Europeanizing failure and nationalizing success
According to José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (EC), in a speech given at the London School of Economics on Friday, Europe is firmly on the way to overcoming the economic and financial crisis. United and together, Europe, according to him, is more respected by the big players of US, China, and Russia, than it was ten years ago; because “size matters.”
The European Union has implemented an intensive programme for better economic governance, focusing on regulation and supervision, structural adjustment programmes, effective tools to supplement structural change and deal with budget irresponsibility, and a European-wide Stability Mechanism (ESM), with a budget of 700 billion Euros.
In a word, President Barroso’s message was this: the EU is not in decline, in fact “Europe has taken the bull by its horns.” At least in terms of economic recovery - the on-going political and normative crisis flowing from Ukraine through Bulgaria, to Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is barely mentioned. President Barroso only said that we shall not take for granted the urge by over 500 million people across Europe to voice their opinions on the future of Europe through democratic elections. “Just ask the people waving European flags on the streets of Ukraine. They look to Europe for freedom and security. They know what Europe is for.”
“The EU should be big on big things and small on small things” according to the EC President as he outlined the insurmountable importance of upholding the founding pillar of freedom of movement. He spoke out against the on-going discourse of ‘first’ and ‘second’ class citizens and indirectly criticized the UK government for their indecisive yet very negative take on immigration. It is “completely unfair” to disappoint new member states in the goal of absolute freedom of movement. And that is a strong and valuable statement to make in London, especially when for the countries concerned, getting a passport and freely moving around was almost impossible just twenty-four years ago.
Integration, a single market, and freedom (of movement) were the three main things focused on with regards to a future in Europe worth living in. In a recent article for openDemocracy, David Held and Kyle McNally, hail these ideals, which come together in making the EU a successful embodiment of a contemporary Kantian peace project. They write:
The EU in its most robust form stands at the pinnacle of this vision – an integrated Europe with a single market subject to common rules and a shared framework of human rights and justice. The plurality of European nations could flourish within an overarching shared commitment to democratic rules and human rights standards.
So it seems, both politically and economically, that we are still in possession of our vision – back to the initial Enlightenment project. I was invigorated by the passionate speech by President Barroso. But then it was time for questions.
The first three were directly about Ukraine and #Euromaidan. Barroso quickly responded that the EU and EC condemns the violence and has advised President Yanukovich to broker new and fair elections, allowing the people to choose in which direction they want to go (surely Europe, he added). Either way, in direct response to a question asking if/when the EU will offer the ultimate hand of liberation to Ukraine by offering them accession, Barroso replied coldly – ‘they are not ready’.
I followed up with a question regarding the general democratic deficit, ‘a democracy without choice’ as Ivan Krastev calls it, that is present in all the countries where protests are flaring up or ploughing on. I wanted to know how we can speak about integration, when these nations are so deeply embattled in their post-socialist hybrid regimes. Who ought to help with getting them back on track with their democratic consolidation?
The answer was a straightforward and expected one: “One step at a time” - while the Balkan countries move towards meeting all the criteria required for EU accession. In other words, the common theme is that countries ought to decide on their own, democratically, but it is better to be on the inside than out, and we are here to patiently wait and support them in the meantime.
You do need a benchmark to foster a disciplined society and a committed political elite. I am just afraid that countries like Bulgaria or Ukraine are not able to get back on the horse. Too much time has been wasted waiting for reform and letting each and every single democratic institution rot away before it was barely born.
If integration is such a key priority for the future of the EU, then the Balkans are a key priority for the EU. That much is well-known; but when protests are spreading and all of them unite around the idea of resisting a façade democracy and invincible oligarchic models, then the statement must be stronger and support must be more active.
Because as important as it is to talk about how to stabilize the euro, with every day that #Euromaidan and #ДАНСwithme protests continue, the normative foundation of a political unity in Europe crumbles. If the dream is a single market and an integrated political community, the crises in eastern Europe must go much higher up the European agenda.
Is Big Brother watching?
February 11 was “the day we fought back”: internet action supported by 402 NGOs from around the world, 50 experts, 3 elected officials and ordinary internet users. On its website, thedaywefightback.org, offers a very simple statement: Governments worldwide need to know that mass surveillance, like that conducted by the NSA, is always a violation of our inalienable human rights. Among the supporting organizations are Mozilla, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Just one day later, on February 12, the European Commission called for a change in management of the internet. Currently there is only one body responsible for coordination of global systems of unique identifiers, warranting its stability and secure operation – it’s called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). It’s based in California, and has an operation agreement with the US. In other words, the US is the centre of the power behind the scenes of the internet. In the light of the last few months’ revelations concerning surveillance of the web by the National Security Agency, it has become clear that this is not a good solution any more.
The European Commission stated that it will seek ways to globalize control of the internet on the basis of the multi-stakeholder model. At the same time, the Commission opposed the idea of the UN body gaining control of the internet – this is an option favoured by, among others, Russia and China. It’s probably worth pointing out that these countries are placed respectively at nos. 148 and 175 out of 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.
"These will be make or break years for deciding for what sort of Internet we want to have", said EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, adding thatEurope must play a strong role in defining what the net of the future looks like. Before that can happen though, EU countries must agree between themselves what kind of future they want for the internet. It might be difficult to fix on, given that the level of freedom of speech and control over the internet varies considerably across the European Union.
There is also the issue of transparency, or rather the lack thereof, in EU talks about internet freedoms. That was a problem during the clandestine talks (2008-2011) about ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), about which European citizens only heard thanks to WikiLeaks. The final draft was published in April 2010, and final text only a year later. The stated idea behind the treaty was to create a common legal framework for targeting copyright infringement on the internet, counterfeit goods and generic medicines. The secrecy and lack of clarity in the treaty itself raised serious concerns and brought a wave of protests. As a result neither European Union, nor the 22 members who signed the treaty, decided to ratify it.
At the beginning of February, the European Commission announced a third antitrust settlement with Google. Like the previous two, it was proposed by Google, but EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia seems to sugget that this is the final one and there are only formalities left to settle. Unlike the earlier proposals, this one was not subject to a formal review by rivals and critics.
The settlement will end the antitrust search investigation against the company and it looksas if in the EU, as in the US, Google will escape any significant fines or penalties. The core of the settlement is Google’s presentation of links to alternative sites and competitors besides its own results on the search results page. The fact that the new version of the settlement was not consulted raised concerns among Google’s competitors, but also among EU Commissioners who must vote to approve the request to make the settlement final. There is still a chance for at least cracking open a window for discussion.
Is the European Union moving in the direction of protecting users’ rights over companies’ interests and censorship of the web? It is, at least partially. Is it enough? Won’t it be too late? Hard to say. But with the lack of transparency we encounter on this issue - I’m not as optimistic as I would like to be.
In the Spanish exclave of Ceuta, the bloody realities of 'Fortress Europe' become apparent
On February 6, 2014, in the Spanish colony of Ceuta in North Africa, dozens of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa tried to cross the border by swimming. Some newspapers announced that 9–13 of them drowned. The next day a video of a group of people swimming to the shore is published and we see them reaching the coast. Spanish police push them back, acting against the international conventions that guarantee the right to asylum.
On Monday 10 it emerges that the Spanish police fired rubber bullets and teargas at the swimming migrants struggling against the waves. Helena Meleno from the NGO Caminando Fronteras published pictures of the impact of the rubber bullets on the heads of the surviving migrants. The police manipulate the video of the CCTV cameras to erase any evidence of their involvement in the deaths.
Here the notoriety of our border policies are revealed to their full extent. When the push-back policies – intended to invisibilise migration by moving the EU borders further into the surrounding regions – fail, they resort to lying, hiding the evidence, and with that making it clear that for the authorities the lives of these people were never an issue. We believe there was never any anxiety for the border police, not in this specific case as in so many others, that had they crossed the line between constant violent abuse and passed on to murder there would be powerful people on their case.
After all, the EU outsourced the management of the frontiers for years to African and Middle-Eastern dictators. The Arab spring swept these allies away and now the elite governing Europe is showing, once more - let us not forget the 5 migrants shot with live ammunition in 2005 while PSOE was governing - that they are equally capable of murdering with steady hands. Given this intrinsically global dimension of the struggle for the abolition of the frontiers, it cannot be won without cooperation between both the southern and the northern shores of the Mediterranean.
On Tuesday morning WhatsApps, calls and Twitter start to circulate the call to demonstrate all around the country on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the appearance of the Ministry of Justice in the Spanish parliament. By the afternoon it is translated into French and Arabic.
On Wednesday we poured into plazas in fifteen Spanish cities, keeping silence for those dead, shouting against the murders.
Day by day more bodies are found in Ceuta. The death toll climbs to 15, the survivors say there are even more.
On Thursday 13, the Minister of Interior makes a speech and laments the deaths. But neither this case nor worldwide military border policies in general are unaccountable tragedies.They fall, rather, into the category of "not isolated or sporadic events, but part either of a government policy or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority". That is how the crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
And it makes the sorrow deeper, the anger more fiery. To know that there are Ceutas on every continent, designed to put the interest of the few beyond the interest of the many. Many opaque Ceutas full of crimes and horror that go unnoticed, producing fear and sowing death. The Berlin Wall fell just to open up a savage proliferation of Lampedusas and Ceutas all around Europe.
We want an independent investigation on the deaths on February 6, as well as all the previous, buried without justice. The resignation of the Spanish Minister of Interior and the legal prosecution of him and other persons involved in these killings is a minimum in any democracy. And as to what concerns Europe, it's a struggle for an open citizenship and universal rights for all who are to come here.
The demilitarisation and abolition of all frontiers. The end of all Ceutas.
We agree free trade creates prosperity...why not free migration?
Schengen has brought Europe great successes. The freedom of movement within Europe, both of products and people, is one of the core principles of the European Union. While free trade is commonly regarded as a good thing for creating prosperity, free migration is not. One may ask why - open borders would help so much!
Although free trade, especially when it comes to the current negotiations with the US, is not fully accepted by both public and politicians, its economic argument makes it clear that both sides of the trade will profit. In the case of free migration different politicians and political parties all over Europe foment fears that only one side will profit - mostly the immigrant who is going to exploit social security systems.
Recent commentaries, for example by British Prime Minister David Cameron, follow in this direction. Of course, he emphasizes that everyone who is willing to work is welcome. This might be true, but as the emergence of new nationalist right-wing parties all over Europe shows, there is growing fear in the public against even this. In Greece, racist tendencies have led to an insecure situation for both African- and Asian-looking people, while the recent ballot of Switzerland has brought a narrow win for restricted immigration, thus fanning the flames of the debate.
Tolerance for foreigners however, is not something you can achieve by force. The unofficial plans of the European Commission - to forcefully embrace a culture of tolerance in Europe - are definitely the wrong way. Rather it should embrace all the benefits of open borders and free migration - and should start at its own borders, where almost daily, people die trying to cross them.
Actually, it is hard to understand why open borders are still so unpopular. Many different worldviews, if egalitarian, libertarian, utilitarian or even conservative embrace open borders with their moral arguments. For egalitarians, ending global poverty might be a goal worthy to achieve. Usually migration leads to higher incomes, which often flow back to the respective home countries. As research by the Center for Global Development suggests, 82% of Haitians escaped poverty by leaving their home country. According to their paper "Economics and Emigration: Trillion Dollar-Bills on the Sidewalk" (2011) open borders could more than double world-GDP in one go - clearly something utilitarians also would love.
From a libertarian natural rights perspective it is argued that the right to migrate cannot be legally restricted unless there is a high possibility of violating other natural rights. While immigrants are often scapegoated for crime, this is rarely true. Mostly, it is governments prohibiting them from working or moving, which sometimes lead to this. Even conservative arguments for open borders can be made: restricted migration undermines the rule of law and leads to corruption of law enforcement officers. Moreover, the often bureaucratic and arbitrary mechanisms for choosing which immigrants go or stay should concern every conservative.
From a more practical point of view, different arguments can be added. As free migration in Europe has brought us a long time of peace, open borders can repeat this at a global level. People can go where their ideas and skills can be most productively employed, and this will definitely lead to higher levels of innovation in the world. Most important of all, however, are the better lives for people able to cross borders they could not cross before. They are not only able to earn more money in less time, but they can overcome the crime, war and oppression that has beset them under the auspices of their home country governments.
For Europeans it is time to get used to this. The fear of the foreign, unfortunately even within Europe, is gratuitous. While several arguments against open borders can be brought up, none, in my opinion, stand up to scrutiny. I would like to appeal to every European: remember your luck to be born in relatively prosperous countries with the possibility to move anywhere you like to do the things you like within Europe. Why would you want to deny this to people not blessed by this luck? At least, give them their opportunity to pursue their happiness where they think they can find it. Fight for free migration! Open Borders now!
How will the EU disseminate passports to "ethnically recognised" people in non-EU countries?
Having an interest in European regional identities, I often come across nations within nations. These can also be referred to as regions which hold their own cultural and most often linguistic attributes. Relating to the recent controversy of Malta’s citizenship scheme, regional identities also come into play. Apart from Austria and Cyprus, which also have citizenship by investment schemes, there are other countries in the EU which grant citizenship on a basis quite other than financial investment. Probably the most known and controversial cases are linked to Romania and Hungary.
Ethnic Hungarians account for almost 7% of Romania’s overall population. They mainly live in the western regions of the country such as Transylvania, Marmureș and Crișana. Also a sizeable minority of Hungarians live in Slovakia. The origin of these minorities can be traced back to the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, where Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, mainly to Slovakia and Romania
The Hungarian minority was heavily discriminated against under Ceaucescu’s regime. After the fall of Ceaucescu’s regime in Romania in the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, the issue between the Hungarian minority and the Romanians seemed to be settled, but it did not take long for problems to appear again between the two communities.
In 2010, Hungary began issuing citizenships to ethnic Hungarians living in Romania and Slovakia. Despite Romania becoming a member of the EU in 2007, it did not ratify the Schengen treaty until January this year. Therefore, ethnic Hungarians living in Romania who already had Romanian citizenship, now also had the Hungarian one. This meant that they could easily access the EU market by joining the Schengen area, since Hungary became a full member of the EU way back in 2004.
But the issue of passports was not only coming from Hungary. Romania has also been issuing passports to a non-EU country: Moldova. The two countries have a long history of cultural and linguistic affinities going back at least three centuries. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union managed to occupy Moldova and a period of heavy Russification followed. National feelings were suppressed until Gorbachov’s reforms gave some space to national thinking. The Romanian spoken in Moldova is referred to as ‘Moldovan’ according to the country’s constitution. In the beginning of the twenty-first century the Republic of Moldova was run by a leader who outlawed any dual citizenships. This however was challenged by the ECHR.
The thing is that most Moldovans are not really interested in moving to Romania, but are more eager to work in western Europe. Granting Romanian passports to Moldovans is an easy gateway to the EU market, without it being necessary for Moldova to become a member of the European Union. This is not in any way citizenship by investment, but handing out passports to thousands of people just because they are ‘ethnically recognised.’
The discussion on Moldovan identity has always been on the top of the agenda amongst scholars interested in the Balkan and Slavic regions. A public survey conducted by CBS-AXA in 2012 revealed that around 16% of people living in Moldova believe that their country should be annexed with Romania. Another study in 2012, this time in Romania, explains that an astonishing 87% of Romanians believe that Bessarabia (the term used to refer to Moldova) should be part of Romania.
Today, acquiring citizenship of any EU country means that you get a European one too. In Malta’s case it caused some havoc in some EU institutions. As we’ve seen, a vote was taken on the citizenship scheme in the European Parliament, and the EU commission at first condemned the scheme as it saw it as going against European values
Now that an agreement between the government of Malta and the EU commission has been reached, it will be interesting to see how the EU’s policy on citizenship evolves.
In recent days, there has been more and more talk about a new phenomenon that threatens people and animals, the life and the existence of the planet. This phenomenon is called “smog”. But what is smog and how did it come about? Why is it so harmful and so threatening to our planet? And why is it so strong in Greece?
Smog is a form of air pollution caused by the burning of solid fuels, especially wood and coal. It consists of soot particles from smoke, from which it takes its name, and the poisonous sulfur dioxide gas.
“The explosive growth of smog has had a deleterious effect on the environment and on human health," says Ioannis Pantis and Alexis Benos, respectively Professor of Ecology and the Professor of Hygiene, Social Medicine and Primary Care. The main reasons for the growth of smog in Greece are austerity measures and "the dead-end-energy, residential development and war strategy in our country.”
Smog is mainly a product of biomass combustion and chemically treated wood, placing additional burdens on the already burdened atmosphere of cities, and has a direct and lasting impact on the health of the human population. The dramatic proliferation of gaseous pollutants is a major health risk and requires immediate and drastic measures to combat.
Although in modern times, the air pollution in cities is mainly from photochemical smog, in areas where burning coal and other solid fuels perseveres, the main form of pollution is smog. For instance the smog of 2013 in Harbin, China resulted in the closure of roads, schools and the local airport.
Let’s not forget the tragic incident that happened in London in 1952. Smog engulfed London for five days in December 1952. More than 4,000 people are believed to have died from the effects and this led the government to ban fireplaces around the city. What unfolded on December 5 of that year had no precedent. The weather was cold and there were heavy snowfalls. As a result, the inhabitants of London were burning large quantities of wood in fireplaces and huge amounts of smoke were released into the sky.
In those five days, where visibility was impossible even for pedestrians holding lanterns, thousands of people died and countless others suffered from respiratory problems. To avoid a repeat of such tragedy in the future, the government adopted a series of laws, the principal one being the Clean Air Act.
In my opinion, one thing the Greek government could do is to reduce the cost of heating oil. These austerity measures have led to poverty and misery, and as a result the wood fireplace is the cheapest way of heating. Hopefully this attitude will change and smog will begin to be a thing of the past.