On the second floor of the Oeconomicum building at Georg-August-Universität, in Göttingen, Germany, during a cold and cloudy afternoon of the end of November, British Labour Party politician Michael Hindley gets ready for a very interesting talk with the “Euroculturer Magazine”.
Former member of the European Parliament (EP) from 1984 until 1999, Michael Hindley was born in 1947 in Blackburn and since 2007 acts as an expert for European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Graduated in French and German studies at London University in 1968, he finished his Master’s Degree in Comparative Cultural Studies at Lancaster University in 1979 and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Law at the University of South Wales in 2011. Full of historical perspectives, some of which he had just previously shared in two Euroculture classes in Göttingen, in this interview he gives his views about Brexit, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Far-Right and, of course, the European Union.
Attentive, friendly, humorous and aware that the interviewer is Brazilian, he quickly broke the ice mentioning something that unites Europeans – and the whole world – in many ways: football. – Roberto Firmino [Liverpool striker] is a great player and used to form a great duo with Philippe Coutinho. They knew exactly where each other was on the field. But now that Coutinho is with Barcelona, in England fans say that Firmino is still looking for him. – Well, one is gone, another one stayed… In the end, it may be a kind of Brexit! – I answered.
Becker: After two very interesting lectures here in Göttingen, I wouldn’t have any other question to start this interview instead of: Do you believe in the European Union?
Hindley: Oh, yes. I have always been a critical supporter. I have always remained on the Left politics, so I am a natural reformer. I have never been romantically against the status quo, I have always been in politics to change things. The European Union (EU) is a framework which I think that has been very politically useful and which I have always been committed to reforming rather than simply admiring.Continue reading “Interview with Michael Hindley – Part 1”→
If I could sum up 2016 with one question, it would be: “How did this happen?”
My question is one which has been on the minds of many others these past several months. It is probably clear that, amongst other things, I am referring to both the British vote to leave the European Union and – as if that was not bad enough – the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I have realised, however, that asking this question is itself the very root of the problem, and the reason for both Brexit and Trump. But let me begin with the initial responses to these events.
On November 9th, I asked my American friend, “How would you feel if you met a Trump supporter? Would you be angry?”
I asked myself the same question after Brexit. How would I react if I spoke with someone who contributed their vote to the British exit of the EU, and therefore to the unwelcome change in my own status, “stripping me” of my EU citizenship? Would I shout, pouring out my frustrations and objections? Would I refuse to engage with them, or alternatively, would I accept that their views were equally valid?
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, I was in a stage of disbelief. I could not believe that this had happened, and I was convinced that something would change the outcome. I thought, only 51.9% of the vote was pro-leave? That’s not enough of a majority for such a tremendous decision. I, along with millions of others, signed a petition for a second referendum, in the hope that this huge mistake could be rectified.
I now see that I was, in a sense, grieving. I was grieving for a loss of citizenship, of identity, of a belief system that I thought was solid and shared by those around me. I more or less experienced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The first four stages combined into one challenging period of time. Not only did I deny the result, but I was angry at those who voted leave, and the ignorance that I blamed for their decision. I started to bargain with myself, thinking that even if we really had to leave (not in the near future, I hoped), perhaps we could still keep our rights as EU citizens? Most of all, I was depressed by the whole situation, and again asked myself, how did this happen?
So when, you may wonder, did I arrive at acceptance? It is an ongoing process. However, it is a process that has a normative element to it – I should accept the Brexit decision, as well as the election of Trump. This does not in any way mean that I need to agree with these decisions, but rather that they must be accepted as legitimate outcomes, even if they came as a shock to such a large part of the population. This leads back to the main question that I have been asking myself for months: “How did this happen?” The question in itself demonstrates the problem at hand: there were enormous rifts silently bubbling under the surface of our society of which many were apparently unaware. Why were these results such a shock for so many of us? Was it the fault of the polls?
A consequence of both Brexit and Trump’s election has been the unveiling of problems which many had misjudged or were even unaware of. There are divisions in Western demographics which were severely underestimated. In the UK, many of these have now become abundantly clear: the old and the young, those with university degrees and those without, the countryside and the cities. The reasons for such diverging voting patterns are diverse and debateable. Slavoj Žižek has argued that Trump supporters have arisen from a desire for change which comes from a deep-rooted dissatisfaction in the current system, a system which was not challenged by Clinton’s candidacy. This reading could analogously be extended to the case of Brexit. Another argument is that the blindness towards divisions in populations could be due to “the Facebook bubble” which has arisen in the age of social media. Others say that Brexit was due to a misleading (or just outright untruthful) media campaign, or biased media representation.
A recurrent theme in these explanations is a lack of communication between different sectors of society. This is where I feel that change is needed: accepting the surprising outcomes of Brexit and the US elections (even if we do not agree with them) will enable us to begin a dialogue in which we should try to understand each other’s views. The dialogue I am advocating could be with friends and family, or on a larger scale, through organisations which are calling for public participation in critical discourse regarding current affairs, such as DIEM25.
We cannot remain in denial; there will be no fruitful discussion whilst those of us who feel we have lost something are still in the first four stages of grieving. The fact that we can even ask ourselves “how did this happen?” illustrates the lack of communication and understanding between different sections of our society, and this is precisely what we now need to work to change. We need to get over our 2016 blues and move on.
Jessica Sofizade was born in London, UK, and did her undergraduate degree in Philosophy. She has studied in the UK, Canada, France and The Netherlands, and will soon move to The Czech Republic for her 2nd semester in the Euroculture programme.
“The democratic revolution has begun”, proclaimed politician Thierry Baudet after the April 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine met the minimum threshold of votes and showed a decisive ‘no’ to the agreement. But so far, the referendum has not set off a revolution. In fact, until now the Dutch government has constantly delayed or deferred from acting upon the outcome of the referendum. This reluctance to respect the referendum result has grave implications for the legitimacy of governance and will only spark a further rise of populism in the Dutch political arena. The government needs to act, or the parliamentary elections in 2017 could see a landslide win for populist parties.
The response of the Dutch government to the outcome of the referendum has been characterized by deferral and inaction. The referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine differs in one great aspect from the other referenda we have seen in Europe this year. Unlike the Brexit referendum in the UK and the refugee referendum in Hungary, the Dutch referendum was a bottom-up initiative and was neither initiated nor wanted by the Dutch government. The government never took the referendum seriously and was not willing or capable of effectively campaigning for a Yes vote for the Association Agreement. Hence, after the result was announced it took the government by surprise. This can be seen in the reluctance of the government to act upon the outcome. Continue reading “The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis”→
Today Italians will be called to cast their vote on the constitutional reform promoted by the government of centre left politician Matteo Renzi. The citizens will have to decide with a simple YES or NO, whether to approve the changes to the Constitution laid down in the Boschi draft law. The reform has been approved by the Parliament, but it can enter into force only if the referendum succeeds. For this plebiscite there is no quorum: whatever the turnout, the result will decide the future of the Italian Constitution.
In this article I will tell you why Italians should vote NO:
It is not a clear and comprehensible reform, as it is written so as not to be understood. It is not an innovative reform, since it preserves and strengthens the central government at the expense of self-government.
Regarding political participation and citizen initiatives, the proposed reform fails to expand the direct participation of citizens, since it increases from 50,000 to 150,000, the amount of signatures necessary for a citizens initiative. For abrogative referendums the quorum will be lower but even in this case the signatures needed will mushroom from 500,000 to 800,000.
The most significant change will be the reduction of parliamentarians and consequent cost cutting if YES wins. In this case, the future Senate will not have 315 members elected directly by citizens, but will consist of only 100 members: 74 will be appointed within the various Regional Councils with a proportional basis according to population and the votes taken by the parties, while 21 will be chosen by the Regional Councils between the mayors of the region (each region will have a mayor representing, while the Trentino Alto Adige will have two – why is this region so different from the others?). Each senator will hold his or her chair for the duration of his or her administrative mandate and will not receive any compensation for their parliamentary activities. The 5 remaining senators will be appointed by the President of the Republic and hold office for seven years. The office of Senator for Life will remain in force only for ex-Presidents of the Republic and for those who already hold it. However, the new draft law does not effectively reduce the cost of politics. Indeed, the Senate costs are reduced by only one fifth, and if the problem is the cost, why not to halve the Chamber of Deputies instead? See next point.
The costs saved are not so impressive: There is no denying that the reduction in the number of Senators will lower the cost of politics, but not as much as is suggested. A reduction in the number of Deputies or a simple ordinary law regarding a reduction in the amount of salaries of parliamentarians would be far more effective.
Elimination of perfect bicameralism: The Senate is not abolished, but only revised: you switch from a perfect bicameralism to a bicameralism ‘confused’ by conflicts not only between the two wings of the Parliament, but also between state and regions.
Abolition of constitutional bodies: The Renzi-Boschi constitutional reform provides for the abolition of the National Council of Economy and Labour (CNEL). CNEL is an advisory assembly of experts for the Italian Government, Parliament and Regions, and has the right to promote legislative initiatives, limited to economic and social subjects. Its suppression will be a loss for economic democracy.
Confusion: This reform, despite its promotion, does not produce simplification as it multiplies by ten legislative processes in Italian government and increases the confusion.
Government stability: It is not true that there will be more stability in Government as a result of the proposed reform. In fact, if the majorities in the Chamber (of Deputies) and Senate will be different, the latter, using different instruments, may still hinder the legislative activities of the lower chamber.
If the Constitutional Referendum should return a majority of votes for NO, the Renzi government could fall. It is difficult to predict how Renzi would manage a defeat for his flagship reform. However, if citizens do not recognize as legitimate one of the main points of the current government’s program, their representatives in Parliament would hardly be able ignore the political significance of the result. It would open the possibility of a motion of no confidence in the government.
The Euroculturer would like to thank Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro for the contribution of this piece. Vittoria is a young communications specialist focused on European affairs. Originally from Italy, this piece is her own, informed opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Euroculturer Magazine or its staff.
As jars of Marmite auctioned online for £10,000, following a price dispute between Tesco and Unilever, and parliament locked horns over the right to a debate of Brexit negotiation terms; the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced she would instigate another Scottish Independence referendum if the UK was forced to leave the single market, at the Scottish National Party conference.
This would be the second referendum in two years. Scotland voted to remain part of the UK by a 10 per cent margin in September 2014, after a prolonged and intense referendum campaign that ended with the removal of long-time leader of the SNP Alec Salmond. Many UK politicians, Theresa May included, are describing Sturgeon’s announcement of a second referendum draft as a temper tantrum over Brexit.
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.