The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU

Eleanor Brooks

The American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger famously once asked “Who do I call when I want to call Europe?” The modern day version coming from Rex Tillerson might be, “Who do I call, email, text, tweet…”, but the premise remains the same – who does one call to get the lowdown on Europe? With certain leadership figures rising above the crowd, the current U.S. Secretary has some pretty good options available.

Emmanuel Macron – The ambitious new kid on the bloc

The poster boy of French politics, Mr Emmanuel Macron has recently joined the ranks of rosy-cheeked nation state leaders on the world stage. After founding his own party En Marche! in early 2016 (a keen observer will note it shares the same initials as his own name), he led his party to victory less than a year later in the French parliamentary elections. His triumph was unprecedented and audacious; the presidential election was his first time running for public office and he won it with apparent ease. Such a rapid rise power is rarely achieved in politics by democratic means, although comparison could be made to a certain head of state across the Atlantic Ocean who also circumvented the typical route in his bid for Presidential office. Continue reading “The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU”

Advertisements

Message from an Obama Groupie: An ode to the Obama decade

Lianne Arentsen

Some say most Europeans are fans of Obama. I am not sure about that, but I definitely am. You could say I am an Obama groupie. So this article will be an ode to Obama. Or better said, an ode to the feeling that Obama gives.

The Obama hype is not new; we have had it since his first run for President. However, in light of the current events in American politics, more and more Obama groupies stand up to sing his praises. This is hardly surprising. When it seems like the good days are over, it is common to look back at the first blush of the romance. Now, with all the drama between and around Clinton and Trump, Obama is like a sweet memory of the good old times, even though he is still in charge. We know Obama cannot stay. We know our Obama-days will be over soon. So we are sad about that, we are afraid of a future that include Clinton and Trump, and are therefore already looking back on the great years we had with him.

Of course Obama is was not the perfect POTUS. He did not do everything he promised. Guantanamo Bay is not closed, even though Obama said he would close it years ago. However, there is no such thing as a perfect president. They are all humans, and humans make mistakes, especially when caught in an endlessly tangled bureaucracy. They learn from it. With that in mind, let’s get back to the ode to Obama.

Barack_Obama_on_phone_with_Benjamin_Netanyahu_2009-06-08.jpg

What’s not to love about Obama? The Huffington Post even made a list of 55 reasons to love Obama. Read it. If you didn’t love him yet, you soon will. Some examples of those 55 reasons: Obama is the first black president, he has made great reforms (think about Obamacare, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act) and, he has even won the Nobel Peace Prize. And did you know he can sing? He can easily start a professional singing career once his presidency ends. Another choice of career could be a DJ: for the past two years, he has released summer playlists on Spotify. But, also importantly, he has a great sense of humor. He makes the most out of his final moments as the President of the United States.

That is what we love about him. Whenever there is a new video of Obama mocking himself, of making a hilarious joke, we laugh and we like and share it. We cherish these moments, because we know all the laughing will soon be over. So for now, we stay in our little cocoons watching the videos of Obama, pretending all the American election drama is not happening right now. So here’s a little advice: whenever you read articles about the terrors of a Trump or Clinton, or discovering a new drama or embarrassment for Trump and Clinton, pretend you didn’t see it. Go watch Obama doing Thriller. What you don’t see, is not there.

What will happen in the next Presidency, we do not know yet. For now we can only say, Obama out!

Obama_013.jpg
Photo by John Kees

Click here for more by Lianne Arentsen.

Featured picture credit: Pete Souza.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored” by Arne van Lienden

“Should Voting be Compulsory in the US?” by Emma Danks-Lambert

“Islamophobia: Made in America – A New Phenomenon? US Elections and Discrimination” by Sabine Volk

The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US

This essay is moreover a response to political scientist Robert A. Dahl’s famous work How Democratic Is the American Constitution?, in which he points to several democratic issues in the American constitutional system.

us-constitution
The Constitution of the United States of America is almost a holy document in the US

Sabine Volk

How democratic is the American constitution? asks political scientist Robert A. Dahl in his famous essay. His argument does not leave much of a doubt to the answer: the American constitution is by far not the democratic model constitution that many Americans think it to be. Claiming a more critical stance towards the more than 200 years old script, Dahl discusses several questionable aspects of the American founding document. Amongst those aspects, for example, is the unique electoral system whose outcome does not always represent the will of the citizens, as in the 2000 national elections. Another fairly undemocratic feature is the unequal representation of citizens in America’s second legislative chamber, the U.S. Senate, in which the federal states are represented. Dahl defines unequal representation as a condition in which the number of members of the second chamber coming from a federal unit such as a state or province is not proportional to its population, to the number of adult citizens, or to the number of eligible voters.

“The inequality in representation,” he then finds, “is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens,” since it goes against the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” One cannot but wonder why unequal representation exists and on which grounds it can be justified in a democracy.  Continue reading “The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US”

All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s to never assume the worst will not happen.

throne
Donal Trump on his second favourite chair

Emily Burt

I believe Donald Trump will be president next year.

A rolling poll from key swing state Ohio has placed him ahead of his democratic rival Hillary Clinton for almost a week now; and broader polls show the candidates are neck and neck with less than 50 days to go until the November presidential election.

Of course polls can be wrong. And it’s easy to see why people assume Trump is too outlandish, too ridiculous, and unreal to be elected. One of his platform policies is to build a wall around America, paid for by the people he wants to shut out. His son recently compared the global refugee crisis with a bowl of skittles. He eats KFC with a knife and fork – surely there’s at least one state where that’s illegal. With every week that passes, he drops another clanging gaffe that reverberates, painfully, across international media: and the world says this could never happen. Continue reading “All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November”

On German Elections 2013

王 子 Wong Tsz 

The German Bundestagswahl (parliamentary election) ended on 22 September. The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), led by Angela Merkel, won with 41.5%; the main opposition party SPD (Social Democratic Party) got only 25.7%, The Left (Die Linke) 8.6%, The Greens (Die Grünen) 8.4%, the FDP (Free Democratic Party), the AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Pirate Party (Piraten), got 4.8%, 4.7% and 2.2% respectively[1]. But what can we tell from the German election?

Wong tsz fig 1
Fig.1[2]

Merkelmacht, The Merkel power

Other than CDU/CSU’s victory, it is worth noticing Angela Merkel’s winning for the third term as Bundes Chancellor, the Chancellor of Germany. Merkel was Germany’s first female Chancellor and let’s not forget that she began her political career in the East German party Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening). She was later in the male-dominated CDU. At the beginning of Merkel’s career, Germans were not aware of her power in solving political crises until scandals were exposed concerning crucial CDU/CSU members.  Two notable examples were the corruption conspiracy scandal concerning the former President of Germany Christian Wulff, as well as plagiarism in the doctoral theses of former Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan and former Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Merkel first tried to keep them in their positions, yet due to the potent force of public opinion, she accepted their resignations.

Fig.2[3]
Fig.2[3]

“Merkel manages to grab the will of the people early enough to make appropriate political decisions, even if it means turning stance…”

The realistic approach of Merkel’s politics can be found not only in personnel assignments, but also in her political platform. “Merkel takes all of the energy out by bear-hugging her opponents and absorbing their issues,” said Andreas Kraemer, the director of the Ecologic Institute in Berlin[4]. Merkel manages to grab the will of the people early enough to make appropriate political decisions, even if it means turning stance. For instance, she abided by a decision made earlier by her former coalition partners, the SPD. When the SPD was in government from 1998 to 2005, a law phasing out all nuclear power plants by 2021 was supported by the government, and the schedule was also accepted by the majority of German people. Yet, later in 2010, when Merkel was re-elected for the second term of Chancellor, she did a U-turn by prolonging the service of nuclear power plants, until a “bridge technology” is developed to rely on renewable energies[5]. On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster erupted, and public opinion soon demanded instant cease on all nuclear power. Merkel made another U-turn, in order to save the CDU from mayhem in the state election of Baden-Wüttemberg, to shut down all nuclear power plants in the country in due course.

Merkel has been well known for her strong-stance on EU matters, especially during the Eurozone crisis; yet back in Germany, she was nicknamed Mutti (mummy). With Germany’s lead in economic achievements, and with a record low unemployment rate, the nation has gained enormous importance in European politics. This year the CDU won the greatest victory since the German reunification. After the election, Merkel said in her victory speech: “Heute wird gefeiert, ab morgen wieder gearbeitet”[6] (Today we celebrate, tomorrow we work again.) The calm speech she made may have reflected her Mutti character.

Other than Merkel, there is still much to talk about concerning the election. First – the left wing parties.

Peer Steinbrück and the SPD’s failure

Wong tsz fig 3
Fig.3[7]

 “Steinbrück’s immaturity in politics earned him various nicknames…”

SPD chair Peer Steinbrück’s performance in the TV election debate was widely reckoned as “not outstanding”. There was very little eye contact between him and the camera, probably due to the fact that he failed to locate where the cameras were[8]. Steinbrück also failed to gain popularity throughout the election campaign, with 25% of an approval rate compared to Merkel’s 63% in April 2013[9]. On a more personal level, you don’t have to be a political scientist to tell the difference between Peer Steinbrück and Angela Merkel. Unlike Merkel’s Mutti character, Peer Steinbrück is known to be outspoken, but was also undermined by a number of blunders he made. For instance, he commented that the Chancellor salary was too low, and the German public interpreted his comment as a potential self pay-rise if he is elected. There is also the issue with Steinbrück’s personal income. He is reported to have made €1.25 million between November 2009 and July 2012 for public speeches, even though he was receiving a salary as an elected member of parliament at the time[10]. His immaturity in politics earned him various nicknames: Pannen-Peer, Problem-Peer and Peerlusconi (see fig. 3), after the former Italian Prime Minister.

As for the number of seats, the SPD gained only 30.5%, compared to the CDU’s 40.5%. The CDU won a remarkable victory over the SPD. This could be explained by the fact that many SPD supporters did not cast their vote, and they did not want to vote for The Left or the CDU, nor did they trust the SPD to do a better job than the current CDU-led government. In fact, although the turnout rate of this year’s elections is higher than last year – 71.5% compared to 70.8% in 2009[11], it is the second lowest in history.

The SPD became passive after the elections. On the one hand if it chooses to form a grand coalition with the CDU, it could lose some loyal supporters, and even worse, history may repeat itself as in the 2009 elections, where the SPD was marginalised by the CDU; but if the SPD refuses such a coalition, it could be blamed for being a troublemaker. The SPD is indeed in a dilemma.

Between Red-Green-Red, the SPD, Die Grünen and Die Linke

The CDU/CSU needs a coalition partner. We may ask ourselves if there is any possibility of forming a coalition between the Left, the SPD and the Greens. The answer is: highly unlikely, due to three main reasons:

  1. Technical difficulties. First, Die Linke was separated from the SPD in 2007 after former SPD chair Oskar Lafontaine left the SPD in 2005; which explains the friction between SPD and Linke supporters. Therefore, even though both parties have left tendencies, there are still clear differences between them, especially concerning the Eurozone crisis. In fact, there was such coalition between the three parties during Landtagswahl (state elections) in 2009 and 2010, and it was indeed a threat to the CDU, yet no attempts of forming a coalition between the three parties were ever seen on a parliamentary level. This is probably due to the fact that they all worry that their own support rate may drop after doing so.
  2. Die Linke and the Stasi’s past. The Left has certain historical connections with the East German Secret Service, where several members were connected with the Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, Ministry for State Security), which made the party unfavourable among liberal voters.
  3. Lack of popular support. According to opinion polls in 2005 and in 2008, most Germans didn’t wish to see a Red-Green-Red coalition. Those approving it was only 10%, and 67% regarded it as a bad idea[12]. In fact, most Germans prefer a grand coalition to any other coalition.

How about the right-wing parties?

The FDP’s epic fail

In the party’s 65-year history, this is the first time the FDP got kicked out of the parliament. Considering the fact that the party actually produced some chancellors in earlier times, this year’s election was indeed an epic fail for the FDP. Philipp Rösler, the former party chair, and also vice chancellor of Germany, is now jobless. He resigned after the failure.

“The first time the FDP got kicked out of the parliament…in 65 years!”

If we compare the figures of approval rate of the CDU/CSU and the FDP, we would notice a sharp drop for the FDP; it was 14.6% in 2009, and only 4.8% this year, while the CDU/CSU had 33.8%, and 41.5% this year[13]. No wonder so many critics commented that the FDP was being sacrificed by the Merkel-led CDU. The same fate may happen again to Merkel’s next coalition partner, and the FDP may plan its revenge in the next elections.

The AfD’s shocking success in its first elections

On small parties, I have to mention the Euro-sceptic AfD – a new political party established barely more than half a year ago. The AfD gained a surprising 4.7% of the vote in its first-time elections. The AfD has a rather narrow agenda when compared to other parties. With its strong anti-euro stance, the party’s main agenda is the elimination of the euro and the restoration of a strong German national currency. The success of the AfD has shown that many Germans are indeed unhappy with the euro, and despite Germany’s participation in Europe’s debt crisis, the problem of explaining the euro to German people remains. The performance of the AfD in the future is definitely worth observing.

So now what?

The victory of the CDU/CSU has shown that most Germans approve Merkel’s conservative economic policy. Meanwhile, the Merkel government has begun the negotiations on forming a coalition with the Greens, or a grand coalition with the SPD. The Greens later turned down the invitation[14], leaving the SPD the only one reasonable option. Despite the dilemma faced by the SPD, it is clear that the Social Democrats will demand concessions in exchange for governing together with the CDU. The SPD would also wish to introduce minimum wage and a better social welfare system. The SPD and The Greens would also use their advantage of seats in the Bundesrat (Upper House) to counter Merkel’s government when necessary.

Many may thus note that the conventional definition of ”left wing parties” in European politics, especially that of the British, does not really apply to major left wing parties in Germany. The conventional definition of ”right wing parties” does not really apply in Germany either. For instance, when comparing the election platforms between the SPD and the CDU/CSU, we would not find so many differences, especially concerning Eurozone issues.  The right wing’s new star – the AfD – has nothing but opposition towards the euro, but not towards the European integration process. Their country being a founding member of the EU, German politicians are in general supportive of the idea of European integration, and therefore support the Eurozone austerity measures. So there is a tendency of major political parties shifting to the centre. For the left and far right parties, redefining their own stances could be a major challenge in the coming years, especially for the right wing FDP and AfD.

“Merkel’s victory may give Germany an upper hand in the negotiations for EU reform…”

It is worth noticing if Merkel will reinstate the plan for reforming the EU, a plan which she did not emphasise much during the election campaign in order to gain maximum domestic support. Merkel’s victory may give Germany an upper hand in the negotiations for EU reform, especially in response to the UK’s reform claim[15].

One interesting thing I have noticed is that both Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and François Hollande, president of France, immediately sent their congratulations to Merkel after the CDU/ CSU’s victory. The heads of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) all kept silent. For Germany it is very likely that it will remain the most important economic and political leader in EU for some years.


[2] Picture from ‘Die Tagesschau‘, Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD), http://wahl.tagesschau.de/wahlen/0000-TIMELINES/charts/TIMELINE-BT-BT-DE/chart_2471175.png

[3] Picture from Merkel glued her fingers together, Funny Junk, http://static.fjcdn.com/pictures/Merkel_508cd5_1670425.jpg

[5] Merkel Pays Political Price for Shift on Nuclear Power, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/world/europe/22iht-letter22.html

[10] Amateur Hour at the SPD: Merkel Challenger Steinbrück Fails to Find His Feet, Spiegel Online International, http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/spd-chancellor-candidate-peer-steinbrueck-goes-from-gaffe-to-gaffe-a-876157.html

[13] Merkel’s refusal to help FDP will come back to haunt her, The Conversation,  http://theconversation.com/merkels-refusal-to-help-fdp-will-come-back-to-haunt-her-18533

[15] Merkel may push Cameron to start early talks on EU reform, The Times,  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3842595.ece

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Contactwongtsz@gmail.com

Hoping to be proud

It is easy just to be proud when you realise how many people are willing to know about your home country. ‘Because it is France. It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’. An ideal that cannot ring true to everybody if one does not have the same rights.

paul-gilbert colletazpaul.colletaz@gmail.com

On the 6th of May 2012, from a little city in Italy where I was studying at the time, my English partner and I witnessed the election of a new President for my home country: France. The Socialist candidate François Hollande won over his opponent – the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. Amongst the voters hoping for change was a majority of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual French community.

Indeed, Mr Hollande, unlike Mr Sarkozy had promised to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Since then, the process proved to be complicated and the past few months were rich in demonstrations, lobbying and public events supporting the President or trying to make him renounce.

Being away, it took me some time to realise the importance of the debate in France and how the question of giving homosexuals those rights was present almost everywhere: in the streets, on television, on the radio…This, however, only seemed to be a start and I imagined that, until the law was passed, the debate and involvement of people on both sides would keep on increasing. Or so I thought…

Glaring at the slow but steady process of allowing same-sex people to marry and adopt, some right-wing mayors declared that they would not marry same-sex couples and requested the right to refrain from performing ceremonial weddings between said couples, were the law to come into force. The debate would continue even after the implementation of the law: longer than I thought…

On the 10th of October, some 1248 mayors had already signed the petition.

Some of the political leaders of France, that democratic republic, were to reject the law and regulations that define a democracy. They would go against the –according to them, very French- rules of democracy because the decision to give equal rights to homosexuals did not include the French electorate directly and therefore lacked a democratic foundation. A brain teaser.

This argument falls short when one is reminded that in early November, 58% of the French population was in favour of same-sex marriage and 50%, in favour of/supported the right for same-sex couples to adopt. However, these figures have decreased since 2011 when they were 63% and 56% respectively. So what is to blame? Certainly, the overwhelming place of the debate and the constant arguments, for or against, repeated again and again. Faced with such a large spectrum of opinions, one thing is certain. Homosexuals and the rights of the homosexuals have never been of much interest for the right-wing politicians.

Another popular argument against the introduction of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is that it would create chaos. The Senator Serge Dassault explained this on the radio on the 7th of November: (…) “Look at history, in Greece, it is one of the reasons for its decadence. Utter decadence. It would compromise children’s development, it would mean the end of education, it would be an enormous danger for the nation as a whole. It would pose an unprecedented threat for the nation as a whole!” Total decadence, well of course. Apparently, being heterosexual helps keep the nation together.

Flag of France

Being French is always something that has helped me spark an interesting conversation with the different people I met as a student studying abroad. Whilst in Italy or in the United-Kingdom, people would speak about the food, the beautiful language, and the philosophers along with the clichés of the beautiful, arrogant, chauvinistic thin French man or woman who smokes too much, can be a bit dirty and who will not, under any circumstances, accept to learn a foreign language. Perhaps because I was speaking another language than French then, the discussions were always cheerful, enjoyable and showed a real interest. Further away, in India – where I am presently studying – the interest in my country is still there, and though some of the ideas about food or of what is ‘typically French’ are more vague; it is the same attraction – if not an enhanced one – that I encounter when I see people perking up at the mention of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire…

However, I knew that in the land where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written, the person who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was beheaded and that Voltaire was describing homosexuality as ‘a despicable attack against nature’ whilst Rousseau saw it as ‘the odious example of a brutal depravation and of a charmless vice’.

This is what being French means. It means missing home and being proud of its ideals, its culture and of some parts of its history. It is also at times facing stubbornness, underlying racism and a somewhat quaint idea that our past and present would make the French people somewhat different. ‘Different’ often meaning ‘better’. Switching from pride to shame is a feeling most people feel when they think about their country, but because of its image and reputation, those two ends feel so far from another if you are French.

I might have chosen to study in different countries to avoid those ups and downs. It is easy, not being informed of what is happening ‘there’, to just be proud when you realise how many people know about your home country, your mother tongue and be even more proud when so many more people tell you about their will to know. ‘Because it is France.’ It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, not a French motto, but a goal and an ideal shared by everybody everywhere in the world. An ideal that cannot ring true to the homosexual community as long as they do not have the same rights.

The project of allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt in France has been approved by the Council of Ministers on the 7th of November and should be discussed in Parliament in January 2013.

* The Euroculturer : F. Hollande said he would be granting what is called “liberté de conscience”, which in fact allows mayors to refuse to perform the ceremony, so they would not be breaking the law. (http://www.atlantico.fr/pepites/mariage-homosexuel-aura-liberte-conscience-pour-maires-dit-hollande-551293.html)

* However, immediately after having used the expression ‘liberté de conscience’, F. Hollande said that he regretted having said that and that mayors will not have the choice whether to marry or not. (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/mariage-gay-lesbienne/20121122.OBS0239/liberte-de-conscience-hollande-regrette-ses-propos.html)

 

paulPaul-Gilbert Colletaz, Contributing writer

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne, Paris, spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. He started the MA Euroculture programme in September 2011 at the University of Strasbourg before going to the University of Udine (Italy). He is presently studying at the University of Pune (India). His research interests go from gender studies to queer studies with a particular interest in body expression, masculinities, second-wave feminism and the legal status of homosexuality and its political consequences.