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Archive for the 'W European politics' Category

Czech Republic – President Zeman and the ‘Czexit’ referendum question

By Blog Admin, on 1 August 2016

By Dr Philipp Koker, Honorary Research Fellow at UCL SSEES

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

The result of the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the United Kingdom on 23 June has created waves across and beyond the British Isles and the European continent. As many still tried to come to terms with the UK’s (almost) inevitable withdrawal from the European Union, several representatives of populist and fringe parties across Europe already called for similar ‘exit’ referenda for their own countries. The Czech Republic is particularly interesting in this regard as it was Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka who was first credited with floating the possibility of a ‘Czexit’ in February this year but then publicly distanced himself from the possibility. Now, president Miloš Zeman has reignited the debate by calling for a public vote on EU (and NATO) membership of the country.

President Miloš Zeman (left) meets Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament | © 2013 by hrad.cz

The UK referendum on EU membership has given rise to many calls for a similar votes in other countries. Far-right and populist leaders and presidential hopefuls, such as Marine Le Pen, have already called for a ‘Frexit‘ referendum in France and other variations of ‘-xit’ referenda in their countries. Although the anti-EU sentiment is most strongly represented in parties of the (far) right, demand for referenda has also come from the left and ideologically less defined populist actors, most prominently from Czech president Milos Zeman.

Shortly after the results of the UK vote broke, Zeman declared that – although in favour of EU membership – he would do everything for citizens feeling otherwise ‘to express themselves’, also with regard to NATO membership (a demand already made in February 2016 but quickly forgotten). Support for EU membership and trust in the EU institutions in the Czech Republic tends to be below average in comparison to other member states, yet is far from ranking lowest in the table. In the last year, criticism of and dissatisfaction with the EU has primarily been associated with the refugee crisis and the EU’s decision to impose quotas on its member states. The populist movement ‘Dawn’ recently submitted a motion to debate the possibility of a Czexitreferendum in parliament and the election of an MEP of the eurosceptic fringe Party of Free Citizens (SSO) in 2014 indicates that there is a part of the electorate that responds to anti-EU rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the Czech president does not possess any power to call referenda at will (a power reserved for only few presidents around the world) – the Czech constitution also only mentions referenda in a clause inserted to allow for the EU accession referendum in 2003 (in which case a special organic law was passed to allow for the referendum – the only one held in the Czech Republic to date). Furthermore, the government has made it clear that it opposes any public vote on EU membership. A Czexit or even a referendum on the Czech Republic leaving the European Union thus seems unlikely. Nevertheless,  EU membership (and to a lesser degree NATO) membership presents a political cleavage which could be successfully mobilised in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections (2017 and 2018, respectively), particularly in conjunction with the refugee crisis. After Zeman’s approval had dropped sharply a year ago due to his position in the Ukraine crisis and a series of gaffes, his ratings have since improved and stabilised once again around 57-58% over the last months. By calling for a EU referendum yet supporting membership at the same time, Zeman could thus try to dance at two weddings at once – attract Eurosceptic voters (who will probably vote for a fringe candidate in the first round but could prove decisive in a potential runoff) while not losing too many mainstream voters.

The do-over the Austrian presidential election might provide a first test of how such a tactic might work out. Far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer initially suggested that the Austrian people should be given a say over further EU integration and in his campaign greatly benefited from anti-EU sentiment related to the refugee crisis. Following statements by his decidely pro-EU challenger, Alexander Van der Bellen (independent/Greens), last week he was however forced to acknowledge that it would disastrous for Austria if the country left the EU. In order to maintain the momentum of his campaign and keep the anti-establishment vote, Hofer must nevertheless try to balance pro- and anti-EU voters which could – if successful – provide a template for Zeman and the Czexit referendum question.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s), and do not represent those 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

Guest Post: Brexit or Bremain?

By Blog Admin, on 2 June 2016

We are proud to include a series of Guest Blogs by some of our top students at SSEES as part of our Brexit series. This post is by a group of outstanding First and Second-year Undergraduates, who were put forward by Filipa Figueira and Imogen Wade

The authors of this piece are: Zainab Al-Ansari, Pearl Ahrens, Grace Garry, Anne-Caroline Gauter, Jessica Longley, David Zivkovic

“Europe is my continent, not my country”. These words pronounced by John Redwood, a Conservative Party politician summarises well the ambiguous relationship  between Britain and the European Union. This particular link has reached a new point: UK is currently debating over a hypothetical exit. David Cameron promised a referendum on June 23rd 2016, one of his campaign promises, orchestrated to compete with the sudden rise of the UKIP.

 

Source: Wikicommons

The European institutions clearly do not want to see the UK leaving EU and made concessions to keep its “awkward” but powerful “partner” in the union, helping to shape a “Europe à la carte.”

We will focus on three main dimensions of Brexit. The first part will be devoted to the political area. The second part, economical, studying the consequences on commercial exchanges for United Kingdom. The last part approaches a social perspective on the issue, including immigration, and the UK’s identity with regards to the EU.

David – “Leaving the EU would undoubtedly facilitate policy-making in the UK – UK institutions can make policies autonomously, without any foreign institutions being able to annul them. Brexit could also be beneficial for democracy within the UK. If we consider the plummeting voting turnouts,  both in the UK and the whole of Europe, we could say that getting rid of some elections and institutions that people do not really care about (such as EU institutions and regulations that hardly anyone seems to understand in their entirety) could inhibit the increase in political apathy, if not even increase popular engagement with national matters.

“David Cameron “fought out” special concessions for the EU. But would such concessions not simply create an even wider gap between the UK and continental Europe? More autonomy means less representation on EU level. If the UK wants to decide on its own on a certain matter, it cannot decide what the other EU members will do, which weakens the relationship between the UK and the EU. So rather than avoiding Brexit, Cameron would appear to be postponing it. Also, other member states could think: “If the UK can do it, why shouldn’t we demand something similar?” Given this, together with a pessimistic attitude towards the EU being a trend – Italian Prime Minister Renzi even referred to the EU as “the orchestra playing on the Titanic” – it might be more beneficial for Britain to take advantage of an emergency boat on this “ship” and opt for Brexit.”

 

European Parliament. Source: Wikicommons

Grace “However, Brexit could trigger the disintegration of the EU, creating a domino effect resulting in other states leaving.

“The success of Brexit also still relies on the continued existence of the EU for the UK to make deals and agreements with. Thus the disintegration of the EU would mean the end of any sense of unity among the European nations in international affairs, security and trade. With the increasing unification of EU foreign and security policy in order to add power to its voice in the international community, it is clear how Brexit would put the UK at a disadvantage internationally, with significantly less influence pursuing its policies alone.

“This follows the federalist idea of economies of scale which suggests that something is more efficient if done by everyone together rather than separately. Currently the UK has a voice and influence within the EU, which would not be possible with Brexit. The federalist idea of externalities implies that the actions from one group have indirect effects on others. If Brexit occurred the UK’s close proximity to Europe mean it would not be free from the indirect effect of EU policy actions. Thus it may be better to remain within the EU and help form and influence laws than to leave but still be affected by its decisions.”

 

Jessica – “If the UK does decide to leave the EU, it would not only affect the country’s political power, but also its economy. None of the top 100 leading thinkers in the world consider that the UK would benefit from leaving. One of the main reasons behind this is the belief that Brexit will bring economic uncertainty and adverse shock to the UK. Indeed, the new trade rules are yet to be defined and depends on how exactly the UK will leave the EU.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

“Moreover, the EU would have a strong incentive to impose a harsh settlement to discourage other countries from leaving. The UK would find itself still constrained by rules it would have no role in formulating, leaving the UK on the sidelines, as a powerless sovereignty. Some argue this would have a massive impact on UK’s growth as it depends on the EU for more than half of its exports. Leaving the EU would mean that the UK would be losing their access to the biggest economy in the world and their most important trade partner.

On the other hand, others believe that the impacts of Brexit on trade would be relatively small. They expect that a favourable trade agreement would be reached after Brexit as there are advantages for both sides in continuing a close commercial arrangement. Furthermore, they argue that leaving would permit the UK to trade more successfully, stating that the benefits the EU provide are smaller than a few decades ago. Having gained more influence, the UK could get a seat back on big international bodies that the EU took away and create new free trade agreements. Lastly, the UK would not have to pay £10 billion into Brussels for other countries on the continent. This would cut the balance deficit by 1/5 in the first year after leaving, meaning Britain could spend it on its priorities, leading to an economic boost.

 

Zainab – “Could Brexit harm our jobs? British companies that are dependent on trade with the EU could see their production costs rise after an exit forcing them to let go of workers in order to cut costs and hold on to their profit margins.

“Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is an example of a British company directly affected. RR believes that exit from the European Union could “drive up costs and have an impact on its workforce” as most of the company’s trade is done with the EU. Earlier this month, the luxury motor car company wrote to its employees, warning of the adverse effects of Brexit.

Source: Getty Images, from the BBC

“However, others see that EU laws undermine the flexibility of our nation’s labor market and increase the costs associated with hiring staff. This increases production costs and makes firms less likely to hire too many workers. Indeed, a Brexit under a Conservative government could potentially see the repeal of the maximum 48-hour working week and the removal of working time record keeping requirements, allowing firms to save money in the production process and possibly take on more workers.

“The current free movement of labor affects British workers’ job prospects. British firms are more likely to employ an EU worker than a British one because of their higher rates of productivity. EU workers are able to work greater hours and are more accepting of minimum wage. “Vote Leave” advocate, MP Iain Duncan Smith, says ‘for every 100 migrants employed, 23 UK-born workers would have been displaced’ across industries including education, secretarial and janitorial work. The removal of Britain from the EU would force British firms to employ British workers and therefore improve domestic employment levels.

“However, there is no statistical proof of the impact of EU migrants specifically to substantiate what Iain Duncan Smith claims.”

Pearl – “Immigration and identity are both key considerations in the Brexit topic. Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, and Leave.EU, agree that although there are a repertoire of reasons to leave the EU, immigration is the strongest. Carswell says, using the persuasive tactic of risk, that “the safest thing we can do is vote to take back control.” The UK currently has 2.48 EU immigrants per 1000 British citizens, therefore a large portion of the Brexit campaign claim it’s necessary that dangerous and rampant immigration is reduced and from a solitary stance Britain can control its own borders. However, there are 3 arguments which the campaign to remain is using to bat back.

 

Source: Wikicommons

Migrants crossing the border in Hungary

“Firstly, leaving the EU doesn’t guarantee fewer immigrants. Switzerland and Norway aren’t in the EU yet they have 11.33 and 7.38 EU immigrants per 1000 citizens respectively. If Brexit occurred it is unclear what relationship the UK would share with its EU neighbours, but it’s possible it would follow the examples set by Switzerland and Norway. There, trade agreements are locked to freedom of movement agreements; the UK wouldn’t be able to have one without the other.

“Secondly, there is still hope of renegotiation of Britain’s position within the EU. Cameron’s negotiations so far have not been promising but there is flexibility in domestic law, for instance EU immigrants currently cannot claim housing benefit (NI Direct, 2014). Cameron’s current proposals include stopping EU immigrants being able to receive benefits for the first four years they are working in the UK. He bills this as a kind of punishment for the immigrants already “putting an excessive pressure on the proper functioning of its public services.” This confounds the argument that it’s only possible to deter immigrants from entering the UK if we leave the EU.

“Thirdly, some campaigners on the left argue that it’s inhumane to keep EU immigrants out of Britain while it remains one of the richest countries in the world. They emphasise the scale of the refugee crisis and the impact this has relating to externalities. They also highlight the UK’s recent history of “hypocritically pressuring Turkey to open its borders whilst fortifying our own.”

“Arguments for the UK to remain come from all over the political spectrum, and a consensus has not been reached on how best to discuss immigration in the context of Brexit.”

 

Anne – Caroline – “Another social aspect highlighted by the Brexit would be the “European identity”. This identity is a complex question, as it is made of several ones, each from its own country.

“The EU was initially an economic partnership created after WWII to maintain peace and help reconstruction. The main goal was to promote exchanges between the countries and to strengthen the ties between them. Then, politicians tried to extend this partnership with a political and cultural dimension. However, even if the countries share some common historical background- we can refer for instance to the Roman Empire, Hellenistic civilisation, Christianism or the Enlightenment during the 18th century- there is not a strong feeling of belonging to a same community.

European Parliament presidents. source: wikicommons

“Britain was shaped by a “Eurosceptic culture”. It is rather a global country, as Anthony Eden said in 1952, “her interests lie far beyond the continent of Europe”. The British were also known for their pragmatic policies and did not believe in a European union in the first place; it was seen as contradictory with their sovereignty and against their liberty. Margaret Thatcher strengthened this tradition.

 

These elements can explain the origin of the current Euroscepticism in UK. In other words, there is a lack of legitimacy concerning the EU. The weak political legitimacy occurring in the EU is due to the incapacity of political structures to solve new issues brought by globalization and European integration.

“A recent survey by Natcen emphasises the fact that British people have never felt to “belong to a European Identity”. In 2014, 15% thought themselves as European, that is 5% more than in 1996. The highest figure was achieved in 1999, with 17%. Therefore, those low cultural links do not really bond British people with the other members of the union: withdrawing from the EU will not make a big difference for them.

“Another social aspect that goes in the sense of leaving the EU would be the feeling of being “in security”. This would be illustrated by closing the borders. According to a survey realized on the 15th and 16th January, 53% of people were in favour of the Brexit. The main reason of this decision was the recent set of attacks that struck the French capital.  In addition, we can cite the mass sexual assaults that took place in Cologne on New Years Eve 2015.”

 

In conclusion, there are many issues to consider relating to Brexit, with convincing arguments on all sides.  Some emphasise the loss of trade links if Brexit occurred, while others highlight the policy areas which could be brought back under British control. Polls conducted on the British public still vary wildly from day to day and many remain undecided.

 Many people worry about the risks of staying in the EU related to refugees and the Eurozone crisis, whereas the situation for the UK without the EU is equally uncertain.

 

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of UCL, SSEES, or SSEES Research Blog


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Guest Post: Norway and the EU as a model for Brexit – an ideal, or the worst case scenario?

By Blog Admin, on 2 June 2016

by Eline Groholt, IMESS Politics and International Economy Student 

Sometimes described as an ideal model for EU-British relations, at other times used as scare tactics of how bad it could get, Norway’s relation to the EU provides an interesting comparison for Great Britain’s options in the event of Brexit.

EMG Tønsberg coast

 

With 80 per cent of Norwegian exports and 60 per cent of imports coming from the EU, Norway is obliged to accept EU rules and regulations in order to access the common market, but is exempted with regards to important sectors such as agriculture and fishery. Norway adopts about three quarters of all EU legislation, without the right to vote on, or influence the law making process, except from being consulted in the initial stage of the process. Would Great Britain be ready to give up the right to influence legislation it is bound to follow?

 

Interestingly enough, the Norwegian government is backing the British remain campaign, although not itself a member. Following the two EU referenda in 1972 and 1994, Norway voted by a narrow margin to stay outside the EU, but remained within the European Economic Area (EEA) together with Iceland and Liechtenstein (EFTA members). As a former Norwegian minister of Foreign Affairs declared to The Guardian: “the EEA has become Norway’s compromise on Europe.” If Great Britain followed the Norwegian model, it would severely alter the power balance of the EEA itself.

 

However, as the British referendum on the EU is approaching, British politicians supporting the “Vote Leave” campaign have become increasingly reluctant to picture the Norwegian model as an ideal option. In fact, it is becoming more and more evident what this option would actually involve, which threats British sovereignty would face and how the country would see undermined its role in the whole Europe.

EMG Royal Palace on constitutions day

Having voted ‘no’ twice, the Norwegian EU debate has been declared dead, leading to a lack of discussion, debate, healthy political conversation, and consequently, poor knowledge of EU political decision-making mechanisms and policies in general. Paradoxically, this happens at the same time as Norway becomes more closely integrated with the EU. A British referendum on the EU has at least sparked a vibrant debate in Britain on how the EU actually works. This should be welcomed.

 

Norway as a model for UK? So close, yet so far!

Although an interesting idea to ponder, the vast differences between the two countries make for a strange comparison. Norway is a small, resource exporting country with five million people belonging to Europe’s periphery, whereas Great Britain is a huge service economy with global ambitions and a world leading financial centre. It is hard to imagine a country like UK giving up influencing powers over EU legislation. And as EU scepticism continues to grow across Europe, perhaps a reluctant member like UK is exactly what the EU needs in order to modernise.

 

Note: Views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of SSEES, UCL, or SSEES Research Blog

 

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Brexit could push British universities down global rankings

By Blog Admin, on 28 May 2016

by Sultan Orazbayev – Current PhD Candidate

Research shows that visa restrictions between countries reduce scientific collaboration of researchers in those countries. If Brexit results in an increase in the administrative barriers to mobility, then this could harm the global standing of British-based researchers and British universities.

 

Donaldson Reading room, UCL. source: Wikicommons

Researchers believe that Brexit will affect the ranking of UK universities.

Recent comparative study of European and US researcher mobility documents that researchers in Europe (including non-EU countries) move less frequently within Europe compared to inter-state mobility of US researchers (Kamalski and Plume, 2013). The same study shows that countries with higher rates of mobility are associated with high-impact research. Additional supporting evidence on the importance of researcher mobility can be found in the recent Parliamentary report on EU membership and UK science.

There is no clear understanding of how Brexit will affect the administrative barriers to mobility, both for UK researchers’ access to EU countries and access to UK by EU researchers. A close case study is provided by Switzerland, see a detailed examination in a blog post by Galsworthy and Davidson (2015). In the extreme case of imposition of ‘paper walls’, for example travel visa requirements between UK and EU, there is likely to be a significant drop in UK-EU scientific collaborations and knowledge flows. This would exacerbate the impact of the reduction in overall funding of UK science which is likely to follow Brexit.
Research shows that higher ‘paper walls’ between countries (immigration policy, travel visa requirements) reduce bilateral knowledge flows and collaborations (Orazbayev, 2016). EU researchers are collaborators for about 40% of the UK collaborative research, thus even a small increase in collaboration costs is likely to lead to a sizeable drop in joint projects.

As a consequence of the negative impact of Brexit on UK (and EU) science, British universities would slide down in the global university rankings. International university league tables place a significant weight on research performance of a university, which is proxied by the citations to work generated at the university. For example, QS World University Rankings places 20% weight on citations per faculty as a measure of research impact. The decrease in citations to UK research (reflecting reduced knowledge flows), especially to the recent research, will push British universities down the league tables.

 

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

 

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UCL SSEES: Director’s Position on EU Referendum

By Blog Admin, on 12 April 2016

UCL SSEES: Director’s Position on EU Referendum

Prof Jan Kubik, Director of UCL SSEES offers his personal opinion on Brexit

Personal opinion on Brexit

The debate about whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union is heating up. When June comes, it will be up to individuals to cast their votes according to their own conscience. Nevertheless, in the meantime, it makes sense to assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages that any eventual outcome would bring and to take a position accordingly. I believe that it is better for Britain to remain and I am committed to making the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

It is hard for me to see a net advantage of Brexit for an institution like SSEES. As has been made clear by several studies, summarized by Universities for Europe, Brexit would deal a tremendous blow to the British university sector and its remarkable intellectual prowess, its institutional dominance, and its strong financial performance. The first two of these would diminish as a result of disruption to deep and extensive networks of academic cooperation; the last would suffer from the resultant reduction of student mobility in Europe. SSEES would be hit particularly hard here: our School is proud to attract many students from Europe (around 37% of our current undergraduates come from other EU countries) and to have a strong network of European partners and collaborators. Such networks of cooperation, built up over the years, are costly to repair, once disrupted. Some partnerships may simply collapse. For these institutional reasons alone, I am compelled to take an anti-Brexit position.

But the most important arguments against Brexit are not financial or institutional, but historical and philosophical. The EU is key among those institutions that restored peace and prosperity to Western Europe after the Second World War and, in the decades since, it has provided an effective counter-balance to the ‘darker’ forces that have torn the continent apart so many times in the past. More recently, the EU played an important part in the political and social unification of Europe through the accession of the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. These states and societies have become beneficiaries of the common Europe, while also contributing increasingly to the EU’s success as a whole. Central and East Europeans have experienced only too well the damage wrought by European divisions in the past; as an expert on Central and Eastern Europe, I cannot be in favour of a reversal in the process of integration. Furthermore, I note and condemn the xenophobic rhetoric, directed largely against Central and East Europeans, that plays a part in much Brexit campaigning.

The European project, always evolving and never perfect, has recently come under tremendous strain. Europe faces many tests, among them the rise of right-wing populism that openly challenges the liberal-democratic culture that has been its hallmark. Brexit would signal the fact that that a key European power believes that the project is no longer viable and Eurosceptic and populist parties would be emboldened. As Director of an educational and research institution of humanities scholars and social scientists, I wish to warn against a political act whose economic outcomes would be uncertain, and whose longer and broader implications would certainly damage the delicate tissue of a hard-won European culture of coexistence.

I express here my personal opinion, developed as result of many days of thinking and discussions about our institution, UCL SSEES, about which I care deeply. I invite all colleagues to share their views on our blog and – even more importantly – to encourage our students to vote!

 

Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL.

 

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What will the Euro elections tell us about Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 11 May 2014

Plakat do Parlamentu Europejskiego 2014 Platforma Obywatelska

Photo: Lukasz2 via Wikicommons

Seán Hanley looks ahead to the upcoming European elections and assesses what they may tell us about the enduring differences between voters and parties in Western and Eastern Europe.

The elections to the European Parliament which take place across the EU’s 28 member states between 22 and 25 May are widely seen a series of national contests, which voters use to vent their frustration and give incumbent and established parties a good kicking. Newspaper leader writers and think-tankers got this story and have been working overtime to tell us about a rising tide of populism driven by a range of non-standard protest parties.

The conventional wisdom is that the ‘populist threat’ is all eurosceptic (and usually of a right-wing persuasion) although in some cases the ‘eurosceptic surge’ is clearly a matter of whipping together  familiar narrative than careful analysis.

But, as a simultaneous EU-wide poll using similar (PR-based) electoral systems, the EP elections also provide a rough and ready yardstick of Europe-wide political trends, ably tracked by the LSE-based Pollwatch 2014 and others.

And, for those interested in comparison and convergence of the two halves of a once divided continent, they a window into the political differences and similarities between the ‘old’ pre-2004 of Western and Southern Europe and the newer members from Central and Eastern Europe (now including Croatia which joined in 2013). (more…)