Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions

By Hannah Bieber

“I will always defend freedom of speech in my country” said French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview he gave to Aljazeera on October 31st, 2020. One month later, French citizens took up the streets in mass protest against the new security bill proposed by the government – and forced the latter to rewrite it. The cause of the unrest was Article 24, that banned sharing images of police officers if they aimed to harm them physically or psychologically, which was accused of threatening freedom of speech. But how did we get there?

Je suis Charlie: Freedom of speech, a core French value

On October 16th, 2020, French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded after showing his students caricatures of Mohammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Almost five years after the November 2015 Paris Attacks, this gruesome murder sparked peaceful demonstrations throughout the whole country. More than paying tribute to the teacher, people wanted to defend a core French value: freedom of speech. 

Continue reading “Freedom of speech at all costs? How the French new security bill revealed the country’s contradictions”

Towards a more equal Europe: The end of unpaid internships?

By Leyre Castro

It is widely known that you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. This is the reason why many young people end up doing unpaid internships. However, this may be coming to an end soon. October 8th, 2020 was a day to celebrate among all the students and newly graduates who are looking for internships as EU lawmakers adopted a resolution with 574 votes to 77 and 43 abstentions calling on all member states to ensure that young people are offered “good-quality, varied and tailored job, training, apprenticeship or internship offers, including fair remuneration”.

Continue reading “Towards a more equal Europe: The end of unpaid internships?”

The end of the Trump presidency: Good or bad news for Europe?

By Justine Le Floch

As I am writing this article, Joe Biden has just been elected as the 46th President of the United States. If, from a European perspective, this seems to be some welcomed news, the consequences of this election could be worse than they appear. Indeed, the results were so close that it took more than four days after Election Day to know the name of the new president. The country seems more divided than ever. But what do the results of this election entail? More particularly what are the consequences for Europe and Transatlantic relationships? Why would a Biden presidency be both for the best and the worst from a European point of view and for international relations in general?

Continue reading “The end of the Trump presidency: Good or bad news for Europe?”

“Piekło Kobiet”: What is happening in Poland?

By Leyre Castro

Last Thursday October 22nd, 2020 was a dark day for Polish women. Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled abortion due to fetal defects as unconstitutional. Until then, it was legal to have an abortion in three cases: in case of rape or incest, if the mother’s health and life is threatened  or in case of fetal defects. This last provision, which accounts for 98% of the terminations carried out in the country, has now been ruled unconstitutional. 

Poland was already one of the strictest countries in terms of abortion laws in Europe, but the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) has been trying for a long time to make the abortion law even stricter. Back in October 2016, demonstrators all across the country took the streets to protest on the PiS party’s attempt to enact this law. The Parliament rejected the abortion ban on October 6th. After the controversial judicial reforms in the country and the nomination of court judges by PiS, it comes as no surprise that the ban could be passed this time.

Continue reading ““Piekło Kobiet”: What is happening in Poland?”

New hope for the Scottish independence campaign?

By Sarah Jack

Six years after a referendum which tore the country in two, support for Scottish independence could be at its strongest yet.

The Scottish public is, quite frankly, exhausted. The 2014 referendum on whether the country wanted to become independent from the United Kingdom invoked a highly polarising effect among the people of Scotland, with a result of 55% in favour and 45% against.[1] Throughout the months leading up to the vote, the debate became so emotionally charged that one had to avoid the topic entirely in conversations with friends and co-workers.

Retrospectively, the Yes campaign was a messy one. An exaggerated nationalist discourse and Braveheart-themed memes dominated social media, while a lack of clarity regarding issues such as the future currency further weakened the independence movement’s credibility.[2] Later speculation about the potential involvement of Russia in endorsing the Yes campaign lead to further controversy. Despite all of this, the pro-independence Scottish National Party was re-elected just months after the referendum, headed by new party leader Nicola Sturgeon who, despite being initially met with scepticism, has proven to be a popular leader and a substantially uniting force for the country.

Continue reading “New hope for the Scottish independence campaign?”

What is wrong with Sweden? Measures during the coronavirus pandemic: one right approach for all?

By Ala Sivets

In Sweden, just like in Belarus? An attempt to find out.

As the Covid situation relatively improved in the European Union over the summer, the cases increased in the Americas and Asia and it now seems that Europe is entering the second wave WHO was foreseeing in June. Somewhere in the middle of this ocean of events, Sweden’s soft measures left no one indifferent and created fertile ground for the holy war on approaches to stop the spread of the pandemic and conspiracy theories.

The situation has caused a lot of resonance in the EU and abroad. However, it seems that it especially disturbed the minds of Belarusians, who live in the country where the only football league in Europe kept playing for months after the rest of the continent had been put under lockdown, of the only World War II parade being held and of the general denial of coronavirus containment measures. Being accustomed to the long-lasting contempt of their government, Belarusians are genuinely confused with the measures of the world’s most reputable country – Sweden.

Continue reading “What is wrong with Sweden? Measures during the coronavirus pandemic: one right approach for all?”

Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?

By Dorottya Kósa

Over the past few days, my international friends have been bombarding me with questions concerning the new emergency law in my home country, Hungary. Receiving messages full of worries and having to pick up the phone to answer questions about the collapse of democracy in Hungary encouraged me to write this article. I hope to clarify certain things about the new legal realities and how it in fact did not change Hungary’s political powers.

Crash course on the legal framework of Hungary

Article No. 53 (State of Danger) of the Fundamental Law – the Constitution of Hungary – covers special legal orders for extreme circumstances such as a national crisis or a state of emergency. In a state of danger the government has the power to adopt means to suspend the application of certain acts, deviate from them, and take extraordinary measures. [1] As Article No. 53 declares, the means shall remain in force only for fifteen days, but the National Assembly can extend their power by voting every second week. The fourth paragraph pronounces that “upon the termination of the state in danger, such decrees of the Government shall cease to have effect.” Continue reading “Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?”

The avalanche of Erfurt

By Guilherme Becker

In the mountains of Thüringen, the lack of snow points to a mild winter. On the ground floor of its capital Erfurt, however, an avalanche has been spread and felt all over Germany. For the first time a far-right populist party has helped electing a governor. At first, it may not look so serious, but in Germany it has been considered a completely unexpected, surprising, and worrisome taboo breaking. A blast that is hurting the political spectrum nation-wide.

What a time to be in Erfurt, from a journalistic point of view. When I started my internship at Thüringen Allgemeine, I could not imagine that I would live in such a vivid and turbulent period. Not at all. As I am currently working for the biggest newspaper of the state, in its capital city, I would like to explain what went on and what might go on regarding the state parliament leader election, its effects and the great repercussion that led even chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) to respond directly from South Africa on February 6th.

Some weeks ago I spent the whole Friday (31.01) hanging out, watching sessions, interviews and keeping my eyes close to the work of the reporters at Thüringen Parliament. It is a kind of experience that fits really well into a journalist and Euroculture student’s life. I even got time for a joke when walking through the corridor reserved for politicians from far-right populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany), well known for its xenophobic, racist and anti-immigration policies. “Am I allowed to be here? You know, I am a foreigner…”, I asked a journalist. He laughed and promptly joked back: “Yes, true, but you have German blood… So don’t worry…” We all laughed.

The time for jokes ended soon after, precisely on Wednesday (05.02), when the election of the new Thüringen governor was about to happen. The predictions and expectations were all set for the reelection of leftist Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke). But then the most unlikely scenario led to the election of centrist-liberal candidate Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), at the last minute. Unexpectedly, instead of voting for their own candidate, AfD politicians decided to support Kemmerich to defeat the left. That is not the only problem: CDU (conservative right-wing) also supported Kemmerich, which means that two traditionally moderate parties made an unpredictable – if not unbelievable – “connection” with far-right extremists. A complete shock for Germany.

The impact was so huge that protests erupted – and keep happening – not only in Erfurt, but in many other cities of Germany. In the capital of Thüringen public transport was highly affected with delays not only on that Wednesday, but also on the following days given the demonstrations that followed the election.

Then on Thursday (06.02), only one day and 34 minutes after the election, the then newly-elected governor Kemmerich announced his resignation. On Monday (10.02) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned the CDU leadership. Therefore, she will not run next year in the national election as a possible substitute for Merkel. Some days earlier, Merkel had fired Christian Hirte, then minister for former East German states and secretary of state for the economy and energy. The reason? He greeted Kemmerich’s election on Twitter. One avalanche after another.

But why? Why so much anger and outrage over a vote? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Thüringen state parliament is made up of six different parties: Die Linke (29 seats), followed by AfD (22), CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel’s party, conservative right, 21 seats), SPD (Social Democratic Party, socialist left-wing, 8), Grüne (environmentalist left-wing, 5) and FDP (Liberal Democratic Party, liberal centre-right, also 5).

The governor election is indirect. Therefore it is necessary to have a majority through the seats to elect the governor – and then have a future majority on approval or rejection of projects and laws. National conservative and liberal centre-right headquarters parties, such as CDU and FDP, have always claimed and made clear that any “connection” – even informal alliances – with AfD was not allowed and should not happen at all. But it did happen. Usually AfD does not give and does not get any support to or from any party. This time, though, they decided to vote for FDP instead of voting for their own candidate. A completely unexpected political trick.

I see this scenario as a sign that two traditional parties, by accepting AfD support – even not being allowed to do that -, may be ignoring national premises and acting independently to come to power. The point is that the parties’ headquarters strongly condemned the election primarily arguing that Kemmerich should not have accepted the outcome of it. But he accepted, and only later on decided to resign after seeing the pressure and the protests coming from all sides. CDU’s more conservative wings have already flirted with the possibility of approaching AfD. For the most part, however, it has been avoided at all. Moreover, the result of this election might be a message that AfD is gradually getting closer to the “political game” and attempting to gain power under any circumstances.

The reason for the shock in Germany is obvious: parties, politicians and civil society from all political backgrounds abominate the possibility of the far-right approaching power. They voted for and elected politicians precisely to not do what they just have done. In their minds, it is something completely unacceptable which I definitely agree with. When traditional right-wing and centre-right parties (such as the CDU and the FDP) accept AfD’s support, the ideology fades away, and the subsequent message is that what really matters is to come to power. A great offense, so to say.

Another great concern is that this “connection” among these parties leads people to question and consequently disregard even more the traditional parties, which in the last elections have significantly lost votes to extremists. As Kemmerich resigns and a new election is blinking, maybe CDU, for example, will connect to Die Linke, which, in my point of view, can make the electorate migrate even more to the extremists, namely AfD. In other words, it all means that there might be a huge loss of confidence in traditional parties and a vote of confidence for extremists.

The rise of AfD in Thüringen might have come along through many reasons, such as a strong conservatism, but also from some trauma left by DDR, and some subsequent economic reasons. Estearn German states have never got as industrialized as their Western neighbours, for instance. A study launched two weeks ago, for example, pointed out that only 22% of Eastern Germans are completely satisfied with democracy. The number is almost half of the 40% that said being satisfied with it in former Western German states.

At the same time, I see Die Linke as the current majority more as a result of the so-called utilitarian vote, in order to avoid a majority for AfD, although the region remains a traditionally working-class region, what might have led part of the electorate to migrate to the extremes, be right or left.

I do not think that I need to explain the concepts and the political agenda preached by AfD. It is actually more than only conservative. It is racist and xenophobic. One need only to google Björn Höcke and will certainly soon realise what I am talking about.

In the end, what happened some days ago in Erfurt was actually a strong and unprecedented taboo breaking. Germans are aware of the weight of their own history. They know that it was in Thüringen that the country had the first state government with the involvement of the Nazis. Incidentally, it was also in February, 90 years ago, that Hitler’s party gained substantial power. In Erfurt. In Thüringen. That was the first taboo breaking that later led Europe to the ruins, and Germany to collapse. Hopefully a majority of people are not in the mood to repeat some obvious and terrible mistakes.

Picture: Links Unten Göttingen / Flickr

1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.”

By Maeva Chargros

The story is known – some would even say simple: on November 17, 1989, a large demonstration in Prague triggered the Velvet Revolution, that would peacefully end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia; Václav Havel would be the President of the new federal Republic, which would split between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Then, both countries would join NATO and the European Union, keeping close diplomatic ties. Czechia would constantly be confused with Chechnya, and Slovak diplomats in Brussels would have to organise regular mail-swapping meetings with their Slovenian counterparts. Meanwhile, everyone would keep talking about Czechoslovakia as if these two countries only made sense when together.

Nonetheless, if you sit down and listen to Czechs and Slovaks, you realise the story is not that simple: for them, the Velvet Revolution cannot be reduced to just one demonstration, one election, and one painful breakup.

Therefore, instead of a banal memo about various events organised around the Czech Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this major historical milestone, here is an attempt to help international readers to see the events from a Czech, or actually Czechoslovak perspective, through the eyes of people who actually saw the events as they happened – on TV, in the newspapers, or on the main square of their city or village. I interviewed three historians, who were in very different locations in November 1989. They were between 7 and 19 years old, thus each gives a very different perspective on the events that unfolded thirty years ago. All of them are now part of the Euroculture team at the Department of History of Palacký University in Olomouc. You will find more information about them at the end of this article; their age at the time of the Velvet Revolution is given next to their names in the article. Continue reading “1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.””

Brexit and the generation that was robbed

By Hannah Bieber

Starting my first semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I have encountered a lot of students who came from the United Kingdom to do their Erasmus+ year abroad. We discussed extensively about Brexit and the uncertainties that currently hang over their head. These young British citizens who may be the last to enjoy the Erasmus+ experience as we know it today, have made me realize that students may be the first to suffer the consequences of Brexit.

Brexit and the higher education system

No one knows for sure what consequences a ‘no-deal’ Brexit will have on the British – and European – higher education system. 

First of all, British universities may become less attractive for students from the European Union (EU) countries. In January 2019, the Higher Education Statistic Agency (HESA) published a bulletin which showed that, in the year 2017/2018, 5% of the undergraduate students in the United Kingdom came from EU member states. At a masters level, EU students accounted for 8% of the total of postgraduates. However, previous reports reveal that since the referendum, Britain has experienced a slight but significant drop in the number of EU students enrolled in its universities.

In addition, in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would lose their privileged status. Indeed, as fellow European citizens, they had to pay the same tuition fees as other British students – while international students from outside the EU had to pay twice the price. When Britain leaves the Union, no one knows for sure if EU students will still benefit from this status. If it is not the case, many could be discouraged from turning to the United Kingdom for their studies, as argues a ‘No-Deal Briefing’ published by a consortium of 136 Universities in August 2019.

On the other hand, the question of residence permits might also make British universities less attractive. The government has already promised that, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would be able to remain in the country for up to three years. But for these universities, this is not enough. Longer curriculums, such as Bachelors with a year abroad, some Scottish Bachelor and PhD last longer than three years. What would happen to these students? Universities demand more efforts from the government in this respect.

Finally, what makes the United Kingdom such an attractive place for students is the quality of education, greatly due to the high level of research. But this has been reached partly thanks to EU funding, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), as the briefing argues. Without these funds, British research might be hindered and the universities could become less competitive than others in Europe and the world. In an article published in March 2019, the International Students House also pointed out that students were a very benefitting immigration on many levels. Thus, the United Kingdom higher education system has a lot to loose in the event of a ‘no-deal’.

What about Erasmus+?

On March 27, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a regulation to ensure that British students who had started their year abroad could still get their grant even after Brexit and even in the case no deal was reached. Thus, these students are assured to get their mobility grant – on which their entire mobility relies for most of them. But it will not be possible for students to apply for the Erasmus+ grant after Brexit. If their mobility starts after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union, they will not be benefiting from the Erasmus+ program. This could keep many of them from doing a year abroad.

Another downside is the question of residence permits. In countries like Sweden, international students from outside the European Union have to apply for a visa in order to live and study there. These administrative measures make the mobility more complicated prior to the departure, it can also be a drawback for many students in the future.

In February 2019, Universities UK launched a #supportstudyabroad campaign to demand financial support from the government for international mobilities. Apart from the human and personal journey one experiences when they study abroad, this campaign highlighted the fact that students who have spent time studying abroad are more likely to get a first-class degree and have higher chances of getting hired at the end of their studies. In the last three years, British universities have been increasingly pressuring the British government to allot funds that would allow students to do a year abroad, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, which would mean the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Erasmus+ program. The recent reports and briefings have been requesting a ‘full-funded replacement scheme to Erasmus+’ to allow students who are supposed to go abroad during their degree to do so. But will this be enough?

The generation that was robbed

What particularly struck me when I met British students here in Uppsala and talked about Brexit is that they did not recognize themselves and their country in this situation. This generation of young people has been growing up in a Europe where they could fly and stay anywhere without residence permits, where they could feel themselves both British and Scottish and European. In a book published in 2019 called Youthquake 2017: The Rise of Young Cosmopolitans in Britain, James Sloam and Matt Henn observed that 80% of the full-time students voted to remain in the European Union. According to the authors, this category of people is more open to cosmopolitanism, mobility and cultural exchanges. In August 2018, the BBC News published a survey that revealed that over 80% of the people aged 18-24 would vote to remain in the European Union if a new referendum was launched. 

The problem is that, at the time of the referendum, most of the people who are now on exchange and did not have the right to vote. This is the frustration that many of those I encountered have manifested. They feel robbed and have also chosen to do a year abroad because they knew that they might be one of the last generations of British Erasmus+ students. This is not to mention that some of the Scottish and Northern Irish think that, since their region voted to remain, it is unfair that they have to suffer of the consequences of the Brexit. 

Many of them also evocated the fact that their last two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson – had not accessed their position after democratic elections. But more than that, what is particularly difficult for these students right now is the uncertainty. Brexit should have happened in March 2019 and ever since, the situation seems to only get more and more complicated every day. These students do not know if they will have to apply for a residence permit any time soon, or what repercussions a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have on their year abroad. They are powerless, waiting for a government which they feel does not represent them any more to make decisions that might have a tremendous impact on their life.

No one knows when Brexit is actually going to happen, nor how it will happen. Lately, the British government has been heading towards a ‘no-deal’, but this process is so long and complicated that we may not see the end of it any time soon. However, one thing is certain: these young British citizens will keep on carrying the European dreams and ideas – of freedom, mobility and exchange. Whether they transmit them to the next generations is now up to us all.