Meet the Erasmus Graduates whose business is bringing EU funding to Italy’s entrepreneurs: Life after European Studies Interview

 

Eoghan Mark Hughes

Euroregion Consulting was founded to act as a translator for businesses who are seeking European funds in Udine, Italy. A translator, as co-founder Mattia Anzit puts it, “for dummies”. The problem for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is that they are often engaged in such complex, technical work, that if they want to gain access to European regional funding, they are going to need a team capable of navigating a dense bureaucracy and translating high floating concepts into understandable plans. Mattia and his co-founder, Selina Rosset, are Udine’s solution to this problem.

The Italian founders of Euroregion Consulting, are an energetic team, bouncing back and forth off each other throughout the interview, finishing each other’s sentences and lending each other the odd English phrase or two. Having met during the Euroculture Master program, which they both studied in Udine and Strasbourg, Selina says that if it were not for the program, Euroregion Consulting would never have been founded. Despite the fact that the two of them have lived in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy all their lives, they had never met before. As Mattia explains, he is not from the capital, Udine, like Selina, but from a small town, which he insists that I have never heard of.  Vibrant and chatty, the team joked about Italian bureaucracy, confused entrepreneurs and the problems facing young people and students in today’s economic climate. My interview with these two former students of European studies through Euroculture touched on life after graduation, entrepreneurship and European business in a Eurosceptic age. Continue reading “Meet the Erasmus Graduates whose business is bringing EU funding to Italy’s entrepreneurs: Life after European Studies Interview”

Advertisements

Is Euroscepticism one of the key threats to the EU? When Healthy Criticism becomes Bad Medicine

1000px-Anti_EU_flag.svg.png
Anti-EU Flag: Photo by Honza Groh

Elizabete Marija Skrastina

There are two types of threat – those from the outside and those from the inside.

Since the first foundations of the European Union were laid more than fifty years ago, it has changed, deepened, and certainly, become more complex. In fact, one can even argue that the EU is somewhat unique, exploring new ways for states to cooperate while allowing them to maintain their full sovereignty.  A similar system has never been attempted in the history of humankind.

However, with the these changes, new challenges have arisen. It is not a secret that the EU is currently facing an “identity” crisis, to some extent. After Brexit, a new wave of sceptics has awakened as determined as never before. Eurosceptics.

Interestingly enough, the term “Euroscepticism” first appeared in 1985 in a British newspaper. Since then, in various forms, such as hard or soft Euroscepticism, economic or political, it has become a permanent component of the political landscape of the EU.  It is a truly complex phenomenon, with many issues underlying it. With every new aspect of Europe introduced, the main focus of Euroscepticism has changed – from attacking the notion of the European citizen to opposing the common currency and immigration policy, to even the critiquing of the whole idea, as we see now.

a-vandalised-eu-sign-in-sopot-poland-2003_by-tomasz-sienicki
A vandalized EU sign in Sopot, Poland, 2003. Poland elected a Eurosceptic government last year.  Photo by Tomasz Sienicki

Having a Eurosceptic party as a member of a government coalition is common practice, and criticizing the Union is usually a “job” for the right and far right wings, who have enjoyed a recent rise in public support. Yet, what might surprise you is the fact that even in the European parliament, within the very heart of the EU, we can find Eurosceptic groups. It makes sense. The EU is an international organization made up of 28 Member States. A very popular debate among politicians and political scientists presently is whether the EU is turning into some sort of federal state, like the USA, leading to criticism of its supposed power. It is true that with every new treaty signed, the European Union has come closer to resembling a federal state, even if in reality it is far from it. It is also odd, though, because, the EU only has just as much power as the Member States are willing to grant it. The EU is the Member States, although some of its critics argue that at this point, states are pressured to be a part of it, because otherwise, the state is bound to face difficulties on trade and cooperation with others. While to some extent this is true, we can find plenty of examples where states have chosen to remain outside of the EU – Norway and Switzerland, for example, or Britain, which currently in process of leaving the EU.

vote_leave_poster_omagh
A Eurosceptic poster encouraging UK citizens to vote to leave the European Union, in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Photo by Kenneth Allen

It should be noted, that no European Union is not an option anymore, and even the harshest Eurosceptics sense that some minimal form of integration is unavoidable. The debate remains whether the EU should be an “ever closer union” or return to its original state as a free-trade zone with minimum supranational competences.

However, the close relationships between the Member States of the EU might be seen as a powerful response to globalisation. The nations of the world are ever more interdependent, and with the influential economic and cultural position of the US and the rapidly increasing influence of China, it could be argued that, if for nothing else, Europe should “stick together” for social and economic security and international competitiveness.

Nonetheless, unfortunately, most of the Euroscepticism that we see during our day-to-day lives is not based on political and/or economic facts and calculations, but rather on “she said, he said, I heard…” This is the most dangerous type of Euroscepticism. Based on the absence of knowledge or understanding, or plain ignorance, it spreads fast and effectively, and is carefully nourished by a mainstream media that submissively give the people what they want – a bad image of the EU. It is just that simple! When looking at survey data from 2015 Eurobarometer report, 42% stated that they do not understand how the EU works. If one does not understand how the EU works, are they able to critically assess the information given through the media?

256px-front_national_2010-05-01_n04
Marine Le Pen, Leader of Front National, a Eurosceptic party in France: Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Looking deeper, since 2010 Euroscepticism has increased not only in traditionally sceptical countries, such as Denmark and the UK, but also in founder states, such as France and Germany. Moreover, in 2015, Iceland withdrew its EU membership application. This summer, the British voted “leave” and now we see speculations here and there about Frexit, Nexit, Gexit and so on. The founding states themselves are debating the future of the Union.

Therefore, the European Union is now threatened not only by the economic crisis and the refugee crisis, but also by an “identity crisis” – mistrust and ignorance. Scepticism itself is not so bad. There is an opposition for every practice in this world, and often the opposition only pushes for the better. The EU is a new form of international organisation, and, in fact, it is expanding into unknown territory. On that account, if justified, Euroscepticism can be seen as “healthy criticism” and is actually great for reflection on current policies. Unfortunately, at the moment a major part of the scepticism among people of the EU is more “unhealthy”, as it does not propose possible compromises, but is founded on a lack of information as well as  twisted information and thus, leads to resistance against any form of European Union. To fight this, people need to be informed, information needs to be made available and supporters of the EU must help disseminate an accurate image of the EU. To do that, first they must educate themselves on the inner workings of the Union. Eurosceptics will not be deterred by a Europhile who knows nothing of the EU.

Staying informed is the least we can do.

Stay informed with The Euroculturer and click here for more by Elizabete Skrastina.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

Check out our new satire: The Americorner with Ryan Minett: a satirical look at Europe and the wider world! This week, Minett tackles a soon to be unemployed British EU politician, Nigel Farage.

“Little Europe in Bengal: The politics and the ‘desire’ of heritage” by Arnab Dutta

“When Asylum becomes Prison: Refugee Siblings confined to Britain’s Dungavel Detention Centre” by Emma Danks-Lambert

What does it mean to be a European citizen? The realities of EU citizenship and the nationalism problem of Europe

 

citizen-pic
Source: EUtopia Law

Elizabete Marija Skrastina

In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.

It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.

Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.

But, for most, it is not.

In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.

gisela
A group of British Eurosceptic politicians. Boris Johnson, current Foreign Secretary of the UK, is in the middle.

A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.

Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen.  In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation.  This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?

eu-cit
A demonstration by the UK’s European citizens

It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu – can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.

So what does it mean to be a European citizen?

Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.

To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.

Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.

 

532px-eu_flag-map-svg
European Union

On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.

To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.

That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.

Elizabete Marija Skrastina is new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit.” by Emily Burt

“Online Terrorism: Radicalisation on the web” by Eric Hartshorne

“Little Europe in Bengal: Contemporary trends in conservation” by Arnab Dutta

 

Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3

Buckle in for more Brexit misery

Emily Burt

There were a few weeks where it looked as though the Brexit dust was settling. The markets had remained surprisingly robust, defying immediate post-referendum expectations, and aside from Labour party infighting, the political landscape was relatively calm. Then the Conservative party conference arrived, to crush our dreams. Here are five moments of fresh misery the government delivered to the UK electorate:

A Hard Brexit will begin March 2017, with the UK potentially exiting the European Union by 2019

brit conseravtive.jpg
British Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham

Finally we have a date – Theresa May has announced that she will trigger Article 50 in the Spring of 2017, which means that once negotiations begin we could be looking at a UK exit from the European Union by March of 2019. Her announcement sent sterling into a freefall, plunging the pound to a 31-year low, signifying that the markets, along with a significant chunk of the British public, had been secretly hoping that Brexit did not actually mean Brexit. Continue reading “Five terrifying takeaways from the British Conservative Party Conference: Notes from a Lonely Island #3”

The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds

 

Sophie van den Elzen

Recurrent images of the masses of women filing through the streets of Europe’s capitals remind us that the conflict over whether to prioritize women’s right to choose or a fetus’ right to live is one at the heart of many major social debates. Not only does it chafe at the junctions between social progress and tradition, individualism and normativity, encouraging women to exercise their right to self-determination and protecting sacralized family life; the issue also serves as a pin on which politicians hang the canvases they paint of ‘their’ nations as either traditionalist religious countries respectful of their past (such as Poland under PiS) or liberal countries  pragmatically looking to the future (e.g. The Netherlands under VVD).

With Europe’s eyes glued to those countries with the most ostensibly hostile public opinions to the right to legal abortion, it is perhaps also important to glance over at those in which a woman’s right of choice is most firmly established. Continue reading “The Public, the Private, and the Privates: Europe’s Abortion Debate against Shifting Backgrounds”

The European Union’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Who Will Be The Next President of The European Parliament?

eup.jpg
EU Parliament in session

Bastian Bayer

Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.

At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and  that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.

Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017,  the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.

The face of EU policy

schu.jpg
Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament

Schulz has been, with interruptions,  president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.

He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.

However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.

However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.

What followed is a remarkable career.  After a career  as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.

In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.

Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU

three amigos.jpg
Tusk, Schulz and Juncker

Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.

The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.

Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:

“We need stability.”

Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.

“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.

To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts.  Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”

However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.

On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:

Members_of_the_Presidency_(9290654981).jpg
Antonio Tajani

So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals.  Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.

220px-alain_lamassoure_-_sarkozys_meeting_in_toulouse_for_the_2007_french_presidential_election_0040_2007-04-12
Alain Lamassoure

The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting  a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.

mairead-mcguinness-768x1024
Mairead McGuinness

Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.

So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.

For more by Bastian, click here.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“All hail President Trump: How Brexit will lead to Trump’s Victory in November” Emily Burt shows us how the Brexit referendum has Trumped Clinton’s bid for the Presidency.

“Who Polices the Internet? Content Removal v. Freedom of Speech” Julia Mason guides us through the trenches of the internet’s most contested battleground and asks is ‘Hate speech’ the same as ‘Freedom of Speech’.

“Immigrants, Visas and Silver Bullets: How will UK migration work post-Brexit” Eoghan Hughes examines the promises, pledges and pitfalls surrounding the UK’s immigration policy in a post-Brexit reality.

 

Portuguese Brexit? EU sanctions from the Portuguese perspective

lsibon
Lisbon, Capital of Portugal

 Elisa Abrantes

The term ‘Portuguese Brexit’ has been popping up in Portuguese media as of late. While this is a very unlikely scenario, I think that in the context of growing Euroscepticism and growing support for right-wing populist rhetoric in the EU, this merits some attention, especially given Portugal’s generally favourable attitude towards the EU.

The idea of a Portuguese Brexit was voiced by Catarina Martins, Chairperson of the left-wing Bloco de Esquerda party in Portugal, who is campaigning for a referendum to be held on Portugal’s membership of the EU. This situation arose in response to the possibility of sanctions being applied to Portugal and Spain for “lack of effective action” in dealing with levels of “excessive deficit”, which was discussed earlier this summer.

elisa-art-pic2
The Euro is at the heart of Potugal’s EU woes

The decision to discuss the application of sanctions came after a meeting held by Ecofin, the EU’s economic and financial affairs council, as a result of Portugal and Spain’s failure to comply with rules stating that EU member state’s budget deficits should remain within 3% of GDP (gross domestic product). Had the commission decided to apply sanctions, these would consist of a fine that could go up to 0.2% of the country’s GDP, and would be the first case of sanctions being applied to a Eurozone country.

Feelings of outrage and injustice were sparked in Portugal and Spain as a result. In the case of Portugal, its deficit stood at 8.6% of GDP in 2010 and was reduced to just over 3% by 2015. This was the result of horrendous salary cuts and reforms which have characterized an economically precarious situation for Portuguese citizens in the past few years. António Costa, Portuguese prime-minister, argued that imposing sanctions on a country that is implementing demanding measures in order to reduce deficit is unjust and unreasonable, highlighting the unfavourable social and economic European context in which this situation took place. In a period of weak economic growth, perhaps asphyxiating that growth through sanctions is not the wisest move.

elisa-art-pic
A Portuguese Street

Furthermore, Portugal and Spain were by no means the first, nor the worst, member states to breach the 3% deficit rule. Fingers were pointed at France, with 11 violations, as well as Italy, and even Germany for surpassing this figure. The debate then turns to the EU’s (in)ability to challenge larger member states. As one Portuguese politician argues, it is inequality that is killing the EU. All this is not to say that the EU shouldn’t take its role of ‘refereeing’ countries that fail to keep within the established deficit seriously, but that discussions and punishments not be dished out arbitrarily, and not throw weaker member states under the bus.

ec
European Commission, Brussels

In the end, the commission decided not to go forward with the application of sanctions against the two countries, recognizing the immense sacrifice that has been made by the Iberian people in order to improve their countries economic situation. Both member states are now tasked with coming up with measures to ensure the deficit will be within the 3% limit by 2017, a process which is currently being tackled in Portugal. The situation is a little more difficult across the border in Spain, in the midst of the political gridlock taking place there, due to the fact that the provisional government is not able to make any kind of binding budgetary proposals, thereby assigning this task a more challenging nature.

While sanctions were not applied, bitterness towards the EU for its supposed unfair treatment remains. Situations like these only serve to increase criticism of an EU that is far removed from the lives and interests of European citizens, and will do little to remedy the issue of the perceived democratic deficit in EU politics. Perhaps the commission would do well to pay less attention to the well payed economists of the Eurogroup and instead find a way of decreasing the space between the EU and the ordinary European, . Unless it does this the EU risks  fuelling a domino-effect of campaigns for referenda on EU membership in the aftermath of Brexit, jeopardizing the entire European project in a period of great turbulence.

For more by Elisa Abrantes, click here

Recommended Articles

(For more on the EU’s membership woe, read the first of Emily Burt’s column, ‘Notes from a Lonely Island’ an exploration of post-referendum Britain, here)

(Read Emily Dank-Lambert’s Fellows in Persecution: Two months with the Irish Travellers’ and find out how some of Europe’s unseen minorities are living today, here

(Ever wonder how difficult it is to bring students from all over the world together in a single program spread over many universities and countries? Albert Meijer, coordinator with the Erasmus Mundus Euroculture program, gives some practical advice in ‘The Back Office”)

(Want to learn and contribute to the European debate? Then join the absolutely FREE online course ‘European Culture and Politics’ starting september 26. Find details here)

 

An Apple A Day: The fallout of the Ireland-Apple Tax Ruling

 

leinster-house

Leinster House, seat of the Irish Parliament, the Dail

 Eoghan Hughes

Amongst all the sound and fury in the aftermath of the European Commission’s decision that Ireland must collect a minimum of 13bn in tax from tech giant Apple, a fury that has included accusations of tax evasion, a tense moment between coalition partners and endless debates over the benefits of the Irish “Sweetheart System”, most observers seem to have overlooked a key piece of dialogue from this drama. The lines were delivered by none other than Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, and they were part of his response to questions regarding the Irish executive’s decision to appeal the Commission’s ruling. Kenny said:

“…I make no apology about our decision to appeal this because it’s about Ireland. It’s about our people, it’s about us as a sovereign nation actually setting out what are appropriate policies to devise job opportunities and employment careers for our people.”

This statement marks something of a sea change in Irish politics. Far from breaking down under international pressure, Kenny seemed unrepentant before a hostile media response. It is a rare stance to take for a state that rarely raises its voice in class. Long accused by some states, including a SYRIZA led Greece, of failing to fight the imposition of austerity as a condition for an EU bailout during the height of the financial crisis, the Republic of Ireland has cultivated an image of Europe’s “good performer”, as Christine Lagarde of the IMF has put it. This has been bolstered by a stupendous economic recovery, unmatched by any in the Eurozone, and by consistent growth. When Yanis Varoufakis, in his brief stint as Greek Finance Minister, went to war with the EU establishment over austerity, the Irish government kept mum. Where Portugal and Spain failed to find a political consensus in the post-austerity fragmented political landscape, Ireland’s largest party, Fine Gael, managed to cobble together an uneasy alliance to allow their continued governance.

kenny-pic
Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny

The decision of the competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager to pursue the tax ruling, however, has sparked something that has been quite alien to Ireland in the past; it has brought out the Eurosceptic. If you are not convinced, read another choice quote by Kenny:

“This is about the right to small nations. I’m not sure whether the European Commission want to ingratiate themselves with countries more powerful than ours. But this is a small country, and the first meeting I attended after being elected in 2011 was [about increasing] our tax rate.”

To hear an Irish leader speak of the “right to small nations” is, to an Irish citizen, to be transported to another age altogether, when the island of Ireland as a whole was a member of the British Commonwealth. Now, not yet a hundred years since the dissolution of the union of Great Britain and Ireland, the same rhetoric has for the first time been used by a person of power in Ireland against Ireland’s greatest benefactor: the European Union.

Understanding the significance of this will take a little background. For those of you who have not been keeping abreast of the Irish Apple drama, it can be summarized easily enough. Apple has used the Irish county Cork as the base of its European operations for nearly four decades, taken advantage of a lucrative Irish corporation tax of 12.5 percent. The Commission has found that, rather than paying this rather paltry sum, Apple has been afforded a special arrangement involving some complex constructions which allowed the company to pay next to nothing in taxes- which has been referred to as a “sweetheart” deal – by successive Irish governments. Although this deal is set to expire in 2021 in order for Ireland to be compliant with EU competition law, the Commission has decided that the Republic of Ireland was breaching EU law in its refusal to collect the full scale of Apple’s taxes on all of its European operations, and has demanded that the Irish government collect between 13bn and 19bn in back taxes from the American company.

cook
Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at Trinity College Dublin

The Irish government has responded negatively and vowed to appeal this decision, citing the potential loss of 5,000 Irish jobs and the possible knock-on effect the decision might have on Ireland’s financial recovery. Apple has stated that it has not broken any laws, a sentiment broadly backed by the Irish government. However, other commenters, such as economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz have dismiss this argument as “balderdash”. At the same time, a few Irish politicians say they would welcome the cash influx to invest in Irish society. Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan, however, claims that the sudden windfall of 13bn to the Irish budget would have to be used in full to pay back Irish debt, an argument that is being vehemently denied by Commission spokespersons.

All these dissenting voices lead to a complicated international incident, rife with tension and accusations. The only consensus to be found, it seems, is among the Irish population; the decision by the government to appeal this decision is one of the least divisive issues in Irish politics today, as in a recent survey, 62 percent of Irish people have said they support the government’s decision. This perhaps appears to be less than shocking in the current European climate which has seen the beginning of a Brexit, and the rise of Eurosceptic parties across Europe. However, when you put it in the context of another recent poll, in which respondents were asked whether Ireland, given a Brexit like vote, should remain in the EU, things seem somewhat different. The poll by Ignite Research found that 76 percent of Irish adults would vote to remain in the EU. This poll was not conducted in the distant past during the first flush of Euro money into the Republic, but in June of this year, after nearly a decade of austerity.

In this context, the government’s talk of “sovereignty” for small nations seems premature and out of tune with Ireland’s relatively positive relationship with the EU. Indeed, the Irish have many reasons to view the EU positively, as access to the single market and stability funds has allowed the young Republic to make investments, build roads and establish an international reputation in business. It could seem like the comments by the government and the recent poll are a fluke: an issue-based response to a current crisis. This is only the comforting reading of events, however, which conveniently forgets the fledging movement that was UKIP in the UK, and forgets that a snow ball rolling down a hill gains mass.

eucomm
EU Commission HQ in Brussels

Irish Euroscepticism is not unique, but it is new, and may even be nipped in the bud. The Brexit referendum has shown that public opinion in European nations is volatile, and the EU does not need a big toothache from little Ireland. The fear of a knock-on effect from the Brexit and a disintegration of the EU is by no means an inevitability. Ireland, along with many other countries, do indeed gain from their membership of what will remain – even when the Brexit negotiations have concluded – the world’s largest trading bloc, and this in itself can be enough to keep the project moving forward. However, it might take the Commission developing a different political sensibility.

This is not to say that Apple should not pay its taxes. By all rights it should. What it means is that a stronger Europe might be better achieved quietly. Loud pronunciations and condemnations from on high can spark a fire in a population. The Apple ruling, no matter if it was legally correct or not, came at a time when the rhetoric of sovereignty is echoing across Europe, where smaller nations are clinging to their rights under subsidiarity. The decision here, to rule against a law already destined for the rubbish bin strikes many as high-handed and has definitely been taken as politically motivated. At a time when the Commission has failed to deal with, for instance, the flagrant disregard for environmental law shown by the German car manufacturer Volkswagen, Kenny’s reference to larger countries highlights a keen suspicion that the Commission serves the interests of the EU’s larger, more populous states.

irish-eu-flags
Irish and EU flags hanging in Dublin

 

To fight off such accusations the Commission is forced to either launch an assault on the various corruptions afflicting every EU state, or to take a more practical approach, finding compromises rather than delivering rulings. Issues such as the Apple “sweetheart” deal and the Volkswagen emission scandal must be dealt with for the sake of all European citizens, but perhaps, in a time when Europe hangs in the balance, a quietly achieved consensus is better than a trumpeted success.

Click here for more by Eoghan Hughes.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

Click for more on contemporary Europe, read Sabine Volk’s article on Eurocentric right-wing rhetoric.

 

“They just have a different culture!” Disguised racism in right-wing rhetoric of the 21st century

 

pegida-dresden
PEGIDA march in Dresden

 Sabine Volk

In spring 2016, the German nationalist movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) founded a coalition together with nationalist and xenophobic movements and parties from other European countries. Their alliance, the so-called Fortress Europe (read also “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”), poses a theoretical paradox: how is it possible that nationalist groups work together at a European level?

Historical analysis shows that transnational collaboration between right groups is not a new phenomenon. First, one might think of the (attempts of) collaboration by the fascist parties from various European countries in the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, a visible manifestation of right-wing collaboration consists in coalition-building in the European Parliament (EP). Fortress Europe is thus yet another example of how even nationalists can unite at supranational level. What ideology binds the contemporary right-wing groups together? Continue reading ““They just have a different culture!” Disguised racism in right-wing rhetoric of the 21st century”