The EU 2020 was agreed by the Heads of EU States in 2010. The strategy focuses on creating growth through knowledge/IT, eliminating poverty, promoting education, empowering people in inclusive societies as well as creating a more competitive, and greener economy. The EU2020 was supposed to be the EU’s Grand strategy for economic growth and for balanced social/environmental development.
However, very little of what the EU2020 promised has been implemented so far. At the time of its inception, the EU2020 was seen as a moderate compromise. It is quite disappointing to see that the EU has not even managed to meet its modest targets.
The failure to implement EU2020 is a sign of the EU’s retrogression in all fields. Most states are falling behind in poverty-reduction and employment goals. Indeed Europeans are better educated today as the strategy demands. However, the future is not bright as many of them will remain unemployed.
Although progress has been achieved in the EU2020’s green targets, this can be mostly attributed to the slowing of consumption rather than to the implementation of a successful EU environmental strategy. The field of renewables is doing well but it still has a long way to go to reach the 20 per cent target in the energy total as claimed by the EU2020.
How can the EU remain reliable when it fails to focus on the basic needs of its population as described by the EU2020? The whole EU2020 fiasco constitutes another case of EU embarrassment. However, this is not a minor miss. EU2020 targets were meant to make our lives better as well as to make Europe more successful. As the EU has failed to deliver, our lives have become more insecure. The politics of recession have torn the EU2020 strategy apart. EU States have become obsessed with balancing their finances, thus neglecting sensitive aspects of human life (e.g. health, education, social security, alleviation of poverty, environmental protection).
In the light of the 2014 European elections, EU citizens can pose various ‘disturbing’ questions to their politicians. One of them should be on the failure of the EU2020. Why have the EU2020 targets not been met? Who should be held accountable? It is in our best interest to see the EU2020 targets being implemented. EU Member States have committed themselves to these targets. They now have to deliver.
The global media were overwhelmed by the arrests of various MPs of Golden Dawn, the main extreme right party represented in the Greek Parliament.
After the murder of Greek citizen Pavlos Fyssas by the neonazis, the Government decided to tackle extreme-right wing violence. Political considerations also played an important part in the decision to hit Golden Dawn, as the extremist party was scoring high points in surveys, mainly to the detriment of the major conservative party.
The arrest of its main caucus happened overnight. TV images of violent incidents and various illegal acts that were committed by Golden Dawn party members came to the fore. Suddenly, Greek society woke up to the dangers of uncontrolled right-wing extremism. Nonetheless, better late than never!
Much talk goes on about the dismantling of the political party of Golden Dawn which is now characterised by the government and the mass media as a criminal band.
This may be a positive step but it is not enough on its own to tackle extremism. New anti-inflammatory laws also have to be voted in the Parliament. However, the phenomenon of right wing violence has to be treated drastically not only in legalistic terms.
The hatred that has penetrated Greek society through the Golden Dawn propaganda has to be addressed. Massive work needs to be done, especially among the youth that have been attracted by the violent speech of the Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn may be dismantled but how are we going to react if it is re-grouped under a different name?
The overall frustration of society should be tackled. New policies that aim at the eradication of poverty, and the tackling of unemployment should be put into practice.
The neo-liberal policies of recession should be addressed too. If they are not, then the increasing levels of poverty will continue to fuel all sorts of extremisms.
The French city of Nantes celebrates its European Green Capital title this year. It fully deserves the title as it is a positive example of re-invention. Nantes is a positive example of a city that does not neglect the challenges of the future. It is also a good source of inspiration of imaginative solutions which originate from a peripheral city.
In the 1980s, the closure of the shipyards, one of the city’s main economic activities, brought a climate of disappointment in Nantes. Nevertheless, the city did not succumb to its wounds. Various measures were implemented in order to turn the tide. The city became involved in environmentally friendly projects. Shipyards were reconverted into public places. High-tech industries were developed and a fast TGV train brought the city closer to Paris.
Nantes won the title of European Green Capital due to its efforts in combating climate change but also for its air quality, biodiversity and waste management achievements. The population of Nantes grew by 100.000 in the last 20 years and is expected to grow even more in the future. Therefore, the city continues to face the challenge of guaranteeing a good quality of life along with achieving sustainability.
A few positive examples of the city’s regeneration plan are the following:
- Emphasis was given to public and green transport. Nantes was the first French city to reintroduce electric tramways. Networks of buses and bicycles were also planned in order to encourage more people to use public transport.
- Projects of rehabilitation and regeneration of run-down areas took place. Energy-efficient buildings were built. Rainwater collection and natural water treatment systems were installed.
- Services were designed to encourage forms of social solidarity (e.g. communal family gardens, community heating systems, collective composting). The former Lariviere industrial site is currently being transformed into a hive of development for social enterprise and solidarity.
- Measures for the protection of biodiversity were adopted. Particular attention was paid to the city’s Green spaces, wetland environments and surrounding woodland. Cutting down measures on pesticides through biological pest management and the promotion of bee-keeping in the inner city were introduced.
- Artistic creativity became a policy priority. Culture was perceived as essential to social cohesion. The ‘Quartier de la Creation’, a cluster of creative industries, is an example of this prioritisation. Also, watch out for the ‘Social Solidarity Economy’ cluster that will open in Nantes in the summer of 2013.
- In addition, with the help of local networks such as Ecossolies and Ecopole, local and regional actors were brought together in order to promote a Green future. European and international expertise was used to bring solutions to the city’s environmental challenges.
- Last but not least, in order to encourage eco-tourism, Nantes became a partner in the ‘Green Passport’ project, which is a valuable tool for the promotion of hotels, campsites and restaurants that adopt sustainable practices.
The initiative of the European Green Capital can be a brilliant instrument in the promotion of Green policies to cities. However, the strategy behind the initiative is not only to award a single Green city but to encourage all European cities to get involved in environmental developments. Promoting a green agenda is not only good for the environment but also has considerable added value. Usually, through the implementation of the ‘greening’ process, the city witnesses an increase on tourism, investment and an influx of young professionals in the ‘Green’ area. Furthermore, the greening process provides positive benefits on our health, well-being and on the quality of our lives. It has a psychological impact too as it makes us feel better and think highly of the spaces we live in.
I do hope that the Green capital initiative will be further extended so that there can be a Green village and even a Green island label in the near future.
For further info on Nantes Green Capital 2013:
Nantes European Green Capital 2013: www.nantesgreencapital.eu
International Nantes Agency: www.nantes-just-imagine.com
France and to a lesser extent other EU members suddenly remembered that there is a poor country down below which was gradually overtaken by Islamist rebels and decided to take action in order to restore stability in it. In particular, France deployed ‘Operation Serval’ in order to defeat the Islamist rebels who were slowly taking over the country. Paper tiger declarations were released from both France and the EU about the importance of human rights in the area and the need to protect them. The EU also decided to deploy a multinational military training mission (EUTM – European Training Mission Mali) which will train and provide advice to Mali’s military.
The Mali government had every legal right to ask for foreign intervention and so it did. In addition, various neighbouring countries in Africa as well as a number of European countries also supported the French operation. There was a wide consensus both within and out of Europe that intervening in Mali was the right thing to do.
However, one does not go to war for the mere battle of ideas and values. The French Mali mission has a substantial cost and may lead to the loss of lives of the French personnel deployed there.
Pragmatic reasons are at the centre of the French decision to intervene. France worries about the escalation of violence stemming from the extremist Islamist threat. If Mali would become a pariah Islamist state this would have a direct impact on French national security. There are Mali citizens residing in France, some of whom may become a force for radical Islamism within France.
Furthermore, the wider Western African region is rich in uranium, oil and rare earths. A number of French companies are largely implicated in the exploitation of the rich soils of various African states. For instance, a possible violent escalation in Mali could have caused a perturbation in the neighbouring state of Niger where French companies are active in uranium deals.
Plus, the French Mali operation provides President Hollande with the opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing something decisive – even if this is only outside his country. No more will he be seen as a ‘softie’.
The French and EU operations may be successful in bringing short-term stability against the Islamist rebels. Nevertheless, all Western-led operations in Mali should be judged on a long-term basis. If they contribute to the creation of long-term strategic planning for the Sahel area, then their impact should be judged as positive. If they succeed in engaging the indifferent Europeans to this poor area of the world this will also be an incredible achievement in its own right. These missions will be appreciated even more if they are followed by a long-term planning of state building based on the rule of law and the eradication of poverty. They will be highly valued if they can guarantee all Malian citizens who come from different ethnic backgrounds the right to peacefully coexist in the country.
However, if none of the above are achieved, both French Serval and the EUTM will look like short-lived fireworks in a very dark sky. It is the long-term prospects of Mali that should pre-occupy us now.
In the 1980s, the prospect of EU access for Greece, Spain and Portugal helped to pave the way to democracy. Today, EU economic policies contribute to the dismantling of these democracies.
All the three countries mentioned above are experimenting a long-term recession. The future of Southern Europe looks grim with prospects of long-term instability and unrest. Popular reactions to the harsh economic policies have taken various forms:
In Spain, break-up regional forces have been reinforced. In the Basque country, moderate and extreme nationalists were the winners of the October elections while state parties (PP – Conservatives and PSOE – socialdemocrats) collapsed. The same is expected to happen in Catalonia later this year.
Deligitimazation of the regime brought a high popular vote for the extreme right in the Greek June 2012 elections (while current polls credit Golden Dawn, the main extreme right-wing force with 14 per cent of the vote).
Recently, the Portuguese government could not pass measures due to high popular resistance. In all three countries, protests, street unrest and clashes with the police have become daily events.
Every day, a political drama unfolds in the South of Europe as governments struggle to survive. Democratic regimes are under tremendous pressure.
What is more severe though is the social drama: people lose their jobs, young people migrate for a better future, an increasing amount of homeless people start to appear in the streets, patients can no longer afford to buy their medicines. Cuts in education, welfare and health have brought the populations of Southern Europe down to their knees.
No one objects to cuts in bureaucratic and unnecessary state instruments. Deficit needs to be reduced but this cannot happen overnight. The imposition of a Merkel inspired narrow-minded logic is not a viable policy.
A sincere reflection on what went wrong in the South and the periphery of Europe needs to be sought. Policy failure did not only affect Greece but also hit the EU’s best students – Spain and Ireland who have long ago adopted the EU neo-liberal acquis.
Rather than boosting the importance of neo-liberal orthodoxies, EU officials should wake up to reality. A loosening of the current harsh budget rules, an extension of debt payment for the heavily indebted EU countries and considerable EU investment in job creating sectors (e.g. green investment) should be part of a new beginning.
According to The Guardian Website, the UK Prime Minister told MPs that UK ministers have examined legal powers that would allow Britain to deprive Greek citizens of their right to free movement across the EU, if the eurozone crisis leads to “stresses and strains”.
I do not really understand how the term “stresses and strains” is defined but I find the declaration extremely disturbing. It has a xenophobic tone at a time where an EU partner country, Greece, struggles to stand on its feet after two consecutive elections and four consecutive years of economic crisis. Such discourse spreads unnecessary fears at a time where Greece –more than anything else – needs a strong wave of moral support.
It is worrying to hear such populist words from a Prime Minister of a major European country. It is a discourse which is aimed at satisfying the unfounded claims of the extreme right, rather than addressing an emerging political problem. Although the crisis has hit Greeks hard, I still have not seen millions of Greeks flocking into any other country and consequently, not even into the UK.
In the good times of economic growth, the balance of the bilateral relationship tilted favourably towards the UK as thousands of Greeks completed their degrees in the UK, thus contributing generously to the local economy. Not to mention that Greek people who settle to the UK are –usually – the highly educated ones who are fully integrated into vital sectors of the UK economy and the society. In addition, the trade balance between the two countries continues to be largely in favour of the UK, which shows that out of the bilateral relationship, the UK is a clear winner.
Rather than addressing a ‘future’ threat, I would rather appreciate if the UK would provide a list of rich Greeks who transferred their money to the UK in order to buy posh properties in central parts of London. It may well be the case that many of them are high owners of taxes to the Greek state.
The social media already had a go on Cameron’s declarations. A message that was spread mentioned that if the UK Prime Minister would really like to extradite something Greek, he should first start with the Parthenon Marbles!
However, apart from the funny reaction to the Cameron’s declarations, there is the sad reality. The immigration discourse with its barriers, concentration ‘hospitality’ camps, and deportations is unfortunately back in daily politics. This development shows how little we have learnt from history and how fearful European leaders can become when it comes to addressing the xenophobic demands of the media. It is a pity that certain political leaders spend more time to address the demands of the tabloids rather than to reflect on the real causes of the economic crisis.
The increase in the vote of the extreme right, the fall of the Dutch government, the bonds speculation against Spain, the problems of adjustment of the Monti government, the continuous disintegration of the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek societies – all demonstrate that change in the economic policy of the EU is necessary. Economic adjustments and structural changes cannot happen overnight as Merkel wishes. A vote for Hollande may bring change within the EU, something which will be much welcomed.
It is interesting that the message of the first round of the French Presidential elections was not heard by the EU establishment elites who continue to claim that there will be no change to the economic policy conducted so far. For instance, Commission President Barroso stated that the current unrest is all the fault of the ‘naughty’ states that did not manage to balance their accounts. This is a short-sighted view that fails to take into account various external global challenges (e.g., speculation) and EU weaknesses (e.g. the lack of a framework of economic governance, the limited role of the ECB, the soft EU approach to statistics) which brought many of the EU states to their knees.
For these elites, there is no question of expressing any form of EU self-criticism. In its accustomed way, the EU expressed its concern about the rise of the populist vote. Nevertheless, the condemnation of extremism by EU institutions fails to take into account that the EU is greatly responsible for the outcome of the French elections, the fall of the Dutch government and the unrest in South Europe. Never before was the rift between the EU bureaucrats and the people so wide, as EU institutions act in a ‘Marie Antoinette’ manner. To those that have no bread the official answer seems to be: ‘Let them eat cake’.
Today, very few will argue that market forces are unnecessary. Nevertheless, it is the question of how far market forces should go that needs to concern us. The current situation in Europe is an outcome of rapid market liberalisation, deregulation and social dumping. Do we really want to continue this way? If 1999 was the Waterloo of Communism, 2012 may well be that of liberalism. Policy reconsideration should not only be an imperative of the Left, but also a priority for all democratic political forces that do not wish to see a gradual takeover by the populist forces of the Extreme Right.
It is now time for all European countries to reconsider all the punitive social cuts that they have chosen to implement. All over Europe, voices of dissent are beginning to emerge. It is also time for all the opposition forces of Germany to raise their voices. It is shameful for Germany to continue a dead-end policy that only fits within the logic of the Bild tabloid. It is a pity for Germany, which is a country that has to offer so much to European integration, to be merely confined to an internal short-sighted debate. As even wealthy countries like the Netherlands start to crumble, cracks will gradually be noticed in Berlin.
Coming back to the French Presidential elections, a part of the influential Anglosaxonic media present Hollande’s modest blend of social democracy as a menace to the world economy. This is an over-exaggeration.
The French electorate will have two choices in the ballot box. As Sarkozy’s policies have failed to shape up the French economy, the French have the legitimate right to try something different.
It is also about time the Free Market Talibans understood that their policies do not fit the situation. On 6th May the French, on behalf of all Europeans, will have the possibility to punish Merkel and her political followers: un vote pour Hollande, une gifle pour Merkel.
On April 1st by-elections were held in Burma that brought victory to the main regime opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won 42 out of the 45 contested seats in an electoral event that was seen as an ‘opening up’ gesture by the sealed-off authoritarian junta.
Recent developments should not be ignored. It is important for EU politicians and citizens to act to support the wave of democratisation in Burma.
Burma is a country that requires action with a high degree of sensitivity. The evolution towards a democratic regime should not be taken for granted since a backlash from the Army is likely. There are still many political prisoners. Almost one third of Burma’s population is constituted by minorities. Relationships between the regime and the ethnic minorities are still tense, although improving.
The geopolitical and economic importance of Burma should be taken into account by the EU. Burma has a considerable potential for growth. It occupies a considerable geographic space and possesses a population of 60 million. It has a rich culture and its biodiversity is of considerable importance. Furthermore, the political evolution of Burma is important for regional stability in Southeast Asia.
A positive EU agenda for Burma will have to include issues of tackling poverty and improving the welfare of the population. The wishful mantra of the EU neo-liberal agenda will not be able to address these issues any more than in other developing countries. It is now time for an honest re-thinking of the EU’s external policies.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for foreign policy, has already accomplished an assessment exercise on the strategic partnerships of the EU. Burma may offer a case-study opportunity for policies aiming at helping developing countries. Burma should constitute a case where the empowerment of EU actorness should be sought. The added value in such re-thinking is not only an ethical one: with a successful policy on Burma, the EU can diffuse its normative power regionally. This will empower the EU in a part of the world where it so far has a very limited presence.
Burma is changing, slowly perhaps, but it is changing. However, there should be no illusions that the ‘opening up’ gestures of the regime in the last year have brought a fully-fledged democratic transition. Over the years, Western countries imposed various sanctions on the regime. A gradual lifting of minor sanctions should gradually be implemented but in no case a total lifting of them.
Suu Kyi’s persistence in campaigning for the democratisation of her country is beginning to bear fruit. Nevertheless, Suu Kyi will have the difficult task of co-existing in a Parliament which is controlled by the old regime. She will also have to maintain the popular momentum of her movement until a fully democratic general election is held in the future.
In the gloomy world of today, the recent electoral contest in Burma brought a smile to our faces. The EU should not miss a historic opportunity to make a positive impact on Burma and the whole Southeast Asia region.
The European Union, How does it work?, 3rd Edition, Authors: Elizabeth Bomberg, John Peterson and Richard Corbett, Oxford University Press.
It is always a challenge to explain the inner workings of the European Union to students. To the uninitiated, the EU can seem a boring, incompetent and overcomplicated organisation. I recently came across this book by Bomberg, Peterson and Corbett and found it good at clarifying the functions and outcomes of the EU in a short and precise way. The book helps to demystify the practices of the EU for students of politics but also for the wider public. It provides essential information on the EU in an easy-to-follow style. It includes chapters on the historic evolution of the EU, its institutions, the place of the EU Member States, the EU’s key policies, and also explains how policy is made. It tackles the issue of democracy, and dedicates an extensive part to the foreign dimension of the EU (EU expansion; the EU as a global and security actor).
The book follows the recent trend of academia in focusing quite substantially on the question of the EU and the wider world. However, a greater part of the budget of the EU is allocated to the Common Agricultural Policy and to Cohesion Policy, and these only get a few pages. It would be interesting to go into more depth on these policies and to provide an analysis of their impact on European societies. Furthermore, in a future edition, the introduction could be merged with the historic ‘How did we get here’ chapter since quite a lot has already been written on the historical trajectory of the EU by other scholars.
Notwithstanding these minor weaknesses, the book provides the type of scholarship we need in order to better understand the EU. It is full of informative figures, links and tables which make it easier for the reader to understand the main issues. It also includes questions which provide room for thought and reflection on the impact of the EU.
The book is written by well-regarded academics and practitioners. In this respect, the book has an added value since it not only mentions theory but also explains the real day-to-day politics of the EU.
Greece: time for a new beginning
Being in Greece and seeing the impact of the social crisis is not a pleasant experience. Cuts have affected a high number of the population in a dramatic way. Unemployment is the highest ever recorded while a growing number of the population finds it difficult to afford basic food products and medicaments. Pensioners have seen their meager savings disappear; companies are closing down; a growing number of beggars made an appearance in the streets of Athens while young people are leaving the country in big numbers. There is a growing feeling of despair, disillusionment and anger amongst the population. Today Greek people live in a complete state of agony.
There is no doubt that a regeneration of the country is necessary. Important structural changes must be implemented. A new process of state modernisation should take place leading to the development of less bureaucratic and more efficient state structures. Welfare resources cannot be wasted anymore and should be targeted to those who really need it. A process of profound decentralisation should take place. A productive economy should be built from scratch.
Nevertheless, this cannot happen overnight. The cuts proposed by the Commission and the IMF will hit the poor harder and lead to further social unrest. So far, the austerity measures proposed by the EU failed to make an impact. On the contrary, they contributed to the deepening of the crisis. It is now time for a major rethinking of the measures imposed.
Greek politicians should also assume their responsibilities for the slow pace of the structural changes. The two main parties that governed the country for the last thirty years should pave the way for a smaller but more efficient state. Changing the country is by no means an easy task. Old habits and mentalities need to be altered significantly. Meritocracy can be imposed from above but needs to be supported from below in order to thrive. A collective approach will be necessary in order to support social and environmental projects that the state cannot afford to carry out any more. In an individualistic society this is not an easy task but in the case of Greece, working together in solidarity as an every day act (in the workplace, the neighbourhood and in many other aspects of our lives) is something we have to think seriously if we are to survive.
I do hope that the current crisis will lead to a process of political modernisation. It is now time to get rid of the clientelistic patronage that so much dominated politics in the past. The current crisis should revamp what is progressive and what isn’t. It may (and hopefully will do) provide a modernisation across the Left/Right political spectrum. However, for the time being, no political force can provide a level of trust that is much needed.
Much of what is happening is indeed unfair as the country has been the victim of aggressive speculative forces that have made billions on the backs of the Greeks. However, paralysing the country through strikes and protests on a daily basis will bring no benefit. There should be a moment of reflection and dialogue. So far we only had shouts, screams and insults. It is time to move on. If no consensus is to be found on how the country will move forward, the low/middle classes and the weak sections of society will continue to pay the high price of the crisis. It is also time for the EU to face its demons: if no measures are to be taken against the wave of speculation spurred by the rating agencies then we will end up in a vicious circle that may trap Europe altogether.
In Greece, it is time to tell the bitter truths but also time to attribute justice. Those who have benefited all these years should pay the high amount of the bill. Money that has been deposited in Swiss banks and invested in luxurious London apartments should be traced. Big business tax evasion and money laundering should be punished. Corrupt officials should be put into jail.
This must be a time of deep reflection: what kind of country do we want and how we will go about to achieve it.