Is there a role for the Christian Churches in the EU?

One of the main problems of the EU is is inherent one: it is a problem of being constructed in a particular way as well as behaving in a particular way. The EU suffers from a lack of self reflection and the idea of not ‘knowing oneself’. The EU also suffers from a denial of failure: its official discourse claims it is on the right track. The EU does not question what it has done so far and why it went wrong. The EU has a cognitive problem that puzzles many of us. The Christian Churches may ask for more room for reflection within the EU. In times where there is no time to ‘waste’ on reflection, the Church may take a lead into bringing spiritual values back to the agenda, without of course repeating the mistakes of the past. Society has changed and it keeps changing. The Churches should follow these changes with an open-mind.

One of the most most important issues that the EU has to address is that of growing poverty and social inequality. This is a field where the Christian Churches may take the lead and ask for a radical policy shift. The Christian Churches should not merely limit themselves to the already established institutional dialogue with the EU. They should seek Policy changes. EU policies have become a synonym of greed. Banks were saved but not people. Social fragmentation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ grew bigger, the youth became jobless and poor. During the crisis, the financial hurdles on the low and middle classes became harder. Both low and middle classes are becoming impoverished. Lack of economic growth plagues European countries both in and out of the Euro area. With the exception of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Poland most countries saw a decrease in their living standards. Europe has become a Continent of mass unemployment. Very small and symbolic measures such as the Youth Guarantee aiming at reducing youth unemployment have no big impact.

The EU is responsible for the unequal distribution of the crisis bill: it seems that some pay more than others. And this happens at a time where tax evasion, money laundering and corruption continue to flourish. These are transborder issues that the EU does not tackle (as – to be fair- some of its Members States do not want the EU to tackle them). Again, this is a field where the Christian Churches should take the lead reminding to politicians that fairness should not be forgotten.

Even after a major economic and financial crisis, the EU has no economic government but elements of economic governance that do not always fit well together. The Euro design was incomplete. However, very little was done to address the real institutional and political weaknesses of the EU. Instead the EU continues to implement an easy, short-sighted policy of austerity. Again, this area provides a space where the Churches may ask for a better, fairer and more transparent governance.

The ‘deepening’ of the EU integration is not happening. Fragmentation is now evident: between North and South, East and West. The ‘PIGS’ discourse aiming at demonising the countries of the South had a bitter taste of the 1920s. Intergovernmentalism is on the raise, the ‘Community method’ is in crisis. The Churches may contribute to the EU debate by saying how we can all live together. They must also put emphasis on solidarity as well as on the idea that we are all human beings.

Spiritual values may bring something new to the debate as the EU suffers from ‘political emptiness’. EU politicians are the ones that mostly come and go in an anonymous manner, without being known to the wider public. The feeling of boredom also haunts the EU as everything has been already said and done. EU Institutions have failed to deliver and have failed to inspire. On the contrary, they have created a bureaucratic burdensome time consuming labyrinth. They have produced big words with no concrete meaning – e.g. smart specialisation. Outside of the EU bubble, there has been no serious reach-out effort to the local communities, the provinces and the municipalities.

Environmental degradation continues. Main political powers within the EU possess a distorted view of growth that runs against any environmental or social dimension. Christianism with is global vision of the Ecumene should step forward.

New emerging external threats are on the doorstep of the EU- such as humanitarian crises in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Ukraine is another example of the volatility of the Region. The BRICS are on the raise. The EU does not know how to deal with them – for instance China and Russia being major examples of a lack of sincere cooperation. The Churches are well places to talk about tackling these humanitarian crises, promoting dialogue and putting the respect of social rights at the top of the agenda.

The EU suffers from an existential crisis and should do something about it before this crisis becomes a complete burn out. A sincere self-reflection has to go much deeper than the usual SWOT analysis. It should touch upon the way the EU sees itself, acts and perceives the world and its challenges. When mentalities change, policies follow. The Churches should be there to remind that all EU policies have an ethical impact and that there is always room for improvement for individuals and societies. Of course, the Churches cannot act alone. Wider progressive alliances with other social and environmental NGOs should be sought.

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CEMR and CoR call for Europe to go local

CEMR and CoR call for Europe to go local

The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) published its Manifesto for the European elections. CEMR is the largest organisation of local – regional government and represents over 100,000 local – regional authorities in the EU.

The CEMR manifesto is based on nine basic proposals. According to authors of the Manifesto, if these are implemented, they will revive Europe. These policies include measures:

  • To prioritise youth employment
  • To monitor the implementation of structural funds
  • To opt for lighter and simpler regulation
  • To respect the principles of subsidiarity
  • To define ambitious objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
  • To increase the Europe for Citizens budget
  • To stand for deeper integration and democratic legitimacy
  • To support further enlargement
  • To support integrated global approaches

Local and regional governments should be considered equal actors in EU decisions and in the implementation of EU priorities. The Manifesto rightly expresses its concern on whether the EU States will implement the new territorial instruments such as the provision of the Community-Led Local Development, the integrated territorial investments and the Partnership Principle.

The Manifesto also talks about the issue of complicated EU regulation which cannot be not easilyfollowed by local and regional entities. This kind of legislation is not always necessary and simpler regulation is needed. In addition, the CEMR manifesto is right in saying that: ‘to date, large networks of twinned towns and technical cooperation are favoured at the expense of on the ground activities of citizens and small municipalities, which further contribute to the feeling of exclusion from European governance’. (p.16). Furthermore, the manifesto calls for a strong urban-rural dimension in structural policy as challenges are not separately confined to urban or rural entities. A further interaction amongst rural and urban areas is seen as necessary.

The CEMR manifesto calls for a balance between economic competition and the social dimension. For instance, in the field of services, the Manifesto provides a legitimate criticism on EU policies by claiming that: ‘we are concerned that that the European legislator does not sufficiently balance the general and the economic interests when issuing rules on services of general economic interest. Furthermore, the specificities of local public services and their objective to serve the citizens are not sufficiently taken into account’. (p. 12).

When it comes to the environment the CEMR puts emphasis on the ‘polluter pays’ principle and the rectification of pollution at the source which should guide future EU environmental policies. It also hopes that the reviewed targets for municipal waste will be proportionate and realistic, and accompanied with adequate support, for municipalities that are lagging behind (p. 14). It rightly claims that municipal and regional entities are not always sufficiently equipped to deal with challenges. For instance, in certain areas, such as climate change, there is not enough financial support to local and regional authorities to properly deal with their competences and the priorities imposed by the EU directives. This is for instance the case in the field of sustainable mobility policies which constitutes a vital sphere for the protection of the environment. Therefore, the Manifesto calls for all necessary resources to be allocated to them.

The CEMR claims are also legitimate in the field of gender and minority rights. A call for openness, dialogue and the respect for diversity are also amongst the stated priorities. The Manifesto claims that due to various restrictive policies of the EU, the fundamental freedom of movement has been put into question. According to the text, local authorities are not provided with the necessary means to deal with integration. This complicates even more the life of the immigrants. “Non-EU migrant remain in detention centres where their right are not respected or are expelled and stuck in other countries different from the one of origin just for having looked for a better life.” (p. 19).

The CEMR Manifesto has a strong citizenship dimension. It includes ideaa to increase the budgetary allocation for Europe for Citizens Programme to a symbolic ‘one Euro per citizen’ and to make an effort to reach those citizens in risk of exclusion. These proposals really worth consideration.

In the field of EU Enlargement, the text supports further moves to integrate non EU neighbouring countries and puts emphasis on tools of preparation for accession which should be of use to local and regional actors.

The Manifesto ends with its commitment in solidarity between the North and the South and calls for the EU Parliament to support further measures of international solidarity and development cooperation.

The CEMR Manifesto coincides with other demands for local engagement such as the Charter for Multilevel Governance (MLG) by the Committee of the Regions. The Charter was adopted by the Committee of the regions on 3 April 2014 and will open on 9 May 2014 for the signature of all EU cities and regions and calls public authorities of all levels of governance (local, national and European) to use and promote multilevel governance (MLG). Charter signatories will be invited to experiment with innovative policy solutions in adherence with MLG principles of subsidiarity, proportionality and partnership, and to promote the use of multilevel partnerships and instruments for joint policy action. EU institutions and EU member states are invited to apply Charter principles when it comes to drawing up and implementing European strategies and policies. Associations and networks of local and regional authorities, together with political figures wishing to support this process are invited to declare their support.

I wish that EU officials will listen closely to the voices of both the CEMR and the CoR. The EU should not be seen as a distant Brussels-based entity. It has to spread its actions to the regions and municipalities of Europe. So far, this has only happened in a top bottom approach. However, Europe will not succeed unless it cooperates more effectively with its local entities. This ‘local Europeanisation deficit’ has been neglected by media, the academics and the EU establishment and requires considerable attention. It is now time for the EU to work with communities, provinces, municipalities and regional entities so that citizens in all parts of Europe could get further involved in the EU integration project.

 

You can read the CEMR manifesto at the following link:

 

http://ccre.org/img/uploads/piecesjointe/filename/CEMR_Manifesto_EP_2014_EN.pdf

 

The CoR Charter can be found in this link:

 

http://www.cor.europa.eu/en/activities/governance/Pages/Charter-for-MultiLevel-Governance.aspx

 

 

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The urge for a common European historic memory

History is a powerful tool in the hands of policy makers as it can forge the minds and consciousness of people when it comes to identity and belonging. National leaders have long used historical events in order to galvanise public opinion for their own needs and to diffuse their own propaganda.

The issue of forging a common European history has long preoccupied the minds of EU elites who wanted to create their own European-focused history in order to emphasise the process of European integration. However, the process of Europeanisation of history has been far from easy. A basic European historic consensus has been shaped which led to a rejection of the ‘nasty European past’ through the condemnation of Nazism, Stalinism, the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the former Communist States. However, although these condemnations constitute legitimate causes, they do not serve as a solid basis for a deep European historic memory.

According to Markus J. Prutsch, author of the European Parliament Study note with the title “The European Historic Memory: policies, challenges and perspectives”, the creation of a European Historic Memory is not an easy task and may contain many political minefields. Still, the author argues that a parallel critical examination of history should take place both at a national and European level. European countries have a problem to deal with their historic skeletons of the past. A critical historic re-evaluation can be painful process of change. National myths and figures may be downgraded. Events may be altered. National symbols that constitute a large part of various national identities may be reversed. Bitter moments of the past may resurface.

Furthermore, in order to acquire a ‘European’ dimension, the remit and depth of history should be widened as according to the author:  “What would hence be crucial is widening the content focus of history teaching, to convey an understanding of national history as being embedded in wider contexts, both European and global. In other words: historical events should be studied not in isolation, but bearing in mind their transnational dimensions and repercussions”. (p. 31)

The author argues for a critical re-reading of European history. A common historic trajectory cannot be crafted by pompous celebrations, memorial events and festivities. According to the author, the biggest challenge for Europe would be to forge an open spirit, which is open to critical historic approaches. This may happen with the elaboration of an alternative historical teaching which: “1) increases awareness of the diversity of cultures, histories and memories in Europe, and promotes mutual respect; 2) provides students with the necessary knowledge and skills to assess their own local and national past unbiasedly in comparison and relation with other European as well as global realities; and thus 3) encourages young Europeans to become active critical thinkers and participants of ‘historical remembrance’. ” (pp. 30-31).

The study ‘The European Historic Memory: policies, challenges and perspectives’ by Markus J. Prutsch is a valuable tool for all those who believe that history should be accessed through critical lenses. The reinterpretation of national histories may be a burdensome process. However, it is a process of historic honesty that we owe it above all to ourselves.

 

The study can be downloaded in English, German and French through the following link: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/studies

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Right 2 Water Now!

The successful registration of the EU-wide ‘Right2Water’ bid to the European Commission constitutes a major success for the European ‘demos’. Its main aim is to guarantee water supply/sanitation for the European citizens. The request was lodged under the clause of the European Citizens’ Initiative which is included in the Treaty of Lisbon. According to this clause, the European Commission should take into account a request which is supported by one million validated signatures which should originate from at least seven Member States of the European Union.

The Right2Water initiative was supported by trade unions, numerous NGOs, and individual European citizens who signed the text. The text has already received the support of more than one million eight hundred thousand Europeans from at least fifteen EU Member States.

According to the Right2Water initiative, there are about 2 million people in Europe, who do not have adequate water supplies or sanitation services. There are also many people with low incomes who are threatened with disruption of services, as they cannot afford to pay their bills.

According to the Right2Water bid, water and sanitation is a human right and must be protected. The European Commission should propose legislation in order to safeguard the human right of access to water and to protect water supply/sanitation as an essential public good for all. The European Union should also step up its efforts to protect the precious commodity of water from unregulated liberalization.

In the next three months, the European Commission will have to call the Right2Water organizers in Brussels so that they can explain their ideas. The Commission will then decide whether to proceed with legislation on these issues or whether it should act through its existing policies. In any case, the European Commission will have to explain the rationale for its chosen action plan.

Congratulations to the Organizers of the Right2Water initiative as well as to all the European citizens who supported the bid with their signature!

For more information on the Right2Water initiative please visit the following link: http://www.right2water.eu/en

 

 

Δικαίωμα στο νερό τώρα!

Μεγάλη νίκη της κοινωνίας των πολιτών αποτελεί η επιτυχημένη καταχώρηση αιτήματος στην Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή με στόχο την διασφάλιση της εγγυημένης παροχής υπηρεσιών ύδρευσης/αποχέτευσης. Το αίτημα κατατέθηκε στην Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή από την πανευρωπαϊκή πρωτοβουλία Right2Water (Δικαίωμα στο νερό), στο πλαίσιο της ρήτρας της Πρωτοβουλίας Ευρωπαίων Πολιτών η οποία και αναγράφεται στη Συνθήκη της Λισαβόνας. Σύμφωνα με τη ρήτρα αυτή, η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή θα πρέπει να λάβει υπόψη ένα αίτημα Ευρωπαίων πολιτών το οποίο θα υποστηρίζεται από ένα εκατομμύριο επικυρωμένες υπογραφές. Oι υπογραφές αυτές θα πρέπει να προέρχονται από τουλάχιστον επτά κράτη μέλη της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.

Η πρωτοβουλία Right2Water υποστηρίζεται από συνδικάτα, πλήθος ΜΚΟ καθώς και από Ευρωπαίους πολίτες που υπέγραψαν το κείμενο των θέσεων της. Το αίτημα της πλατφόρμας Right2Water έχει ήδη την επικυρωμένη υποστήριξη περίπου ενός εκατομμύριου οχτακοσίων χιλιάδων Ευρωπαίων πολιτών από δεκαπέντε τουλάχιστον κράτη μέλη της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.

Σύμφωνα με τη πρωτοβουλία Right2Water, υπάρχουν περίπου 2 εκατομμύρια άτομα στην Ευρώπη, που δεν έχουν τις κατάλληλες παροχές σε νερό ή αποχέτευση. Υπάρχουν επίσης πολλοί άνθρωποι με χαμηλά εισοδήματα που απειλούνται με διακοπή, καθώς δεν μπορούν να αντέξουν οικονομικά να πληρώνουν τους λογαριασμούς τους. Το όλο ζήτημα μας αφορά άμεσα, καθώς οι ιδιωτικοποιήσεις της ΕΥΔΑΠ και της ΕΥΑΘ θα αποφέρουν παρόμοια αποτελέσματα κοινωνικού αποκλεισμού και στη χώρα μας.

Σύμφωνα με το αίτημα της πρωτοβουλίας Right2Water, η ύδρευση και η αποχέτευση είναι ένα ανθρώπινο δικαίωμα και πρέπει να προστατευτεί. Η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή καλείται να προτείνει νομοθεσία που να υλοποιεί το ανθρώπινο δικαίωμα πρόσβασης σε ύδρευση και αποχέτευση καθώς και να προστατεύσει τη παροχή ύδρευσης/αποχέτευσης ως απαραίτητο δημόσιο αγαθό για όλους. Επίσης η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή καλείται να εντείνει τις προσπάθειές της για προστατευτεί το πολύτιμο αγαθό του νερού από το καθεστώς της απελευθέρωσης της αγοράς.

Η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή θα πρέπει εντός των επόμενων τριών μηνών να καλέσει τους διοργανωτές της πρωτοβουλίας Right2Water στις Βρυξέλλες για να εξηγήσουν τις ιδέες τους. Στη συνέχεια, θα πρέπει να αποφασίσει εάν θα ενεργήσει με τη θέσπιση νομοθεσίας για το ζητήματα της πρωτοβουλίας αυτής ή θα διασφαλίσει το δικαίωμα της ύδρευσης/αποχεύτεσης με κάποιο άλλο τρόπο. Σε κάθε περίπτωση, η Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή θα πρέπει να εξηγήσει το σκεπτικό της για το σχέδιο δράσης που θα ακολουθήσει.

Συγχαρητήρια σε όσους βοήθησαν στη διοργάνωση του εγχειρήματος αυτού καθώς και σε όσους το στήριξαν με την υπογραφή τους!

Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες για την πρωτοβουλία Right2Water: http://www.right2water.eu/el

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What happened to the EU2020 strategy?

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.

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Neo-Nazi violence in Greece: what is next?

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.

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European Green Capital 2013: Nantes offers inspiration

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

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What is next for Mali?

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.

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The EU: a threat to democracy?

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.

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On Cameron’s ‘No more Greeks’ policy

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.

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