Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream

By Hanna Schlegel

Being German these days means witnessing the end of the Angela Merkel era. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the CDU voters’ favourite to succeed the German chancellor as head of the Christian Democrats, according to a new poll published last Friday [23.11.2018]. But the disputed Friedrich Merz would be a way better choice from the view of the German centre-left parties.

Angela Merkel, as a result of her Christian Democratic Union’s poor showing in both federal (2017) and regional (2018, Bavaria and Hesse) elections, announced last October that she would neither run again as party chief in December nor seek re-election as chancellor in 2021. This decision not only further destabilizes German politics, with the threat of Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) collapsing in the coming months; the decision also means she will become less influential on the European stage. For the past 13 years, the ‘Queen of Europe’, as she is fittingly being nicknamed, has dominated European affairs and held Europe together. Her departure will have significant consequences for the Europe as a whole, given the position that Germany, being the EU’s country with the largest economy and population, occupies within the EU. A change of power in Germany might very well affect the EU power structure in general.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the race to succeed her as CDU leader will entail a battle over the party’s direction. Three candidates have already announced their intentions of running for the post: Health minister Jens Spahn, the chancellor’s loudest internal critic; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel; and Friedrich Merz, who is coming back to the political scene after a 10 years break. Continue reading “Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream”

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The European Parliament Triggers Article 7 against the Hungarian Government

By Karin Kämmerling

On September 12, the European Parliament voted on the triggering of Article 7 measures against Hungary. With 448 votes in favor of the motion, 197 against and 48 abstentions the required majority was achieved[1]. Now, the Council of the European Union has to approve the vote unanimously in order to launch possible sanctions. The Hungarian government, accused of silencing critical media, targeting academics and NGOs as well as removing independent judges, said the decision was an insult to the Hungarian nation and people[2].

What is the Article 7 about?

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union states that the EU can take measures in case “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2“[3]. These include “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”[4]. Members of the European Parliament must support the resolution by two thirds in order to launch the Article 7 procedure as it happened last month in Strasbourg in the case of Hungary. With this vote, it is now possible for the Council of the European Union to make demands to the Hungarian government in order to improve the situation and even launch punitive measures if the requirements are not fulfilled. Possible sanctions may be a harder access to EU funding and can even lead to the loss of voting rights in the EU institutions. Continue reading “The European Parliament Triggers Article 7 against the Hungarian Government”

Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?

By Julia Mason

Participatory democracy is the new trend. With the European parliament elections on the horizon, do citizens still have faith in representative democracy?

The Rise of Participatory Democracy

At a recent European Parliament event to celebrate the International Day of Democracy (18 September), statements proclaiming the merits of participatory democracy abounded. This might seem strange in the meeting rooms of one of the world’s biggest houses of political representatives, but participatory democracy is making waves in Brussels and beyond.
Citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, public consultations…These are the buzz words that are bringing legitimacy to contemporary democracies. On the model of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, propelled to fame thanks to its role in bringing about the Article 8 referendum on abortion rights, citizens’ assemblies have begun to pop up across the continent.[1] The number of municipalities setting up participatory budgeting is on the rise,[2] with some cities, such as Paris, handing over as much as 5% of their resources to publically-decided projects.[3] And of course, high-profile citizen consultation processes have started across the EU, largely inspired by Emmanuel Macron’s consultations citoyennes.
In his recent article, Stephen Boucher even goes as far as to propose that, post-Brexit, the remaining forty-six British seats in the European Parliament be reassigned to “a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective.”[4] But isn’t this precisely the role of an MEP? What happened to the concept of electing a trusted figure to represent your views in parliament on your behalf? Continue reading “Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?”

Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist

By Agnese Olmati

A small strip of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, 205 km off the Sicilian coast and 113 km away from Tunisia. Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, has become popular in the recent years as the symbol of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Today, even if its name is no longer on the front pages, the island is still at the core of migration flows through the Central Mediterranean route and still serves as lifebuoy for many. According to statistics, the death tolls and number of arrivals have decreased in the past couple of years, but people continue to land in Lampedusa – and die in its surrounding sea. Estimations show that 2016 was the deadliest year, with 4,587 dead or missing at sea[1] and 500 arriving in Italy by sea per day, compared to only 61 since June 2018 till today.

However, this is not a positive signal meaning that the Italian and European migration policies are giving the expected results. In fact, 19% of those who have tried to leave Africa last September died or went missing, a percentage that has never been registered before[2]. Past scenarios in which the island, with its 6,000 Lampedusani, was hosting 10,000 people on its small territory[3] are not likely to happen again. Lampedusa is not facing any serious problem in welcoming and hosting migrants in its hotspot, where their process for seeking international protection starts and where they normally spend just two days before being transferred to the mainland.
However, the migratory phenomenon is still profoundly affecting Lampedusa and those who live there. Different people and places around the isle can show what living on an island on the European border means, with all its peculiarities and paradoxes. Continue reading “Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist”

LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments

By Júlia-Janka Gáspárik 

The EU’s motto is “United in Diversity”[1], which means that it is a shared community, but member states also preserve their national characteristics. At the same time, this motto can also sum up one of the biggest problems of the EU: the definition of the limit between having common laws and undermining a country’s sovereignty. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) rights are a very delicate part of the EU legislation, trapped somewhere between universal (and EU-protected) human rights and national sovereignty. The EU – opting towards an ever-closer union – is trying to bring together its member states with social policies in order to reach an integrated society also on the cultural level, and not only on the economic and monetary ones. On the other hand, anti-LGBT/pro-traditional family groups often use the argument of sovereignty against the common EU LGBT framework[2]. This is what partially makes this issue of LGBT so complicated: some people argue that this minority should be protected with a stronger mechanism at EU level, while others say that it would undermine their countries’ sovereignty.

The European Union law mentions the issue of LGBT only in terms of discrimination: discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and rights pertaining to this aspect are protected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU[3]. NGOs and civil right organizations are fighting for the rights of the LGBT people. However, since the attitude towards sexual orientation is considered to be a cultural-societal-religious issue, the EU has not established a compulsory legal framework in any of its member states. On the other hand, it can be argued that this is not a societal issue but one of fundamental rights. When learning about LGBT in the EU, it also becomes clear that the main obstacle in not introducing the civil union and same sex marriages in some European countries is the predominant position of religious values in that state[4].
This article explores the complex issue of LGBT rights in the EU and the member states by examining the issues’ cultural and human rights facade. It will be illustrated with one case, namely the recent case of Coman-Hamilton (Relu Adrian Coman and Others v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări and Others). Continue reading “LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments”

The Future of Creative Europe

Towards a new generation of cultural funding

by Marje Brütt

The cultural and creative sector is the third biggest employer in the European Union being only excelled by the construction and the food sectors.[1] Besides their rather underestimated economic importance, culture and creativity build bridges between people and positively influence various areas, e.g. education, well-being or democracy. Consequently, culture contributes to the objectives of the European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to foster our cultural and political identity, to preserve our diversity and increase the intercultural dialogue as it is mentioned in Article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon.[2]

In order to give credit to the cultural sector and to support its further development, the European Union launched Creative Europe in 2014 as the EU’s funding programme for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors.[3] As such it is in place for seven years (2014-2020) and consists of two sub-programmes that used to exist independently before: MEDIA and CULTURE. While MEDIA[4] is dedicated to the audiovisual sector and helps promoting audiovisual works, CULTURE covers funding for all other cultural and creative areas including amongst others performing and visual arts, literature, music, street art and cultural heritage. In total, 1,46 billion Euros are foreseen for the whole programme meaning for the whole seven years and all participating countries.[5] Related to the amount of participating countries, this amount can change throughout the years. In addition to the 28 EU Member States, interested European countries can associate with Creative Europe and thereby increase the programme’s budget. In the past years, the list of participating countries grew continuously up to 41 countries in 2018, including amongst others Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Armenia, boosting the intercultural exchange in the European neighbourhood.[6] Simultaneously, countries can also leave the group as it was the case with Turkey in autumn 2016 and could be happening again with the upcoming Brexit in 2019. Continue reading “The Future of Creative Europe”

Italy is Salvini or Salvini is Italy?

An insight from the Italian powder keg

By Agnese Olmati

If migration has continuously been in the spotlight since the beginning of the refugee crisis, it is only during the past few months that Italy has really hit the headlines of European newspapers, despite having been one of the main doors to Europe for several decades.

It is no coincidence that this persistent interest for in Italian migration policies has been renewed since Interior Minister Matteo Salvini took office last June [2018]. His decision to shut ports to rescue boats carrying migrants has been hardly discussed and criticised, as well as his attacks to Maltese authorities and European leaders, accused of leaving Italy alone in front of the continuous arrivals of migrants that apparently no Italian government has never concretely tackled before.
Salvini’s determined response to the problem of illegal migration might seem very harsh and cold-hearted – and it actually is. But what Salvini is efficiently doing is simply making good on the promises made during the last electoral campaign. Being the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant party “League” (Lega, in Italian), it is no surprise that one of his most urgent goals is halting the flow of migrants into the country.
Actually, this is not only an Italian priority. Hungary has built a double layer barrier stretching for 155 kilometres along the Serbian border. France has rejected migrants at its border with Italy. Spain has built fences around the Moroccan cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Greece is at the core of the EU deal for the readmission of migrants coming from Turkey. Obviously, European countries have done their best to stop the arrival of migrants, but apparently more can be done – for example the EU could follow Trump’s advice and erect a wall across the Sahara Desert. Continue reading “Italy is Salvini or Salvini is Italy?”

Nicolas Hulot Resigns, Shedding Light on Lobbies’ Influence

By Richard Blais

It was on August 28 that the French Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, announced that he resigned from office. This unexpected turn of events happened on a regular morning in the French political landscape as he was a guest at the morning show of France Inter, the nation’s most popular morning radio show (1). Without any warning, neither to his assistants nor to the President, Nicolas Hulot resigned, with tears in his eyes. This gesture managed to shock the journalists interviewing him, as well as the audience, since no one was expecting such a sincere answer, in one of the nation’s daily exercice of politics.

He justified this spontaneous announcement by the fact he “do[es] not want to lie to [him]self anymore“, since he believed his actions for the environment were undermined by the French political system, as they were often opposed by lobbies and the Macron government which prioritises economy. He stated that he was surprising himself to be “accomodating of baby steps while the global situation when the planet turns into a proofer deserves an assembly and a change of scale, of paradigm“. He claimed his decision concerned himself only and despite the fact he reiterated his sympathy for the government during his resignation, the aim of his gesture was to shock and provoke a reaction from Emmanuel Macron.
Hulot’s resignation took place in a context of growing discontentment towards the French president, who faced during the summer his first major scandal, the “Benalla case”, when Le Monde identified on a footage filmed during a protest a close councelman of the president, Alexandre Benalla, illegally dressed as a policeman and making use of violence towards protestors. Continue reading “Nicolas Hulot Resigns, Shedding Light on Lobbies’ Influence”

European Arrest Warrant & Detention Conditions in EU Member States

By Giorgia Spolverato

Is the risk of undergoing “inhuman and degrading treatments” enough to refuse the surrender of a prisoner from a European Union country to another?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) tried to answer this question on the occasion of the joined cases Aranyosi and Căldăraru.[1] Due to its functions as described in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the CJEU was asked by the Higher Regional Court of Bremen (Germany) to give an interpretation of article 1, paragraph 3 of the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision (EAW-FD), with a special focus on its compatibility with the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment included in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.[2] This measure was adopted in 2002 by the Council of the European Union to replace the outdated extradition procedure within the EU member states. What is relevant to us is that the new regulation tool is based on the principle of mutual recognition, which is one of the cornerstones of the European Union integration and cooperation process, especially in the fight against international crime.[3] The principle entails a high level of mutual trust among EU member states. In the field of judicial co-operation in criminal matters, it basically means that a decision taken by an authority in one member state may be accepted as it is by another state.[4] However, this supposed “blind trust” among the member states can cause complications in cases where the principle of mutual recognition clashes with other principles; as in the case at stake, the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment. Continue reading “European Arrest Warrant & Detention Conditions in EU Member States”

Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?

By Linda Piersma

Ever since the EU was diagnosed with a so-called ‘democratic deficit’, it has attempted to close the gap between the European elite and its citizens. At first, its communication policies were directed at providing information and ‘educating’ the public about Europe. However, since the mid-2000s, the EU has committed itself (in theory at least) to the idea of a true European public sphere involving genuine dialogue with its citizens.[1] Via its ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (EfCP), the EU now supports various external projects to stimulate this two-way relationship.[2]

A case in point is ‘Debating Europe’, a website created by the organization Friends of Europe, which seeks to stimulate a direct conversation between European citizens and their supranational politicians by connecting them on their online platform. Several of its debates are funded by the EfCP and citizens can engage in these debates by sending in questions or posting comments. Debating Europe then takes these questions to certain ‘European leaders’ like MEPs, policy-makers, academic experts or NGOs to have them respond.[3] However, does Debating Europe actually succeed in its objective of encouraging honest debate and bringing together European leaders and their citizens? How is the interactive process shaped by all these actors?

Although research on the European public sphere has come a long way since the original Habermasian understanding of the term,[4] I argue that the interaction between all these different actors asks for an approach that integrates both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Especially in current-day digital society, traditional media, political actors and citizens are all involved in the online “production, distribution, consumption and discussion of political content on issues of societal relevance.”[5] By understanding the European public sphere as a network of online and offline meaning-making,[6] it becomes possible to see the intersections between EU policies, transnational media discourses and citizens’ practices. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?”