On Monday, April 29th, the first official debate of the European elections took place in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Organised by Politico with their usual partners, it featured five out of the six main groups running for the upcoming European Parliament elections, which are set to happen from May 23rd to 26th.
This debate was meant in every way to target young voters, for a number of good reasons. One of them being that young people are currently getting more and more involved in politics worldwide, be it through the Fridays for Future demonstrations or other “channels”. Therefore, the three main themes of this debate were picked accordingly: Digital Europe, Sustainable Europe, and the Future of Europe. Here are some observations pertaining to the content – but also the general atmosphere impression.
Stable Leader: Frans Timmermans (S&D)
Very honestly, Frans Timmermans was the most well-prepared candidate for this debate. He knew all the topics thoroughly, he was able to articulate specific proposal for each main question, and he did not wasted time on any unnecessary argument. However, it is easy to be in this position for someone who is currently dealing with all these topics as Vice-President of the European Commission. Slight advantage that he definitely seized. Showing leadership at every level, he called for Europeans to “vote Green”, reminding everyone that “there is no competition”. Indeed, the Dutch politician chose to be transparent about his intentions in case he was to become the next President of the European Commission: alliance with the Greens, the Left, and an open-door to negotiations with ALDE. Timmermans did not forget to build on the momentum created by the Spanish general elections on Sunday (28.04) evening – including regarding gender equality, which seems to be among the top priorities of all five candidates.
Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.
To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks. Continue reading “The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?”→
The effects of globalization are felt all around the world. The increasingly interconnected global economic system is the most obvious manifestation of the worldwide compression of time and space. However, the consequences of globalization are not limited to the economy. Globalization has had an effect on political systems, religions, and societies in practically every corner of the world. What is globalization exactly? Often globalization and Westernization are used interchangeably, but this proves to be a rather one-sided perspective. Although all around us, globalization can be a tricky concept to pin down.
The Geneva Centre for Security Policy defines globalization as “a process that encompasses the causes, course, and consequences of transnational and transcultural integration of human and non-human activities”. The European Commission, on the other hand, sees globalization as “the combination of technological progress, lower transport costs and policy liberalization in the European Union and elsewhere” that “has led to increasing trade and financial flows between countries”.
Conservative Europeans have come together like never before against this new threat to their homeland. “My newly prioritised Christian values of Europe are under attack like never before from a new threat,” comments local activist Gustav Penner. This new threat comes from the newest wave of primarily Pastafarian migrants that are flooding in through Europe’s southern border. “We don’t know why they are here; we don’t know what they want; we just know that they must be contained before we are knee deep in Carbonara Sauce and Parmesan Cheese!” continues Herr Penner. Italy seems to be the main destination for these migrants followed closely by the Netherlands, where Pastafarianism is now recognised as a religion. Local Dutch activist Will Geerty says he is worried by boom in Pastafarians he has witnessed in his lifetime. “Recently these Pastafarians opened a Vapiano in our neighbourhood and now all types of strange folk inhabit our once pure city.”
We caught up with one of the migrants to see what he thought about the claims against those of his religion. “Honestly, it’s all a bunch of bolognese. We are here because we have nowhere else to go. This is not some planned invasion to destroy Europe’s newly rediscovered Christian values.” But there is cause for worry. Recent polls show that while church attendance across Europe is falling rapidly, spaghetti consumption is at an all-time high.
But those opposed to Pastafarianism have recently claimed a victory in France with the controversial Colander Constraint. The colander is a well-known religious headdress of the Pastafarians. “We were of the understanding that Europe had evolved into a progressive continent where one had the freedom to practice whatever religion one choose,” proclaimed one Pastafarian now suffering under the ban. “But this legislation shall not stop us from following His Noodliness.” With planned protests of all pasta related goods, tensions will continue until these two sides can work out their differences. “His Noodly Appendage works in strange and mystical ways. Who are we to question the will of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”
The Dublin Regulation is a law concerning European Union Member States and asylum seekers. It establishes the Member State that is responsible for the receiving and examination of an application for asylum, and for deciding whether the criteria for asylum have been met by the applicant. It is often explained in the news as the regulation that ensures asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered. It has been heavily criticized by Hungary and Poland since 2015, with both countries making thinly veiled Eurosceptic remarks about taking power back from the European Union. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles often criticizes the Regulation due to the restrictiveness of the criteria for asylum, the lack of protection it offers asylum seekers and for its failure to take the interests of asylum seekers into account.
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
Months after it helped convince citizens to vote to leave the European Union (EU), migration remains at the heart of post-referendum politics in the UK. One promise of the Brexiteers was that a points system would be brought in to gauge the usefulness of various applicants for immigration. Another promise was that the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK would stop. However the newly minted but not so shiny Prime Minister Theresa May’s has made the decision to rule out introducing a points-based immigration system to the UK following the referendum result which has stirred media attention in Britain as the debate about the UK’s future immigration policy rages on.
May’s immigration blunder
May made the initial comments before her journey to Beijing to attend the 6 September G20 summit earlier this month, largely an exercise in trying to keep the UK relevant on the international stage and assure international partners that Britain would not become a disconnected island. The points-system referred to is modelled after the Australian immigration system which sees immigrants being given points for their various skills, qualifications and backgrounds, as well as behaviour, as the basis for their potential residency in the state. May’s statement that there was not yet any proof such a system worked, emphasized that there was no “silver bullet” solution to reducing immigration to the UK. Upon her return, the British cabinet confirmed that the points system would not be part of their immigration policy. May promised, however, “some control” over immigration.
Nice, Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Ankara, Baghdad, Lahore, Dakka and Orlando are just a few of the cities worldwide that have in 2016 been at the receiving end of violent extremist attacks. The list could be extended and made more dramatic, which would include several hideous attacks in Iraq and Turkey which have taken place in the last couple months. One feature that connects these attacks is terrorism, and to the now officially classified as terrorist, Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (IS). In Europe, the EU and its member-states are on high alert, allocating large amounts of resources to combatting terrorism. Increased prison sentences, infringing surveillance and measures such as the removal of citizenship and the instigation of a state of emergency have been implemented across the continent. It is a situation Europe is trying to grapple with. However, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the current situation, we must take a step back and discuss what exactly is being combatted- what is terrorism? We must also ask how IS – the group currently seen as the most prominent terrorist organisation active in Europe and the Middle East– ended up where they are today.
When discussing terrorism there are two main points which are crucial to its understanding. That is, that terrorism itself is a method, and that its ideological foundation may differ over time. Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading terrorist researchers and his definition of terrorism relies heavily on the methods executed by a group or an organization. Hoffman’s definition of terrorism is as a method of which the main practice is the deliberate use of non-democratic means to obtain political power. The most common type of non-democratic means is the use of violence to spread an ideological message, whereas in democracies the state maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. By attacking vulnerable groups, such as civilians, the aim of such attacks is to spread fear amongst its victims and the political leadership of a country by causing uncertainty and unrest. The second point is terrorism’s capacity to change over time. David Rapoport’s terrorist wave theory highlights the violent method’s evolving character, dividing modern terrorism into four specific eras. Each era has unique characteristics.
The first era developed as a response to the Russian Czar’s inability to instigate political and economic reforms leading to internal dissent and the rise of anti-government movements. The second wave, which lasted from the 1920’s to the early 1960’s had its ideological foundation in national self-determination, and included such groups as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque independence organisation, ETA. The third wave was social revolutionary in goal and included various socialist extremist organisations in Europe, such as the Red Army Faction in Germany. Within this third wave (1960’s to 1979) the methodological base of modern day terrorism was laid by the adoption by terrorist organisations of techniques such as sustained bombing campaigns. Today’s era, also known as the fourth or religious wave is characterised by its adaptable usage of different techniques and the ease of transmission of propaganda. This enables groups in this contemporary wave to remain active and more effective compared to the groups in previous waves.
A quick historical overview of Al Qaeda’s development reveals some of these traits. As a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a global mujahedeen movement grew out of the Afghani resistance movement. Following the Soviet’s withdrawal in 1989, one of the movement’s key members would gain further influence, Osama Bin Laden. Fast forward fifteen years and the Iraqi war is at a worst, and as a response to the US led invasion, Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda establishes an Iraqi branch through a local insurgence group. This new Al Qaeda branch came under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and was to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. AQI would continue to develop during the American led occupation and with the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s new leader after Zarqawi was killed in an American airstrike in 2008, the Islamic State was born. There is obviously much more to IS’s development than just Al Qaeda’s decentralization, such as the Shiite majority government’s treatment of the country’s Sunni Muslim’s, but what their development highlights is how groups within the religious wave are able to evolve past there parent organizations to adapt to new situations while maintaining the momentum of the ideological base.
IS in itself represents an interesting case study when discussing terrorism, returning us to the first theme of terrorism as a method. When the group proclaimed its Caliphate in 2014 much of the western world’s response focused on denouncing the group as a terrorist organisation, while IS developed its own propaganda aimed at emphasizing the group’s aim of establishing an Islamic nation. IS did so by emphasizing the everyday aspects of life within the Islamic State through its different media outlets such as its online magazine Dabiq, which is translated into seven languages and well worth a read for those interested in IS rhetoric. In the early days of the Islamic State, the group would embrace modern methods of terror such as suicide bombings and kidnappings. However, rather than directing such attacks towards citizens, such methods where used for military means. An example of such a tactic is how IS would pack armour-plated trucks with explosives that would then be driven into a military checkpoint and detonated. This combination of military and terrorist tactics was a crucial element in the rapid expansion of the group across Iraq and Syria, at a time when the militaries of these countries were divided and weakened by war. However, since IS has suffered military setbacks at the hand of coalition forces and the Iraqi army, it is possible to identify a change in tactics. The planned attacks in Paris, Brussels, Turkey and across Iraq followed by the continuous onslaught of lone-wolf attacks such as those in San Bernardino and Orlando highlight this change in tactics. Today IS is, by Hoffman’s definition, deploying the full arsenal of terrorism, targeting civilians in order to spread fear.
Today’s religious wave of terrorism has long surpassed the life expectancy of Rapoport’s previous eras, challenging previous research and methods in combatting terrorism. However, today new innovative measures are being examined to combat this wave of terrorism from a non-militarized perspective, in the hopes of treating the problem at its source. At Uppsala University an international and interdisciplinary team led by Professor Isak Svensson of the Department of Peace and Conflict aims at exploring contemporary peaceful means for resolving conflicts with at least one self-proclaimed jihadist actor. Although not directly applicable to the attacks in Europe over the past years, the research project aims at revealing the potential or limitations of peaceful means in resolving local conflicts such as those in Nigeria with the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, Afghanistan with the Taliban and in Syria and Iraq with IS. What connects these groups is their self-proclaimed ideological bases within the religious wave of terrorism. These groups, along with the likes of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines all hold geographical territories under their control and claim to be committed to an Islamic jihadist ideology, however to date it is only IS who has conducted, and claimed connection to, attacks in Europe. The response resonating from western states has to date been tough. However, more and more states are adopting the “softer” approaches to counter-terrorism, pushing the envelop for new ways to prevent individuals from radicalizing, rather than solely focusing on preventing or responding to attacks. In the end, the phenomenon known as terrorism is unlikely to disappear in any foreseeable future. It is easy to forget in today’s jihadist dominated terrorism discourse that left- and right-wing extremist groups have made their presence felt in the not to distant past and may do so again. In Sweden alone, over thirty planned housing facilities for asylum seekers have been burnt by a group of sympathisers of the far right agenda.
Although the near future may seem bleak there are several initiatives pointing in the right direction. In Århus, Denmark, the local counter-radicalization model – a co-operation between the municipality, regional police force and local mosque – has set the precedent for the soft method approach, valuing integration and participation over punishment and exclusion. In Sweden, a national coordinator to defend democracy against violent extremism is pushing for preventative measures such as developing the critical analytical skills of youths regarding the internet and within the new strategy (July 2016) the government encourages local initiatives of cooperation between the religious communities, municipalities, authorities and police. In complete opposition to such initiatives, the current debate regarding the so called burkini is doing nothing but adding flame to fire which is the ISIS propaganda and recruitment machine. Nevertheless, with the amount of foreign fighters traveling from Europe to join IS falling, along with the groups geographical area, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The question is not if the fourth wave of terrorism will end but when.
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”→
On February 6, 2016, people demonstrated all over Europe. In cities as diverse as Dresden, Prague, Warsaw, Bratislava, Krakow, Copenhagen, Dublin, Graz, Tartu, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Montpellier, and Bordeaux, up to 9,000 people held banners in the air declaring ‘Nein zur Einwanderung – Stoppt die Merkelisierung,’ or ‘Non au grand remplacement, Non au changement de peuple, Nous sommes le peuple.’ On April 9, 300 people participated in a blockade of a part of the Czech-German border. On May 16, 2,500 people gathered in Dresden with a similar message. All three events were organized by a recent political movement, the so-called Fortress Europe. The movement’s spokesperson advocated the demos on her webpage with the following words:
“[It’s] about identity, appreciation and mutual forgiveness for everything that ever separated us, the European peoples. This event shall be the starting point for real cohesion, for a European sense of community and a strong, European esprit de corps – to fight together as united Europeans for the preservation of our continent.”
Reading this statement, a student of Euroculture gets alerted. Fortress Europe apparently seeks to strengthen a collective European identity; a concept that is usually considered a possible solution to the current challenges in the process of European integration. Yet, Fortress Europe is an openly xenophobic and EU-skeptic movement. EU-skeptics that aim at the creation of European identity? It’s definitely time to have a closer look at Fortress Europe. Continue reading “Patriotic Europeans United in Fortress Europe”→