Tag Archives: European Parliament

Non-citizens, aliens in their own country

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Non-citizens, aliens in their own country

They were citizens of a country that does not exist anymore. They are not stateless, nor foreigners. They are called “non-citizens”. Today in Latvia, about 280,000 peo­ple have this complicated status, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The issue is representative of the integration problems of the country’s Russian minority.

“In 1993, I lost my citizenship. I couldn’t work for the Riga City Council any­more. I couldn’t buy a land anymore. I couldn’t work in a political party anymore. I understood that I was a cit­izen of second-class.” Aleksandr Gaponenko has been living in Latvia for sixty years, but is considered a “non-citizen” in his home country. Having this status means that he has no politi­cal rights, and some professions related to the public and judiciary sectors are prohibited to him. Apart from these exceptions, he enjoys the same rights as every Latvian citizen.

A complex identity

His identity has multiple roots. It is torn between his mixed family background, the Russian culture he grew up with, and Latvia, his homeland—where he has always lived. He identifies himself as Russian first.

Others consider themselves as Latvian and Russian. This is the case for Elizabete Krivcova, who co-founded the Non-Citizens’ Congress with Aleksandr Gaponenko—an NGO promoting full democratic rights for them. She naturalised in the nineties, in order to be a lawyer.

“The exam is very ideological”

These multiple and complex identities are an obstacle to naturalise as their Russian heritage is in contradiction with the Latvian one. To receive the Latvian citizenship, non-citizens have to pass a test of flu­ency in Latvian and a test of knowledge about the national anthem, significant facts of history and the basic principles of national constitution. It is considered to be un­fair by many non-citizens.

DSC_0138 “The exam is very ideological. You have to recognise that Latvia was occupied by Rus­sia. The question about Soviet times are only about its dark side. Concerning the econo­my, it’s about industrialisation and forced collectivisation in the  agrarian sector. When it’s about people life, then it’s about repres­sion. A friend of mine explained me how he prepared it. He said, ‘I know what I think about the history but for the exam I have to think exactly the contrary to have the cor­rect  answers’,” explains Elizabete Krivcova.

For Aleksandr Gaponenko, who always refused to naturalise, taking the Latvian citizenship means complying with the policy of the government. “To pass the examination it is necessary to confirm that I agree with this model of society, and  I com­pletely disagree. I don’t want to accept that Latvia is only for ethnic Latvians.”

Valerij Komarov is also a former non-cit­izen who naturalised when his first child was born, about ten years ago. “Passing the exam meant that I recognised that I was an immigrant, even though I’m born in Latvia and I have always lived  there. It is not my fault if the geopolitical situation changed. So I did it for my son, to avoid him getting this status as well,” he says.

 The influence of Russia

The naturalisation process is even less enticing since the Russian government decided to offer visa-free travel to Russia to non-citizens in 2008—an attractive offer for some of them, who still have family in Russia. The influence from the East is also indirectly revealed through a difference in retirement system and economic benefits granted to Russian citizens that push non-citizens to opt for Russia. Since 2010, it has exceeded the number of those receiving Latvian citi­zenship and has continued to rise. Al­though, there is no research about the rea­sons why non-citizens choose the Russian citizenship rather than the Latvian one, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs admits that earlier retirement age may be the reason. According to Gaponen­ko, it is also a form of protest against the policy of the Latvian government towards the Russian minority.

An issue in deadlock

Today, the issue remains unresolved as the government doesn’t consider non-citizens legitimate enough to automatically receive the citizenship of Latvia. In almost twenty years, the number of non-citizens has decreased from 730,000 to 280,000. It is mainly due to death as only 140,000 have been naturalised since the creation of the status. Karlis Eihenbaums, the Foreign Minister’s Press Secretary, explains why the issue is not as easy to solve.

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Even if the automatic naturalisation is out of the question for the Latvian government, it con­tinues nevertheless to encourage non-citizens to apply. Throughout the years, the Latvian language and history exams have been simplified and the Citizenship Law amended in order to facilitate the procedure. The naturalisation fee has been reduced several times for some peo­ple (low-income, unemployed, retired) and abolished for politically repressed and dis­abled persons.

But the Non-Citizens’ Congress wants much more than an easier naturalisation process. A material compensation, an­other policy towards ethnic Russians and less restrictions regarding professions would be the first step. Yet the dialogue is totally cut with the Latvian government. People working in this organ­isation even have the conviction that it “is waiting for the death of all non-citizens.”

The European elections, next hope

The next hope for changes are on the European side. But as Aleksandr Gaponenko points out, “as a non-citizen without political rights, I can’t influence this.”

This article was originally hosted on Euroviews. The author is Camille Petit.

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Cross-section Euroscepticism

Xesc Arbona

Xesc Arbona

Euroscepticism and the far-right were on everyone’s lips ahead of the elections last week. However, while the anti-EU parties certainly made gains across Europe not all countries sent such a strong message to the European parliament.

Three countries who were all expected to send a strong anti-EU message all had different results. Italy, the Netherlands and the UK all voted and had different reactions to the expected wave of support for the Eurosceptics.

Italy: A victory for the mainstream

40.8 per cent of the vote went to the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Five Star Movement (M5S), facing its first European election, emerged as the second biggest party, with about 21 per cent of the votes, followed by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which still manages to convince 16 per cent of the voters. The left-wing Italian list supporting Tsipras’ “Other Europe” scores a modest 4 per cent, still enough to send three MEPs to Strasbourg.

Palazzo Chigi

Palazzo Chigi

Even in Italy, the Democratic Party’s (PD) striking victory came as a surprise, as media and pollsters had predicted a close run between their party and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S). For the PD, a party which was born in 2007 from the union of Social and Christian Democrats, this is a record victory in its history and the second biggest in the history of modern Italy.

The party is also the biggest winner in Europe, winning 31 seats, even more than Merkel’s CDU in Germany, which took 29. This is an incredible result considering PD’s reputation as a “loser” party, especially following the Pyrrhic victory achieved in the 2013 national parliamentary elections. This was when Bersani did win a majority, but was unable to form a government coalition. It’s strange to see such election results following those events.

One key factor is Matteo Renzi. Disliked by the hardcore left for being too centrist, Renzi’s charisma conquered instead the moderate voters who are not anti-immigration like Salvini’s Northern League, who agree with the capitalist market system unlike Tsipras’ Other Europe, who are honest unlike Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and who dislike Grillo’s Five Star Movement’s loud and simplistic slogans.

Despite not having accomplished many of the promises he made upon becoming Prime Minister, Renzi’s aura of optimism and “can-do” attitude, so reminiscent of 1994 Berlusconi, is well received by the Italian electorate who simply cannot resist the charm of a leader presenting himself as a natural born winner.

The Democratic Party was also the only party in Italy belonging to the European Socialist Party, supporting Martin Schulz’s bid for EU Commissioner. Instead, the M5S refused to support a candidate to the Commission or join an existing parliamentary group, declining Marine Le Pen’s invitation. However, a parliamentary group needs to have at least 25 members from at least seven countries, so the M5S’s members would have just sat between those in the  “mixed group,” thus leaving them with limited influence. In a European election, voting for a party is more than expressing a preference at the national level, and people voting PD might have recognised that.

Renzi is likely to seek a prestigious role for Italy in the new EP, perhaps with an Italian becoming President of the European Parliament (the post previously occupied by Martin Schulz) or in the future Commission. In July, Renzi will also become President of the European Council as Italy takes over the leadership from Greece. This may be the time for a stronger Italian influence in Europe. But as in Italy, politics always comes second to football, in the next month Italians will look at Brazil: if the azzurri win the World Cup, Renzi’s popularity may soar way above 40%.

By Sofia Lotto Persio

Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ stumbles

Roel Wijnants

Roel Wijnants

Dutch political parties had 26 seats to sort during the elections last week. Ahead of the elections, the battle seemed to centre around a pro-European and an anti-European party: D66 (Democrats) and the PVV  the far-right, party led by Geert Wilders. However, exit polls showed that it was the Christian Democrats of the CDA that came out ahead. Thanks to an alliance with other Dutch Christian parties, the CDA won an additional fifth seat, whereas D66 and PVV obtained four each. D66 gained a seat, while PVV lost one compared to the 2009 elections. Another winner is the PvdD, the Party for Animals. For the first time in history, a party that focuses on animal rights gained a seat in the European Parliament.

Wilders’ PVV joined forces with the French Front Nationale, but as the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant suggests, it remains to be seen if these two parties can find other allies in the European Parliament. The British UKIP and the Italian populist party run by Beppe Grillo are not interested in joining Front Nationale in an anti-European alliance. De Volkskrant quotes its EU correspondent in saying that “experience shows that among this kind of [anti-European] parties, egos are slightly bigger than election victories.”

By Lisanne Oldekamp

United Kingdom: Farage humiliates the establishment

In stark comparison to the election results in Italy and the Netherlands, there has been a sharp rise in support for the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which won over 30 per cent of the popular vote.

European Parliament

European Parliament

This was a remarkable election and has rattled a few cages among the main parties in the UK. The Conservatives have criticised Europe and some of their MPs have called for a promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union to be brought forward.

Meanwhile, the centre-left parties of Labour and the Liberal Democrats had mixed fortunes. The Labour party narrowly beat the Conservatives to second place, but remained a long way behind UKIP. The Liberal Democrats suffered a massive defeat losing ten of their eleven MEPs and falling into fifth place behind the much smaller, a less well-funded Green Party.

The rise in support for UKIP has been blamed on the inability of British political parties to represent ordinary people following the financial crisis and tough austerity measures which has squeezed many in the UK. This has also been linked to a rise in anti-EU rhetoric among the main parties, most notably the Conservatives, as UKIP begins to steal voters from the main three parties.

Another important factor is the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, who has managed to portray himself as an ordinary person who knows what the electorate want. Criticisms have been made of this image – both regarding Farage’s privileged past and his parties electoral policies which are strongly right wing – however the protest vote appears to believe the message he has to say.

The long term impact of these results is unclear, but Britain’s relationship with the EU looks set to be a key point of contention heading into the 2015 General Election and beyond.

In Scotland, the SNP continued their electoral dominance winning the majority of the popular vote. However, in a shock result UKIP was successful enough in Scotland to win enough votes for a representative from Scotland.

By Greg Bianchi

While these elections are certainly a turning point in the European Parliament’s relationship with its citizens, the division between European countries is stark. The anti-EU movement has grown, yet it failed to record the large wins it was predicting across the European Union. This will provide the EU with some comfort, but the future composition of the union is still up for debate.

 

 

Finger pointing and missed opportunities in Europe

Credit: Abd allah Foteih

SO THE RESULTS are in and the finger pointing has already begun. David Cameron has said that these results show the British population is thoroughly ‘disillusioned’ with the European Union. Nigel Farage, the guffawing leader of UKIP claims to have caused a ‘political earthquake’ and established the party as the third force in British politics.

If this is the case it is a worrying development for all political parties – the Conservatives now have a genuine challenger on their right and traditional left votes are being won by a strong anti-EU party which wants the UK to leave the European Union.

Across Europe the pattern was largely the same. Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France also topped its domestic poll with 25 per cent of the vote. While Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party failed to perform as well as predicted in the Netherlands other Eurosceptic parties in Greece, Hungary and Denmark performed well.

Irritating neighbour

But who’s really to blame? The European Union certainly must take some of the blame for the failure to explain its relevance to people across Europe. However, national institutions need to take stock of what’s happened here and must seriously rethink their strategies on Europe, not in favour of Euroscepticism, but in favour of better education about both national and European politics.

This doesn’t mean to suggest that voters are stupid or acted purely out of spite towards the EU. When we talk about education we need greater civic understanding about what politics actually does for us and how these decisions are incredibly important. In the UK there is still an emphasis in education on Britain’s place in the world as a former super-power with a special relationship across the West.

In effect, Europe is an irritating neighbour which historically has brought us nothing but grief. The only time this is challenged is either when students take History as a further education module, either at college or university. Fundamentally, people only learn more about Britain’s place in the world if they choose to do so.

Embarrassment

Furthermore, teaching young people about what different political parties stand for and something as simple as the voting system to Parliament shouldn’t be confined to the textbooks of further education. This is something that needs to change throughout society, starting at the grass-roots.

Despite the strong showing for Eurosceptic parties, it must be remembered that they aren’t a homogenous group who will form a strong grouping in the European Parliament – they differ both in ideology, some being anti-Europe and others being openly racist, and in strategy – Le Pen wants to destroy the EU from the inside while Farage wants to simply withdraw the UK from the EU. Furthermore as this evidence from ampp3d shows, more people voted for pro-EU parties than Eurosceptic parties in the UK on Friday.

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However there’s no getting away from it. This is an embarrassment for the European Union, but it is a bigger embarrassment for national politicians who have failed to inform people about its importance and instead have pushed them to the extremes. Until this is changed at the grass-roots opportunities will continue to be missed.

Words: Greg Bianchi

Photo credit: Abd allah Foteih

European Parliament Elections’ Results — Live

Rock Cohen

Rock Cohen

FROM PROMISING POLLS to putout Poles, the European Parliament Elections of 2014 have been controversial to say the least. It all ends tonight though, and Pandeia has live coverage of the results direct from the European Parliament HQ in London. We can’t promise it’ll match Eurovision for quality but we’ll try to keep it informative at best and wildly entertaining at (Conchita) worst.

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Why does everyone hate the EU?

Rock Cohen

Rock Cohen

THE BEAUTY OF democracy is that for every idea there will be someone opposing it and proposing something different. In the European election this dynamic is obviously at play. Each country can count between its parties at least a nationalist, if not totally Eurosceptic party.

Ironically enough, this is yet another aspect uniting some Europeans across the union: their apparent dislike of the EU. Some commentators think this election will see the largest number of Eurosceptic party members occupying seats in the Parliament, even though the exit polls in the Netherlands, where voting occurred on Thursday, show an unexpected slump of Wilder’s Freedom Party, which is aiming to forge an alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

Whereas each party colours its agenda with nationalistic tints, the core issues that the parties propose in their programme are similar across countries. They blame the EU for the crisis, they want less immigration, less EU involvement in national affairs, oppose further integration, and in some instances even reject gay rights.

We chose to look at four countries to have a better idea of what kind of Eurosceptic forces.

 

Boyan Yurukov

Boyan Yurukov

 BULGARIA

According to the latest Eurobarometer research, Bulgarian society is fairly optimistic about the future of the European Union, with positive votes of up to 60 per cent. Public opinion in the country has repeatedly  equated the EU with a bright future, low rates of unemployment and general prosperity, yet nationalist and Eurosceptic parties are a presence in the country, and provide Bulgarian media with news stories every day.  Two of the most prominent nationalistic parties are Attack (Aтака) and Bulgaria without Censorship (България без цензура). The two parties were respectively created in 2005 and in 2014, and the leaders of both are  well-known faces. Volen Siderov, the leader of Attack, had his own TV show before launching the party, while Barekov was the morning newsreader for one of the biggest TV stations in Bulgaria.

Being around for a longer time, Attack is a well-known party to anyone who has followed the country’s political life in the past ten years. Hardly a day passes without Siderov making a controversial speech which  reverberates in the media. The party relies on nationalistic rhetoric, often disregarding or even openly attacking ethnic, gender and religious minorities in the country. The party’s European Parliament election  manifesto proclaims Christian values, demands equal pay for Bulgarian and French farmers, and condemns gay-marriages, interracial relations and paedophilia. Another priority is “stopping the flood of Islamic aliens  from entering the EU.”  Social opinion polls from April says Attack will win between 3 and 5 per cent of the votes in the European Parliament elections.

In contrast, Barekov’s party, although only several months-old, has already gathered momentum with an estimated support ranging from around 5 up to 14 per cent. Created at the beginning of this year, BWC started  with an ambitious proposal for an initiative suggestively named “Clean Hands”. Its aim is to create a new institution to trace down the origins of any property belonging to the political elite. The party argues for income-based taxation, decentralisation of local authorities, free tablets for students and free health-care for children up to 7 years old. Bulgaria Without Censorship also demands minimal pay according to EU’s standards, reviving the country’s railway system with EU funds and halving the number of MPs in the Bulgarian parliament. For the elections on May 25th, BWC formed a coalition with three of the oldest, but less-popular parties: the oldest nationalist political party in Bulgaria – IMRO, the National Agrarian Union, and the Movement Gergyovden.

European Parliament

European Parliament

Lesser known Eurosceptic parties include the Communist Union and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), which is a splinter group from Attack. The Communist Union argues for leaving the EU, while NFSB criticises the structure of the agglomeration. Both parties didn’t receive the necessary minimum of votes to enter parliament at the last national elections.

Petya Yankova

UNITED KINGDOM

Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have dominated the run up to the European elections. The party has grown to represent a genuine electoral challenge on the right of UK politics – mostly by advocating strong anti-EU rhetoric. Farage has managed to portray himself as a genuine alternative to the Westminster elite and has taken votes from all major parties, but most notably the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives are expected to suffer in the European and UK local elections as a result of this with some opinion polls even putting UKIP in first position. This has forced a shift to the right in the discourse of British politics, most notably over the issue of immigration and the question of the UK’s membership of the EU. The Conservatives backed stricter immigration rules over the lifting of labour restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. Furthermore, they have promised an ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU if they are re-elected and gain a majority in 2015.

This is all the result of UKIP, who have managed to tempt disenfranchised voters from the traditional Conservative Party and as such are expected to perform particularly well in these European elections.

Greg Bianchi

 

 

EU Exposed

EU Exposed

POLAND

The Polish National Movement was born during the independence marches that took part in Warsaw to celebrate Poland’s independence day on 11 November each year since 2010. It’s a broad coalition of nationalist organisations. Their main election slogan is “Radical change”. Nevertheless, EU topics do not dominate the political claims. The National Movement tries to present itself as the only credible eurosceptic political force – contrasting with the old ones of (as they say) “Lisbon right”. They stand-up for Europe of free nations, similar to the French Front National and Austrian Freedom Party.  They have links with the far-right, ultra-nationalist Hungarian Jobbik party. In the past they even exchanged some European Parliamentary candidates – a Hungarian candidate in Poland and a Polish one in Hungary.

They also advocate a firmer defence of Polish national interests, especially in such fields as ecology and energy – mainly the Energy Package that might harm Poland as the biggest coal producer and consumer in the EU. They also campaign on social and ideological issues such as multiculturalism, LGBT, and gender. Finally, they want to renounce the Lisbon Treaty and oppose federalist tendencies in EU integration.

Ziemowit Jóźwik

Matteo

Matteo

ITALY

The eurosceptic voter finds quite a diverse range of choice in Italy. Hit by the crisis, affected by three government changes in a little more than a year, suspicious of being somehow  manipulated by Germany, many Italians look at the EU with disaffection. On the whole, right wing parties have taken up the initiative to denounce what they see as Brussels’ interference  in Italian politics; even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi himself has lent his voice to the choir of people dissatisfied with EU policies. In all these eurosceptic voices, the former comedian-  turned political leader Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement is most distinct, despite rejecting the label of eurosceptic and calling itself “the only truly European force in Italy”.

 

The party is not quite as xenophobic and anti-EU as the Northern League, which is similar to Wilders’ and Marine Le Pen’s parties. However, the Five Star Movement gathers support from  voters of all sides of the political spectrum proposing an Italy with a stronger voice in the EU and less financial control and austerity. The party proposes the adoption of the ‘Eurobond’ and rejects the fiscal compact and even  calls for a referendum over staying in the Eurozone – they have been advocating for going back to the lira. This is a referendum which, according to Italian law, cannot be valid. This is because financial matters are not subjected to popular consultation according the Constitution. It is fair to say that the Five Star Movement is against the Euro more than against the EU, but as the party has not defined a clear position on many issues, like border security and immigration, furthermore it has not forged an alliance with any existing European party. They represent an interesting player in the European parliament, a Jolly that can be used both for and against the EU.

Sofia Lotto Persio

Collation by: Sofia Lotto Persio

 

Central and Eastern Europe: Ones to watch

Yanni Koutsomitis

Yanni Koutsomitis

AHEAD OF THE European elections results tomorrow, eastern Europe has a number 0f seats up for grabs. However, despite the on-going criticism of the EU in western Europe it appears that there are fewer Eurosceptic parties in eastern Europe. One factor explaining this may be the fact that eastern European countries have only recently acceded to the EU, with the accession of the A8 countries in 2004 and the most recent member, Croatia, joined less than twelve months ago.

Many eastern European countries have important domestic elections coming up in the coming years and therefore it has been suggested that these EU elections are in effect opinion polls on national governments and a chance for citizens to protest against domestic policies which they disagree with, rather than voting on European issues, a trend which affects the entire union.

There have been a number of important factors which help to explain the current voting trends in eastern Europe however, most notably the growing influence of Russia and the issues of military and energy security that the crisis has brought to the fore.

 

Piotrek Rabaltowski

Piotrek Rabaltowski

Poland

Poland is arguably one of the few places in central and eastern Europe which has a mainstream party which can be described as ‘Eurosceptic’ in its rhetoric and beliefs. The Law and Justice party is currently in opposition in Poland and is part of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament  – the same group as the British Conservative Party. Poland has four major elections coming up between now and Autumn 2015.

The Law and Justice party were set to do well in the upcoming European elections, however have been caught out electorally by the ruling Civic Platform party over the issue of Ukraine. Civic Platform, and its leader Donald Tusk, performed well in portraying the Ukraine crisis as a grave threat to Polish interests and were highly visible in their attempts to appear strong in the face of Russian aggression against its neighbour. The Law and Justice Party were wrong-footed by this and lost their electoral lead. However, with a combination of stronger rhetoric over Ukraine and criticism of the actions of Civic Platform, the polls have narrowed and the election is likely to be split between the two main parties.

There have been a number of new parties emerging in Poland in recent years, however many of them are fragmented. The party most likely to breach the five per cent threshold for representation in the European Parliament is the Congress of the New Right under its eccentric, and controversial, leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke. He is strongly Euro-sceptic and has a strong online following which has increased his popularity. This party is likely to make a breakthrough in these elections but it is unclear whether they will remain a potent influence in the future.

Hungary

Much the same as in other European nations, these EU elections are seen as an opinion poll on the ruling government – Hungary recently had a General Election and the ruling Conservative Party continued its dominance. Fidesz, the Conservative party, is not expected to do as well electorally as it did in 2009, but is still expected to retain a number of its MEPs. The concerns over Ukraine have been less prominent in Hungary and the opposition social democrats and leftists in general has remained fragmented. However, there is a chance that the Greens may win a seat.

Leigh Phillips

Leigh Phillips

However, one major political issue is the continuing presence of the far-right, ultra-nationalist Jobbik party. The party emerged  in the last European Parliament elections where it won two out of the 22 seats on offer in Hungary. The party has links to other  radical nationalist European parties such as the British National Party (BNP) in the UK. Polls have suggested that Jobbik may  improve on its 2009 turnout and come in second place in these elections with over 20 per cent of the vote.

 Romania

Ukraine has proven to be a concern among many Romanians ahead of these European Parliamentary elections. Furthermore  there has been a growing awareness of EU relations following the controversial coverage and political rhetoric in the UK about  the movement of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Much like many other eastern European states, Romania has a significant election in the coming year – the presidential election  in November 2014. In addition to this the ruling coalition government has split. A censure motion within the government has also been declared and will be debated on Monday following the announcement of the European Parliament election results.

European themes have been brought into the debate in Romania, especially about the growing influence of the EU over the country. However, many are looking at these elections in the build up to the presidential election.

The Popular Movement party, which is a splinter group from the Liberal Democrats, has emerged as a potential vote-winner, however on the whole the election has been fought by mainly mainstream parties – smaller parties have been less prominent. The Social Democrats and Liberals are the main parties and it is expected that the Social Democrats will do well in these elections.

An interesting protest movement has emerged in Romania called the ‘United We Save’ movement which is encouraging people to boycott the European elections on 25th May or alternatively spoil their ballots.

Czech Republic

ActiveSteve

ActiveSteve

The traditional parties of left and right in the Czech Republic have begun to decline in their influence. The ‘Ano’, centre-right political party has been increasing its vote under the stewardship of Czech-Slovak millionaire Andrej Babis. This party looks set to take some seats in the upcoming European elections after a strong showing in last year’s Czech parliamentary elections.

The Social-Democrats are performing well but are described as ‘treading water’ in terms of the votes they attract. The Communist Party is expected to retain its four seats that it won in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections.

Slovakia

The dominance of the centre-left in Slovakia has continued. The current party of the Prime Minister lost the presidential election, however the ruling Direction – Social Democracy remain popular with many Slovak voters. However, the far-right may pick up one seat among some disenchanted voters.

Slovenia

Slovene politics has been characterised by fragmentation and division, as such there is no dominant party. The centre-right are expected to pick up three of the seven seats on offer. The left has been increasingly fragmented between five different parties and one of these groupings may win a seat.

Slovene politics has been characterised by a number of issues in recent years with senior politicians becoming embroiled in corruption allegations. The main centre-right leader has recently been charged with corruption allegations and is facing possible jail-time.

The ‘I believe list’, which has been formed by the former head of the Slovene audit agency  has started to generate some support among voters and may have an influence in these elections.

Croatia

The most recent addition to the European Union will be participating in its first cross-continental elections since its accession last year. The country joined the EU with a moderate majority and has been divided between right and left rule since its independence.

Martin Deutsch

Martin Deutsch

The current government under the Social Democratic party is increasingly unpopular and the HDZ has reformed itself quite a bit  in recent years. The Social Democrats have been accused of leaving their traditional leftist, worker-based support behind which  could open the door for more leftist parties to gain recognition among voters in these EU elections.

 Baltic states

The majority of the 25 seats in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will most likely go to parties established in the  1990s. However, much like many other countries in eastern Europe, the European Parliament elections will likely take a back- seat to national elections; Lithuania’s presidential election takes place on the same day as the European Parliamentary elections.

The same goes for Latvia where national elections are on the horizon. Estonia is the exception as it doesn’t have national  elections for quite some time.

The on-going crisis in Ukraine and the resurgence of Russia as a geopolitical power is an important factor in these elections. There are divisions between more pro-Russia parties and those who favour further European integration.

By Greg Bianchi

Special thanks to CEPSI round table at UCL-School of Slavonic and East European Studies 

It’s not easy being green

 

Green Party 2

AS ANTI-EUROPE parties try to convince the Dutch that they are better off alone and they should abandon the sinking ship that is the Euro, the country’s Green party GreenLeft is trying to do the exact opposite: portraying the EU as an inadmissible part of daily life not only today, but for generations to come. On national television, the GreenLeft Member of Parliament Jesse Klaver used examples from a nineties children show around an acrobat and a clown to stress the importance of the EU. Less visible, but with similar ambitions for The Netherlands and Europe, Hannah Odenthal (26) is taking to the streets convincing the Dutch not just to vote, but to vote for the Greens. In an interview with Pandeia, she explains why and how she’s spreading this message.

“To answer your question of why I do what I do, I believe that all of us are Europe, as we enjoy its benefits every day. Europe stands for peace, progress, and renewal. Europe means freedom: we can live, travel, study, and vote, anywhere in the European Union. However, not everyone can benefit from the possibilities given by Europe to millions of people every day. Therefore, we have to work together to create a Europe in which no one gets left behind.”

Green Party 1What is your role/function in the Green Party’s campaign?

“I am indirectly involved in the campaign, as my job is to support the Secretary General of the European Green Party. In addition to supporting her work and making sure she is in the right place at the right time to speak to political actors and stake holders, my work varies from day to day. For example, last weekend our team travelled to Berlin for the kick-off of the ‘hot phase’ of the Common Green European campaign, where I was asked to do voice-overs for videos to introduce our speakers. While this is not usually part of my role, it reflects the variety of tasks that makes the job and the entire campaign exciting.”

Past elections have not resulted in high turnouts. How do you ‘sell’ Europe in general and the Green Party in particular to the voters? What is the Green Party’s strategy?

“Despite the best intentions in creating a European-level political sphere, in the European elections, people vote on a national level and not on a European level. They vote for national parties, often from a national perspective. As the European Green Party only operates at a European level, the broad part of actual campaigning falls to the 33 Green parties across the EU. We have advocated for European-wide lists to move towards true European politics, and we have had common campaigns since 2004. We always make sure that there are transnational elements such as common visuals, that are part of our European campaigns.

“Part of showing voters what we stand for, is our common manifesto, which is drafted and adopted by EGP member parties from within the European Union. Our manifesto is a signal of their cooperation and unity, and it is a basis for pushing forward our common Green agenda on the European level. Our manifestos of the past ten years can be found here:

http://europeangreens.eu/content/egp-manifesto.”
What is the Green Party’s position in the European Parliament?

“The European Green Party does not have a position in the European Parliament itself. We are represented in the parliament by the Greens/European Free Alliance, of which the Greens are a part. With 58 members from both Green parties, independents and regionalist parties, Greens/EFA is the fourth largest political group in the European Parliament. We are a strong, cohesive group that have been very successful in pushing environmental issues, digital rights, food and fishing, LGBT rights, fair economic policies, the rights of migrants, and many other issues, to the front of the EU’s agenda.”

Green Party 3 The Green parties across Europe play very different roles in national politics. Can you elaborate on these  different backgrounds, and on how these are united into one mutual, pan-European party?

“The Greens are a diverse family across the EU. While each party shares strong green values (such as environmentalism,  democracy, and a commitment to social justice and fairness). However, across Europe each Green party is different, depending on  many different factors such as resources, the national context, the size of their membership, how developed the Green movement  in their areas are. In Germany and France for instance, there are strong, well known Green movements where their respective  parties are important actors on the political sphere. In Spain, the youngest Green party has a different background and impact and  is focused on both pushing their political agenda and building recognition across the country. Because of national politics, some  parties have a more cautious approach to Europe, while some are very eager advocates for closer EU ties. Some member states  have Green parties that work very effectively in an environmental-grassroots lobbying model. In other countries, the Greens are  in government and have a clear impact on national legislation. There is no set rule.”

What are the Green party’s plans for the future?

“Over the next five years, we have an ambitious agenda to show that Europe must and can do better.

With rising unemployment (especially for young people), huge strains on public finances, food scandals undermining consumer confidence, a dead-end energy policy that ignores the urgent issue of climate change, and democracy and rights under attack in some EU countries, Europe needs a change of direction.

“The multiple crises facing Europe – economic, social, environmental, democratic – require action in all European policy fields. In a globalised world, the challenges transcend borders; so do the solutions. Isolation and nationalism cannot be the answer, neither can old policies and austerity measures.

“The Greens are working towards a comprehensive transformation for Europe, that allows everyone to live a good life based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. We want to deliver millions of green jobs, ambitious climate protection, health and social justice. The Europe we want is a Europe of solidarity and well-being; a Europe that acts for equal opportunities and fundamental rights; a transparent Europe that people can trust; a Europe that promotes cultural diversity and gives hope to youth; a truly democratic Europe in which citizens have a say.”

Words: Lisanne Oldekamp

Pictures courtesy of European Green Party

In an election dominated by hate, where are the minorities?

Photo: Chris Devers

Photo: Chris Devers

‘UNITED IN DIVERSITY’ is the official motto of the European Union. According to Europa.eu -the institution’s official website – the union represents:

‘how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages’.

The fact that the European Union was awarded in 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize unanimously by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for having ‘contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’ is a testament to this achievement. Though the win was contested, the reconciliation of Germany and France, the fall of dictators in Greece, Portugal and Spain and the end of the cold war rhetoric — represented by the fall of the Berlin wall — has united Europeans, making the continent a relatively peaceful place.

Hate on the European agenda

photo: marcinlachowicz.com

photo: marcinlachowicz.com

However, the acceptance that united European citizens in the past has not been extended to the continent’s ethnic minorities. This is something that has been made extremely clear by far-right discourses dominating coverage of the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.

UKIP, Front National, Golden Dawn, the Danish People’s Party, Austria’s Freedom Party, the Netherlands Freedom Party, Hungary’s Jobbik… as the list grows, the discourse becomes more extreme; nationalism, eurosceptisim, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia. Hate it seems, is dominating the political agenda in 2014.

Various polls have shown that it is these parties who are set to make big wins in the upcoming elections, due to their seeming ability to find solutions to the problems plaguing Europe’s disgruntled populations. This includes the continuing economic crises, unemployment and mass immigration — issues that mainstream parties appear powerless to deal with.

Worryingly, as parties appear to cater to populist concerns, it is again minorities who are, at best ignored and at worst, targeted as the cause of the majority’s problems.

The real minority: lack of representation for different ethnic groups

Europe is home to 60 million ethnic minorities, roughly 17% of the European Union’s population. According to 2010 European Statistics, 6.3% of EU residents were born outside Europe, with the largest groups in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), UK (4.7 million) Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million). The numbers have risen in the last four years and do not include second, third and fourth generations.

Despite the numbers, political representation of minority groups in the European Parliament is tiny. Out of the 766 current MEP’s, only 15 of them come from ethnic minority backgrounds. According to Michael Privot, Director of European Network Against Racism (ENAR), this is just not good enough:

“Basic representativeness would make us expect 17% of ethnic diversity individuals in any place, we’re far from it, especially at the highest power levels”.

Quotas won’t work 
Increasing representation is not that simple. “I don’t think it’s as easy as just having a quota for the numbers of minorities,” said Louise Marlin, who is British, born in Sierra Leone, “I think maybe the way they [politicians] promote themselves or encourage a culture, which may persuade or inspire more people from minority groups and all groups to actually want to take the role”.

The ENAR have called on the European parliament to reach out to minorities and make them feel like accepted members of European society, whose concerns are being listened to. However, minority issues are still not present enough on the European agenda. “There is a lot of reluctance to deal with ethnic minorities and their issues, mainly because mainstream politicians are making wrong assumptions, in our views, of what European people want,” said Privot, “They are convinced that people don’t want diversity and inclusion, therefore, to avoid giving ammunitions to the far-right, they prefer not to deal with that issue for fear of being perceived as ‘migrant’ or ‘minority’ friendly.”

photo: wikipedia.org

photo: wikipedia.org

‘Go Home’ rhetoric in France: just one piece of the puzzle 

The recent shake up of the French government is one of the many examples of mainstream parties in Europe feeling pressure to shift to the right. After the Socialists suffered a humiliating defeat in April’s local elections, François Hollande responded by appointing Mauel Valls as Prime Minister, despite (or due to) the fact that he is famous for calling for France’s Roma minority to ‘go home’, among other far-right rhetoric.

“The nomination of Manuel Valls is part of François Holland’s political strategy and it’s not surprising that he chose the most popular political personality at the time,” said French student Antoine Panaïté, “He has built his following on being a socialist who is not afraid to speak frankly about immigration issues that mirror those of the extreme-right. It will not change the country’s immigration policies but it is revealing of a France and of a Europe that is no longer scared of ambiguous discourse leaning toward xenophobia.”

Minorities: a missed gap in the political market? 

However, according to Privot, mainstream parties are making a mistake appealing to right-wing support in order to gain votes. “There are much more potentially ethnic minority voters than supporters of the far-right, but obviously their concerns; equality, protection against discrimination and violence, access to goods and services are not taken on board or addressed sufficiently by candidates.”

The result of mainstreaming right-wing discourses seems to be creating artificial problems and further alienating minorities from mainstream politics. “I don’t like that there is a rise in […] anti immigration propaganda,” said Marlin, “I feel that immigration is just being used as a cause for all the problems, which is untrue.”

Austerity creates easy targets

photo: Flor M

photo: Flor M

Miten Patel, a British student of Indian decent also finds the situation depressing but not surprising, “this tends to happen when there is austerity,” he said, “Easy targets are hit rather than those who actually caused the problems. Anti-immigration views that are becoming the political mainstream can lead this xenophobia into wider racism towards minorities, regardless of whether they’re an immigrant or a citizen”.

Haunted by past hatred 

Europe’s difficulty with accepting ethnic and religious minorities is not new and has resulted in disastrous consequences for the continent in the past. “Historically, European cultures have been unable to deal with ethnic and religious diversity other than by exclusion and eradication,” said Privot, “Although European countries have made strong efforts since WWII to correct this pattern, it’s for us not surprising, that 60 years after, they’re still searching their way.”

Whether the European political elite manages to improve ethnic minority representation remains to be seen, however there are other factors at play that will drastically change the face of European politics in the coming decades.

The unity of tomorrow

Minority and mixed-race people are the fastest growing demographic on the continent. According to a recent report by think tank Policy Exchange, nearly one in three people in the United Kingdom will come from ethnic minority backgrounds by 2050, a trend that will no doubt be replicated across the European Union.

We can be sure then that if the motto ‘Unity in Diversity’ does not represent the Europe of today, it will certainly represent the Europe of tomorrow.

Ariane Osman

 

 

 

 

 

 

EP Elections: The ‘white elephant’ of politics in the 21st century?

Alberto Novi

Alberto Novi

It would be simple to get on a high horse and start lecturing about the EU elections. Writing for a pan-European student news network, the benefits of greater communication in Europe are undoubtedly apparent to us. However across Europe, the EU as it is now, isn’t what the voters want. The European elections as they stand, are the white elephant of the political 21st century.

European Parliament

European Parliament

Voter turnout has fallen steadily across the continent, from a highpoint of 69% in the first elections, to 2009’s comparatively paltry 43%. Though it makes much of the news, and particularly recently encourages much debate, the UK’s indifference to the European elections is matched by France and even topped by the Czech Republic. Just 28% of Czechs deemed a trip to the polling booth in 2009 worth their time. In both Eastern and Western Europe, fringe parties are coming to the fore, a recent poll indicated somewhere in the region of 25% of this year’s incoming parliament may come from rejectionist parties.

So what does that say about Brussels and the MEPs? Not only that they’re failing to engage huge swathes of an electorate, but that when they do, the ones that make it to the polls actually don’t want them to exist at all.

So what can be done? The established parties claim that the populists don’t have to campaign with proper defined policies, that they can claim everything from stopping immigration to world peace without the worry of actually having to enact anything on a national level. The traditional viewpoint — of UKIP as ‘swivel-eyed loons’, of the French National Front as ultra-right nut-jobs (en Francais of course) — dismisses the very core of why they are seeing such support. The populist groups are having a resurgence, because the EU they’re trying to strive for, often represents the EU that people want. Whether we like it or not, the majority of citizens in the EU are unhappy with how it is now, and want the homogenisation of cultures and the business classes causing the stripping back of welfare states to stop. Those are issues that exist in every country, in every land, across the EU and that’s what needs to change.

As Pandeia has shown with our study of the bloc groups, the populists won’t work together, these ‘fringe’ parties don’t all come from the same point of view. Some want out of the EU completely, others have ridden themselves of their far-right tendencies, while some are scarily fascist. There is no possibility of these groups working together to rise up and cause some sort of coup. But that does not mean they should be discounted. These issues that they represent, the ones that do drag people to the polls come the end of May, they’re the issues that need to be front and centre of the political discussions. Until that happens, the EU will be resented and disdained from Dublin to Dresden.

European Parliament: Who are the groups?

Xaf

Xaf

In the European Parliament there are a number of groups which represent different political parties from across the European Union. Each of them offers a different set of policies and ideology. 

There are currently eight groups within the European Parliament ranging from Euroscepticism to Socialism. The different groups provide a way for numerous political parties from across the EU to decide upon policies and push for representation on the supra-national level.

Below is an explanation of the different groups, how they tend to vote, and which prominent political parties are included within their membership.

 

 

eppgroup

eppgroupEuropean People’s Party

European People’s Party

The European People’s Party (EPP) is a largely centre-right political grouping which comprises a number of Conservative and Christian-democratic political parties. The group is the largest in the European Union and has been so since 1999. The group’s influence is present in the commission where the grouping has 13 commissioners from parties represented in the EPP. Furthermore, 14 of the 28 heads of state and government in the EU are representatives on the European Council. Therefore, this grouping has wide influence in the European Parliament and European Union as a whole.

The EPP has representatives from 27 out of 28 member states, the United Kingdom is the only exception. The group has representatives from the German Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) who are headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been a prominent figure in European politics over the past few years. The grouping also includes members from the Spanish People’s Party and the Democratic Union of Catalonia. Other notable representatives include the Civic Platform of Poland, Forza Italia and the Union for a Popular Movement from France.

According to statistics the group is the third most active in the European Parliament. The group campaigns upon the principle of Europe remaining as lean as possible with an emphasis on local and regional self-governance. However, the group also supports gradual progress towards a ‘genuine European political union’ as well as calling for the direct election of the President of the European commission in order to address the perceived democratic deficit in Europe.

 

S&D Staff

S&D Staff

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is a centre-left grouping representing the Party of European Socialists. Since 1999 it has been the second largest grouping in the European Parliament after the EPP. The group has been through a number of name changes but can trace its roots back to 1953. The group is currently headed by its president Hannes Swoboda of Austria who has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1996.

Unlike the EPP it has representatives from all 28 member states. The S&D includes a number of prominent socialist and social democratic parties from across Europe. The SPD of Germany is the largest contingent within the group but is currently in opposition in domestic politics. The UK Labour Party adds 13 MEPs to this grouping while the governing party of Denmark in the Social Democrats is also represented. Two other prominent members with 21 MEPs each include the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the Italian Democratic Party.

The S&D grouping says it focuses on social justice, financial market reform and a commitment to human rights. The group also has a strong commitment to dealing with unemployment and economic reform following the Eurozone crisis which shook the continent. The group also favours greater direct democracy for European citizens including the European Citizen Initiative which gives European citizens the chance to propose laws to the European Commission if they gather one million signatures.

Alberto Novi

Alberto Novi

 

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE/ADLE) group is a liberal and centrist grouping within the European Parliament. The group dates its origins back to the early 1950s, much like the EPP and S&D. It has served in some coalition parliaments – most recently with the EPP.

The grouping has representatives from 20 member states and includes a number of liberal and liberal-democratic groups from across Europe. The two most prominent members of the grouping include the British Liberal Democrats, who currently form a coalition with the Conservative Party in the UK, and the FDP in Germany who until recently participated in a coalition in Germany. The grouping also includes the Danish Venstre party, the Swedish Liberal People’s Party and the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.

The group has a number of different viewpoints including an emphasis on neo-liberal economics, European integration and support for the European single market. The group also supports more cooperation between European states on issues of foreign policy in order to create an External Action Service with a greater emphasis on promoting democracy and human rights as an organisation.

greensefa

 

The Greens-European Free Alliance

The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) group is a green and regional-focused organisation. The grouping represents a number of regionalist parties which are currently not independent states. However, the group does have representatives from national, non-regional parties.

Some of the groups most prominent members include the Scottish National Party (SNP) who may succeed in making Scotland an independent country later this year. It also has representatives form the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, the Republican Left of Catalonia and the Galician Nationalist Bloc. However, a number of green-minded national parties also exist within the grouping such as the Swedish Green Party and the Greek Ecologist Greens. Another interesting party within this bloc is the Swedish Pirate Party which campaigns for greater privacy on the internet and reform of copyright laws.

The grouping campaigns on the promise of promoting the interests of representatives from ‘stateless’ nations and disadvantaged minorities as well as a focus on a green agenda for greater environmental awareness. The group has 58 MEPs from 15 countries and places gender equality at the centre of its campaigns with 18 female MEPs and 20 male MEPs.

 

European Conservatives and Reformists

ECR Group

ECR Group

The fifth largest grouping in the European Parliament are the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) is a conservative grouping. It currently comprises 57 MEPs from eleven member states. The grouping draws much of its support from the UK, central Europe and some of the Baltic states. the group is often described as Euro-sceptic and anti-federalist, traditionally being suspicious of greater European integration.

Following the move of the British Conservative Party the grouping increased its number of MEPs massively – this affiliation added 26 members to the group. The next largest political representative in this group is the Czech Civic Democratic Party and Poland Together.

The group advocates a ‘third way’ between break-up of the union and a move towards a European ‘super state’. In this it calls for urgent reform of the European Union, something which has featured prominently in the UK in recent years, and calls for an EU of ‘Eurorealism’ set out in the Prague Declaration which it claims would mean that reform of the EU would allow the union to listen to people in member states while improving trade relations.

 

 

European United Left – Nordic Green Left

GUE/NGL

GUE/NGL

The European United Left (GUE/NGL) is one of the smaller groupings within the European Parliament. The group was established in 1995 and includes members which campaign mostly on a socialist or communist platform.

The group has a total membership of 35 MEPs from 13 member states. The party with the largest number of MEPs in the grouping is The Left (Die Linke) who are the successor party to the former Communist Party of East Germany with 8 MEPs represented within the group. The Czech Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has four representatives while the French united Left Front has five members through pooling support from four political parties.

The group says it disagrees with the current European model but is committed to greater integration. The group says it wishes to preserve the existence of national identities and opinions of its members while promoting a united platform of a “socially equitable, peaceful and sustainable European integration process based on solidarity.” It criticises the role the EU has currently played with its focus and support for market-oriented policies favouring competition which it claims increases inequality. The group calls for greater cooperation and agreement across Europe to deal with these issues.

 

 

European Parliament

European Parliament

Europe of Freedom and Democracy

The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group is Eurosceptic organisation of rightist parties from across the European Union. The group is largely made up from the remnants of the now defunct Independence/Democracy and Union for a Europe of Nations groups. The group was largely made after its two predecessors suffered from poor results in the European Parliament elections – with the notable exception of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP form the largest part of the grouping with a total of 10 MEPs. However, the group also attracts 9 MEPs from the Italian Northern League. The group has a total of 34 MEPs from twelve member states.

The grouping is often described as ‘far-right’ and is the most hostile to the European project with parties such as UKIP encouraging a complete withdrawal from the European Union, a message which has gained support in some areas of Europe. According to the group they represent freedom and respect for Europe’s citizens and greater cooperation as sovereign states. The group also emphasises that there needs to be greater respect for Europe’s history and different cultural differences with an emphasis on the inviolability of borders. The group also says it rejects xenophobia, anti-Semitism and any other form of discrimination.

 

Non-Inscrits

The final, and smallest group, in the European Parliament are the Non-Inscrits (NI) who represent a number of Members of the European Parliament who do not sit in the groups represented in the European Parliament. NI’s come from a number of political backgrounds including socialism and conservatism, but many come from far-right parties.

NI’s who currently sit in the European Parliament include members from prominent far-right parties including Jobbik party in Hungary, the Front National from France, representatives of the FPÖ from Austria as well as the British National Party.

The NI’s briefly formed a group named ‘Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty’ but this soon fell apart due to differences between the representatives.

 

By Greg Bianchi