Despite the election of Emmanuel Macron at the helm of France less than a year ago, the populist wave has maintained a strong footprint and influence over European politics. The outcomes of the recent legislative election in Italy confirm that a core EU member state and Eurozone’s third largest economy has chosen a populist movement, the Five Star Movement (M5S), and an extreme right party, Northern League, to lead Italian politics for the upcoming years.
The story behind the results of the Italian election of March 4, 2018 is shaped by a series of factors: migration (influx of over 750,000 migrants since 2011 from Sub-Saharan Africa), frustrations towards the EU and Eurozone governance, ethno-nationalism (especially for Northern Italy), stagnating economy and increase of poverty (11.1% unemployment rate and 37.8% youth unemployment rate), and disillusionment with Italian political establishment. In addition, the results highlight the division between several Italies: in the North, the Northern League gained the most voices; in the South, M5S was the big winner; and in the middle, a faction of center left.
In the upcoming weeks, party leaders will be working on building a coalition in order to gain a majority. It was projected to see a coalition between Forza Italia and the Northern League, but in recent days Party leader Matteo Salvini expressed openness to join a coalition with M5S and other parties, at the exception of the Democratic Party. “The choice of speakers for the lower house of parliament and the Senate, due after March 23,” writes Giada Zampano of Politico “will provide the first hint as to possible alliances before parties consult with President Sergio Mattarella about forming a new government.” Mathematically, no future government can be formed without either M5S and/or the Northern League.
Here is my discussion with eTBS This Morning‘s host, Alex Jensen, on the populist wave over Europe in light of the Italian election, and the transatlantic link between European and American populist movements: audio file here or on iTunes here.
(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
Could the greatest threat to the unity and future of the European Union come from within the member states? For a long time, the concerns were coming from capitals seeking to leave the block, economic difficulties or even foreign pressures. With the 2016 Brexit vote, the national decision to exit the EU has in fact proven to foster unity among the member states on maintaining the integrity of the Union. But with the 2014 Scottish referendum (calls for a second referendum are being advanced), the movements within the nation-states to seek for greater regional autonomy, influence, and power from the national capital have been relentless.
The Catalan crisis is an illustration of a region seeking for independence from its state. The fraught relations between Madrid and Barcelona are real (read past analyses here and here). The crisis continues to escalate. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared that Madrid, the central government, would remove the region’s secessionist leaders. PM Rajoy announced the use of the Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, a radical step and an unprecedented event, which will dismiss the Catalan Cabinet, see Madrid assume all the powers of the regional executive, curb the role of the regional parliament and call for new regional election in the coming six-months. The central government does not seem keen at the moment to seek for mediation, but rather continues down the road of confrontation.
In addition, over the weekend, two wealthy Italian regions, Lombardy and Veneto, voted in non-binding referendums in favor of greater autonomy and seeking more power from Rome. These referendums, promoted by the Northern League ruling both regions, are not calls for secession from Rome, but instead a call for greater say and influence on issues of tax distribution and financial independence on several areas such as security, immigration and education.
Both Northern Italian regions contribute to a significant share of the Italian economy, with 20 percent for Lombardy and 10 percent for Veneto. Despite a significant share of Italian GDP, last summer Veneto received a €17bn rescue deal to address the banking crisis.
Even though it is too early to talk of a full fragmentation of some member states and the European Union, several trends and observations shall be advanced in order to rationalize and explain these forces at play. Prior to looking at a series of questions, which could contribute to the development of a series of hypotheses, one ought to recognize the complexities and particularities of each secessionist movements and the unique histories of the member states within the EU and their relationships with Brussels. These hypotheses try to identify commonalities between the recent movements in order to comprehend the reemergence of these regional forces.
Are wealthy regions done with solidarity via financial redistributions to other regions/states? Should the EU or the state be blamed for it?
Are these referendums informed by a conscious desire to guarantee cultural and linguistic survival, authenticity and uniqueness in a globalized world? This feeling is very much represented in Catalonia (despite being a major global touristic destination), in Nice and Corsica (France), and so forth.
Is the EU perceived as the enemy? In some regions of the EU, the EU or Brussels and in particular the Commission, are perceived as the actor promoting economic liberalism and ultimately undermining a certain savoir vivre. But in the recent case of Catalonia, the EU is called upon to mediate in domestic politics and national matters. Even further, there are some cases of desire to join the Union as a full member, which is a fantasy considering the responses of most European capitals and support to PM Rajoy.
The regional calculus takes for granted the core responsibility of the nation-state: national security and survival of the state. War and peace are forgotten concepts in Western Europe, which is quite ironic considering the state of European peripheries from the East (Ukraine) to the Mediterranean basin.
Are referendums the way to proceed in order engage with the central government? Do referendums serve the interests of the majority or only of the few?
Do these separatist movements inform us of a higher desire of activism and democratic inclusion? Meaning, there is a feeling of deposition to control civic life and influence the making of the nation. By scaling down from the national capital to the regional capital, there is a belief that one can have a greater say and influence in shaping the policy-making process and therefore the policy outputs. This democratic argument was very much present in the Brexit vote. These movements represent to some extent the end of centralized nation-states. But does this feeling of democratic inclusion at a lower level illustrate a narrow understanding of the world? It is not certain that an hypothetical sovereign Catalan state can, on its own, weather global forces from flow of capital to people.
Lastly, could we go even further and see these regional forces as the success of the European Union emphasizing that the state is now unable to fulfil the need of national citizens. In the case of Catalonia, the EU flag has been flown along the regional symbols. However, it is not certain that other regions would feel the same way. But if this were the case, the current EU would not be suited for the move towards a federation of regions considering that it is currently a Union of Sovereign States.
(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
Russia just started its airstrike campaign in Syria after approval by the upper house of the Parliament. “We [Russia] ’re talking exclusively about operations of Russia’s Air Force,” announced Mr. Ivanov, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, “as our president has already said, the use of armed forces on the ground theater of military operations is excluded.” The airstrikes have for objectives to assist the Bashar al-Assad regime in his war against the Islamic State.
After more than four and half years of war, Syria is the home of a complex crisis seeing a war between the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syrian militias, and many terrorist networks. The Syrian war has permitted the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Levant (ISIS), and has been costing the lives of 250,000 civilians and a million injured, displaced millions displaced, and put million refugees on the road. The Syrian civil war is taking a new turn with the direct military involvement of Russia. A simple, but yet complex question, ought to be raised: Does Russia dictate global politics in the European sphere of influence?
The Syrian Civil War
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad never lost his power. Even though the country is highly divided among a multitude of militias, terrorist networks and the al-Assad forces. The interesting case of Syria is that the West did not see coming the fall of Mubarak and Qaddafi and wanted to be proactive in the fall of al-Assad. In September 2013, the West was trying to build a coalition in order to start bombing Syria and the al-Assad forces after he was found guilty of having used sarin gas against civilians. Two forces played in favor of al-Assad, and
still are, avoiding the launch of airstrike against Syria’s al-Assad: Russia and Western public opinion.
Vladimir Putin has played an important role in sponsoring the al-Assad regime through military and financial assistance. Putin’s rationale is that the Assad regime is a better alternative and protection against radical Islamic groups than rebels. In the case of western public opinions, they had grown war-worn especially for the Americans and Brits both involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade. British citizens, through the UK House of Commons rejected to grant authorization to Prime Minister Cameron to participate in military airstrikes in Syria. The British aversion to use force in Syria was a powerful signal for the Obama administration, whom refused to intervene despite the fact that al-Assad had crossed the ‘redline’ in using sarin gas. Ultimately since 2013, the war in Syria has seen the rise of refugees, displaced individuals, rise of ISIS and a continuation of war without any direct role being played by the West to stop the conflict.
Mr. Putin has been very clear. Russia uses military force in order to fight ISIS and support the al-Assad regime. Vladimir Putin does not want to see his regional ally go and wants to maintain Russia’s influence in the region. Putin sees Russian intervention in order to stop the expansion and rise of ISIS in the region. If attention has been raised about radical islamists trying to conduct terrorist acts in Western Europe (like in Toulouse, Charlie Hebdo, the Thalys) and the US, Russia has as well been dealing with radical islamic terrorism for decades. Since being in power, Vladimir Putin has been fighting a lengthy war in Chechenya. Major Russian cities have been the targets of acts of terrorism over the years. In Syria, President Putin has played his game carefully by first bringing military capabilities, like fighter jets, in Syria at the airbase base of Latakia, in Western Syria.
In the case of the US, President Obama is neither interested in protecting al-Assad nor keeping him in power. As demonstrated by his two mandates, President Obama has been trying to leave the Middle East and readjust American power towards Asia. Obama’s presidential promises were to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he has done even though some military forces are still on the ground. During the Arab spring, the US with his European allies missed the moment. The US was leading from behind in 2011 in the implementation of a no-fly zone in Libya. The mission was led by France and the UK, under the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), which facilitated the fall of the Qaddafi regime. Since 2011, and especially after the killing of US ambassador in Benghazi, the Americans have been extremely reluctant in playing an active role on the ground and rather remain in the sky. But ISIS has brought back the US in the region. As demonstrated in recent polls, Americans consider ISIS as the greatest threat to the US.
Chart: Global Perceptions of Major Threats (Only the ‘Very Concerned about’ are being represented here)
With the rise of ISIS over the region, President Obama was obliged to send some hundreds of military advisors in Iraq in order assist the Iraqi army and leadership. Since then, the US with France have conducted airstrikes over Iraq in order to limit the rise of ISIS.
Even within the US team, there is a certain division as reported by the New York Times between President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry. “Obama seems to approach Syria with a professor’s detachment”said David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “while Kerry — perhaps because of his high regard for his own diplomatic acuity — sees it as something he can solve.” President Obama deeply distrusts President Putin, while Kerry feels that he can work on a deal with the Russians in order to bring in the long-term Bashar al-Assad down from his leadership position.
But the tension between the US and Russia can be sensed. During his address before the UN General Assembly, Russian President underlined that the US air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria were illegal and a violation of international law. Putin claimed that the US used military force with neither a UN Security Council Resolution nor with the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now it will be interesting to see if the UN Security Council agree on a resolution in order to fight ISIS in Syria.
Europeans, Russians and Americans
The Syrian crisis is, and ought to be perceived by the Europeans, as the top priority. From Europe, the civil war in Syria is causing regional instabilities all around the Mediterranean front, is at the origins of the worst migration crisis since World War two, and is exposing the failures of Europeans address a direct security threat to its continent. The massive number of migrants seeking for refuge in Western Europe is exposing the weaknesses of European cohesion and solidarity, European integration (see the failure of the Schengen agreement and Dublin rules), and is destroying the myth of Europe as a civilian/normative power.
The only power in Western Europe to be military active is France. Under Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, France has sought to maintain its global and regional influence and interests. France has been flexing its muscles in Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Back in 2013, France was waiting on the Americans in order to start airstrikes against the al-Assad forces after he was proven to have used sarin gas against civilians. If French air power has been used as part of the coalition with the US over Iraq in order to fight ISIS, but it started its bombing campaign over Syria several days ago. However, François Hollande has maintained the fact that a solution in Syria cannot exist with Bashar al-Assad. As demonstrated during the nuclear talks with Iran, French diplomacy has been one of the toughest in order to assure that French and Western interests would be protected and enforced. On the Syrian case, Laurent Fabius is keeping the similar cap.
The United Kingdom has expressed a less clear position. British Prime Minister Cameron said “I know there are people who think Isis is even worse than Assad, so shouldn’t we somehow cut a deal with Assad to team up and tackle Isis.” But the Brits, in order to show support to their American partners, underlined that a long-term solution cannot include Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. The French and Americans have been clear on the fact that any peace deals cannot include Bashar al-Assad.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said that Russia was a central actor in the fight against ISIS in the region. His tone towards Moscow is much softer than his European partners, as Italy and Russia have always had deep relationship, especially in recent times. For instance, Italy has been the least supportive of European sanctions against Russia.
Russia, The Return of the Global Power?
Since the arrival of Putin to power in 2000, his priority has been to make Russia a great power once again. He has demonstrated that Russia not only plays an important role, but can shape global events. If Putin put himself in a corner after the annexation of Crimea and lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, he has brought Russia back at the table of great powers with his actions in the Middle East. If this aspect has been lost in translation as the world is more concerned about the approval of the deal by the US Congress, Russia played an important role on bringing a deal for the Iranian nuclear program. In the case of Syria, most powers have been reluctant to act aside from airstrike bombings over Syria and Iraq. Now Russia is actually forcing the West to act and do something about the vicious war in Syria.
Europeans have been inactive on dealing with Syria and have struggled on welcoming Syrian migrants. Aside from boosting border patrols in the Mediterranean and increasing financial assistances to countries hosting Syrian refugees, Europeans were unable to agree on a clear military operation in order to address the root causes of the migration crisis. The Americans, under Obama, have been much more reluctant to start another military mission in the Middle East. Obama promised in 2008 to quit the greater Middle East, he certainly does not want to leave office in 2016 with another war in Middle East.
With the escalation of its military intervention, Russia is bringing itself outside of the corner and rejoining the table of great powers. This last decade, Putin has demonstrated his ability to promote Russian influence and interests where and when desired. By using realpolitik, Putin has been able to promote Russia’s interests without any moral dilemmas, while the West is trying to act morally (which is highly debatable) and is actually limiting its flexibility and interests. Russia is back and the West needs to work with a complex partner.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
The migration crisis is not ending and is in fact increasing the divide between EU Member States, overstretching the fondations of the EU (Schengen agreement), and underlining the lack of solidarity among European actors. If Germany was the model, or at least the moral authority of Europe, in terms of receiving asylum seekers (expected to be over 800,000 this year), Chancellor Merkel and her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have announced over the weekend that Germany will be reinstating border control between Germany and Austria. Such move goes against the principles of the Schengen agreement and illustrates a needed response by Chancellor Merkel to domestic pressures. Interestingly enough, the implementation of border control comes a day prior the EU ministers meeting seeking to find a common solution to the current migration crisis.
After a month of data collection, the survey created and monitored by Politipond on the question of the migration crisis has finally closed (here is the link to the survey). The questionnaire was designed in a way that would permit to identify and analyze several variables: actorness of the EU; role and influence of the Member States; influence of domestic politics; European push towards greater integration; and European identities.
Sample and Questionnaire
The survey was composed of 10 mandatory questions with multiple-choice answers. The questionnaire was designed in order to analyze how global participants feel about the crisis, understand the crisis, and perceive the way EU Member States and institutions try to deal with the issue. The survey counts 38 participants from all around the world. None of the participants were solicited and most of them found out of the survey by either receiving the Politipond‘s newsletter or through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin).
After a month of data collection, the largest participating countries were Portugal, the United States, France and Germany. These countries are an interesting sample as they incorporate the US, the quiet superpower, the Franco-German engine, and Portugal a member of Southern Europe. The US is an interesting actor as it has been very absent actor on the crisis, even though President Obama has recently announced some participation in welcoming refugees. Nevertheless, American media (The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Miami Herald, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times) have been covering the issue in depth for months and the American public opinion is deeply divided on the question. The issue of migration and immigration have been an important dimension in the current presidential campaign for 2016.
In the case of France and Germany, both countries are important historical partners that usually shape the direction of the Union. If Germany has proven to be the most welcoming EU Member State, with Sweden, France has been a much more cautious and observing actor. In recent days, France has expressed its support to Germany. Last but not least, Portugal is part of the infamous PIGS group (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) or Southern Europe. Portugal has, like his southern partners, faced serious socio-economic degradation since the collapse of the world markets. Portugal at the difference of Greece, Italy and Spain, is not a recipient of migrants due to its geographical position. However, the debate in Portugal has been focusing on the migration crisis.
Variables – Power, Institutions, and Identity
Each variables can be measured by countries and see if participants have diverging position based on their country of allegiance (see graph below). These variables sought to identify several aspects: institutional design and power; identity; and actors’ behaviors and actions. Question 1 and 3 received an overwhelming yes vote with 90% in favor of a common European asylum policy (which needs to be reformed as the current Dublin regulations are showing signs of weaknesses) and that solidarity is required in order to address such pressing issue. However on the question of mandatory national quotas promoted by the Commission, one third of the participants are opposed to such policy move by the supranational European body.
Question 5 and 6, looking at nationalist policies, received a high degree of no vote with an average of 85%. Participants seem to find counterproductive for Britain to put the blame on France for his lenient approach to addressing the number of refugees in camps in Northern of France. In addition, participants overwhelmingly expressed their opposition (90%) towards nationalist policies of closing borders and forcing migrants out.
This graph above is identical to the previous one, but is looking in the way the four countries, with the highest degree of participants, responded to the same questions. On question 1 and 3, all four countries responded similarly. On question 2, Germany appears to be the least favorable towards national quotas promoted by the Commission. Question 6 on blaming French for not doing enough in Calais, both the US and Germany believe that France has been lenient and has not done enough in addressing the number of migrants in the camps. 12% of Portuguese participants claim that nationalist policies of closing the borders and forcing migrants out is an appropriate solution in addressing the migration crisis. On the last question of cooperation at the European level, French participants (32%) tend to believe that European leaders are working towards a common European solution.
Who is Responsible for the Crisis?
Not surprisingly, most participants blamed the Member States (29%), minus Italy and Greece (a total of 0%), for failing to address the crisis. The most interesting dimension is that failed countries, like Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, are seen as a large part of the blame with 26%. The EU is regarded to have failed in dealing with the crisis (with 13%). However, it is unclear what exactly the EU means as the Commission and the Parliament are not considered as responsible, which leaves the Council of Ministers and the European Council. Ultimately, the EU is usually considered as a black box without clear materialization of who does what. The traditional blame of the EU for failing to address a crisis is reflected in this study. But the graph demonstrates that participants tend to mis-understand the EU and what it is.
Call for Foreign Military Interventions?
A missing aspect of the talk on solving the migration crisis has been foreign interventions. Most of debate consists in addressing the flows of migrants inside the European territory and the failed European asylum policies. However, one core dimension in solving, at least in the long term, the migration crisis will be to address the root causes in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and so forth by stabilizing these territories, rebuilding the states and their authorities, lowering corruption and cronyism, and dealing with neighboring countries (read here an analysis on failed states published by EU Center at the University of Miami).
These conditions are central in order to permit future migrants to live productive lives in their home countries. The big question is how much the Euro-Atlantic community can be efficient in such missions in so many countries and are their public opinion in favor of such ‘sacrifice’? According to the results of the survey, 62% of participants consider that either military (27%) or civilian (35%) CSDP missions would permit to address some of the root causes. And with 14% of the votes, participants feel that national missions, like the ones deployed by the French army in Mali and Sahel regions, could be effective operations of stabilization and peace-building.
Interestingly, 76% of the participants are in favor of foreign interventions, either military or civilian, as opposed to 24% against any type of foreign interventions. Regardless of the small sample of the participants, 3/4 of them favor foreign interventions. The French government has expressed its position in favor of the use of force in Syria through air bombing. It seems that the French public opinion is in favor of such military road.
From a Fortress to a Borderless Union
Images have been an important variables in shaping public opinion and creating an emotional reactions to the migration crisis (read a previous analysis on the topic here). Based on the results, the leading image in identifying the EU in dealing with the crisis is
‘Fortress Europe’ (with 43%) followed by ‘borderless Europe’ (34%). The identification of the EU as either a soft power or civilian power falls well behind and demonstrates the irrelevance of such terms. If Fortress Europe implies huge wall protecting the European territory, borderless Europe is its absolute antonym. The words borderless and fortress are fascinating as, despite their fundamental opposition, European citizens are using both concept interchangeably.
Normative Europe appears to be a construction by the EU to justify its moral behavior implying a certain degree of inaction and risk-averse foreign policies. If the concepts of ‘soft power’ and ‘civilian power’ are heavily used by European diplomats and experts, they are only part of the European dialect. In a recent work, that I participated on, on perceptions of the EU in the US (expected to be published in the Fall or early spring), it was demonstrated than ‘normative Europe’ barely exist outside Europe.
Leaders and Policy-Makers – Who Matters?
With an overwhelming majority (61%), participants argue that no European leader is in measure of making a difference in dealing with the current crisis. Chancellor Merkel of Germany (11%) and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission (8%), are the leading candidates in being the ones with the greater influence in the shaping of policy-making. Both players share a common vision of quotas and redistribution across the Union as well as opening the countries to the refugees. The interesting aspect is British Prime Minister Cameron (5%) coming into fourth position, with the Italian Prime Minister (5%). If the Italian PM is facing a serious crisis with the large influx of migrants crossing the country (it is estimated that 1/4 of them will eventually stay in Italy), British PM is trying to keep them outside of the island.
François Hollande of France and his European counterpart, HR Mogherini, are not perceived as being influential players. In the case of the French President, the number could be different a month later, however, the situation in Calais with the refugee camps is not playing in favor of the French President. HR Mogherini has not been as visible to the general public, but has been playing an important role in the deployment of the CSDP mission of EUNAVFOR Med off the coasts of Italy and Greece. She has been active on dealing with the foreign dimensions of the crisis. This aspect of the crisis has not been properly covered by the media, and most citizens are not concerned about such dimension.
The End of the European Dream?
The reinstatement of border control by Germany on the segment shared with Austria has led to a snowball effect with now Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria announcing similar measures. Such political decision made by Berlin and now other EU Member States is a direct attack on a core principle of the EU, the Schengen agreement, which guarantees the free movement of people across the Union. Even though the Treaties offer the possibility for EU Member States to lift the open borders in case of emergency or national security, it is always a controversial move. In the case of the migration crisis, a lifting a the Schengen agreement, demonstrates the obvious:
inability to protect European borders and the neighborhoods,
inability to enforce the Dublin Regulations, which demonstrates the weakness of the integration process;
lack of solidarity among the 28 EU Member States,
The migration crisis underlined all the weaknesses, which have been denounced by experts for decades, of the EU all at once. It shows that the EU and its Member States have lived in this perpetual belief of post-sovereignty world and denial of the world shaped by hard power. In some ways, it seems that EU Member States and the EU have incorporated all the components described and advanced by Francis Fukuyama in his 1998 book of The End of History. Today, the refugees, seeking for a better world and a chance to raise their kids in a stable and secure environment, have brought the EU to the brink of failure, tear down the concept of European solidarity (if it ever existed), and brought the worst of European societies with the continuous rise of nationalism and xenophobia.
To the defense of the EU, it has one element in its favor, ability to adjust and reform in the worst of the storm. After over 60 years of existence, the EU has gone through several deep divides, like the period of the empty chair, the end of the Cold War, the divide over the Iraq crisis, the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty, the Euro crisis, and now the migration crisis. In each crisis, the Member States have been able to adjust and advance. But will this time be an other example of Europe’s ability to adapt? or, will it break? The results of the survey conducted over the month of August validate these comments and show that European citizens are highly dubious about the future direction of the Union and ability of their leaders to address the root causes of the crisis, while maintaining European cohesion. The migration crisis is overwhelming and stretching the European unity and structures to a level never experienced before.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, made his first State of the Union before the European Parliament in Strasburg (read his address here). As he recalled in the early part of his address, the State of the Union is an important institutional exercise solidifying the relationship between the Commission and Parliament. In the State of the Union, the President addresses the overview of the past year, and identifies the priorities for the coming year. The title of his address is State of the Union 2015: Time for Honesty, Unity and Solidarity. Juncker wants to take a hard look at the way the EU and Europeans behave, which has been quite disastrous these last years, and the types of solutions that could be implemented in order to solve the many crises facing the Union.
The tone of his address was quite dark and accusative. At several occasions, Juncker was very critical, and pretty much started his address by saying that “our European Union is not in a good state.” In order to change the current path, Juncker urged to re-find a common European ground and solidarity among the 28 nations.
Five key priorities were identified by President Juncker: the refugee crisis; the euro area and the Greek future; the Brexit; the instability of Ukraine; and, climate change. They can be grouped into three categories: internal/institutional, regional and global.
The first priority for the Europe as a whole is finding solutions for the refugee crisis. Juncker spent a considerable amount of time talking about the crisis and the solutions that can be implemented. Before talking cooperation and coordination, Juncker underlined the shared historical heritage of Europeans and the fact that migrations caused by political persecutions and oppressions have occurred at many occasions on the European continent. Juncker implied that forgetting our European past, or simply selecting moments of history, is not an acceptable approach. Juncker addressed the question of numbers of asylum seekers and correctly put it in perspective saying that they simply represents 0.11% of the overall EU population of 500 millions, when they are representing 25% of the Lebanese population (read
Juncker underlined that the Commission has been advocating for more integration on immigration policies in order to create a Common European Asylum System. If Juncker reminded the positive actions implemented by the EU like Frontex, foreign aid to Syria and so forth, he said that “Where Europe has clearly under-delivered, is on common solidarity with regard to the refugees who have arrived on our territory.”
In dealing with rising numbers of refugees arriving in Italy, Greece and Hungary, the Commission is pushing for the adoption by the EU meeting of ministers of September 14th of the “Commission proposals on the emergency relocation of altogether 160,000 refugees.”
The last sentences of his part on the refugee crisis was quite a powerful statement as it clearly illustrates Juncker’s vision of what Europe is and should be:
I do not want to create any illusions that the refugee crisis will be over any time soon. It will not. But pushing back boats from piers, setting fire to refugee camps, or turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people: that is not Europe.
Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. Europe is the students in Munich and in Passau who bring clothes for the new arrivals at the train station. Europe is the policeman in Austria who welcomes exhausted refugees upon crossing the border. This is the Europe I want to live in.
The crisis is stark and the journey is still long. I am counting on you, in this House, and on all Member States to show European courage going forward, in line with our common values and our history.
The second priority concerns the Euro area, Greece and the European social model. The third priority consists in maintaining the unity of the Union by keeping Britain inside the EU. Juncker has always been clear on the fact that the UK ought to remain a core member of the Union.
Regional Priority – Ukraine
The fourth priority identified by Juncker deals directly with the stability of the European continent, and especially with the lingering military and political crises in Ukraine. Juncker’s view on the Ukrainian crisis is that the EU “will need more Europe and more Union in our foreign policy.” Juncker underlined that the 28 nations must show more unity in confronting Russia and demonstrating to Russia that it will have to pay a high cost in maintaining the regional instabilities in Eastern Ukraine. Interestingly enough, Juncker did not mention Crimea and its annexation by Russia.
Global Priority – Climate Change
In December, Paris will host the COP-21 meeting, which Europeans would like to be the meeting that brought global unity and commitment to addressing climate change. “Europe’s priority,” underlined Juncker “is to adopt an ambitious, robust and binding global climate deal.” The ultimate objective for the Europeans is quite grandiose as they hope to achieve the creation of an “international regime to efficiently combat climate change.” The creation of an international regime would be a fantastic first step, but having a regime without clear powers, independent enforcement mechanisms, and a fund would be meaningless. Then, each signatory of the regime will have to ratify it back home. If Europe can offer credible influence, it is uncertain that the United States, in period of presidential campaign until November 2016, would ratify it.
Juncker’s approach, which is in fact a Commission’s approach, to addressing the problem of climate change is a market-oriented strategy based on two aspects. The first one is the EU Emissions Trading System, which consists in trading quotas of emissions, and the second one is the development of the Energy Union, which is as well focused on innovations and on the interconnection with the markets.
Despite Being Political, the State of the Union Falls Short
Jean-Claude Juncker’s address is interesting as he, early on, underlined his legitimacy as President of the Commission as he was appointed directly after the elections of the European Parliament. Certainly, the President of the Commission is not directly elected by the European citizens, but for the first time ever the different candidates for his posts were semi-campaigning. Ultimately, he claimed that he has had “the opportunity to be a more
political President” and he told the Parliament that he “wanted to lead a political Commission. A very political Commission.”
The Commission is the executive body of the European Union as its role is to enforce and advance the interests of the Union. In short, the Commission is the guardian of the Treaties. Even though President Juncker appears to be frustrated about the direction of the EU, the lack of solidarity and unity among the Member States, his first State of the Union falls short for several reasons (read here a piece by Tim King of Politico arguing that Juncker lacked in persuasive explanation):
First, the address is too complex and tends to go back to the legal texts at too many occasions in order to validate and justify the power and legitimacy of the Commission. The address could have been much shorter and direct without all these legal justification. It is not certain that Juncker needed to offer some lecturing about the institutional design and functioning of the EU. In addition, this quest by Juncker for legitimacy and perpetual justification of his power is quite interesting and may underline some complex tensions at the European level.
Second, if Juncker’s plan on reforming the asylum model in Europe is well thought out, the solutions for Greece are not present at all. The part on the Greek crisis reinforces the sentiment that the EU is unable to merge the gap between a common currency and national fiscal policies and most importantly find a solution in re-launching the European economic engine.
Last but not least, if the five issues identified are right on the approach to solving them is the traditional one coming from the Commission and can be summed up by “more Europe.” This motto advanced the Commission of “more Europe” in order to solve all internal, regional and global problems is for many the cause of the disconnect between Brussels and the European nations. In his first address, Juncker failed in connecting with European citizens.
To end on a positive note, one of the most meaningful statements made by Juncker, which was lost in the length of text, appears in the conclusion. He said “While I am a strong defender of the Community method in normal times, I am not a purist in crisis times – I do not mind how we cope with a crisis, be it by intergovernmental solutions or community-led processes. As long as we find a solution and get things done in the interest of Europe’s citizens.” Such statement shows the true colors, meaning political philosophy, of Juncker and the desire to find the most appropriate solutions to solving serious crises. This should have been the core argument of his address.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
The current context in Europe over the migration crisis is not going to stop any time soon (for more contextual and analytical information read previous pieces published by Politipond, here, here, here, here, and take a short survey here). If migrants are not dying at sea, national authorities like the ones in Macedonia, are using force against migrants seeking to cross the country to access Western European countries (see here several pictures showing the situation in Macedonia). The situation is clearly worsening on daily basis.
The French President and his German counterpart are meeting today in order to discuss the migration crisis and the situation in Ukraine. Germany has been the EU Member States, with Sweden, taking the largest share of refugees, but it cannot do it alone any longer. According to the Financial Times, Germany is expected to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, which is more than what the entire EU welcomed in 2014. Based on Frontex’s data, in the first eight months of 2015, 340,000 migrants have crossed EU borders, which is already 60,000 more that the overall number for 2014.
If the EU Member States are working, or not, on solving the migration crisis by either welcoming migrants (Germany and Sweden) or trying to chase them away (Hungary and the
United Kingdom), the European Union has contributed to solving the issue, but without a clear leadership and strategy. For instance, Frontex has seen its role quickly increasing with more funding of its two naval missions in Italy and Greece, Europol has worked more on assisting national authorities, the EEAS has provided a platform in order to coordinate, and the Commission has been the voice of the EU and brought up some projects. For instance, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, brought in June and July some proposals on quotas, redistributions, reform of asylum policy and so forth. His recent op-ed in NewEurope, posted below, offers the leadership that is missing and is highly needed at the European level.
Naturally, EU Member States are working on protecting their interests and national borders, the EU is a central actor in recalling that migratory flux go beyond national borders and the current crisis can only be solved through European cooperation, coordination and solidarity. In short, President Junker is calling for “Collective Courage.” The word courage is more powerful than solidarity for two reasons: first, despite many calls, solidarity has not brought Europeans together; second, courage implies that each European head of state and government (and even each European citizen) will have to make the ‘right’ decision and go against short-termist nationalist rhetorics. This position by Juncker to work on a common European solution reflects in many ways to his original call, once appointed last summer, for a more human and social Europe (read here an analysis soon after his appointment last summer).
Juncker’s op-ed, which should be understood as a call for action, comes at a crucial time and should be read in one piece without further comments. For such reason, Politipond copied it in its entirety below (or it can be read on NewEurope’s website here):
The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, writes on the challenge of the migration issue. By Jean-Claude Juncker
Europe for me is and always has been a community of values. This is something we should be and yet are too seldom proud of. We have the highest asylum standards in the world. We will never turn people away when they come to us in need of protection. These principles are inscribed in our laws and our Treaties but I am worried that they are increasingly absent from our hearts.
When we talk about migration we are talking about people. People like you or I, except they are not like you or I because they did not have the good fortune to be born in one of the richest and most stable regions of the world. We are talking about people who have had to flee from war in Syria, the ISIS terror in Libya and dictatorship in Eritrea.
And what worries me is to see the resentment, the rejection, the fear directed against these people by some parts of the population. Setting fire to refugee camps, pushing back boats from piers, physical violence inflicted upon asylum seekers or turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people: that is not Europe.
What worries me is to hear politicians from left to right nourishing a populism that brings only anger and not solutions. Hate speech and rash statements that threaten one of our very greatest achievements – the Schengen area and the absence of internal borders: that is not Europe.
Europe is the pensioners in Calais who play music and charge the phones of migrants wanting to call home. Europe is the students in Siegen who open up their campus to accommodate asylum seekers who have no roof over their head. Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. This is the Europe I want to live in.
Of course, there is no simple, nor single, answer to the challenges posed by migration. And it is no more realistic to think that we could simply open our borders to all our neighbours anymore than it is to think we just cordon ourselves off all distress, fear and misery. But what is clear is that there are no national solutions. No EU Member State can effectively address migration alone. We need a strong, European approach. And we need it now.
That is why in May, the European Commission, under my leadership, presented detailed proposals for a common asylum and refugee policy. We have tripled our presence in the Mediterranean sea, helping to save lives and intercept smugglers. We are assisting Member States the most affected, sending teams from the EU border agency (Frontex), the EU asylum office (EASO) and the EU police network (Europol) to help the often overburdened national authorities identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants, speed up the processing of asylum seekers and coordinate the return of irregular migrants. We are clamping down on smuggler networks and dismantling their cruel business models. We are showing solidarity with our neighbours like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon by resettling 20,000 refugees from outside of Europe. We are working with third countries of origin and transit to open up legal channels of migration and to conclude readmission agreements to facilitate returns of people who do not have a right to stay in Europe. And we are putting a renewed focus on enforcing the recently adopted EU rules on asylum, from reception conditions, asylum procedures to the obligation to take fingerprints.
In May, we proposed to establish a relocation mechanism to assist Member States by relocating a small portion of the high numbers of people in genuine need of international protection arriving in Italy and Greece. The Commission proposed to relocate 40 000 to other EU Member States – national governments were prepared to accept just over 32 000. We want to go much further, establishing a permanent mechanism that could be automatically triggered in emergency situations – for whichever EU Member State needs it. When we have common external borders, we cannot leave frontline Member States alone. We have to show solidarity in our migration policy.
Some of the measures proposed by the Commission have already found support. All the others now urgently need to be taken up by the EU’s 28 Member States – even those who have until now remained reluctant to do so. The dramatic events of the summer have shown that we urgently need to put this common European asylum and refugee policy into practice.
We do not need another extraordinary summit of heads of state and government. We have had many summits, and we will meet again in November in Malta. What we need is to ensure that all EU Member States adopt the European measures now and implement them on the ground. The Commission already proposed, nine years ago, to have a common EU list of ‘safe countries of origin’, making it possible to fast track asylum procedures for specific nationalities. At the time, Member States rejected the idea as interfering with national prerogatives. And yet it does not make sense that on the one hand, Member States have decided to make Western Balkan countries candidates for EU accession and, on the other, nationals of these countries are applying for asylum in the EU. In September, the Commission will thus submit a common list of safe countries of origin to the Member States.
What we need, and what we are sadly still lacking, is the collective courage to follow through on our commitments – even when they are not easy; even when they are not popular.
Instead what I see is finger pointing – a tired blame game which might win publicity, maybe even votes, but which is not actually solving any problems.
Europe fails when fear prevails. Europe fails when egos prevail.
Europe will succeed if we work together, pragmatically and efficiently.
I hope together we, Member States, Institutions, Agencies, International Organisations, Third Countries, can prove we are equal to the challenge before us. I am convinced we are able.
Europe’s history if nothing else proves that we are a resilient continent, able to unite in face of that which seeks to divide us. This should give us courage for the weeks and months to come.
Juncker’s op-ed was initially published on NewEurope’s website.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
The current influx of migrants in direction of Western Europe exemplifies more than a simple migration crisis (listen here to a fascinating discussion with Ryan Heath of Politico and Leonard Doyle of the IOM). In fact it exposes two crises: a political and a civic. The human tragedy behind the dangerous voyage of these migrants fleeing war, terrorism, violence, economic misery, human right violations and social tensions should move Europeans towards a genuine desire to assist them through newly designed immigration policies (asylum policies and quotas), social inclusion and assistance, and eventually more humanitarian assistance through Commission’s programs and using the CSDP in unstable countries. But instead, Europeans are blaming the others, blaming the European Union, blaming the other Member States. The migration crisis has dropped fuel over an already powerful nationalist fire. Europe is undeniably facing a serious ethical and internal crisis (read previous analyses here, here, here and here).
Interestingly enough, if one remove the emotional dimension in order to analyze the current migratory challenge facing the EU and looks at numbers, the picture become clearer in demonstrating one simple fact: Europeans are not committed in trying to solve this crisis. The numbers tell a very different story and in fact should make Europeans think about the forces limiting the design and implementation of sound policies to at least try to be in the driver seat.
Data – The Case of Syrian Refugees
The graph and two tables located below illustrates the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe (the three documents come from a report produced by the International Organization for Migration, access it here).
So from 2014 to 2015, the number of migrants loosing their lives in the Mediterranean has increased making it the most dangerous migratory route in the world.
As illustrated above the bulk of the migrants come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Each of these countries are facing terrible security, economic and political conditions. Afghanistan has been a country at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion (one can argue that violence in Afghanistan goes even further). Nigeria and Somalia are facing serious political and security issues. Both countries host vicious terrorist networks like Boko-Haram (Nigeria) and some factions of Al-Qaeda (in Somalia) terrorizing the population and underlining the inabilities of their governments to protect their citizens. Eritrea is a police state with vicious policies including “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances.” Last but not least, Syria has been destroyed by war starting right after the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, the regime of Al-Assad has waged war against the opposition. The war has shifted and saw the rise of new powerful player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The European Commission wrote in a recent factsheet, that “the Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Migrants from Syria usually pass by Turkey and Greece in order to enter into Europe, as it is much shorter than using the Central Mediterranean route and arriving in Italy. “The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria” writes the Commission “has reached 12.2 million, approximately 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced.” And a total of roughly 4 million Syrians have fled Syria. Out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 1.8m are located in Turkey (reports demonstrate that the local population have embraced and included the Syrian refugees), 1.1m in Lebanon (a country of 4.4 million inhabitants, so the Syrian refugees represent 25% of the overall population.), 630,000 in Jordan (a population of 6.5 million), and 250,000 in Iraq.
As calculated by the UNHRC, the number of Syrians seeking for security and refugee in Europe has increased by only represent 6% of the overall number of Syrian refugees, or 240,000. Since January 2015, the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers have certainly increased, but solely represent 90,000. The UNHRC shows that 49% of the asylum applications are being shared between Germany and Sweden, second with 29% for Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and 23% for rest of the EU which includes France, the UK, Denmark, Poland and other powerful EU Member States.
These numbers, only looking at Syrian refugees, demonstrate the lack of commitment to either solving the crisis in Syria or assisting Syrians in getting a better life in Europe. It is difficult to believe that the richest economic bloc in the world with a population of 500 million can neither absorb 100,000 refugees on a long period of time, nor provide temporary infrastructures when developing countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with 4 million refugees.
European Crises – Politics, Nationalism and Inhumanity
European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other national politicians like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Nicolas Sarkozy of France (to name a few) share all in common one strategy: dehumanizing the refugees. They all remove the humanity from these refugees in order to appeal to a scared, uneducated and to some degree lazy electorate. The fact that these elected and non-elected officials can receive so much attention and support raises an important problem in European societies. Many experts have been calling for an increase of solidarity among EU Member States, but such solidarity cannot occur if the European citizenry feels no emotional connection with the migrants seeking for a better life in Europe.
If some European institutions, like the European Commission, have advanced some ideas of quotas and asylum policies, and some EU Member States, like Germany and Sweden, have welcome more migrants than other Member States, the rest of Europe seems absent. France and the United Kingdom ought to play a bigger role in advocating for greater solidarity and behaving as role-model (take here a 10 question survey about the migration crisis).
The fraught between London and Paris over the camp in Calais, the so-called Jungle, illustrates the level of the debate. On the one hand, London cannot keep believing that migrants will crash the whole British social welfare programs and the homogeneity of its society. While on the other hand, it is unacceptable for France, one of the richest countries in the world, to have a camp, of broadly 4,000 migrants, with no proper structures and supervision. The French government is saying that the local police forces are being outnumbered. The fact that France cannot put in place immigration centers, dispatch enough policemen and social agents on the ground for a total of 5,000 migrants (on a large estimation) is not because it can’t, but simply because it does not want. France, a highly centralized country, has the military and civilian power and capabilities to assist 5,000 individuals on its territory. The government has already over 10,000 soldiers as part of the large domestic counter-terrorist operation, called Sentinelle, in order to protect public and religious areas from eventual terrorist attacks. It is only a matter of priority for France and the other EU Members. Put in perspective with the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon representing 25% of its overall population, one could talk of a true crisis if France were dealing with 15m refugees on its territory.
And in the meantime, Italy and Greece are left alone dealing with massive flows of migrants (237,000 combined so far this year). Greece is dealing with a serious economic crisis affecting the basic functioning of its state, and Italy is not in its best economic shape as well. Europeans have only agreed on increasing the funding of its two naval missions off the Coast of Italy and Greece. Greece has become a point of transit, while Italy is trying to do what it can with its resources.
During an interview of a business leader, as part of a large study on global perceptions of the EU, I asked the interviewee to describe the image representing the visibility of the EU in the US. The response was fascinating as usually interviewees have identified an historical monument or a European leader, but the response was a small boat with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. Such response is fascinating in two ways. First, it shows the power of the images published in the US (which could include the many pictures about the situation in Greece). These images of Europe published in mainstream American media in the last six months have only portrayed misery, poverty and devastation. Second, it demonstrates, either the inabilities or unwillingness, of one of the richest group of states in the world to implement policies to solve a humanitarian crisis and assure its own protection. These little boats are starting to seriously affect the credibility and image of Europe.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).