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Hungary versus Europe

By Blog Admin, on 10 July 2013

Flags Makó

Photo: Burrows/Wikimedia commons

The EU must find a response to the increasingly aggressive nationalist turn of Hungary’s current government write Erin Marie Saltman and Lise Herman.

What does the European Union do about a member state that has recently been referred to as the ‘cancer in the middle of Europe’?

Hungary has come under increasing scrutiny from European Union bodies and international watchdogs since the 2010 national elections, when the Fidesz government won a two-thirds majority in parliament. Since then the right-wing government has installed large overhauls of the country’s foundational institutions, including a new constitution, fundamentally changing the functioning of the media, the judiciary, the Central Bank and the education system. Many of the government’s changes have mirrored propositions first put forth by Hungary’s radical right party, Jobbik.

These changes have been criticized by the European Union and international actors for reinstating undemocratic and authoritarian elements into Hungary’s governing foundations. While the Fidesz government has re-tailored some of their new legislation to appease international critics, they remain largely defensive of the new direction Hungary is taking. As a consequence, European institutions are having to confront the real challenge of defining their supranational power over members. (more…)

How Poland came to be a major EU power

By Blog Admin, on 12 June 2013

Flaga RP z UE

Photo: Michal Osmenda via Wikimedia Commons

Poland has emerged as a major player in EU politics. The question now is what it wants to do with its new found clout, writes guest contributor Roderick Parkes.

There’s much to be learnt about power in the EU just by walking around its capitals. Parisians don’t walk so much as proceed; Berliners stare; Londoners apologize when bumped into, then look resentful. As for Varsovians, they simply don’t make space for others.

Conclusions? The French view power in terms of self-aggrandisement; the Germans, in terms of scrutiny and mutual control; the British, as a furtive game of playing states off against each other. As for the Poles, everyone knows why they don’t budge: they have an inferiority complex and a strong dose of territorial angst.

Except, of course, that these days they do budge. Polish street etiquette is improving markedly, and a stroll from Nowy Świat to Ulica Warecka is no longer a full-body contact sport. That’s good news for visiting Brits, who no longer have to apologize as they are trodden underfoot.

 It’s good news, too, for the EU: it speaks of a growing sense of ease among Poles as the country’s weight in the bloc has grown. The question now is what Poland wants to do with its new-found clout. (more…)

Moldova: An unravelling success story?

By Blog Admin, on 5 June 2013

IMG_9953

Photo: Anna Woźniak via Flikr  CC BY-SA 2.0

Vlad Filat, until recently Liberal Democrat Prime Minister of Moldova, is locked in a power struggle with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the country’s one and only oligarch. This war of attrition threatens the Eastern Partnership’s ‘success story’ and with it Moldova’s reform project says Andrew Wilson.

Not every policy detail may have been perfect in Moldova since 2009, but at least the narrative seemed right. Eastern Europe’s only ruling Communist Party fell from government. The changeover was mythologised as the ‘Twitter Revolution’ – a precursor of the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Moscow Winter’ – although in fact it was a prosaic process of elections and parliamentary arithmetic. The Communists were replaced by the smooth-sounding Alliance for European Integration, which was soon getting rave reviews for its reform efforts from the EU. Tiny Moldova leapfrogged the other five states in the Eastern Partnership and seemed to be first in the queue to sign an Association and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the Vilnius summit in November 2013.

 By 2013, however, reviews were getting more mixed. Since the beginning of the year, Moldova has plunged into the kind of political infighting reminiscent of Orange Ukraine at its worst. After a previous crisis over the presidency was solved in 2012, it had seemed the current parliament would sit out a full term until the next elections are due in 2014. Today, Moldova has to sort out three simultaneous problems: it has no stable government, new elections are threatened and it is limping toward the November summit. It might collapse over the finishing line or just before; it might have a sudden burst of energy in the finishing strait; or it might fail a last-minute dope test.

So what went wrong? In reality, the three-party Alliance for European Integration was badly designed at birth; more exactly, at its rebirth. The first incarnation of the AEI in 2009-2010 struggled with a minimal majority over the Communists. That majority was improved at new elections in November 2010, but the elections also gave Russia the chance to push hard for an alternative alliance between the Communists and the pivotal Democratic Party (which includes many ex-Communists). Vladimir Putin sent his right-hand man, Sergei Naryshkin, to Chisinau to seal the deal. He didn’t succeed but encouraged the Democrats to secure a high price for not defecting back to the Communists, with the signing of a secret agreement in December 2010, leaked in 2012, to partition not just ministries but also supposedly neutral state institutions and revenue streams among the AEI’s three component parties.  (more…)

Protests that toppled Bulgaria’s government are part of Europe’s wider crisis

By Blog Admin, on 24 February 2013

Simeon Dyankov Satanah

Photo: Иван via WikiMedia Commons

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boiko Borisov submitted his government’s resignation last Wednesday following a week of angry demonstrations over high electricity prices, corruption and declining living standards.  The  protests and their aftermath form part of a bigger European crisis, says Eric Gordy.

The main difference between public disorder in Bulgaria and everywhere else in Europe is that in Bulgaria the government responded. Although the immediate catalyst for protests was the state’s failure to control growth in the price of electricity, the core causes are shared in every European state: dissatisfaction resulting from the forced dismantling of social support services brought on by the European debt crisis, and a sense that policymakers are orienting their activity not to the needs of the public but to the service of large European banks.

These forces are accompanied by the perception that national governments have neither the capacity nor the will to address the consequences of a fiscal and social policy that are widely seen as imbalanced against the public interest. In Greece, Hungary and Italy the contribution of public dissatisfaction to the rise of antidemocratic movements of the extreme right is already apparent.

While conservative political leaders in the EU, particularly from Germany and the UK (and until last year, France) have largely been successful in pushing for a shift of priorities to debt service and “austerity,” the consequences of this should concern everybody in Europe. In the period after the end of the First World War, there was a similar euphoric and triumphalist announcement that liberal democracy could declare its inevitable victory across the continent.

Inattention to the responsibilities of states to their publics on the part of that generation of liberal democratic elites led to a rapid and general decay of constitutional systems and an accelerating tendency of governments to neglect of social responsibilities.

If we take one lesson from the failures of democratic order in the 1920s and 1930s, it should be that governments that fail to address social needs will be challenged by forces, some of them extremist ones, that promise to do so.

Eric Gordy is Senior Lecturer in South East European Politics at UCL-SSEES.

This post was first published in the comment section of the  UCL European Institute and is reproduced with permission.

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.

Where do London’s New Europeans live?

By Blog Admin, on 13 January 2013

Newly released data from the 2011 Census reveals some interesting patterns about London’s Central and East Europeans, finds Allan Sikk

I’ve been waiting for some time for the UK 2011 census data to come out to give me a chance to look at the distribution of  Londons ‘New Europeans’ – people from the ten accession countries that joined the EU in 2004-7 – and to use the R open source statistics package to visualise data geographically.

Map of people born in EU10 by London borough

Image: Allan Sikk

Overall, people born in the EU accession state make up 4.5% of the population of London. However,  but the picture is quite diverse across boroughs and across individual ‘sending’ countries. (more…)

Does the eurozone crisis threaten liberal reforms in Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 15 November 2012

Uncertainties about the EU’s future are undermining mainstream parties throughout Europe. In Central and Castern Europe politicians can no longer sell the European model of liberal reforms when that model is itself in crisis, argues Sean Hanley

OccupyFrankfurt October 2011 EZB

Photo: Blogotron via Wikicommons

Although only three EU members in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia, have adopted the Euro, the knock-on  effects of stagnation in the Eurozone has pushed governments across CEE towards unpopular austerity programmes, exacerbating social tensions and collapsing support for incumbent parties. The uncertainties about the EU’s future are also undermining mainstream parties in the region. Politicians can no longer sell liberal reforms as part of a successful, tried and tested european model as they once did, when that model is itself in crisis. For many this seems to point darkly towards a turning away from liberal politics in CEE and a growth in euroscepticism, populism and nationalism. (more…)

The Baltics have found their Nordic niche – should the UK follow suit?

By Blog Admin, on 23 May 2012

1 May 2004 enlargement celebration in Parc du Cinquantenaire

Photo: RockCohen via WikiMedia Commons

 Allan Sikk finds that a new book on the Baltic-EU relationship has excellent insights into micro-processes of accession relevant to anyone interested in how states respond to EU pressures and adapt to EU membership.

Could the experience of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joining the European Union be relevant for the UK? Differences seem to abound – the Baltic states are small, rather remote and their recent historical experiences are obviously very different. However, at a closer look one discovers that the UK and the Baltic states share certain perspectives of the world and even the EU (despite the British elites remaining far more Eurosceptic than their Baltic counterparts). More crucially, both the UK and the Baltic states have a shared affinity to the Nordic countries – an obvious source of inspiration for the Baltic states, but increasingly also for Britain.

Recently, the Prime Ministers of the UK, the Nordic and the Baltic states have twice met for UK-Nordic Baltic summits, initiated by David Cameron in 2011. For someone with an academic interest in Baltic and Nordic affairs, the links are obvious; together with three colleagues at University College London we started an ESRC seminar series on Nordic and Baltic countries a year prior to Cameron’s initiative.

Bengt Jacobsson’s new edited collection The European Union and the Baltic States: Changing forms of governance. (Routledge. 2010) addresses the issue of how domestic politics, more specifically central state administration, has been shaped by the EU accession. Its aim is to go beyond a crude notion of conditionality: that the rewards of membership force states to undertake specific reforms.

Some of the critique of conditionality literature in the opening chapters may be on the harsh side, but the book does provide original insights. It focusses on micro-processes and soft forms of influence – where aspiring member states adapted to formal requirements and, perhaps more importantly, to the Western ways of doing things according to the logic of appropriateness, termed (somewhat cryptically) ‘scripts’. (more…)

Angry mainstream: Eastern Europe’s new ‘centrist populists’

By Blog Admin, on 20 January 2012

Allan Sikk and Sean Hanley detect a new breed of anti-establishment party emerging centre-stage in Eastern Europe.

Magyarországi választás 2010 Jobbik vadplakát Fidesz óriásplakát

Photo: Beroesz via Wikicommons

In both Western and Eastern Europe extremist populism and illiberal movements, we are told, are strong, politically influential and relentlessly on the rise.  In countries such Austria, Slovakia and Poland radical right parties have already held government office. Elsewhere they have sufficient parliamentary representation to influence government formation and help make the political weather. Recent electoral breakthroughs in countries without strong illiberal populist traditions by parties such the True Finns (2011), the Sweden Democrats (2010) or Hungary’s Jobbik (2010) seem to highlight the accelerated growth of such parties.

Given the greater impact of recession and reduced EU leverage in the region, the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) would seem to be especially vulnerable to such tendencies. However, notwithstanding the spectacular rise of far-right in Hungary, recent elections in key CEE states suggest that voters in the region are turning to new parties, which combine familiar anti-elite, anti-establishment populist rhetoric with mainstream pro-market policies, a liberal stance on social issues and calls for political reform.

 Poland’s October 2011 elections, for example, saw the wholly unexpected emergence as the country’s third force of a grouping led by maverick and political showman, Janusz Palikot, on a platform combining anti-clericalism and social liberalism with flat taxation and a slimmed down, citizen-friendly state. In May 2010 a new pro-market anti-corruption party, Public Affairs (VV), campaigning to kill off the ‘dinosaurs’ of the political establishment enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise in the Czech Republic, winning 10% of the vote. In Slovakia in elections a few weeks later the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party formed in 2009 by the economist and businessman Richard Sulík entered parliament with a similar vote share on a programme of fiscal conservatism and socially liberal reforms such as the introduction of gay marriage and decriminalisation of soft drugs. Hungary’s Green-ish  Politics Can Be Different Party (LMP) can, with some qualifications, be regarded in a similar light.

 Such centrist or (neo-) liberal populists, or as we prefer to call them anti-establishment reform parties (AERPs), are we believe, a growing and important phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe and, perhaps Europe more generally.  A more careful and wider look at the CEE region over the last 10-15 years suggests that such AERPs are a widespread and common phenomenon which can, in some contexts, enjoy landslide electoral success: the Simeon II National Movement in Bulgaria (2001), New Era in Latvia (2002) and Res Publica in Estonia (2003) were all new, anti-establishment reformers, which topped – or came close to topping – the poll at their first attempt and headed new coalition governments. (more…)