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UACES Chair’s Message — May 2022

Wed, 11/05/2022 - 12:03

UACES Chair, Prof Simon Usherwood

Dear Colleagues

In the few months since my last message to you, Europe has changed, perhaps fundamentally.

The unprovoked and unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has been simultaneously a humanitarian disaster and an attack on the values of liberal democracy and free association in Europe. As an association, we condemn the invasion and express our solidarity with all those fighting to preserve and protect Ukraine from aggression.

As part of that work, UACES has been actively working to find ways to support all our members’ efforts, including encouragement and financing for CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics). You will find an option to add a donation to their work when you register for our annual conference: UACES will match-fund your contributions up to £1500, so now is the time to make the most of our early-bird rates (ending 31 May).

However, money alone will not mend the damage done. As the recent elections in France and Slovenia have shown, the need to make the case for liberal democracy is one that should concern us all, both as citizens and as academics. I find it heartening to see so many of you providing fair, evidenced contributions to national and European debates about how we make democracy work as well as it can and I would encourage all of you to see our work as something that can bring about a better understanding of why democracy must persist, despite of all its frustrations.

Again, UACES is trying to help with this through its various activities.

As already mentioned, our Annual Conference in Lille this September is now open for registrations, with a great line-up of plenary speakers, panels and networking opportunities. The team at ESPOL have put together a fitting welcome for all of us coming together after the disruptions of Covid and I look forward to seeing many of you in this fine city. For those of you unable to join us in person, we have an additional day of virtual sessions, which also allow us to make this an even bigger part of our calendar and demonstrate the richness of work in European Studies.

For our student and early-career members, the Graduate Forum Research Conference in Maastricht in June will be another moment to make connections and reflect on European integration on the thirtieth anniversary of the eponymous treaty. The Graduate Forum’s work in helping those entering European Studies to build networks and gain experience has always been one of our association’s key concerns and the return to in-person activities is a very positive step.

Aside from events, we’re also very pleased to share the redevelopment of the Ideas on Europe blogging site. This has been one of the leading forums for those wanting to produce timely and informed content on all aspects of European Studies, and its new organisation makes it easier than ever to both find and create materials. For those of you looking to get your work out to a bigger audience, I can personally testify to the site’s value in generating interest and opening new conversations.

We also continue to strengthen and develop our links with sister organisations. Within the UK, we have been involved in ongoing discussions with other social science bodies about how we can make meaningful improvements in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, drawing on our exemplary work under Prof Roberta Guerrina. The joint seminar series with IACES on the UK, Ireland and the EU has been a very positive development over the past year and we continue to organise more of these. I also hope that our Lille event will be a moment to strengthen our ties with our French counterparts, AFEE-CEDECE, and I am always very happy to speak with colleagues outside the UK about where UACES might be able to help develop new collaborations.

To all those who have these activities possible – especially Emily, Melina and Emma in the UACES office – I give my thanks. Just as democracy stands on the participation of its citizens, so too does the association stand on the involvement of its members and we have been particularly fortunate to have so many of you be part of our work. The recent committee elections reflected this with a healthy slate of candidates from across the membership and I am looking forward to new members starting this autumn. UACES continues to work because of all your efforts and I applaud you all.


Simon Usherwood, UACES Chair


The post UACES Chair’s Message — May 2022 appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Grappling with online interviews: the costs of confidentiality

Wed, 11/05/2022 - 10:34
A UACES Microgrant report by Marianna Lovato, PhD candidate, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin.


The Covid-19 pandemic has made online interviewing an everyday reality for qualitative research and turned us all into tech wizards (or, at least, self-proclaimed ones).

My research project, which investigates member states’ bargaining strategies and negotiation success in EU foreign policy, heavily relies on qualitative interviews, by virtue of the more secretive and confidential nature of CFSP/CSDP decision-making.

Much like that of many other researchers like me, my PhD project was affected by Covid-related travel restrictions: when I was only a few days into a fieldwork trip to Brussels, the dominos of national lockdowns across Europe back in March 2020 forced me to cut my stay short and start relying solely on online interviews. Zoom quickly emerged as the prevalent videoconferencing platform, but it soon became clear that the platform was falling short when it comes to users’ privacy and compliance with the GDPR (O’Flaherty 2020).

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Zoom was decidedly not the platform of choice for the diplomats and national functionaries that I was hoping to interview. Rather, they opted for a mix of Microsoft Teams, Webex or the platforms made available by their own Ministries, which complied with their national security standards. However, the 50-minute time limit on Webex meetings that comes with the free subscription soon turned out to be a rather problematic feature. I had interviewees cut off mid-sentence and had to send them a second link, with all the problems that this entails, such as having participants lose their train of thought and potentially missing out on critical interview data. Rather quickly, therefore, I resigned to the fact that I would need premium subscriptions to several different videoconferencing platforms at once. This seemingly trivial logistical concern actually calls for a more in-depth discussion around confidentiality and data protection in the context of online interviews, which, for all the burgeoning literature on remote interviewing (see e.g. the dedicated chapter in the 2019 volume by King, Horrocks and Brooks or the 2018 manual by Lee Ann Fujii), does not seem to have been explored in detail. For instance, it would be helpful to have an informed scholarly discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of alternative video conferencing platforms.

Additionally, we should recognize that confidentiality has a price. If we are to take our research participants’ concerns seriously, we should start a conversation about the costs of protecting our participants when carrying out online interviews and about the steps universities are taking to help PhD candidates and early career scholars shoulder the additional costs tied to secure online interviewing. While the latter certainly entails lower expenses than fieldwork research, my own experience shows that extra funding might be necessary to face the costs of multiple subscriptions.

In this sense, UACES certainly set the trend in providing additional funds to cover the costs of online research. As every PhD candidate knows, extra research-related expenses are always a cause for concern. UACES Microgrants scheme was truly the perfect funding opportunity to cover this type of unforeseen and non-negligible cost.

The post Grappling with online interviews: the costs of confidentiality appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

A Defeat

Fri, 06/05/2022 - 13:19
For our weekly “Ideas on Europe” editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we have the pleasure to welcome again Dr Nick Startin, from the University of Bath, in the UK. Bonjour, Nick!




euradio · A defeat – Ideas on Europe Nick, you’ve been following French elections for decades now, and you’re an expert of the Radical Right. Were you surprised last Sunday? Did you at any stage think that Marine Le Pen might actually win?

No not really, there was never really a moment where I felt that she would win.

Previous presidential elections have shown that you need to win a minimum of around 18 million votes in the second round. Marine Le Pen ended up with just over 13 million. Although this was an improvement on the ten and a half million votes of 2017, even with a lowish turn-out of 72%, it was still significantly short of the votes required to win a second-round majority.

In an article I wrote for The Conversation after the previous presidential election five years ago, I stated that ‘it’s not a given that the Front National can continue to grow in electoral terms if the demand-side conditions do not remain as favourable.’ I went on to say that ‘the party has worked tirelessly to detoxify its image over the past decade, but doubts remain as to whether an historically anti-system, radical-right party is capable of positioning itself as a party of government.’ Despite polling more than 42% of votes cast in last Sunday’s election, I think this conclusion still holds up.


So you haven’t changed in your assessment. What makes you so sure?

It’s the doubts that remain about the Rassemblement National’s ability to convince as a party of governance.

When you bear in mind the cost-of-living crisis and the immigration/humanitarian crisis, as epitomised by the situation in Northern France, the demand-side conditions for a populist challenger party like the RN were as favourable in 2022 as they were in 2017.

This raises the question of whether the RN can ever break through the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ (what the French call the ‘Plafond de Verre’) and become a potential party of government. The reality is that the RN is still searching for that elusive ‘Winning Formula’, as it was famously labelled thirty odd years ago by American political scientist Herbert Kitschelt.

For this election, the RN positioned itself primarily in economic territory, focusing on protectionist and interventionist policies, opposed to globalisation and reticent of the EU. It also continued to pitch itself socially and culturally, as a nationalist party with its traditional agenda still firmly built around identity and immigration. The problem for the RN, though, is that this search for the ‘winning formula’ is rather like treading on eggshells. Every tweak and change of policy, and every new idea introduced, while appealing to one demographic of voter, risks at the same time alienating a different demographic and losing existing supporters. It is a delicate balancing act for Radical Right parties in their quest for a majority of voters. And that’s the dilemma that the RN has wrestled with under Marine Le Pen’s leadership over the last decade.


A ‘balancing act’ – can you give some examples for this concept?

Certainly. I think there were policy tweaks that, with hindsight, helped the party gain votes. Take the switch away from exiting the Eurozone and the dilution – on the surface – of its Eurosceptic opposition, which no doubt played well with older voters and some traditional, Gaullist voters. Similarly, the focus on the cost-of-living crisis with the commitment to abolish Income Tax for those under 30 (however realistic) appealed to younger voters, a demographic where Marine Le Pen polled well in both rounds.

On the other hand, when it came to the second round, two policies stand out which I think will have alienated, significant numbers of undecided voters. To win a majority, she needed to convince some voters that her lukewarm policies on the environment would at least show some respect to the planet. While her focus on nuclear power was not a vote loser per se, the commitment not only to stop all new wind farm projects, but also to dismantle existing ones, was a very tough sell both on an economic and an environmental level.

Similarly, the commitment to ban the headscarf in public places became something of a poisoned chalice as she looked to increase her voter base for the second round. These two policies, I think were a reality check for many undecided voters as they started to visualise the realities of a Le Pen Presidency. Also, withdrawal from NATO’s command structure (given the backdrop of the war in Ukraine) and the party’s association with Russia, in particular the controversial 9 million Euros loan taken out with a Russian bank, will also have raised alarm bells for undecided voters.


So what is the future for the RN and its leader?

I wouldn’t want to speculate too far ahead but I think the party faces some real challenges as it looks to position itself during the second Macron presidency. The most immediate will be seeking to maximise its representation in the National Assembly in the June legislative elections – a crucial test of the party’s capacity to break through the ‘glass ceiling’. A crucial test too for Marine Le Pen and her future leadership of the party.


Many thanks, Nick, for sharing your election analysis with us. I hear you’ll be leaving for Rome soon, it would be great to have you back on our antenna any time soon! “Ideas on Europe” will be back next week, and we will welcome Simona Guerra again, from the University of Surrey.


First published on eu!radio.




The post A Defeat appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

The Unreliability of Compassion

Thu, 05/05/2022 - 14:35
For our weekly “Ideas on Europe” editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we have the pleasure to welcome again Dr Mechthild Roos, from the University of Augsburg, in Germany. Bonjour, Mechthild!


euradio · The unreliability of compassion – Ideas on Europe



You have worked on refugees and asylum policies previously – how do you evaluate the current context of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has forced about five million people to leave their home country already?

What we mostly hear is that many European countries have taken in Ukrainian refugees with open arms. In very little time and despite limited preparedness, public administration and manifold private actors have organised accommodation, food and care for unprecedented numbers of refugees, which is amazing.

The open arms extended to them throw, however, a shadow on groups of persons that are standing, or being pushed, in the background …


Who do you mean by that?

Several groups actually. There are those who are coming to the same European countries from different countries of origin, seeking protection because they are similarly threatened by forces beyond their control and choice, although these forces may not have the well-known face of Vladimir Putin. And then there are those who fled to Europe at some point in the recent past, say, over the course of the last decade. Who were granted some – often temporarily limited – form of residence, in systems that seemed quite a lot less welcoming than they appear to be now …


Well, there was no war on the European continent. People feel very concerned by what is happening now.

You are right, there was no war in the neighbourhood. But rules determining access to protection are not, and should not be, written for a specific context. Our solidarity should not be limited to those whom we feel close to, geographically or culturally or by whatever measure. Article 20 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – which is legally binding in all EU member states – stipulates that “Everyone is equal before the law”. Not every European, but everyone.

When it comes to granting asylum, concepts like “open arms”, spontaneous solidarity and compassion are a risky basis. Asylum should, in my opinion, not be guided by compassion, but by a firm, fair, reliable set of rules. Compassion and solidarity are great, but not reliable. Open arms can be closed again, without warning, without justification, and, most importantly, without any reliable way for those in need of protection to open them again. This is the second major problem I see in current European responses to Ukrainian refugees: not just the fact that these responses relegate non-Ukrainians. But the fact that what even Ukrainian refugees experience is not so much legally enshrined protection, but grace.

It also seems problematic to me when citizens are called to help out in good faith a system that is not sufficiently able to cope with numbers of forced migrants. They may volunteer in a first phase of compassion and outrage – but what about the rights of those coming in search of protection after this first phase has passed, when volunteering fatigue sets in, or worse yet: when anti-immigrant sentiments begin to spread? Those coming then have precisely the same claims and needs as those who arrived some months or even just weeks earlier, but get treated entirely differently. You see, the compassion approach cannot provide fairness, equity, or any guarantee of fulfilling legal claims.


But over the last weeks, the European response was also a state-led response. There were very swift changes in the rules governing the rights of Ukrainian refugees across the EU.

Sure – Poland, for instance, granted them the same access to its healthcare system as Polish national citizens. France and Germany introduced a special legal status for Ukrainian refugees, giving them temporary protection without the usual lengthy process of an asylum application.

And then, there’s the EU Temporary Protection Directive, which provides for a range of rights and tools granting a certain group of persons – now: Ukrainian refugees – swift access to national labour markets, welfare and education systems. But that’s precisely where the problem lies: as much as these extraordinary rules have been granted to Ukrainian refugees now, as much have they been denied to others. Which means that they could be denied to Ukrainians also, as soon as public and political discourses shift. Which they will, most probably, as they always have during comparable phases in the past. Which means, again, that these rules – in their extraordinary character – are not reliable, not sustainable, and not generally and equally enforceable. This makes protection available not based on rights and claims, but on goodwill – which runs contrary to the rule of law principle which is also enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.


So, in your opinion, what needs to be done?

We need first and foremost a rights-based approach, both at the EU and individual national level, one that cannot be shaken by discursive shifts and politicisation processes. But also one that takes into consideration that, sadly, we live in times in which we have to expect large-scale migratory movements of persons seeking protection as normal occurrence rather than exception. These persons should not meet overwhelmed incorporation systems relying on volunteers, but prepared ones, which are capable of legally granting each and every one the help and opportunity for integration which they require.


Many thanks, Mechthild, for sharing your doubts and reflections with us. “Ideas on Europe” will be back next week, and we will welcome Nick Startin again, from the University of Bath, in the UK.


First published on eu!radio.


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Categories: European Union

Summary: Discussing the emergence of the EU in the field of vaccination using a reputational approach, with Dr Thibaud Deruelle

Mon, 02/05/2022 - 16:16

On Wednesday 27 April 2022 EUHealthGov hosted the fourth event in its quarterly seminar series. We were delighted to be joined by Dr Thibaud Deruelle (University of Lausanne) to discuss the EU’s role in vaccine policy, and how a reputational approach can help to explain the growing relevance and involvement of the EU in this field. 

Dr Deruelle introduced the theoretical approach taken in his work. A reputation is a set of beliefs that observers hold, or judgments that observers make, about an individual or an organisation. A strong reputation can enable an actor to have influence in the absence of coercive power; for instance, it can enable the EU, in the absence of a formal mandate, to have influence in the field of vaccine policy. 

The EU has engaged in reputation-building activities – developing scientific networks, building functions within the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), supporting the adoption of Council conclusions – to strengthen its reputation, particularly in the aftermath of the H1N1 outbreak. Dr Deruelle explained how these activities put the EU in a strong position in January 2020, when COVID-19 emerged. He outlined the role played by the Commission and the ECDC, in particular, in the early weeks and months of the crisis, as well as the institutionalisation of some of these roles in the subsequent European Health Union initiatives. Addressing the particular issue of vaccine procurement, Dr Deruelle noted the potential for reputational risk, and the possibility of ‘backlash’ from member states which might have undermined further strengthening of the EU’s influence. 

The Q&A explored the wider value of a reputational approach for understanding the EU’s evolving role in health policy, touching on its value in explaining the gradual integration of public health, alongside theories of neofunctionalism and networked governance. Dr Deruelle ended by discussing the potential for the EU’s strengthened reputation in vaccine policy to support the formal expansion of competence, via treaty change. 

A recording of the event will shortly be available via the EUHealthGov website.

The post Summary: Discussing the emergence of the EU in the field of vaccination using a reputational approach, with Dr Thibaud Deruelle appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Artificial Intelligence and Europe: New tech & old vibes

Mon, 02/05/2022 - 09:07

Alina Constantin / Better Images of AI / Handmade A.I / CC-BY 4.0

Inga Ulnicane

‘… Europe is a unique aspiration. […] It is an aspiration of a world full of new technologies and age-old values’, Ursula von der Leyen, then incoming President of the European Commission, wrote in her political guidelines in 2019. Since then questions of new technologies and European values have been at the forefront of political discussions in Brussels and member states regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI), including preparations for the forthcoming AI Act and recently adopted Digital Services Act. These discussions have not only addressed technocratic questions of economic indicators and legal instruments but also involved soul-searching and reflections on European identity: What is Europe? What does Europe stand for? And how does Europe want to project its identity and power to the rest of the world?

Policy frames and discourses surrounding AI are at the core of an ongoing research programme which I have been leading over the past few years and which had led to a number of publications on AI governance, politics and policy (Ulnicane et al 2021a, 2021b, 2022; Ulnicane 2022a, 2022b).


Europe’s power: Single Market based on values?

In my recent publication on AI in the European Union (Ulnicane 2022a), I examine an emerging EU policy on AI, drawing on Europe as a power debate in the European Studies literature. I analyse recent EU documents on AI, asking how the EU is projecting its power in the field of AI vis-à-vis other countries and regions, especially the United States and China. Is it a Normative Power Europe relying on attractiveness of its values, as defined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, namely, human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities? Or do we rather see elements of a Market Power Europe exerting its global influence by regulating access to its Single Market?

Close reading of AI policy documents launched by the EU institutions since 2017 reveals elements of both – Normative as well as Market Power. In line with an idea of Normative Power Europe, a lot of emphasis is put on developing human-centric AI that serves human needs and aligns with European values and fundamental rights. A major step in this direction has been an adoption of Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI in 2019. At the same time, EU policy intentions also include elements of Market Power Europe calling for binding regulation, which are followed up by ongoing preparations for the forthcoming AI Act. Moreover, elements of Normative Power and Market Power in AI policy are interconnected, where binding regulation is presented as a way to enforce European values.

However, the EU’s activities in this field have also received criticism. For example, Ethics guidelines for Trustworthy AI have been portrayed as a potential ethics washing where talk about ethics serves as a way to delay binding regulation (Ulnicane et al 2021b). Moreover, critics have pointed out strong presence of business interests in the EU AI initiatives and questioned if EU funding for new technologies always lives up to its own values. Furthermore, some of the key EU policy documents on AI omit addressing issues of defence AI, which the EU itself is funding. While the implementation of EU political intentions to support human-centric AI remains an important issue to be followed-up in the years to come, recent cases of the General Data Protection Regulation and Digital Services Act can serve as examples how the EU’s focus on protection of its values is advanced through binding legislation.


Europe & global AI race: racing for what?

Emerging EU policy for AI draws not only on well-know values but also on some well-known political discourses such as transformation, revolution, and global competition (Ulnicane et al 2022). In particular, the discourse of global competitiveness is well-known in European integration. Already since the 1950s and 1960s concerns about the technological gap and Europe lagging behind the US have been a powerful driving force for the emergence and expansion of EU research policy. While this discourse of global competitiveness has received important criticisms over the years about depicting technological development globally as a zero-sum game where one country/ region wins and others lose, its persistence is remarkable. A new version of it can be seen in AI policy. EU policy documents for AI mention how AI development takes place ‘amid fierce global competition’ and how the investments in AI in the EU are lagging behind the US and China.

While admitting a strong global competition in AI among the US, China and Europe, the EU tries to position itself as a Normative Power, emphasising its values-based, human-centric and ethical approach to AI. In addition to global competitiveness and ‘new space race’ discourse in AI (Ulnicane 2022), there is also interest in global cooperation initiatives. The EU policy demonstrates a strong interest in global cooperation initiatives, in particular when they can help to promote the EU’s trustworthy and human-centric approach to AI. The EU has contributed to a number of international initiatives, such as the development of the OECD ethical principles for trustworthy AI, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, and EU-US Trade and Technology Council.

The main ideas from this research have been discussed in a number of invited talks. You can watch a recording of my recent talk ‘Can Artificial Intelligence be governed? Multiple challenges and some opportunities’ on YouTube.

Click here to view the embedded video.


EU policy for AI remains a moving target. Ongoing policy and technological developments are co-shaping each other with new initiatives and capabilities to be expected in the short and long term. More research is under preparation to examine these ongoing developments. Some of it will be discussed at the panel ‘Power, Politics, and Policy of Artificial Intelligence’ at the ECPR conference this summer. We look forward to discussing new insights on this topic then and on other occasions.


Dr. Inga Ulnicane is Senior Research Fellow at De Montfort University, UK. Her research focusses on science, technology, and innovation governance, politics and policy. She has published on topics such as AI governance and policy, dual use, European integration in research and innovation, Grand societal challenges, and international research collaboration.



Ulnicane, I., W. Knight, T. Leach, B. C. Stahl and W.G. Wanjiku (2021a) Framing governance for a contested emerging technology: insights from AI policy, Policy and Society 40(2): 158-177

Ulnicane, I., D. O. Eke, W. Knight, G. Ogoh and B. C. Stahl (2021b) Good governance as a response to discontents? Déjà vu, or lessons for AI from other emerging technologies. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 46 (1-2): 71-93

Ulnicane, I. (2022a) ‘Artificial Intelligence in the European Union: policy, ethics and regulation’, in T. Hoerber, I. Cabras and G. Weber (Eds) Routledge Handbook of European Integrations, Routledge, pp.254-269.

Ulnicane, I. (2022b) Against the new space race: global AI competition and cooperation for people. AI & Society

Ulnicane, I., W.Knight, T.Leach, B.C.Stahl and W.G. Wanjiku (2022) ‘Governance of Artificial Intelligence: Emerging international trends and policy frames’, in M.Tinnirello (Ed.) The Global Politics of Artificial Intelligence. CRC Press, pp.29-55.

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Categories: European Union

WA/TCA meeting tracker: April 2022

Thu, 28/04/2022 - 08:50

A short post this week, to update the trackers for meetings of the assorted committees of the EU-UK’s Withdrawal Agreement and Trade & Cooperation Agreement.

As you can see, things have been quiet so far this year. WA activity has been winding down (although that might change should the UK follow through on its reported plans for disapplying parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol).

Likewise, the TCA seems to be heading for annual meetings of most bodies, with a few exceptions. The Parliamentary Partnership Assembly has still to meet at all, suggesting that its scope for building more links between the parties is going to be – at best – a long-term prospect.

As always, you can click through the PDF links below to get a version with clickable links to minutes, agendas and reports.




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Categories: European Union

Ukrainian accession to the EU: run now, walk later?

Thu, 21/04/2022 - 08:39

The question of whether and how Ukraine joins the EU ranks relatively low on the list of priority topics right now, for reasons that are both too obvious and too horrific to discuss right now.

However, it is still a question that demands attention. The rapid return of the Commission’s preliminary questionnaire by the Ukrainian government – 11 days after receiving it – sets the stage for a rapid publication of the Commission’s opinion, to then allow the June European Council to declare the country an official candidate.

For comparison, Bosnia & Herzegovina took over three years to get that status. Even Finland – the all-time record-holder for speediest accession – took eight months. Ukraine is on track for half that time.

So it’s all good. Right?

Not really.

As I set out in the thread below, speed now has come by avoiding some difficult questions (data here):

Some more comparative data on speed of EU accession

tl;dr speed now for UKR probably means delays later



— Simon Usherwood (@Usherwood) April 20, 2022

Crucially, the EU has side-stepped the Copenhagen criteria, which is has used for the past 30 years to gatekeep accession. Whether you accept the official line that the criteria are for everyone’s benefit, or see them just as another barrier that member states use to brush off awkward applicants, they still speak to the crucial question of what the EU stands for.

Remove the current war from the equation and the Commission would likely have spent an age on screening and scrutinising Ukraine over the robustness of its political system, the effectiveness of its anti-corruption work and the capacity of its economy to cope with being dropped into a huge and much-richer single market. The war adds another huge challenge on top of all that (not least because of the Art.42 TEU obligations to mutual defence).

However, the war has undoubtedly also thrown all that over.

The geopolitical – maybe even civilisational – imperative to support and protect Ukraine has already engendered huge shifts in the EU, both politically and in policy terms. The hard push to get to candidate status is reflection of that, and rightly so.

But the EU is also well-aware of the limits to its powers. In particular, securing internal reforms is much more effective when you can dangle membership as a reward, as compared to the limited tools available for sanctioning those inside. Take your pick of contemporary examples.

So does the EU continue to push that to one side and work out the problems once Ukraine is inside? Or does it press for changes beforehand?

In either case, Ukraine might well lack the capacity to make the requested reforms, especially in the context of the on-going conflict. Plus any concessions on reforms you make for Ukraine will be taken up by other states as a demonstration that the EU doesn’t really need to be quite so difficult and intrusive.

As I conclude in my thread, none of this should stop the EU and Ukraine working together hard to get to the latter’s accession: morally, strategically and politically it is the right thing to do. But that will also require frank and deeply engaged discussions about how to square the circle that both sides face. Ukraine needs membership, but membership of an organisation that is still worth joining: the EU needs to protect its interests, but not if the price is the collapse of a democratic state.


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Categories: European Union

The Future of Peace on Our Continent

Tue, 19/04/2022 - 09:45
For our weekly “Ideas on Europe” editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we have the pleasure to welcome Dr Dorina Baltag, from Loughborough University, in London. Bonjour, Dorina!





euradio · The Future of Peace on Our Continent – Ideas on Europe



The Russian war in Ukraine questions some of the basic principles on which peace on the European continent has been constructed since the end of the Second World War. Dorina, you are a researcher at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughborough University London, which recently organised an event on this topic. What came out of it?

It sounds counter-intuitive to talk about peace when there is a war happening on the European continent, but Russian military aggression, invasion and war in Ukraine is a turning point for politics, economics, society, and, of course, the world order. The legacy of this war will be long-lasting.

What we are witnessing now is a European Union that has responded with exceptional unity, resolve and speed. At the same time this war reveals the sensibilities of the different countries and highlights the need to account for global interdependencies. So, any consideration of a sustainable future of peace must consider the way in which the interconnectedness between geopolitics and geoeconomics will be addressed.


Let’s start with the geopolitical dimension.

In geopolitical terms, we can say that the European Union had an ‘awakening’.

For the first time EU leaders did not hesitate but acted immediately by sending military equipment to a third country. A few days only after Russia’s invasion, the EU agreed on spending €450 million in arms for Ukraine and an additional €50 million in non-lethal aid. We even witnessed a stimulation of the EU military drive and a U-turn in German’s foreign and security policy. Putin managed to produce what was unimaginable in the post-Cold war era: Germany stepped up its own defence capabilities by setting up a special fund for the modernisation of its armed forces.


It is clear that the war in Ukraine has radically changed the EU’s position on Russia.

And it has pushed member states to commit to support the future membership of Ukraine. On the fourth day of the war already, we watched the Ukrainian president Zelensky applying for EU membership!

At first, it looked like there was a positive response – the resolution from the European Parliament and the statement from the European Council were confirming that ‘Ukraine is one of us’. But, there is also an intra-EU divide: Central and Eastern European countries who are pushing for fast-tracking Ukraine’s candidate status versus Germany, the Netherlands or France who are more reluctant, emphasizing the long process of deep internal transformations and scaling full integration back to the “Association Agreement” which does not automatically offer membership perspective.

That’s the situation. The question is: how will it be possible to ensure peace in the future?

It is up to the EU to decide where it wants to stand in the new world order. An awakened EU as a regional security actor is long overdue and, in this role, the EU needs to balance-out geopolitics with geoeconomics. This means it can no longer embrace a politics of double standards. To ensure peace, the EU’s ambiguous approach in external relations – where the democracy promotion agenda is often overtaken by member-states’ national economic interests – needs to stop.

In the long-term, peace on the European continent depends on the EU’s political will of providing security guarantees to its neighbours. And in the EU’s normative vein, this means nothing else than membership perspective. Probably, the best way forward in giving Ukraine a message regarding its own perspective is to no longer slow down the association process in Western Balkans!


Many thanks, Dorina, for sharing the insight from your event with us. “Ideas on Europe” will be back next week, and we will welcome Mechthild Roos again, from the University of Augsburg, in Germany.


First published on eu!radio.


The post The Future of Peace on Our Continent appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

A problem for 2024? Consent in the Northern Ireland Protocol

Thu, 14/04/2022 - 08:39

Given the amount of political anguish caused already by the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) since its conception during the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) talks, it might seem odd to write today about one provision that can’t be used until late 2024 at the earliest.

However, the Art.18 provisions on consent represent a key safeguard for the Protocol’s long-term survival, whatever comes of the endless debate about what should happen.

As a reminder, the NIP can only be amended or revoked by the joint agreement of the signatories – the EU and the UK – something that appears deeply unlikely, either now or for the foreseeable future. Likewise, the Art.16 provision on safeguards only allows for a temporary and limited suspension of some parts of the NIP while the signatories find a solution: as discussed elsewhere, it’s not a unilateral (or long-term) solution.

So the only mechanism available to just one party to make a lasting change to the Protocol is Art.18.

As the graphic below sets out, the Northern Ireland Assembly gets to vote in late 2024 on whether to continue the main substantive elements of the NIP (excluding citizens’ rights) for another four years (eight if majorities of both unionist and nationalist designated MLAs can be found).

This not only accords with the intention of the Good Friday Agreement to make the Northern Irish the deciders of their situation, but also provides a way for both the EU and London [sic] to distance themselves from any repudiation of the Protocol

The coming Assembly elections will be a test of this, both in the campaigning approach of unionists (who seem very determined to push for the NIP’s collapse) and in the likely shifts in MLA numbers.

This latter point is not only about the likely rise in the number of Sinn Fein MLAs (which will help with the basic overall majority requirement), but also the potential growth of ‘other’ designated MLAs. Under Art.18(6), these do not count in the ‘cross community support’ calculations, possibly making it yet harder to achieve the necessary threshold for an eight year continuation.

However, to return to the present, consent isn’t the main topic of debate around the Protocol right now. The EU’s easement on medicine supply this week points to the on-going efforts to demonstrate how the NIP can be made to work better through engagement, but this will not be the rhetoric of the DUP and other unionists in coming weeks.

At the same time, if the current Art.16 ‘shall we, shan’t we’ argument is outridden, then Art.18 will come much more sharply into view and the way voters split this May might turn out to be crucial in deciding the outcome.


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Categories: European Union

The contested but upheld legitimacy of the Court of Justice of the European Union

Mon, 21/02/2022 - 16:58

The Court of Justice of the European Union is one of the most contested transnational institutions in Europe. It nonetheless cemented its authority over nearly 7 decades of integration and remains a cornerstone of the EU.

Despite severe contestation, the Court of Justice of the European Union has managed to retain its legitimacy

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) wielded extensive power for most of the second half of the 20th century. When the community was paralyzed by a political gridlock with states having difficulties achieving a necessary consensus on policies, the CJEU became the motor of integration by declaring the direct effect and supremacy of the treaties over national law. It cemented the path towards the interior market by forging the mutual recognition of standards, and even found member states in breach of their obligations when not applying EU law correctly. These bold decisions never met strong opposition, with only a few isolated criticisms that were mostly ignored by the rest of actors of EU governance, including governments.

While the turning point remains difficult to identify, the CJEU does not anymore benefit from this “benign neglect” that allowed judges to exercise their craft without opposition. The end of the permissive consensus put all EU institutions in the spotlight, including the Court. Judges are now involved in the general contestation of the EU’s authority. This trend came at its outburst with the recent rule of law debate that pits EU institutions against the governing bodies of Poland. The CJEU is a power-wielding institution under scrutiny and facing more contestation than ever. The question of its legitimacy today is more relevant than ever.

But how to make sense of/capture the legitimacy of the Court? Such a theoretical framework must account for two broad trends. Since the CJEU is a constituting ruling organ of the EU, it must adhere to a set of standards that are applied across the entire polity, including by other institutions. However, the use of common legitimacy standards must be crafted to the specificities of the judicial branch of the EU. The Court does not draft laws; it theoretically interprets them. Its members are not directly controlled by the people through elections; these are appointed.

The use of canonical legitimacy theories of the EU such as Scharpf’s or Schmidt’s – namely the division of legitimacy between ‘input’, ‘throughput’ and ‘output’ – is relevant, but must be tailor-made to judges. Input refers to shared values between powerholders and subordinates, leading the latter to accept with ease the decisions of the former. The CJEU would be deprived of input since it is a transnational body that is not submitted to popular will (unlike rulers directly elected by citizens). The statement should however be nuanced. The Court does possess indirect input legitimacy since governments (endowed with direct democratic legitimacy) appoint judges to the bench, and retain the prerogative to remove them from office at the end of their term. The treaties signed by these governments expressly delegated to the CJEU the power to interpret the treaties and secondary law. And judges themselves embody a core principle shared across member states judiciaries: they are appointed according to a meritocratic logic, i.e. governments must provide the best candidates whose suitability is thoroughly assessed by an expert committee.

Throughput refers to the respect of good processes of governance. This is the most important factor in adjudication. Due process and well-argued judgements may compensate for shortcomings at the input or output levels. If judges are dialoguing with the parties, are transparent about their reasoning – a common criticism made against CJEU rulings – and are responsive to challenges raised in doctrine or by national courts about previous rulings, the Court will mitigate contention and even have adverse rulings accepted by governments (such as Kadi).

Output refers to sound results of a governing institution. The Court must adjudicate cases within a reasonable amount of time, settling disputes of the parties in a case while providing guidance to the broader legal profession, and elicit compliance with EU law. The Court’s output legitimacy remains significant, especially considering that national courts – premier interlocutors of the CJEU – comply almost always with preliminary rulings.

This analysis seems at odds with current debates surrounding judicialization in the EU. “Ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ” was a red line in the Brexit negotiations for the UK, and various national constitutional courts declared various rulings of the Court ultra vires (out of the Court’s reach and therefore inapplicable in the territory of the member state concerned) during the last decade. The authority of the Court is highly contested and probably more questioned than ever.

That does not mean however that the Court has lost its legitimacy. The ultra vires rulings are the most visible reactions in a European judicial sphere whose activities remain obscure to most citizens. But these decisions remain statistically marginal in a population of thousands of uncontested cases issued by the CJEU every year. The Weiss ruling issued by the German constitutional court was the only ultra vires decision declared against the original decision of the CJEU of 2018, meaning that the other 848 decisions handed down by the Court during the same year (CJEU’s annual report) did not trigger this reaction.

Moreover, the concept of legitimacy crisis must not be confused with political crisis. The former refers to the absolute rejection of the Court’s authority in the EU, while the latter refers to temporary tensions and problems caused by the weakening of previous institutional arrangements. Some rulings of the Court were not applied in some member states or saw their application delayed by a few weeks. But none raised the idea that the Court should be stripped of some of its powers or be replaced by another (quasi) judicial body such as an arbitration panel, despite the recurring accusation of judicial activism and even of a “gouvernement des juges”.

In 2015, the Court convinced the Member states to double the number of judges at the General Court (from 28 to 56) and obtained a budget increase of at least 13,5 million euros at a time when every other public authority was asked to adopt a strict austere approach to spending. This commitment showed that the Court could generate the trust of national governments even when the EU is under stress. The current Polish crisis even displays that the CJEU is not suffering a legitimacy crisis: lower judges disapply orders from the (politically captured) judicial hierarchy to disapply EU law and stop sending preliminary references to the CJEU. Despite strong coercive measures employed by national authorities (such as suspensions and pay cuts), some judges keep faith in the Court and the EU’s judicial system.

Overall, the CJEU’s legitimacy has not faded away. The Court is a systemic actor in the EU and its role remained steady despite the numerous constitutional changes adopted since Maastricht. Contestation is sharper than ever, however. The Court is taken in the midst of all the socio-economic distress suffered by the entire EU since the late 2000s. Rulings involving core state powers are at times contested and compliance may be delayed, but the ship is still sailing, although in uncharted and increasingly troubled waters.

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Categories: European Union

France 2022: The credibility gap

Mon, 21/02/2022 - 12:32

There is no doubt that French politics have been ever strongly tilting to the right for months now. It’s not even exaggerated to claim that the political discourse is dominated, if not polluted, by far-right vocabulary and semantics. Want to study first-hand the mechanisms of the Overton window? This is the place.

Paradoxically, at the same time, all three right-wing pretenders that are currently jockeying for position in the race to win the second spot for the second round of the presidential election are battling with serious credibility issues.

The primary curse

In November 2016, the great comeback of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-12) was ended before it had even started. With no more than 20% of the votes he was eliminated in the first round of the primaries organised by the party he had himself rebranded as Les Républicains.

Nicolas Sarkozy at the Sens Commun rally in 2014.

His credibility had already been severely tarnished two years before, when he set out to reconquer the party’s presidency in order to have the necessary resources at hand for a successful presidential bid in 2017. Shortly before the party’s conference in November 2014, he was filmed addressing a rally of the reactionary movement of the traditional catholic movement Sens Commun. He promised them to reformulate, once elected again in 2017, some aspects of same-sex marriage law (officially named “marriage for all”) of 2013. But when the audience started to chant “Repeal! Repeal!”, he caved in immediately: “If you prefer (…), if that makes you happy, frankly, it doesn’t cost me much!”

Just an anecdote. But one that illustrates two of the major weaknesses of the Républicains, who claim to be the heirs of true Gaullist faith and want to position themselves as the grand old party of the moderate right.

On the one hand it highlights that the system of party primaries has revealed itself to be an unintentionally radicalising force, both for the party chair in in 2014 and for the presidential nomination in 2016 and 2021. Each time, the intended moderate, conservative no-nonsense discourse has massively hardened under the pressure of a radical, vocal and highly mobilised minority among party members, pushing candidates to adopt extreme right-wing issues and vocabulary.

On the other hand, the anecdote points to the Gaullist’s fundamental dilemma: even in an increasingly polarised France, the presidential race is still won in the centre. Right there, where local and regional conservatives were perfectly able to impose themselves, as could be observed both during the municipal elections of 2020 and the regional elections of 2021. But that’s local politics. On the national level, the rightward tilt intentionally launched by Sarkozy has left the liberal-humanist centre up for grabs. It was immediately seized by Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche. With the consequence that the formerly Republican right now shamelessly adopts far-right discourses while wanting to sell themselves as moderate.

It’s a paradoxical situation: half of the French electorate will give their vote in April to a candidate explicitly labelled as right-wing. And that’s without even counting Macron’s voter base (stable at 25%), despite the obvious overlaps with moderate Républicains in terms of policy preferences and human resources.

Even more disturbing is that more than a third of the vote will in all likelihood go to candidates who unambiguously belong to the far right. That’s three times more than what the infamous Alternative für Deutschland obtained at the German parliamentary elections last autumn.

And despite this discursive hegemony, the right will have serious difficulties in its conquest of the Elysée palace. All three candidates who may reasonably hope to enter the second round are caught in the credibility trap.

Valérie Pécresse between a rock and hard place

Before she entered the primaries of Les Républicains, Valérie Pécresse had gained a strong profile since 2015 as the respected leader of the Ile-de-France, one of Europe’s most economically powerful, most densely populated regions, which hosts both France’s richest municipalities and poorest suburban ghettos. Her main accomplishment was a successful budget consolidation, for which she even received praise from the court of auditors (very rare in France, for good reasons!). Her self-description as “a mix of two thirds Angela Merkel and one third Margaret Thatcher” was deemed pretty accurate and she was comfortably re-elected in 2021.

Campaign poster of Valérie Pécresse, inspired by the traditional postal stamps with the effigy of the Republican allegory “Marianne”.

Considering her bourgeois-catholic origins and her political career following graduation as top student in two elite schools (HEC and ENA), you would expect her to be firmly rooted in the liberal wing of Gaullism, as embodied for instance by Jacques Chirac. To no surprise, Sarkozy picked her for a ministerial post in 2007.

Yet, all of a sudden, in order to have the slightest chance in the 2021 primaries, she felt obliged to change in tone and style. All of a sudden, it was all about seemingly exploding crime, presumably uncontrolled immigration, and apparently threatened national identity. Issues that were imposed on her by the nationalist and xenophobic hardliner Eric Ciotti, who had come first in the first round of the primaries.

That sounded all strangely inauthentic, and even now, in the hottest phase of the election campaign, it simply does not sound convincing. Since her nomination in December, she has been stagnating in the breathlessly published, but generally rather reliable polls, at around 15% of voting intentions. And her big rally on 13 February, in front of 7,500 supporters in the Parisian Zénith concert hall, hyped as the kick-off for the decisive campaign weeks, was an oddly embarrassing, pathetic performance.

What are you supposed to think of a speaker who very obviously does not believe herself in half of what she thinks she needs to say? How trustworthy is a conservative party that on the one hand hardens its discourse by the minute and on the other hand has been aggressively bashing a president who launched so many of the reforms that Chirac and Sarkozy always kept announcing but never had the courage to tackle in all their years in power?

Valérie Pécresse has fallen into the credibility trap. The politics she could have represented with competence and authenticity, are entirely covered by Emmanuel Macron. The politics he has been forced to embody by the party and the circumstances are very obviously not hers. In the tectonic upheaval of the national French political landscape, there’s not enough room left any more for herself and the Républicains. 

Marine Le Pen’s risky business of normalisation

At her third run for the presidency, Marine Le Pen faces a positioning conundrum of a different type. It’s been more than ten years since she took over the nationalist-populist party called the Front National from her dad. Since then she has been unwavering in her attempt to clean the party from its disreputable, unsavoury, shady aspects and turn it into an eligible alternative for all parts of French society.

The key word in this process is “de-demonizing” (French: “dédiabolisation”). In order to bestow on her party a new gentrified respectability, she purged the leadership committees of the numerous “crazy catholics” and “extreme idiots” (according to a leaked confession) and broke with all those who were unwilling to follow her path. These included her long-standing lieutenant Florian Philippot, who had been highly successful in giving the Front National a solid social appeal, and her niece Marion Maréchal, who was already considered as a future star (and competitor of her aunt) by the old hardliners.

Her disastrous, almost surrealistic performance in the television debate with Emmanuel Macron in early May 2017 certainly made many of her supporters doubt she had the necessary clout and gravitas to climb that last step in the ladder. Rather surprisingly, though, it did hardly impact her authority within the party. In 2018, she successfully imposed its re-branding to Rassemblement National (RN), a symbolic act that took the de-demonization process one step further, towards full-fledged mainstreaming.

Campaign poster of Marine Le Pen. The “M” is pronouced “aime”, as in “The France one loves”.

This consistent normalisation strategy, reflected in a still aggressive but much less verbally abusive opposition to the Macron government as well as a calm and controlled pre-campaign, seemed to work out just fine. A no-go like “Frexit” or, at the least, withdrawal from the Eurozone – both impossible to sell to the average voter and perceived by many as evidence of amateurism – was discreetly deleted from the official party programme. Until November 2021, there was no doubt that Marine Le Pen would qualify for the second round of the election like she had done in 2017, and why not with a stronger share of the vote than the incumbent President.

That was when Eric Zemmour officially announced his presidential bid. The outspokenly Islamophobic pandit/polemicist/populist suddenly offered a self-confident far-right alternative to all those who disapproved of Marine Le Pen’s rebranding. All those Vichy patriots and nostalgic colonialists, racists and homophobes, Europe-haters and authoritarians who did no longer feel at home in the mollified, assuaged Rassemblement National.

It turns out there are more of them around than previously suspected. Immediately, Marine Le Pen’s voting intentions collapsed from 25 to 17 percent. Clearly, her gentrification strategy was much less accepted among her long-standing followers than was thought. While her base seems to have consolidated since – she’s still the favourite for the second place – there is no week without a prominent party member leaving her for Zemmour. Heavyweights like Stéphane Ravier (the RN’s only Senator) or MEPs Gilbert Collard and Jérôme Rivière simply slammed the door in anger. More embarrassingly, campaign spokesman Nicolas Bay (another MEP) had to be fired for having leaked relevant internal information to the Zemmour team.

If one is to believe the latest polls, Marine Le Pen does not seem to suffer from the “rotten fruit falling from the tree”, as she poetically called the renegades. But that does not change the one big question at the heart of her rebranding as the new mainstream: how trustworthy is a candidate, who owes her political standing and popularity to anti-establishment positions and who decides, at the most important moment of her career, to adopt the behaviour codes and verbal norms of the despised “system”, the very system she vociferously (and successfully) decried all those years?

Even if she is still well placed to qualify for the second round, it remains unclear how she could possibly manage, within only two weeks, to reconquer all those disenchanted voters who left for Zemmour and simultaneously gain several million new votes in the mainstream.

Eric Zemmour and the limits of the reactionary protest potential

In the genuinely brilliant television series Baron Noir (three seasons between 2016 and 2020) the French party spectrum is all shaken up by a totally unknown populist newcomer boosted by the social networks. It’s a scenario whose plausibility was vindicated by the yellow jackets movement and feared by the governmental majority.

In real life, the meteoric maverick finally does not stem from the hardcore anticapitalistic left, but from a right wing that unmistakably deserves the adjective “extreme”. And he was not put on orbit by a diffuse protest movement on the internet, but from old-fashioned traditional media. For thirteen years Eric Zemmour wrote for Le Figaro, the formerly venerable conservative daily that has been trying hard for years now to reach the level of British tabloids. But his current name recognition is due to television exposure. More precise: to the very specifically French constellation of four competing 24/7 news channels, all available to French citizens within the basic TV offer. All four of them are under existential pressure to reach a market share beyond 1.5 or 2 percent.

In this crammed ecosystem, the only way to differentiate yourself from the competition is to engage in an uninterrupted hysterization of political life, spiced up with regular purposeful verbal transgressions that will be picked to pieces (and tweeted!) by the entire Parisian media landscape for days. On one of these four channels, CNews – an originally harmless branch of Canal+, now systematically foxified by the reactionary industrial industrialist and multi-millionaire media czar Vincent Bolloré – Eric Zemmour managed to reach, by deliberately breaking taboos, ratings of 5 percent (roughly one million viewers) in his access prime time talk show.

Campaign poster of Eric Zemmour. The slogan is a quote attributed to Napoléon Bonaparte.

In doing so, he shifted the limits of what could be said in public to a spectacular degree. Inspired by the success of the transgressive, inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump, with whom he has frequently been compared and who recently apparently even supported him in a phone call. The fact that he has repeatedly stood trial for inciting racial hatred only seemed to play in his favour with his supporters, who claim he merely says out loud what the “silent majority” (populism’s favourite fantasy) thinks.

Attempts to denounce the rhetorical mechanisms of his hatemongering – as exemplified in a strong little pamphlet by the renowned linguist Cécile Alduy – or debunk his grotesque falsifications of history – picked apart by an army of indignant French historians – also don’t have much of an impact.

What Zemmour feeds on is the deep distrust of citizens towards parties and politicians, media and experts, democratic institutions and procedures. As the yearly “Trust Barometer” of the CEVIPOF institute at Sciences Po regularly confirms, distrust and wariness are much deeper engrained in French society than in other comparable European countries (check out slides 31 and 44 here).

Eric Zemmour’s qualification for the second round of the presidential election would be a political earthquake. It would raise very fundamental questions about the causes of so much resentment, sullen offendedness, and outright hatred. It would, however, have next to no impact on the result of the election. True, Zemmour was able to conquer 15% of the electorate in one strike, just by announcing his bid. But since then, he has stagnated at exactly the same level, despite the recruitment of numerous well-known renegades both from the Républicains and the Rassemblement National, and despite a permanent media buzz.

And he remains by far the most despised political actor in France: 67% of the French declare having a bad opinion of him (Le Pen 59%); 61% refuse him explicitly (Le Pen 49%, source: recent Odoxa polls, here und here). He has a massive credibility deficit: only 23% of the French grant him the necessary competence for the job (Le Pen 35%, Pécresse 38%, source: current IPSOS survey).

Zemmour has exhausted his reactionary potential. He may serve as useful and worrying indicator for the irritability of a distraught nation whose nerves are on edge. But even in an insecure, destabilised France that is not sufficient for capturing the mainstream of society.

Parallel worlds

France’s tilt to the right is real. The “self-dwarfed left” – kudos to Nadia Pantel from the Süddeutsche Zeitung for this pertinent adjective – is close to inaudible. The presidential election campaign clearly suggests that the radical, reactionary discourse has become hegemonic. But this impression is misleading. The centre of society, the oft-invoked middle classes (which always come in the plural in colloquial French), certainly want to be taken seriously in their existential unease and anxiety, but have no wish to be governed by marginal ideologists.

As the pandemic has kindly recalled, France does not have the monopoly on disenchanted citizens and enraged conspiracy theorists caught in their filter bubbles. The same goes for the slow and painful decline of previously hegemonic popular parties in an increasingly fragmented political landscape. But what distinguishes France from other comparable democracies is the astonishing, striking discrepancy between the political spectrum on the national and the local level.

While Socialists of all shades of pink, moderate down-to-earth Conservatives and more and more pragmatic Greens are entrusted with the government of all regions and the overwhelming majority of cities and small towns, the national level is almost entirely dominated by a kind of cultural struggle between political movements that play next to no role in local affairs.

This spectacular gap between political realities may perhaps serve as an approach to explaining why a rather well-functioning daily life in a profoundly liveable country is permanently overshadowed by a shrill siren of decline and civilizational despair.

Fortunately, with regard to the forthcoming elections, it is possible to predict with a good deal of probability that while the hardened discourse of the right may reflect certain non-negligible tendencies, the political actors that are pushing it are not perceived as credible leaders by society at large. Emmanuel Macron is likely to benefit from the credibility deficit of his opponents. He is certainly not everybody’s darling, yet when it comes to competence and what the French call “embodiment of the presidential function”, he is clearly identified as number one.

Macron’s probable re-election will first and foremost be based on his credibility edge. It will, however, not change anything to the toxic discursive and mediatic environment that continues to poison French political life and public debate.

This is post no. 4 of the ‘France 2022’ series.
The previous ones can be found here.
All ‘France 2017’ posts can be accessed here.

The post France 2022: The credibility gap appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Don’t blame voters for Brexit

Sun, 20/02/2022 - 12:41

Just 24-hours after the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, I posted this on my blog:

‘Just over half of those who voted bought manky lies dressed up as a better life after Brexit. They were told they’d get their country back. Their lives would be transformed. 

‘More jobs, homes, schools and hospitals. Less migrants. No more rule from Brussels. We’d be British, and Great Britain again.

‘They were duped. They were deceived. They were sold a dodgy time share by cowboy politicians, who made claims and promises they can never deliver because it was all a delusion.

‘Those conned voters, when they realise they’ve paid dearly for faulty merchandise, will need support and direction. The rogue politicians will need to be kicked out.

‘We can do without those politicians. We cannot do without voters.’

James O’Brien on LBC has consistently agreed with this line; blame politicians, not voters, he implores.

In a broadcast two years ago he said:

“Blame the people who sold it, please, not the people who bought it. That’s going to be my most important message for the next couple of years.”

It’s the same message I posted just a few hours after the referendum result, but now of course, it’s almost six years later.

Today, we are all rapidly realising that politicians must own and take full responsibility for the horrific, catastrophic mess that Britain has got into as a direct result of Brexit.

DAVID CAMERON – the Prime Minister who called for an unnecessary referendum not for his country, but as he confided in Donald Tusk, “only for his party”.

He then led an inept, lacklustre referendum campaign that was so appalling that anyone would think he wanted to lose.

BORIS JOHNSON – the Prime-Minister-wannabe who used to be a Remainer, but then at the last minute, switched sides to be the Brexit poster-boy, as he thought that would be his best route into 10 Downing Street (he was right).

To win, he lied on a colossal scale – the biggest deceit being his claim that Britain sends £350m a week to the EU, that could instead be spent on the NHS.

MICHAEL GOVE – another PM-wannabe, who also lied to win, telling the nation that EU migration in the decade following the referendum could be as high as 5 million.

But it was based on another lie – that Turkey would be joining the EU soon, which Gove must have known was impossible.

NIGEL FARAGE – the on-off-on-off UKIP leader who introduced the nation to raw racism, turning Britons against EU citizens living here who were actually helping our country to thrive.

He called for racial discrimination laws to be scrapped, and said he wanted not just Brexit, but the end of the entire EU.

He also conveniently forgot his pre-referendum announcement that if the result was 52%-48% he’d want another vote (but only if the result was 52% for Remain).

THERESA MAY – another former Remainer who changed sides so she could put her career before country. In other words, she wanted to be PM more than she didn’t want Brexit.

She over-interpreted the referendum result, ignoring that almost half of those who voted didn’t want Brexit.

Instead, she acted as if Brexit had won 100%; did her best to demean and bypass Parliament to get her way, and used vile, Nazi-type terminology such as, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

JACOB REES-MOGG – the upper-class MP with the honed posh-voice who promoted Brexit pretending it would benefit the poor, whereas in reality, it’s only some of the rich who are prospering from it.

On the one hand he claimed Britain had no real power in the EU, then called for Britain to be “as difficult as possible” if there was a long extension to our membership.

“We could veto any increase in the EU budget,” he claimed and “obstruct” an EU army and “block” Mr Macron’s “integrationist schemes”.

‘Shurely shome mishtake’ as Private Eye would say. How is it possible for a country that has no power in the EU to wield such power in the EU?

Rees-Mogg did, however, say that it could take “50 years” to reap the benefits of Brexit. What a useful get-out clause…

DOMINIC CUMMINGS – the unelected Svengali-style string-puller who masterminded the Leave victory all based on lies, mistruths and false promises.

He is the man who gave Britain Brexit.

His primary insight was to weaponise unregulated social media. 

Of course, in their day, the Nazis were ahead of the curve in their use of broadcast media, but Cummings didn’t add anything that Goebbels didn’t know.


There are many other politicians who must take full responsibility for Brexit.

Remember this: most voters in Britain didn’t vote for Brexit – Leave was only supported by 37% of the electorate. 

That would not be enough for Leave to have won in most democracies across the world that hold referendums, where at least 50%, and often at least 60%, of all registered voters would be required before such a big change could happen.

It wouldn’t even be enough, under Tory legislation, for a trade union to call a strike, which requires the support of at least 50% of all its members before a walk-out can go ahead.

What’s more, in the general election of 2019, most voters did not vote for the Tories; most voters voted for parties that wanted another referendum on Brexit. 

The Tories only won their landslide 80-seat majority with just 1% more votes than they got in the 2017 general election, in which the Tories lost their majority entirely.

Johnson got his 80-seat majority with the votes of less than 30% of those eligible to vote.

Our system of politics and voting is broken and unfit. It’s allowed a result that the country at large didn’t, and doesn’t, want.

What a cunning, clever, coup this has been.

The bottom line: Blame politicians, not voters, for Brexit. We can do without lying politicians. We can’t win without voters.
  • Watch this 2-minute video of James O’Brien on LBC explaining why we must not blame voters.


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Categories: European Union

Broken Britain

Sun, 20/02/2022 - 12:19

I need some work done at home and invited firms to quote.

“That’s a smart van,” I said in passing to the managing director of a limited company that visited last week.

“Oh, we’ve got six of those,” he replied.

We went through the project.

In the past, companies had sent me quotes with the words “plus VAT”. That’s annoying as well as unlawful. I’m not a business and need to know the final price I’m to pay.

So, I said, “When you do your quote, please clearly show the full price, including VAT.”

“Oh,” the young man looked surprised. “So, you WANT to pay the VAT?”

“If you’re VAT registered, it’s a legal requirement,” I replied.

“Oh, not really,” came the response. “If you pay me cash, you won’t have to pay any VAT, at least not on the labour!”

“That would be unlawful,” I said.

“Up to you,” he said, without batting an eyelid; without even knowing who I was. 

After all, I could have been a tax inspector for all he knew.

It got me thinking. 

Loss of VAT to the government.

Loss of income tax too, as the cash paid obviously wouldn’t go on the books.

If anything went wrong with the work, no come back. This was quite a large project, and if the firm messed up, there’d be no receipt, no proof, no going to court, no redress.

But actually, worse than that: loss of revenue for the NHS, for schools, for roads, for sewers, etc.

This was cheating and fraudulent.


But then I got thinking some more.

The government does cheating and fraud.

Its ministers hand out multi-million contracts to mates without going through the proper procedures. The courts have ruled that’s unlawful.

What’s more, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced that the government will be ‘writing off’ over £4 billion in fraudulent claims for programmes such as the furlough scheme, pandemic support for freelance workers and ‘Eat Out to Help Out’.

Most of those who made unlawful claims will just get away with it. They won’t be pursued.

Last year, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reported that taxpayers will lose tens of billions of pounds to Covid-19 support schemes because the government dropped basic fraud checks and rolled out the programmes in haste.

Last month, Theodore Agnew, UK minister for efficiency and transformation, resigned his post.

Why? Because of the government’s ‘failure to tackle fraud’.

In an article for the Financial Times he wrote:

‘Fraud in government is rampant. Public estimates sit at just under £30bn a year. There is a complete lack of focus on the cost to society, or indeed the taxpayer.’

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said Agnew’s resignation was “a damning indictment of the chancellor and the government’s failures on fraud”.

  • Billions of pounds lost because of the government handing out unlawful contracts to their mates.
  • Billions of pounds lost because of the government turning a blind eye to those taking government money fraudulently and who won’t have to pay it back.

Billions. Billions. Our money. Public money.

Billions. Heaven knows how many hospitals, doctors, nurses, medicines that would pay for. Or schools. Or roads. 


So, is it any wonder that if the government can get away with it, many businesses and individuals think they can too?

Not charging VAT and not paying tax is a fraud. But as the government also does fraud or doesn’t care if others do fraud, what does it matter?

Of course, we’ve always had a ‘black market’. But my subjective view is that it’s now much more prevalent.

In the old days, the government had schemes such as Business Links, that helped businesses to do things professionally, honestly, with a view to growing reliable and successful enterprises.

But the Business Links were all closed under David Cameron’s savage austerity cuts.

It was of course a false economy.

Because today, a culture of dishonest business, and dishonest government, will bring down Britain and result in an unreliable, unsuccessful country with unreliable and unsuccessful enterprises. 

It’s leading to a ‘Broken Britain’. A country that will rapidly go downhill, with the basic services that so many of us rely upon becoming increasingly decreased.

Does the government care? Of course not.

This week Steve Barclay, Number 10’s new Chief of Staff, pledged that Boris Johnson’s government would “step back” and favour a “smaller state.”

I’ve lived long enough to know what that means.

It means cuts to the services that are the glue that keep the country and its communities functioning and intact.

It means less money for hospitals, schools, roads and sewers, to name but a few.


Does the government care? Of course not.

They are mostly rich bastards. They don’t need the state. They don’t need government, even though they are the government.

  • Hospitals? They don’t need NHS hospitals. They have their own private hospitals they can access.
  • Schools? They don’t need state schools. Most of them went to private schools, as do most of their children.
  • Roads? Well, of course they need roads. But they’ll be pot-ridden roads, so government ministers can no doubt take private jets instead (at least Boris Johnson can – he’s got two of them in Union Jack colours).

Why else would the current government be so uncommitted to trying to get back billions lost to fraud?

Why else would the current government be so cavalier with public money, giving out unlawful contracts to their mates, who were often not at all qualified or even able to deliver for the public?

As I write this, the pavement immediately outside my house is gushing out thousands of gallons of water.

It’s a serious leak of a water pipe, splurging out drinking water from the pavement at a rate of knots, which is not sating anyone’s thirst, but instead overwhelming the nearby sewage system.

Of course, I reported this major leak to Affinity Water. But that was over three weeks ago.

They texted me to say that “emergency” works to repair the leak would take place outside my property on 9 February. They would be sure to let me know if they couldn’t attend.

But they didn’t attend and didn’t let me know.

I rang them and asked, “What’s going on?”

They replied they had to get the local council to put up traffic lights, and all that would take time.

But today, the water is still going to waste.

According to UNICEF, across the world, 2.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

And right now, outside my house, thousands of gallons of safe drinking water are literally going down the drain.

Affinity Water had the temerity yesterday to ask for my feedback. Could I please score my “recent experience” from 0 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied).

Of course, I gave them ‘0’ and explained:

‘I reported an emergency leak of water coming out of the pavement outside my house. I have not been kept informed and the leak has still not been repaired.

‘This is a disaster for the environment and a waste of thousands of gallons of good water.’

‘Thank you. Your feedback is important to us…’ was the texted reply.


Does the government care? Of course not.

They’ll allow good water to go to waste, or for raw waste to go into good water. After all, we’re no longer beholden to EU directives that aim to prevent this happening. 

The government will ‘urge’ private water companies to tackle the problem, without ensuring they do.

Then, when they’ve left government, ministers will no doubt have the chance to work for such companies on lucrative contracts.

It’s all part of ‘Broken Britain’.

Last month I drove a friend to Stansted Airport. On the way back, driving on the inside lane of the M11, my car went over a significant pothole, which I suspect damaged one of my wheels.

A sizeable pothole, in a motorway. All part of Broken Britain?

Of course.

And expect more of Britain to be broken in the years ahead.

We’ll have less government, that has less money, because so much will have been lost or wasted, and the government won’t care.

It might take a generation to undo the damage that is taking place to our country.

It starts and ends with the government.

If the government acts dishonestly, they cannot expect the country’s people, and the country’s businesses, to act honestly.

We so much need a different government, but if that’s to be Labour, then they have to be much clearer and much bolder in explaining their plans to fix Broken Britain.


The post Broken Britain appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Covid-19 policies: how does political trust make a difference in responding to a common crisis ?

Fri, 18/02/2022 - 13:00
For our weekly “Ideas on Europe” editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we welcome Dr Theofanis Exadaktylos from the University of Surrey, in England. Bonjour, Theofanis!





euradio · Covid-19 policies : how does political trust make a difference in responding to a common crisis ?



Theofanis, you are associate professor of European politics, and together with three colleagues you are about to publish a book on “Policy Styles and Trust in the Age of Pandemics”. Can you let us know more about it?

As we all know, since 2020, there has been a wide variety of policy responses by national governments. Some governments immediately and proactively took measures to stop the virus spread, some waited for clarity to decide their course of action and others downplayed the severity of the threat, continuing life as if nothing had happened.


So what how does your research explain these differences?

It’s explained by national ‘policy styles’. And in responding to crises, this policy styles are correlated with the political trust expressed by citizens.

Crises are moments of flux and extreme uncertainty. They expose vulnerabilities and frequently prompt political leaders to think outside the box to reassure citizens they are still in control. But the degree of freedom also depends on the administrative capacity their countries have, and the way problems and solutions are conceived in the national context. Effectively, policy makers inherit commitments, institutional arrangements, ways of doing things and norms that form a country’s policy style.


How does “trust” play into this?

Compliance to any public policy is linked to the levels of political trust within a country and, policy makers need to have a good estimation of how high or low that trust is. When governments are faced with new challenges they turn to “institutional memory”. Some governments are better in anticipating problems while others only react; in some countries consensus is required in decision-making whereas in others a top-down approach is the norm.

Citizens’ expectations are important. Pandemics require a public that makes conscious choices to comply to measures issued by a government. Lack of voluntary compliance will lead to more stringent measures, including fines and strict lockdowns. Compliance to measures also depends on whether they are perceived as ‘imposed’ or ‘organically developed’, especially in the context of democratic societies.

Countries like Denmark or Sweden have a more legitimate and efficient public administration system, and citizens tend to trust the bureaucracy of their country, compared to Greece or Italy for example. If trustworthiness and legitimacy are low, the capacity of a government to do its job is decreased, and implementing any measure is quite hard.

Legitimacy and political trust are even more important in the context of a pandemic when non-elected officials expand their decision-making roles. In Britain, Hungary and Poland, for example, experts have been at the receiving end of targeted blame.


How does it work in countries that have a high level of trust in their government?

In systems with more inclusive processes, like in Sweden, high trust magnifies the capacity of a government to act, leading to decentralised responses.

Conversely, in systems with lower policy capacity and lower inclusiveness, citizens lack faith in the system and expect central authority to take over. Greece is a good example for that. Lack of trust weakens the capacity of a government to act and the capacity of citizens to behave in a way they see fit.


These are the extremes. What happens in countries that are ‘in between’?

When high capacity coincides with low trust, the tendency is not to trust policymakers but put faith in the capacity of the state, for example, in the health system, to handle the crises. Hence policymakers will pursue more centrifugal responses to avoid taking the blame. This was the case in Britain, where policy makers tried to diffuse responsibility away from the central government in London.

When on the other hand, there is high trust but lower policy capacity (for geographic or demographic reasons), policymakers and citizens know that the health system may not cope if left without strong political direction. In this case, policymakers may choose a centripetal response because it allows more control over outcomes. This is the example of Norway where the government managed to acquire emergency powers to react, contrary to its inclusive policy style.


So what’s your conclusion after two years?

There is a vast variety of policy response across Europe , not only for the effectiveness of measures in containing spread, casualties and economic impact, but also in the timings and ways that measures were eased, dropped or re-introduced.

And we are not out of the woods yet. The pandemic is still evolving today with unknown outcomes. Therefore, whatever the national policy styles and levels of political trust, we should hope that national governments and citizens not only learn from past experiences but also from each other.


Thank you very much, Theofanis, for sharing your research with us. We’ll put a link to your book on the website. “Ideas on Europe” will be back next week. We will welcome Joanna Ciesielska-Klikowska, from the University of Lodz, in Poland.


First published on eu!radio.



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Categories: European Union

Boris Johnson: A dangerous clown

Wed, 16/02/2022 - 11:41

Boris Johnson is “not a complete clown”, his new communications director, Guto Harri, said this month adding, “he’s a very likeable character.”


I would say instead that Boris Johnson is a completely dangerous clown, and nothing he’s done for the country is at all likeable.

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, questioned the seriousness of Mr Johnson and his new chief of communications. She said:

“Did I mention that there are no serious people left to serve? They think it’s all just one big joke, don’t they?” 

Was Boris Johnson ever Prime Minister material?

For sure, he likes to have – or more accurately, to get – a laugh.

But how appropriate is that when the country is reeling from the devastating consequences of Brexit, the impact of Covid, the danger of Climate Change, and on the imminent horizon, the possibility of war between Russia and Ukraine?

They say we get the politicians we deserve. But do we really deserve a Prime Minister like Boris Johnson, who tries to make fun of everything?

He and his party are having a good laugh at our expense.

People say that Boris Johnson reminds them of Benny Hill. He looks the part – especially when he can’t be bothered to dress properly.

But this is serious.

Our country is being commanded by a clown. Britain is now the laughing-stock of the world.

Behind the jokes, the laughter, the faux joie de vivre, however, is something truly sinister.

Britain is being led to ruin.

Brexit isn’t working. Trade with our neighbouring countries – our most important export and import market in the world – is severely disrupted.

The situation in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit is close to collapse, with the Good Friday Agreement in danger of falling apart.

Sleaze and corruption abound.

Does Mr Johnson care?

For sure, business is suffering from both Brexit and Covid. “F*** business,” retorted the minstrel Prime Minister.

Beware. The jokes hide the lies and the real game.

The fiddlers – our political masters – are steeped in sleazy, corrupt, and nefarious activities.

Whilst the front man elicits guffaws from the electorate, those behind the scenes are furtively dismantling what was once Great Britain, taking what they can, increasing their power, reducing our democracy.

  • We didn’t get our country back. We threw it it away.
  • We didn’t take control. We lost it.

This year, we must up our fight to get back our country, to get back our continent, and to Get Brexit Undone.

  • Watch this 2-minute video demonstrating that Boris Johnson is a clown


The post Boris Johnson: A dangerous clown appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

EU referendum broke ‘rules’ set by former Brexit secretary

Sat, 12/02/2022 - 17:12

The EU referendum was entirely flawed according to criteria set by former Brexit Secretary and ardent Brexiter, David Davis, on how referendums should be “done properly”.

In July 2016, Tory MP, Mr Davis, accepted the result of the EU referendum and the dual-role of Brexit Secretary and Chief Brexit Negotiator in Theresa May’s new government.

But back in 2002, when the Tories were in Opposition to the Labour government, Mr Davis spelt out what he considered to be the gold standard for good referendums.

On the basis of that speech, the 2016 EU referendum failed on every point.

Mr Davis was opposing Labour’s plans to hold referendums on regional assemblies, because he considered that the structure of the proposed referendums would be undemocratic.

In summary, Mr Davis said that:

“In a democracy, voters have to know what they’re voting for”

But in the EU referendum, voters couldn’t know what they were voting for. The Leave option was not defined.

(This was also a point made by Philip Hammond, then Foreign Secretary, six months before the referendum. Mr Hammond was sitting next to Mr Davis when he made his speech in 2002).

“The proposition has to come first, and the vote afterwards”

But that’s not what happened in the EU referendum. There was no clear proposition before the referendum on how the UK would leave the EU and on what terms.

“Referendums should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgement”

But in the EU referendum, the electorate was not in any position, let alone the “best possible position”, to judge whether the UK should leave the EU, and nobody knew then what the terms of leaving would be.

Referendums should be held when the arguments, for and against, “have been rigorously tested”.

But in the EU referendum, the Leave arguments had not been tested, let alone “rigorously tested”.

Claims and promises made by the Leave side had not been debated or agreed in Parliament before the referendum took place.

“Referendums should be held when people know exactly what they’re getting”

But no one who voted for Leave knew what they were getting, let alone “exactly what they’re getting”.

“This means that legislation should be debated by Members of Parliament on the floor of the House of Commons and then put to the electorate for the voters to judge afterwards.”

But the legislation to leave the EU was debated after the referendum and not before.

“It does not mean that we ask people to vote on a blank piece of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards.”

But that’s exactly what happened with the EU referendum.

The Leave choice represented an entirely blank sheet of people with government filling in the details much later and without a second, confirmatory referendum on whether ‘the people’ supported those details.

A referendum should be “treated as an addition to the parliamentary process, not as a substitute for it.”

But the EU referendum WAS treated as a substitute for Parliamentary decision-making.

According to Mr Davis as Brexit Secretary, the final decision to leave the EU had been made by the referendum and was therefore a “point of no return”, even though the referendum was supposed to be an advisory poll only.

Parliament was denied any opportunity to specifically debate and vote on WHETHER the UK should leave the EU. The referendum was treated as a replacement for, and superior to, Parliamentary decision making.

Indeed, when Parliament debated the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, Mr Davis as the Brexit Secretary told Parliament in January 2017:

“It is not a Bill about whether the UK should leave the European Union or, indeed, about how it should do so; it is simply about Parliament empowering the Government to implement a decision already made—a point of no return already passed. 

“We asked the people of the UK whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and they decided they did.”

“It’s important that referenda are not used simply as a snapshot of volatile changes of opinion, perhaps as a result of pressure of government propaganda”

But the referendum ONLY represented a snapshot of “volatile changes of opinion” and certainly as a result of propaganda, much of which transpired to be untrue or incorrect or undeliverable.

“It’s because referenda are supposed to reflect the settled will of the people that we need to have thresholds below which they do not carry the day.”

But leaving the EU hardly reflected “the settled will of the people” let alone a stable or consistent will.

For most of the UK’s four decades as a member of the EU, most polls consistently showed that a majority supported membership.

Furthermore, the marginally close referendum result of 52%-48% could not reflect that “the settled will of the people” was to leave the EU.

As for a “need to have thresholds” for referendums, no threshold was set for the EU referendum, and only a minority of the electorate supported Leave, with the majority of registered voters either voting for Remain or not voting.

Although Mr Davis expressed varying views on what a threshold might be for a referendum, the EU referendum failed to have ANY threshold.


I have written to Mr Davis to ask him why, in view of the criteria he set in 2002 on how a referendum should be “done properly”, he could ever have considered the 2016 EU referendum and Brexit win to be fair and democratic?
  • Watch: 2-minute video of speech by David Davis in 2002:

Click here to view the embedded video.

  • Watch: 40-second video of Philip Hammond, in 2016, confirming that the EU referendum was flawed

Click here to view the embedded video.


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Categories: European Union

The EU foreign policy paradox

Fri, 11/02/2022 - 12:53
For our weekly “Ideas on Europe” editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we welcome Prof Ben Tonra from University College Dublin, in Ireland.






euradio · The EU foreign policy paradox – Ideas on Europe



Foreign policy challenges are high on the EU’s agenda, but the member states are still having trouble working in common in this field.

True. Whether we are talking about addressing China’s human rights violations, Russian threats towards Ukraine or indeed one of Europe’s signature successes, the agreement on Iranian nuclear weapons, too often we are witness to individual capitals going their own way and in some cases, even vetoing restatement of well-established EU policy as in the case of the Middle East peace process.


But, Ben, didn’t the Lisbon Treaty promise us the final chapter on the Europeanization of national foreign policies?

In truth, the Treaty of Lisbon delivered a lot: the creation of a strengthened post of High Representative for foreign and security policy, the establishment of the European External Action Service and – in recent years – a huge acceleration in the development of defence policy, including the creation of the new European Defence Fund, the establishment of DG DEFIS in the Commission and now 60 individual projects to strengthen European military cooperation through PESCO.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that the EU’s international capacity is almost entirely a function of what its member states will allow it to do. And each of the 27 comes to the common EU foreign policy table with its own national perspectives, geographies and histories – a whole national baggage that shapes its response to foreign policy events, threats and opportunities.


So how can that be overcome?

The Member States know what the problem is – indeed they are collectively at the root of the problem.

They are trapped in a paradox: most of them ardently desire that the Union would speak strongly on the major foreign policy challenges of our times and deploy the Union’s significant resources towards those ends.

At the same time, they are reluctant – deeply reluctant – to cede power to the EU institutions in such a way as would make that possible. Whether it is hubris, fear or ego – each national capital is determined to hold on to the reigns of its own power.

As a result, the member states continue to struggle to carve agreed positions from their multiple perspectives and to design processes – such as the new Strategic Compass – to guide member states along a path which will build upon shared foundations. The problem of course is that the rest of the world is not going to wait for the Union to get its act together. Moreover, for some actors – such as Russia – the EU’s weaknesses and its incoherence – actually represent an opportunity to exploit.


So, what is to be recommended?

It is difficult to tell.

Certainly, it is unwise for the Union to overpromise and underdeliver. Statements such as ‘the Union must learn to speak the language of power’ or to commit to providing a ‘geopolitical Commission’ are off the mark. Frankly, ‘power’ – in the sense of traditional military power – is a foreign language to the European Union – and will likely continue to be so for some time to come.

Furthermore, considering the nature of threats coming from some member states within the Union towards its values and principles, the Union cannot rely on unanimity to deliver a strong, coherent foreign policy. The member states may need to get creative and exploit the opportunities for differentiated action. This of course also opens Europe to the danger of fragmentation – so one has to choose such a course carefully and with maximum support.


Differentiated action – would that not the opposite of a common policy?

I don’t think so. It would acknowledge that a European foreign policy which was not anchored in European values is not worth the name – and it would free those participating from the dead weight of the laggards and the subversives. It would, potentially, build a European foreign, security and defence policy that was seen to work.


Thank you very much, Ben, for this insight. All hope is not lost! “Ideas on Europe” will be back next week, and we will welcome Theofanis Exadaktylos, from the University of Surrey, in England.


First published on eu!radio.



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Categories: European Union

Why Do some Labour Alliances Succeed in Politicizing Europe across Borders?

Fri, 11/02/2022 - 12:00

Many studies on the politicization of the EU see the main dividing line running between transnational EU elites on one side and nationalist leaders whipping up anti-EU sentiments on the other. But the politicization of Europe is not a one-way street, as transnational democratic counter-movements have also emerged in response to recent EU integration pressures. As we show in our new JCMS article, which compares European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs) of European trade union federations, popular counter-movements are not necessarily constrained by national silos and nationalist outlooks. But under what conditions are labour alliances succeeding or failing in politicizing EU policymaking across borders?

Pairing two campaigns that were organized by similar actors allowed us to focus on key differences that explain the different outcomes of the campaigns. Our comparison reveals that actor-centred factors matter, namely unions’ ability to create broad social movement coalitions. Successful transnational labour campaigns, however, also depend on structural conditions, namely the prevailing mode of EU integration pressures faced by unions at a given time. Whereas the successful Right2Water ECI of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), pre-emptively countered commodification attempts by the European Commission in water services, the unsuccessful Fair Transport ECI of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) attempted to ensure fair working conditions after most of the transport sector had already been liberalized. Vertical integration attempts by EU executives that aim to commodify public services are thus more likely to generate successful counter-movements than the horizontal market integration pressures on wages and working conditions that followed earlier successful EU liberalization drives.


Strong union-social movement alliances: EPSU and ETF share similar structures of small secretariats with little authority over national affiliates, as well as similar methods of influencing Brussels policymaking. In other respects, EPSU was even in a weaker position compared to the ETF. Being the first to launch an ECI, EPSU could not learn from earlier campaigns, also its Right2Water campaign had a much smaller budget. EPSU succeeded against these odds as it could rely on union-social movement alliances that spanned from the local-community to the global level. Trade union officials were working together with grassroots activists, as more than half of the organizations assisting the collection of signatures belonged to grassroot movements, including the global justice and environmental movements. Such a wide-spanning web of alliances was not present in the ETF campaign and consequently it had difficulties reaching a broader audience.

The two campaigns had different goals and framed them in different ways to the public. EPSU’s ECI combined its anti-privatization message with an agenda of human rights that was broad enough to unite actors with diverging views on the details of water sector management. By focusing on the threat of privatization, EPSU also identified precise targets of discontent: the European Commission and the two large water multinationals, Veolia and Suez, which had benefited most from water services privatization in the past. The other goal of the Right2Water campaign, to make water services a human right connected a set of positive goals, such as good drinking water and wastewater facilities. The framing of the Fair Transport initiative was built around the idea of fair competition between all transport operators. These demands side-lined the point that, no matter how fair competition is, it still creates inequalities and tensions. This alienated the ETF campaign from more radical unions who were against competition tout court and it had little currency among workers in the EU’s East and South. ETF also framed its Fair Transport ECI exclusively in industrial relations terms which made it difficult to find non-union allies. Social movement-union coalitions and framing around well-defined goals are actor-centred factors that can explain the different outcomes of the campaigns. At a deeper level, however, actors’ choices in the two cases were structured by the different modes of EU integration.


Horizontal vs. vertical EU integration. We distinguish between two modes of EU integration pressures: vertical integration advances through direct interventions by a ‘supranational political, legal or corporate authority’; horizontal integration refers to the increasing exposure to transnational market pressures. Horizontal integration reinforces the opacity of power relations and provides few tangible targets for mobilization, while vertical interventions are easier to politicize, albeit within a limited timeframe, as the impact of vertical intervention increases horizontal competition in the medium term.

After the earlier vertical EU laws liberalizing one transport modality after another, horizontal market pressures are prevalent in the transport sector. This hinders transnational action, as horizontal integration puts workers in competition with each other across different transport type (public versus private) modality (rail against road) and geographical areas. By contrast, the Commission’s more recent vertical liberalization attempts in the water sector, that started with the proposal of the Services in the Internal Market (Bolkestein) directive, provided crystallization points for successful transnational collective action.

Similarly, the more service providers are subject to horizontal market integration pressures, the more difficult it becomes to find a common platform with service users. Whereas vertical EU laws motivated unions, consumer groups, environmental NGOs, and even municipal water companies to support the Right2Water ECI, horizontal competitive pressures across modalities go a long way towards explaining the absence of such alliances in the Fair Transport case. Had the Fair Transport ECI focused on public rail transport, it would have been easier to attract support from environmental groups. This idea did not prevail however, given ETF’s aim to also represent workers from other modalities competing with rail.

Our findings have several implications for EU integration scholars and union activists alike. For activists we send the optimistic message that the lack of day-to-day cross-border contacts between workers (a characteristic of non-traded public services including water provision) does not have to be a hindrance on transnational action. Public service unions can create effective transnational links not only with unions in other countries, but also with social movements. For the theory of EU integration, we highlight the importance of interest politics at the meso-level, and show how vertical and horizontal integration pressures shape social actors’ ability to politicize the EU across borders, which is a precondition for its democratization.

The blog draws on the JCMS article Why Do some Labour Alliances Succeed in Politicizing Europe across Borders? A Comparison of the Right2Water and Fair Transport European Citizens’ Initiatives



Imre G. Szabo and Darragh Golden are postdoctoral research fellows in the ERC project Labour Politics and the EU’s New Economic Governance Regime at University College Dublin.




Roland Erne is professor of European integration and employment relations at University College Dublin and principal investigator of the ERC project Labour Politics and the EU’s New Economic Governance Regime.

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Categories: European Union

EU Competition Policy and Healthcare: starter questions for future directions

Thu, 10/02/2022 - 08:18

EUHealthGov started 2022 with its third quarterly seminar on 12th January – a roundtable on EU competition policy in healthcare which aimed to identify future directions in light of the 2020 CJEU Dôvera judgment regarding private and state health insurance in Slovakia, and the Casa Regina Apostolorum case (currently on appeal to the CJEU) concerning state subsidy of certain Italian hospitals. We were delighted to be joined by a range of experts from across Europe to consider how these challenges to the state aid rules may give the EU courts scope to clarify or reaffirm earlier approaches as private sector delivery of healthcare becomes more widespread in European healthcare systems.

Dr Mary Guy (Lancaster) introduced the discussions by setting out the approaches taken in previous cases and how the EU competition law framework in healthcare cases indicates a distinction between healthcare purchasing and providing activities. Conceptions of competition and solidarity have also characterised case law to date with distinctions which may prove less sustainable as more Member States experiment with expanding private sector delivery of healthcare. While responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have affected the application particularly of the state aid rules, the wider competition law framework in healthcare cases continues to develop along established lines.

Professor Johan van de Gronden (Radboud University Nijmegen) discussed the Commission and General Court’s findings in Casa Regina Apostolorum to outline distinctions between social insurance-based and taxation-funded healthcare systems. These seem to indicate that the latter has more room for manoeuvre under EU competition policy than the former, prompting the question of whether the trigger of an economic activity can be reconceptualised to be neutral to the design of Member State healthcare systems, or to refocus attention on the extent of public financing of healthcare.

Dr Bruno Nikolić (Ljubljana University) considered how Casa Regina Apostolorum fit with analyses in earlier case law, highlighting the inconsistency of referencing social health insurance cases when assessing the nature of health service providers under EU competition policy. This seems to prompt ongoing questions about the dividing line between economic and non-economic activities in health, and why we would (in general) exclude health services provided in public healthcare systems from EU competition policy.

Dr Marc Wiggers (Loyens Loeff Amsterdam) compared and contrasted approaches taken by the EU institutions Dôvera with the Dutch state aid case which accompanied the 2006 competition reforms in Dutch healthcare with the move from state sickness funds to private health insurance. By setting out an examination framework comprising social objectives, solidarity, the scope for profit-making and state supervision, it is possible to see how distinctions between profit and solidarity may emerge between the EU and national levels.

We look forward to developing this conversation in the future!

A recording of the event is available here.

The post EU Competition Policy and Healthcare: starter questions for future directions appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union