Turkey. Libya is an observer member. The astute will notice that this is one of few forums where Israel and Palestine sit around the same table.


The configuration of the Mediterranean varies. There was debate about whether to include all the EU Member States, on the grounds that it naturally matters more to Spain and France than, say, Estonia and Sweden. In the interests of a common European foreign policy, it was agreed that they should all participate. There is an informal dialogue between the ‘core’ participants, known as the ‘5+5 Dialogue’, which was the instigator of wider Euro-Mediterranean cooperation (despite being on hold for a number of years post-Lockerbie.) It involves Spain, Italy, France, Malta, Portugal, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.


Sijilmassi, in his book, sets out the challenges facing the Southern Mediterranean. The region remains one of the least-integrated in the world. He cites figures from the UfM: 90% of Euro-Mediterranean regional trade is between the EU Member States, 9% between the North and South Mediterranean, and only 1% between Southern Mediterranean countries. That in mind, he also states that (translation my own) “[t]he Mediterranean cannot continue to be presented solely as a graveyard for undocumented migrants. It is one of the most beautiful seas in the world. It is no coincidence that it is the leading tourist destination worldwide […] The challenges in the Mediterranean cannot be limited to the fight against religious radicalism and terrorism, with the conflation of issues that gives rise to suspicion and mistrust between peoples. There are 800 million people, a large majority of them young, who share a common space and a collective reality on a day to day basis.”


The solutions, according to Sijilmassi, lie with harnessing the talents and potential of young people across the region. Europe may be an aging region, with older people to make up 28.5% of the EU population by 2050, but the Southern Mediterranean is not. There, older people are less than 10% of the population in all countries bar Israel. Between 24.7% and 38.9% of the population (depending on the country) are under 15. In the EU-28, 15.6% of the population was under 15 in 2017.



One of the many examples of regional youth activism he highlights is 1Youth1Sea. This refers to a group of young people from across both sides of the Mediterranean who took the initiative to form their own media source, writing articles about what mattered to them. In their 2017 follow-up [FR] to their initial 2014 appeal [EN], they highlight a variety of projects relating to job creation. The piece also calls for reforms favouring Small and Medium Enterprises, innovation, and improving education.


These priorities are broadly shared by youth in both Europe and the Arab world, and also reinforce Sijilmassi’s call to move beyond the security dimension to a more positive strategy which also centres socio-economic issues. In Europe’s recent elections, we saw a youth surge underpinning the turnout increase. That Eurobarometer also found that the top three issues for citizens more generally were the economy, climate change, and human rights and democracy. Migration languished in 5th place. Those findings chime with a special youth Eurobarometer from 2017. When asked to name three topics they thought should be a priority for the EU, young people’s top three priorities were education and skills, protecting the environment and combatting climate change, and employment – migration coming a close fourth.


In the Arab world, young people have similar opinions. The Arab Youth Survey 2019, covering 18-24 year olds in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories, asked them about a variety of issues facing the Middle East and North Africa. The top concerns among young Arabs about the Middle East are the rising cost of living, unemployment, lack of Arab unity and slow economic growth. The threat of terrorism was the 3rd top concern in 2018 and is now the 7th. On education, the youth of North Africa and the Levant (which generally overlap with the Southern Mediterranean) are far less satisfied that their education systems prepare them for the jobs of the future than Gulf Cooperation Council youth. 80% of GCC youth are satisfied, compared with 47% of North African youth and 27% of Levant youth.


Overall, therefore, the youth on both sides of the Mediterranean have shared concerns. At a time where the EU is restructuring its external action funds, and considering a Marshall Plan for Africa, it should also reassess its external action policies. Young people on both sides of the Mediterranean have a new, positive vision for their region which transcends a narrow focus on migration, security and defence. The European Union should support them, with a more holistic approach and a genuine partnership which centres the concerns of youth, not the concerns of populists.

Share on social media:
<< Previous - Next >>