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Poland – Judicial independence in jeopardy? President Duda refuses appointment of ten further judges

By Blog Admin, on 25 July 2016

By Dr Philipp Koker, Honorary Research Fellow at UCL SSEES

This post originally appeared at http://presidential-power.com/ and is reproduced with kind permission.

The controversy over Poland’s constitutional court triggered by president Duda’s refusal to appoint judges nominated by the outgoing Sejm and passage of legislation to legitimise his and the new government’s behaviour has so far dominated the presidency of Andrzej Duda (for a summary see Aleks Szczerbiak’s post here). Now, Duda is once again in the line of fire following his refusal to appoint ten out of thirteen judges from lower-level courts to higher positions. Thus, although the individuals put forward by the National Judiciary Council (a committee formed of 17 judges, the minister of judges and 5 political nominees) are far from uncontroversial, the relatively unchecked power of the president in the area of judicial appointments and the government’s plan to reform the judiciary continue to be the most prominent battlefields of Polish politics today.

President Duda appoints ‘his’ nominee Julia Przyłębska as judge of the Constitutional Tribunal on 9 December 2015| © prezydent.pl 2015

The Polish constitution, like so many others (irrespective of this being intentional or not), remains vague on a number of presidential duties and prerogatives. Article 179 of the 1997 Constitution thus states with regard to appointments of judges that “judges are appointed by the president on the suggestion of the National Judiciary Council” but gives no further instructions on the procedures or an eventual right of the president to refuse such nominations. Constitutional scholars widely agree that presidents may refuse the nomination of any candidate for public office (irrespective of judge, professor or prime minister) on the grounds of a person’s lack of formal and legally required qualification or reasonable doubts about their loyalty to the constitution. While this generally follows from presidents’ inaugural oath to uphold and protect the constitution, the rejection of nominees for political or personal reasons arguably has no legal basis.

Duda’s refusal to appoint the judges met with particular opposition due to the lack of justification for his decision. Before being proposed candidates for judicial promotions are vetted by the National Judicial Council; if their application is denied they can appeal the decision in court. An additional vetting by the president beyond formalities thus appears not only unreasonable but also adds the complication that there is no prescribed legal way to appeal his refusal to appoint a nominee. Many conflicts over constitutional clauses along the lines of “the president appoints/signs/etc” fall into the category of conflict between two constitutional organs and can be adjudicated by the constitutional court by the ways of a standard procedure. Yet as both the National Judicial Council and the rejected nominees lack ‘organ quality’, neither of them can easily challenge the president’s decision. The latter became clear in the only other case judicial promotions at lower courts were refused by the president. In 2007 Duda’s pre-predecessor Lech Kaczynski (the deceased twin-brother of current Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski), created a precedent for Duda’s actions by declining to appoint nine judges. The nominees’ constitutional complaints were eventually rejected after four years of deliberations as the justification was that the implementation of administrative law by the president does not fall within the remit of the Constitutional Court. The Supreme Administrative Court likewise rejected the complaints and subsequent further constitutional complaints were also rejected so that the case now (still) lies with the European Court of Human Rights (for a longer summary, see the report of the Helsinki foundation here).

Newspapers have speculated on the reasons which led the president to reject the nominations. In fact, some of the nominees are far from uncontroversial. One judge was prominently accused of bribery, another judge controversially dismissed a collective law suit against the financial services provider Amber Gold (which was liquidated following the discovery that is was based on a pyramid scheme), and a third was involved in the widely discussed case of restricting the “parents’ rights” of a couple accused of violence against their children. In addition, one judge was widely criticised for continuously extending the arrest of a football fan for alleged drug-dealing, yet without any verdict being issued over the course of three and a half years. Last, one of the judges whose promotion was denied judged on a case in which Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski leader sued fellow legislator Janusz Palikot (then Civic Platform, later founder of ‘Palikot’s Movement’) for insulting him.

None of the above-mentioned controversies would generally justify denial of appointment or other presidential intervention. Thus, it is more likely that they are part of the Law and Justice government’s plan to reform and mould the judiciary in their image. Given that Duda is generally seen as little more than a vicarious agent of Law and Justice leader and Polish politics’ grey eminence (he does not hold any government office) Jaroslaw Kaczynski, it is not unreasonable to assume that the president is now helping to fulfil that plan (while at the same time extending the powers of his office). In a recent proposal made by the government (which was already widely criticised by the Human Rights Ombudsman and NGOs), the National Judiciary Council would have to propose two candidates per vacancy thus considerably increasing the president’s power over judicial nominations. This, together with the conflict over the constitutional court and the government’s decision to once again merge the position of general prosecutor with the minister of justice (the positions were separated by the predecessor government in 2008 and unsuccessfully vetoed by president Lech Kaczynski) highlights the great importance that Law and Justice attaches to judicial reform. Nevertheless, it also shows that judicial independence in Poland might increasingly come under threat – not only, but partially due to president Duda’s activism.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog

 

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Immigration in London after the EU Referendum

By Blog Admin, on 7 July 2016

by Dr Katja Richters (SSEES former post doctoral teaching fellow)

 

Immigration has been one, if not the most prominent topic before and after last week’s EU referendum. Innumerable media reports have painted a picture of leave voters as people who blame immigrants for their problems with housing, access to education and healthcare, unemployment and low wages. While I share these concerns, I strongly believe that neo-liberal policies rather than immigration and EU membership are their causes. As some of the reactions to the referendum result and the worrying outbreak of nationalism and hate speech have shown, voters were not well informed about what kind of immigration the EU facilitates.

Similar confusion also characterises the perceptions of East Europeans held by some of the leave voters that I and my fellow remain campaigners spoke to in Haringey before 23 June. Many of the remarks we heard were spontaneous and unpolished, which is understandable given that we knocked on their doors unexpectedly. Nevertheless, there was a trend towards singling out Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians as the main ‘trouble-makers.’ One woman I spoke to said that she was happy for Germans and French to live and work in the UK, but she did not want Poles and other East Europeans to have the same rights. In her opinion, the latter were lazy, lived off state benefits and prevented Brits from accessing vital NHS treatment. Other Haringey residents felt quite the opposite, i.e. that Poles were making it harder for them to find jobs as they were prepared to work more for less. There was also the perception that Romanians and Bulgarians were causing unspecified problems, spoke little or no English and formed criminal gangs.

Somewhat surprisingly, more than half of the voters who expressed these opinions were either first or second generation immigrants. Haringey is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the UK with sizeable Turkish and Kurdish communities as well as many migrants from Commonwealth states. There are also a number of East European shops and bars dotted around the borough. Voters from a BAME background added a different perspective to the perception of East Europeans as a number of them felt that they harboured racist prejudices. They told us that they were intending to vote leave because they felt that the progress that has been made in combating racism since the 1970s was threatened by the influx of migrants from less tolerant and diverse societies. Some also criticised that the EU facilitates movement only between its member states, but makes it much harder for Commonwealth citizens to live and work in the UK. They consequently questioned why people who do not have a historical connection to Britain enjoyed more rights than those whose ancestors had stood by the UK during difficult times, i.e. two world wars.

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A typical East European food shop, similar to those on Harringay Green Lanes

It would be presumptuous to claim that this relatively small sample of Haringey residents was representative of voters’ perceptions across the country. As a West German who has spent considerable time and energy studying the history, politics, languages and cultures of Eastern Europe – notably Russia and Ukraine – I do not perceive Eastern Europeans as ‘civilisational others’ and I am saddened and worried by the opinions I have summarised above. I would nevertheless draw the tentative conclusion that East Europeans, however defined, face an image problem in the UK that needs to be addressed. As our political elite is wondering how to reshape Britain’s relationship with the EU, I believe it is worthwhile thinking about how we as academics and researchers interested in Central and Eastern Europe could share our passion for the regions and people we study with a wider audience. If we succeeded – and I think we can – in making the hypothetical Joe Bloggs realise that EU migrants come from countries with fascinating cultures and rich histories it would not only be the migrants who would gain from this.

It would also be the academic community because it would give it a powerful answer to the question ‘Why should we spend taxpayers’ money on your research?’

 

 

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog. 

 

 

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FYRUK? Ukoslovakia? Herceg-Engleska?

By Blog Admin, on 6 July 2016

by Eric Gordy – Senior Lecturer in Southeast European Politics

This post originally appeared on Eric’s personal blog and is reproduced with kind permission of the author.

 

It has become mildly popular, in the wake of the disastrous referendum in which a small majority of a deliberately misinformed public voted to advise the UK government to leave the European Union, to draw parallels between the future of the UK, which would certainly not survive such a dramatic move, and the recent past of the states of the former Yugoslavia.

There are a few similarities, which might as well be noted. The first of them is that decisions deeply affecting the fate of a great many people were decided after bitter, ethnocentric populist campaigns in a referendum. The second is that they led to the rise into prominence of bizarre and clownish figures from the political margins who would never have a chance if they had to face an informed public or oppose a responsible and engaged elite. And of course the third is that we were able to witness established parties and figures which gave every appearance of being established and cast in stone melt and dissipate as quickly as butter in a skillet awaiting the arrival of a fate-cursed egg.

But there are, after all, more differences. The chronological difference that matters is that in the case of the former Yugoslavia, referenda were demanded by outside actors, undertaken when conditions had already become unsustainable, and regarded as paths to resolution. In the case of the UK the referendum derived from the ongoing social crisis, but predated (by an hour or so) the political crisis. The practical difference that matters is that by the times referenda were held in the Southeast European states, there were already armed groups prepared to affirm or reject the outcome. In the UK, for better or worse, violence has been mostly restricted to small groups of people inspired by the rabble-rousers willing to engage in acts of heroic sacrifice like shooting an MP as she walked out of a library, painting vulgarities on a Polish cultural centre, and sending threatening notes to schoolchildren.

The interesting material is in the space between elements that are similar and elements that are different, where we can see a diverse set of political and social forces trying to push events in one or another direction. The loony right wing of the Conservative party, which Mr Cameron thought he would marginalise in his ham-libidoed miscalculation, is gearing itself up to claim a mandate to govern that it does not have even its own party. Conspirators in the Labour party are doing their best to assure that if the Conservatives go down they will not go down alone. Meanwhile both in London and in Bruxelles a chorus of voices is trying to affirm by repetition the claim that an advisory referendum carries with it inevitable legal finality.

Much of the dispute about whether the outcome of the referendum has to be transformed into basic change – for the worse – in political structures derives from the UK’s idiosyncratic legal system. Its defenders decribe its functioning as an «unwritten constitution,» in which the absence of established rules is compensated by a tradition of interpretation. This contention depends in the first instance on the maintenance of basic stability and continuity in the system, but much more than that on the (invalid) assumption that all participants in the system share similar values and goals. A vocal plurality of EU officials are demanding that the UK government invoke Article 50 of the EU Charter, which would set the actual process of exit in motion. This demand is motivated by a fear of extended uncertainty and the perception that the referendum results reflect a public will that has been expressed and cannot be changed. Inside the country, there is debate over whether invoking Article 50 can be done by the prime minister or must be voted by Parliament, whether the move requires consent of all of the constituent units of the UK, and whether any parliamentary decision could be blocked by the unelected chamber of the parliament or by judicial review.

The principal dilemma here is one that existed in the former Yugoslav cases, but was resolved in those instances principally by force: that is that there are a number of ways of preventing the collapse of the system that are legal, but only one that is legitimate. The legitimate way is to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections, which IF they were won by a party or a coalition pledging a new referendum on the basic of new circumstances and risk, MIGHT result in a repeat of the referendum with a changed result (there are at least five preceedents for this in the short history of EU-related referenda). Vetoes of various types, whether from Scottish parliamentarians, judges or «lords,» are simply tricks that would not address fundamental issues. Legally it could be argued that in a representative system members of parliament have both the authority and the obligation not to follow public opinion when it threatens the integrity of the state, but the political risk of doing this is high enough, and the level of courage among parliamentarians low enough, that this is unlikely to happen. Assuming that the use of force does not shift from thug to systemic scale, this means either new elections or a drawn-out period of confusion, paralysis, weak legitimacy, and decay.

It may be that the most important similarity between the recent violent restructuring of the former Yugoslavia and the coming dissolution of the UK (which will be mostly non-violent, with the violence concentrated on marginalised populations who media and public opinion will systematically ignore) is the parallel set of causes. The earlier set of incidents took place in a part of the world where the managers of a hegemonic ideology had lost the trust of the public and the will to defend their ideas. The present events have their root in a clumsily expressed but similar type of public rejection, in which the greatest proportion of working class support for exit came from people who saw their vote as an act of «rebellion,» and who perceived their own interests as ignored in a political and economic system that over a long period disinvested in their livelihoods, withdrew support for their social needs, and symbolically treated them as marginal. In both instances high levels of social dissatisfaction resulted in the emergence of new political orders which would marginalise the people who supported them even further.

If people in our profession were cynical and self-seeking, they would be pleased with this course of events. Lots of jobs for Balkanologists and involuntary specialists in acquises communitaires and other such strange creatures! Mostly, though, we are not, because we know a little bit about the effects of manufactured disorder, socially approved violence, and recombinant structures of hatred.

 

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SSEES, UCL, or SSEES Research Blog.

 

 

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EU Referendum: Director’s Statement

By Blog Admin, on 30 June 2016

2015-12-03 19.28.32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear All,

In the light of the referendum’s result I want to reaffirm – first of all – SSEES’s steadfast commitment to the principles of international collaboration and solidarity. They constitute the unchallengeable base of our educational mission. Our staff and students come from all over the world and we cherish this soul and mind nurturing diversity. We will do everything we can to make sure that Brexit will not impact negatively our multi-national culture and the network of trans-European partnerships and collaborations.

It is not clear how SSEES’s multiple relations with various European institutions will be affected, however, it is clear that no change is imminent. There is no timetable for renegotiation of our collaborative agreements and no instructions on how and when we should adjust the existing arrangements affecting fees for EU students. UCL has, however, confirmed that it has no plans to change the tuition fees for EU students that have already been published for 2016/17. EU students who are registered at the university in 2016/17 (either as a new or continuing student) will continue to be charged the home rate for tuition fees for all subsequent years of their programme. As further details become available, we will publish information on our website.

See UCL’s statement in response to the referendum result

Allow me please to quote from the Provost’s statement: “In the short term, I would like to reassure our staff and students that barring unilateral action from the UK government, the vote to leave the European Union does not mean there will be any immediate material change to the immigration status of current and prospective EU students and staff, nor to the UK university sector’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty foresees a two-year negotiation process between the UK and other member states, during which time the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union will be decided.”

Like UCL, SEEES is a proud member of the global and pan-European community of scholars committed to the pursuit of intellectual excellence and the ideals of human solidarity and mutual respect.

I very much look forward to welcoming our staff and all our students, old and new, this September.

JAN KUBIK

DIRECTOR OF UCL SSEES

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The price of solidarity: is Brexit worth it?

By Blog Admin, on 21 June 2016

by Professor Jan Kubik, Director of SSEES. This post originally appeared on OpenDemocracy  and is reproduced with kind permission of the Author.

 

A misunderstanding of history and of historical time has put European solidarity on the chopping block. Think carefully before allowing the axe to swing.

Marina Shemesh/publicdomainpictures.net. Public domain.

In his review of Niall Ferguson’s Kissinger, Graham Allison quotes from the book: “in researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance”. Allison continues: “Ferguson’s observation reminded me of an occasion three years ago when, after an absence of four decades, Kissinger returned to Harvard. Asked by a student what someone hoping for a career like his should study, Kissinger answered: ‘history and philosophy’ – two subjects notable for their absence in most American schools of public policy”.

There is a very similar deficit in the Brexit debate. It has come to be dominated by economic and immigration questions. Moreover, it is not easy to find clear answers in the flood of simplistically and often erroneously argued debates. The only thing we know for sure is that most economists argue against Brexit while most Brexiters argue against immigrants. So, what wisdom is to be found away from economics (where the majority of practitioners argue against Brexit) and the emotionally draining albeit facts-deprived immigration debates? Is there any “Brexit wisdom” to be gained from peeking into history and philosophy?

Where history meets philosophy

At an intersection of philosophy and history one can hunt for some useful clues. Among the most promising are those that lead toward the concept of solidarity. I have no doubt that Brexit constitutes a powerful threat to continental solidarity. I do not have space here to explicate a full argument about the value of such solidarity. It is sufficient to realise that Brexit will send all the wrong signals to the enemies of the liberal democratic order that is the foundation of the peaceful, prosperous, and increasingly solidary post-WWII Europe.

Brexit may mean the beginning of the end of the most successful transnational organisation ever attempted by human beings without conquest.

It will embolden those who work to restore strong nation states built around excessively overblown, exclusivist nationalist identities. After Brexit, the next Austrian election will go the other way, most likely. I wish the Brits would pause their increasingly myopic, inward-directed debates on the narrow economic or political benefits of leaving the EU and consider the fate of Europe, a continent that for a while has been on the track of healing old wounds and consolidating itself. A continent they helped to save so valiantly in world war two and in whose post-war reconstruction they participated so ably.

What is the cost of this solidarity? We know that British insistence on special treatment has already been acknowledged and amply rewarded. Consider the rebate, the exclusion from Schengen, and the retention of pound sterling. Consider that the Brits arecontributing less to the common European pot of funds than almost every other country, if you measure contributions as percentages of Gross National Income. This is not to say that membership is costless, but to ask whether a relatively modest cost of remaining is worth it, particularly if you are able to think beyond the important though somewhat narrow concern of access to the common market.

It is worth it if you believe – as I do – that Brexit may mean the beginning of the end of the most successful transnational organisation ever attempted by human beings without conquest. A voluntary union forged to diminish the chances of conflicts, lower the level of antagonism, facilitate exchanges, build mutual understand and friendship, and improve security by providing a solid social and cultural platform for a military alliance (NATO). The EU has never been only or predominantly about trade and economic efficiency. Its overarching goal has always been to serve as a platform for building piece and stability. Indeed, even as severe a critic of EU’s economic policy as Yanis Varoufakis understands this and warns against Brexit.

The Pyrrhic victory of a Brexit

As much as I can see, the proponents of Brexit see five types of benefits from leaving the EU, beyond the putative economic gains: (1) recovered sovereignty, (2) improved security, (3) better democracy, (4) less bureaucracy, and (5) fewer immigrants.

I understand the argument about ‘recovered sovereignty’ in as much as it is emotionally satisfying to quite a few people. But, upon a moment of reflection, it should strike everybody as a folly to opt for ‘isolated’ sovereignty in the world of pooled sovereignties, designed to increase the security of partners at the cost of relatively trivial diminishment of sovereignty (Britain has a veto power over many EU decisions). Why would a reasonable public favor an infinitesimal gain in sovereignty (Britain intends to remain in NATO) over better security? There is no doubt that the EU suffers from democratic deficit, but listening to Boris Johnson one could think that the bloc is an authoritarian madhouse run exclusively by unaccountable bureaucrats. How on earth did Britain manage to win all those special privileges in such a hostile and unresponsive environment?

I also do not buy the argument that Brexit will help to reduce bureaucracy. The Brits are more than capable of producing their own bureaucratic shackles. Complaining about bureaucratic excesses has become my favorite pastime since I have moved to London from the US. And I have yet to meet a Euro-bureaucrat. And finally immigration. It has been shown time and time again that immigrants, by and large, are beneficial for the British economy. The arguments against them are based on observing difficult situations in some “overcrowded” communities. It is not wise to deny that such problems exist, but it is imperative to warn against hysterical exaggerations of the scale of such problems. Excessively emotional and factually erroneous presentations of the immigration dilemma help to solve few real problems, but for sure fuel anti-foreigner sentiments underpinning more extreme forms of nationalism.

You can’t roll back the clock

The arguments Brexiters often repeat, that Britain will be able to return to a better, pre-EU position or situation is based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of historical time. “You cannot step twice into the same river”, Heraclitus wrote famously. Each period or moment in history has its own constellation of political power, interdependencies of economic interests, and specific cultural dynamics. Human societies are products of accumulations of habits, rules, and predilections that are difficult to reverse. Social scientists talk about path dependence and sunken costs. There are no reversals and abrupt changes of direction that are without costs, as whole societies need to retool themselves.

Self-determination is not the same as democracy.

Since most economists do not see any economic gains in leaving the EU and other arguments do not seem to be convincing why would you leave? Why would you risk taking what will most likely amount to the first step in the unraveling of European solidarity, which was so costly to create in terms of time and treasure?

People argue that Brits will be able to rule themselves and thus have more democracy. Perhaps. But self-determination is not the same as democracy. Since Brexit will almost certainly destabilise the situation in Europe and beyond for quite a while, more self-rule may not turn out to mean stronger, safer, and more stable democracy. Democracy is a delicate institutional system that thrives in stable, predictable environments, both internal and external. If Brexit emboldens radical populist and largely anti-liberal forces, as it almost certainly will, the liberal foundation of the rule of law and tolerance, so indispensable for modern democracy to thrive, will come under attack. Moderation, the chief virtue of democracy – as we know since Aristotle – will be hard to obtain and practice.

British democracy will survive but it will take political energy to defend it. Another cost. So, why? I still do not understand. I am writing these words horrified by Jo Cox’s murder by a madman screaming “Britain First”. Of course Nigel Farage and bellicose Brexiters are not directly responsible for this tragedy. He is, however, responsible for helping to create a cultural climate in which sick minds go beyond their ‘breaking points’.

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the organisational views of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog. 

 

 

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SSEES Brexit Debate

By Blog Admin, on 15 June 2016

On 9th June 2016, SSEES hosted a debate on Brexit. We were lucky enough to have Liam Halligan of the Telegraph as our chair for proceedings.

Our panel of experts consisted of: SSEES Director Professor Jan Kubik, Pro-Vice Provost and Professor of Slavonic and East European Studies; Professor Anne White, Professor of Polish Studies and Social and Political Science; Dr Felix Ciuta, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Professor Martyn Rady, Masaryk Professor of Central European History.

We would like to invite our readers to relive the engaging and lively debate below. Let us know what you think in the comments – are you voting In or Out?

 

 

Please note: All views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog.SSEES RB logo

Brexit threatens Europe’s mission

By Claudia S Roland, on 13 June 2016

By Anna-Cara Keim: a writer and PhD student based in London.

This post originally appeared on Political Critique, and is reproduced with kind permission of the Author.

Britain’s relationship with Europe resembles a broken marriage – but that doesn’t mean these partners should file for divorce.

With the date for United Kingdom European Union referendum steadily approaching, both the campaign for leaving and for remaining in the EU are now in full swing. For someone who, like so many other EU citizens residing in the British capital, will not get a chance to vote on 23 June, the situation is a cause for worry. Those in favour of leaving appear to be much more vocal than those in favour of staying in. The IN campaign claims that a Britain leaving will face massive economic losses and uncertainty whereas the OUT campaign seems to be driven by the fear that staying the EU will mean the British Isles will soon be flooded by refugees and economic migrants. At least at this stage, the outcome of the referendum is entirely uncertain.

The latest polls see slightly more Britons in favour of leaving the EU than wanting to remain part of it. The Economist magazine created an interactive poll tracker based on all recent main polls. 41 per cent of voters are favouring the Brexit scenario whereas 40 per cent support the idea of the UK remaining part of the EU. However, many do not seem to take much of an interest and are unsure if they will vote at all. Turnout on referendum day will therefore be crucial. The general assumption among experts is that a low turnout will aid the leave camp. According to Opinium, almost half of all voters between the age of 18-34 have not made up their mind if they are going to vote or not – although, this age group is a lot more likely to back staying in. Whereas in the group of voters of 55 and over, the number of those who were certain to vote is much greater and more than half of those are intending to support the leave camp. Research also shows that there is huge gender divide with women twice as likely to be unsure how to vote.

Migration, regulation, and sovereignty have become the buzzwords of why Britain should seek a better and brighter future outside of the European Union. But the debate goes far beyond these issues. As the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said, this is a debate about who the British are as a people and where they see themselves in the world.

Yet, perhaps this is precisely the moment to emphasize that being European is something that goes far beyond membership in the European Union. Though it might have been largely forgotten today, there was a lively and interesting debate in Britain about ideas of Europe and the unity of Europe during the interwar period. Indeed, ideas and dreams of Europe and Europeaness are centuries old. Some, like the legend of Europa can be traced back to antiquity.

The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described Europe as a mission. In this mission, Europe has learned its lessons from its past tragedies and constantly moves towards a more cosmopolitan future. Universal human rights, cultural diversity, community relationships and sustainable development instead of unfettered capitalism: these were the ambitions that made Europe the club everyone wanted to belong to during the new member states accession wave in the early 2000s. The “European dream” was seen as the superior alternative to the American dream in the 21st century, something that appears to have been forgotten in light of the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, or the recent terror attacks in Paris or Brussels. Instead, fences have now begun to appear all over Europe and many countries have once again started to look inwards. Small is beautiful. We are better off without the others. So what happened to the European dream or mission, in Bauman’s terms?

Though many keep complaining about immigration, the numbers are nothing compared to the masses of people that were migrating across Europe and beyond in the aftermath of the Second World War. The current immigration discourse is often framed in very negative terms along the lines of “us” versus “them”, with them, the EU migrants seen as socially destructive. Yet it is important to remember the many European migrants who arrived in Britain in the 1930s and after the Second World War and successfully integrated into British society; they shaped the cityscape of London as we know it today and indeed some of their children have become important cultural or political figures in Britain. Examples include the Miliband brothers David and Ed, or Dan Topolski, all of whom have a Polish background. Despite the current anti-immigration discourse, the legacies of migration are part of the very fabric of British society, and often even a source of pride. Londoners confirmed this when they went to the polls on 5 May to elect a new mayor and overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, himself a son of Pakistani immigrants.

So instead of being defeatist about the current situation in Europe, should we not be visionaries instead? Britain’s relationship with Europe resembles a marriage in which the partners are having a bit of a tough time – but that does not mean one should immediately file for a divorce; rather, both sides should try to solve their problems first. The Brexit debate is a good moment for such “problem-solving” – to challenge and change to current discourse on Europe, to focus on making the EU more democratic, mores sustainable and more transparent.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the organisational views of SSEES, UCL, or UCL SSEES Research Blog. 

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Brexit, Hungary and EU Funding

By Claudia S Roland, on 8 June 2016

by Dr Thomas Lorman, Teaching Fellow in Central European History, SSEES 

Any journey through Hungary is marked by the sight of posters promoting various government infrastructure projects which are being carried out according to the government’s ‘New Széchenyi Plan’ (Új Széchenyi Terv) named in honour of Count István Széchenyi, one of Hungary’s great nineteenth century statesmen and a tremendous anglophile. Each poster is appropriately adorned with both a Hungarian and an EU flag, a visible demonstration of how Hungary is benefitting from EU funding. This funding is substantial. In the funding cycle 2007-2013, Hungary paid 8 billion euros into the EU budget and received 33 billion euros. In the current funding cycle up to 2020 Hungary is expected to be the net beneficiary of a further 32 billion euros. Per head of population, Hungary is receiving more EU funds than any other member state apart from Lithuania. As a result, over 90 percent of the funding for state infrastructure projects is provided by the EU. The result of such largesse is evident in, among other things, the new metro (tube) and tram lines, better roads and railways, cleaner air and beautified city centres. The posters promoting the EU’s support for various government projects serve, therefore, as tangible proof that the EU is helping to close the gap between Central and Western Europe, healing divisions that were exacerbated by the maladministration that characterized over four decades of Communist rule, and ensuring that the call for a ‘return to Europe’ in 1989 was not just empty rhetoric. Britain has had a long-standing view that the creation of a free and prosperous Central Europe is in this country’s best interest. EU funding appears to be an effective way of achieving that objective.

hungary

The direct benefits to Britain of the EU’s financial support for Hungary should not be overlooked. Tourists benefit from the Hungary’s gradual reconstruction and modernization; EU funds have helped raise the quality and price of Hungarian agriculture and curbed the amount of cheap, low-quality produce that would otherwise have been ‘dumped’ on the British market. The dramatic improvements in the quality and accessibility of Hungarian wine are a case in point. EU funding has also helped grow the Hungarian economy. About 5-6% of the country’s GDP is directly dependent on EU funding, and that in turn has made Hungary a growing market for British exporters. Moreover, for those concerned about the negative impact of migration into Britain, EU funding has provided more jobs for the Hungarian labour force and thereby limited the number of Hungarians who have tried their luck in the British labour market.

On closer inspection, however, the posters that record the EU’s contribution to Hungary’s development promote, first and foremost, the Hungarian government’s own efforts to transform the country. Although the full sum of money devoted to each project is listed on every poster, no effort is made to spell out precisely how much of the total budget has been contributed by the EU, while the obligatory inclusion of the EU flag is dwarfed by the slogan that ‘Hungary is being renewed’ which is emblazoned on an orange background associated with the governing FIDESZ party.  As the vast majority of EU funding is spent by the government, either at the state or local level, the overall impression is that the transformation of the country is primarily the result of the government’s efforts and finances. Put simply, the EU pays and the Hungarian government reaps the benefits.

Hungarian private businesses and NGO’s do have some access to EU funds. Even businesses linked to opposition figures have obtained some crumbs from the table. Nevertheless, the dispersal of EU funding is mired in constant allegations of corruption, a woefully inefficient bureaucracy, and an overwhelming stench of nepotism. On occasion the EU has withdrawn funding from Hungary over concerns about the misuse of funds and has had some success in demanding greater transparency and imposing realistic targets and timetables. Such efforts have gone some way to curbing the most egregious cases when EU money was misused. Nevertheless, Transparency International asserts that almost every project funded by the EU in Hungary continues to be afflicted by some level of corruption.  Indeed, such is the scale of the inflow of EU money into Hungary that the government is struggling to spend all of the money allocated. It is, therefore, not overly concerned with spending the money in the most efficient manner possible with one estimate suggesting that it is spending EU money, on average, at about 25 percent over the market rate.

Moreover, the EU has proved entirely impotent as regards the rampant politicization of the Hungarian bureaucracy which oversees the actual dispersal of most EU funding. The politicization of the Hungarian bureaucracy is, it should be noted, a long-standing, phenomenon. Each change of government has been accompanied by the wholesale sacking of senior civil servants and senior figures in various state organizations such as the post office, the railways, the television and radio. Critics contend that this malign state of affairs has been exacerbated by the current FIDESZ government, in power since 2010, it has certainly not diminished. Thus the government’s own favoured persons, organizations and businesses continue to receive the lion’s share of government funding, including most of the funds provided by the EU.

Individual members of the government have adopted an old tactic of warning the electorate in specific constituencies that their future prosperity is dependent on voting for the right party. The implicit threat is that a vote for the opposition will mean that they will receive less funding from the government, including less EU funds.  As a result of such shenanigans, Hungarian analysts from across the political spectrum have voiced concerns about how civil society and the democratic process is being squeezed and distorted by the government’s control and manipulation of the flow of EU funds. Britain, as one of the EU’s wealthier member states, is helping to fund this manipulation.

In addition, EU largesse has ensured that it has been far easier for successive Hungarian governments to rely on EU funding rather than carry out a comprehensive economic reform program that would put the country on a track towards rapid economic progress. The initial wave of reforms that were enacted in the 1990s to empower the free market have given way to tinkering, lethargy, and even creeping re-nationalization. As a result, Hungary’s economic growth in the past decade, precisely when the lion’s share of the EU funds has arrived, has been anaemic.  In the past decade its GDP growth rate has consistently fallen below 4% per annum, ensuring that Hungary cannot meaningfully close the gap in living standards between Central and Western Europe. Thus, eastern Hungary comprises three of the ten poorest regions in the entire EU and a significant proportion of the Hungarian workforce is motivated to look for employment prospects elsewhere including Britain. Indeed, there is a case to be made that the governing clique in Hungary has a vested interest in preserving the relative impoverishment of Hungary as it allows them to cream off the EU’s largesse while bolstering their own grip on the country.

EU funding is, of course, only one example of the impact that EU accession has had on Hungary but it is a revealing one that illuminates larger problems with the entire EU project. Clearly, EU funds are bringing tangible benefits to Hungary, and to Britain, but they have also encouraged successive Hungarian governments to dodge reforms, exacerbate nepotism, weaken civil society, and obscure their own malfeasance. Proponents of Brexit should acknowledge the negative impact that this will have on Hungary if the inflow of EU money is reduced by ending Britain’s contribution, but opponents of Brexit should also acknowledge the negative impacts that this inflow of funds is having right now.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the organisational views of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog

 

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Lies, Damn Lies and Leave.EU Leaflets

By Claudia S Roland, on 7 June 2016

by Randoph Bruno, Filipa Fiqueira, Jan Kubik 

As the Brexit campaign heats up, many of us are receiving leaflets urging us to vote either “in” or “out”. Whilst it is to be expected that each camp will attempt to frame the argument in a way that favors its cause, the Leave.EU leaflet makes claims that are clearly misleading. Read on to set the record straight.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “In 1975 we voted for a Free Trade Area known then as the Common Market”

The first sentence and already we have been misled. The European Economic Community (also known as the Common Market) which the UK had joined back in 1973, was not a simple Free Trade Area and this was made clear to voters at the time of the 1975 referendum. The official UK government pamphlet, which was sent to all British homes prior to to the referendum, stated prominently the following:

“The aims of the Common Market are: to bring together the peoples of Europe; to raise living standards and improve working conditions; to promote growth and boost world trade; to help the poorest regions of Europe and the rest of the world; to help maintain peace and freedom.”

An ample majority of Brits (67% of the voters) voted in favor of staying in the EEC on the 5th of June of 1975. In other words, the mothers and fathers of Brits voting today had the EEC presented to them as a whole (and not only its free trade rules). Most of them decided it was as a good deal for the UK.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “We pay…€20 billion every year” [to the EU]

 This is either a lie or a mistake, as the UK does not pay this amount to the EU. It ends up paying approximately £8.5 billion per year – less than half of what Leave.EU claims.

The contribution that each country pays to the EU budget is proportional to its GDP, but for the UK, following the 1984 rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, it is relatively lower than for any other EU country. So, the UK is paying £14 billion per year gross to the EU budget, of which it is getting £5.5 billion back in subsidies for farmers, research and help for its poorest regions, bringing the net contribution to £8.5 billion per year.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “That [not paying into the EU budget] would go a long way to reducing our national deficit”. 

The UK debt in 2015 was about £1,500 billion and the yearly deficit the same year stood at about £50 billion (3.3 percent GDP). So, saving £8.5 billion a year would indeed make a dent in the yearly deficit, though would not take much difference in bringing down the overall debt. However, by engaging in a “purely” economic calculation we do not consider all real, though intangible, benefits of EU membership, most important of which is the stability of the continent sustained by the well-oiled commercial, political, and cultural networks. To put the figure of £8.5 further into perspective, the NHS budget is £135 billion per year and the UK’s annual spending on pensions is £150 billion. The yearly contribution to the EU budget is not the main concern with the UK budget, not even close. It is an open secret that the media attention devoted to the EU budget is disproportionate to its economic importance. And it is well known by EU insiders, that politicians (of all EU countries) use the EU budget as a “bargaining chip” to negotiate other issues which do significantly affect their economy, such as economic and financial legislation.

Moreover, this statement is assuming that the economy could grow in exactly the same way within and outside Europe. That is something which we cannot technically verify, but there is a strong consensus among economists that the UK economy grew faster due to its EU membership (the Leave campaign does not deny this). So reversing the argument, had the UK been outside, it could have faced a larger budget deficit to start with.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “We pay twice”

This is a deliberately deceptive way of referring to the fact that projects are co-funded. With or without the EU, the UK would be spending money on public services such as infrastructure or the NHS. If the UK were no longer benefiting from EU funding, it would have to pay the full cost of its public services, rather than half.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “We buy from the EU than they buy from us. It would be financial suicide for the EU to impose trade barriers.”

The fallacious nature of this claim becomes obvious once we realize that the EU is much bigger than the UK. Britain counts for less than a tenth of the EU’s exports, but depends on the EU for almost half of its exports, so it is clear who stands to lose out most.

In this David versus Goliath situation, the cards would be in the EU’s hands. The EU would need to be harsh with any leavers (to discourage others from doing the same), so it would impose difficult trade conditions on the UK – such as high tariffs on British imports, and deliberately protracted negotiations. This has been already clearly signaled by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

 Leave.EU Leaflet: “Laws and regulations passed by Eurocrats who have never visited the UK”

All EU laws and regulations have to be approved by the Council of the EU, which is made of politicians and official representatives of all EU countries, including the UK. The so-called Eurocrats never, under any circumstances, have the power to pass an EU law unless it has been approved by the national politicians and representatives.

Leave.EU Leaflet: “make a considered decision and vote on 23rd June”

…is one of our few points of agreement with Leave.EU. However, we hope to have shown that this leaflet does not offer the basis for such a considered decision.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the organisational views of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog. 

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Russia 2030: A Story of Great Power Dreams and Small Victorious Wars

By Blog Admin, on 3 June 2016

by Professor Andrew Wilson and Fredrik Wesslau

This post originally appeared on the ECFR Website, and is reproduced with kind permission of the Author. The research paper that this post refers to can be viewed in full by following the above link.

 

The future of Europe’s relations with Russia looks bleak. The Kremlin is pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign policy to assert itself as a great power and distract from economic woes at home. Europe can’t fix Russia, but it can influence it and lower the risk of major conflict.

Behind this growing assertiveness is Moscow’s desire to establish itself as a great power – and, increasingly, to win legitimacy at home now that it can no longer deliver rising living standards.

Source: Wiki Commons

“Russia 2030: A story of great power dreams and small victorious wars” considers how Russia and Europe’s eastern neighbours may look 14 years from now. The paper sets out five key trends that will play out in Russia and Eastern Europe, the events that could throw them off course, and what the EU should do.

It argues that Russia will become more inclined to resort to force as it modernises its military and draws lessons from recent successes on the battlefield. Russia does not want a full confrontation with the West, but a miscalculation could lead to a major clash. Russia has tripped up before, getting bogged down in Donbas after overestimating the level of popular support there.

Fluctuations in the oil price, a quagmire in Syria, reform in Ukraine, or a Russian defeat abroad could all change the rules of the game, either causing a chastened Russia to retreat – or spurring it to more aggressive action. Europe can reduce the risks by making the relationship more predictable, improving communications, and increasing the costs for Russia of its adventures overseas.

In the coming years, Russia’s main targets will be in Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine and Georgia. Europe should back these countries against Russian pressure and support reform, including by expanding the Association Agreement. However, it should recognise that its aims in the region fundamentally clash with those of Moscow, and that the best that can be hoped for in the medium term is peaceful coexistence and a more predictable relationship.

 

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog

 

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