Tag Archives: populism

Volt Europa: A New Party to Jolt Europe


My latest article just published on Impakter:

The New Party to Make Europe Smart and Fair

There is a new party rising across Europe, a party shaped by Millennials who want a voice in their future: Volt Europa. The name says it all: Volt Europa, jolt Europe. An electrical charge to shake it out of its lethargy, give it new energy.

Volt is, of course, the international unit to measure the force of electric current. It’s a nice easy name that stays the same with the same meaning across Europe and all its languages and cultures. And, in the words of the party leaders on their website, “it fully represents our fast and efficient team”.

So who is this team and what does this party aim to do?

Volt Europa had an extraordinary start: in less than two years, it acquired over 20,000 adherents and it is active in 32 European countries with more than 300 teams. It is mostly a party of young people but it has attracted all ages, including older citizens horrified by what is happening to Europe these days. The oldest is a 92 year-old Netherlands citizen. Even more extraordinary: over 70% of its adherents have never been involved in politics before.

That means Volt is not a rehash of a dying party or a new current in a traditional party. It’s a totally new entity, a pan-European party aiming to have subsidiary parties in every EU member country. As Kai Kotzian, a 43-year-old Volt candidate for the European Parliament in Germany recently told the Frankfurter Wochenblatt:  “Our perspective is different from that of other parties. We are not just looking at what’s good for Germany, but what’s good for the entire European Union. Since there is no European electoral law, in order to form a cross-European party, we had to found one in each country so we could vote.”

The first national Volt party was created in Germany in March 2018, now Volt has 12 parties at the national level. It covers all the EU members and beyond, including Switzerland, Serbia and Albania.

Among new parties with a pan-European vocation, Volt stands in a “leftist” centre. To its left, you have Dem 25, the party founded by the former Greek finance minister Varoufakis. To its right, you have The Movement founded by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser and extreme right Breitbart News editor.

Bannon’s Movement, however, is paradoxical as a “pan-European” party. Its avowed aim is to weaken the EU, and if possible, destroy the European dream of a United Europe. Bannon plans to pull together all the European populist parties for a big win at the European Parliament elections. Not an easy task as populist parties are clearly nationalistic and often at odds with populists from other countries.

Volt, in contrast, is truly pan-European and committed to building up and strengthening Europe, standing on a “progressive” middle ground. It fights for sustainable growth and social justice. But it’s not as far to the left as Varoufakis’s Dem 25. Also, unlike Dem 25, Volt has no founding father image, like Varoufakis. Or, to compare it with the Five Star Movement, like comedian Beppe Grillo.

Volt is not a vertical, hierarchical structure. And it shares with the Five Star Movement a propensity to give a lot of weight – and a voice – to its base, using digital communication, social networks and participatory methods to develop its political platform.

Volt Europa’s Political Message

Volt Europa’s immediate goal: Win in the upcoming European Parliament Elections. Candidates were announced in 11 countries at a meeting in Amsterdam on 27-28 October 2019 – among them Italy, France, Germany and Spain. The hope is to obtain at least 25 deputies in 7 countries which would enable Volt to register as an autonomous parliamentary group. 

The long-term goal: Reform Europe and give it a voice in the concert of nations. And the “reform” has nothing to do with populism’s backward, nostalgic message of restoring sovereignty and going back to Charles de Gaulle’s “Europe of Nations”.  On the contrary. It is forward-looking, ultra-liberal and progressive, much like Macron’s plan to reform Europe or Carlo Calenda’s.

More Europe is good. A reformed Europe that works is better.  Volt’s Amsterdam Declaration adopted in October 2018 makes for inspiring reading. This is indeed groundbreaking: Volt will campaign across Europe on a single common platform.

Here are the highlights:

The rest on Impakter Magazine, click here 

Did you notice something new here? Yes, there’s an announcement: IMPAKTER Up is launching! That’s an amazing new app for startups with socially responsible aims – “social good companies” – to match them with investors committed to a sustainable future. 

Yes, our planet needs to be saved from rapacious, voracious capitalism! 

Advertisement

Comments Off on Volt Europa: A New Party to Jolt Europe

Filed under European Union, politics

Italy’s Love Affair with Populism: From Berlusconi to Salvini

My latest article on Impakter, updated 24 February 2019 with the news that Salvini is taking funds from Russia. Here is the opening:

Italy has a surprising weakness for populism à la Trump. It began over twenty-five years ago with Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party and is still going strong with the extreme-right populist Lega leader Matteo Salvini. Berlusconi and Salvini share the same worldview with Trump: a visceral attachment to national sovereignty (my country first!), a rejection of multilateralism and international cooperation in any form, and a determined anti-immigration and pro-business stance.

As to the Italian fascination with Trump, it is unique in the group of advanced, politically mature European countries that constitute the core of the European Union. Compared to fellow citizens in Spain, France and Germany, Italians are three to four times as likely to have “a lot or some confidence in the U.S. President”, as shown by a recent Pew Research Center survey (October 2018):

Trump does slightly better in the UK (28%), no doubt as a result of Brexit and Britain’s continuing “special friendship” with the United States. And, predictably, he does best in Europe’s most “illiberal democracies”: Poland (35%) and Hungary (31%).

Admittedly, Italy’s fatal attraction for strongmen is nothing new. Setting aside Mussolini and fascism and turning to modern times, we have Silvio Berlusconi, the TV mogul. Berlusconi has shaped Italian politics, opening the door to extreme right parties that were once banned because of their fascist roots. To understand how it happened and see where Salvini’s populism could lead Italy, it helps to look at his legacy.

Berlusconi’s Legacy: A Brilliant Start, Broken Promises and a Humiliating End

Much as Macron did with his party “La République En Marche”, Berlusconi created a party literally overnight, Forza Italia (“Go Italy” – note the nationalistic touch and the reference to Italy’s passion for football).

The start was even more explosive than Macron’s. Founded in December 1993, the party quickly gained a relative majority and won general elections three months later. That was the result of a skillful use of media campaign techniques on Berlusconi’s Mediaset, a near monopoly in commercial TV. The party’s earliest officials were Publitalia executives, the advertising arm of his business empire.

Forza Italia always was – and still is – Berlusconi’s “personal party”. And he proceeded to lord it over Italy, both as the head of the center-right coalition and serving as Prime Minister for a total of nine years. Considered the most influential politician since Mussolini, there is no question that he has shaped Italy’s politics and economy over two decades – unfortunately leaving the economy in shambles.

Yet he had vowed he would make his compatriots rich. Many believed him, seeing how rich he was himself. But Italy’s economic growth rate remained abysmal throughout. In 2010, only Haiti and Zimbabwe fared worse than Italy. Likewise, he couldn’t deliver on his promise to reform the slow and inefficient justice system, as his efforts at reform turned out to be personal moves to defend himself and his assets from prosecution. As to immigration, he was the first politician to tighten immigration rules in Italy and establish a special relationship with Libya to discourage inflows of migrants across the Mediterranean.

The most damaging result of the Berlusconi years was the return in mainstream politics of extreme right anti-establishment political parties, brought in and rehabilitated as Forza Italia’s partners: Umberto Bossi’s Lega (then called Lega Nord as it was both anti-Rome and anti-Southern Italy) and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance with deep roots in fascism.

2011, the height of the Euro crisis, was a turning point. In April, Berlusconi was put on trial, accused of paying an underage prostitute. By November, he was forced out of office. He left Italy in financial disarray, with an estimated debt of €1.9 trillion. He always claimed it was a “EU plot” by Brussels bureaucrats.

On 1 August 2013, he was convicted of tax fraud, banned from office and condemned to four years in jail that were commuted to “community service” due to his age (he was 77). In November of that year, the Senate expelled him from Parliament and he vowed to follow the example of Beppe Grillo, the comedian and founder of the 5 Star Movement, who was able to lead his party in spite of not being a member of Parliament Grillo has made it a principle in his party that anyone with a criminal conviction cannot hold a public office – himself included, since he was convicted of manslaughter in a car accident in 1981.

Today, at 82, Berlusconi is still in politics. Forza Italia has lost its luster and the Lega, that used to be his junior partner, is well ahead in the polls.

In the photo: Salvini and Berlusconi. That day, 7 January 2018,  Berlusconi, Salvini and Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, agreed on the distribution of electoral colleges  SourceLa  Stampa, photo LaPresse  

Is Salvini, Berlusconi’s heir, Italy’s Trump?

On 21 February, the Italian newspaper L’Espresso published shocking news:  That Salvini’s party the Lega is likely to be secretly financed by Putin, to the tune of €3 million, with the goal of giving it a boost in the upcoming European Parliament elections and more generally spread discontent in Europe. This is of course not the first time that news emerge of Russian funding extreme-right, anti-establishment populist parties with the purpose of destabilizing Europe – notably Marine Le Pen in France is said to have received some €11 million from her friend Putin.

Yet the last ten days had been a turning point for Salvini with several wins. On 10 February, his party, the Lega, came first in local elections in the Abruzzo region, with 27,4% – a number oddly close to the one in the above-mentioned Pew survey rating Trump, suggesting that this could be indicative of the core support for any populist in Italy.

The rest on Impakter, click here. 

Comments Off on Italy’s Love Affair with Populism: From Berlusconi to Salvini

Filed under European Union, politics

Populism’s Broken Promises: Two Emblematic Cases

An article published on Impakter that I am particularly proud of: I got compliments from a great professional journalist Judy Bachrach who is also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, the author of bestselling “Glimpsing Heaven” and professor of investigative journalism at John Cabot University. Here is the first part (concerning the U.S. and Trump); the second part is about Europe (and Salvini):

Populists make empty promises. They exploit people’s discontent, raise expectations but cannot deliver solutions. They claim to represent the “will of the people”. Yet they spread lies and accuse leaders of other parties, particularly progressive ones, to be the root cause of all the problems people face. Populists thrive on divisiveness and partisanship in both America and Europe. And it is happening in the world’s oldest democracies, places that should have been inured to the populists’ siren songs.

Two recent cases are emblematic of what is going on.

Case # 1: The United States

Consider America. Trump constantly attacks the “failing New York Times” for spreading “fake news”:

“Former @NYTimes editor Jill Abramson rips paper’s ‘unmistakably anti-Trump’ bias.”

Ms. Abramson is 100% correct. Horrible and totally dishonest reporting on almost everything they write. Hence the term Fake News, Enemy of the People, and Opposition Party!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2019

He flatly overlooks the fact that the New York Times has never been more successful, with extraordinary financial results and a fast-growing audience – Forbes estimates NYT’s online subscriber base to be its biggest value driver, and forecast this growth to pick up in the coming years and reach 4.5 million by 2022. A remarkable performance at a time of great difficulty for the industry battered by digital publications and online news.

But Trump, like all populists, has an Achilles’ heel: He can’t deliver on his promises. And he never will. Because his promises are nonsensical, none of them can resolve the problems they are meant to address.

What is happening now with his promised border wall is only the start. He incautiously caused the shutdown of government, sending home 800,000 government employees without pay. And he is doubling down on his mistake, with false accusations at the Democrats when everyone knows that the Democrats have nothing to do with it.

Trump, and he alone, is the cause of the mess. And if the shutdown lasts a year or more as Trump says he’s ready to do, don’t go ask all those employees sitting at home how happy they are with him or what they think of his MAGA policies.

But what about employment and Trump’s promise to create more blue-collar jobs to revive the rust belt? The just published employment data was fantastic, almost double what economists had predicted, shattering Wall Street forecasts of doom: 312,000 jobs were created in December, bringing total employment gains in 2018 to a three-year high of 2.64 million. The Labor Department adjusted its figures for October, raising them from 237,000 to 274,000 and for November, from 155,000 to 176,000.

Cherry on the cake: the average wage rose 11 cents, or 0.4%, to $27.48 an hour. OK, 0.4% doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s an average and it means some people did get ahead. And if the employment rate crept up to 3.9 percent from a 49 year low of  3.7 percent, that’s a small creep and it was because more people, attracted by a booming economy, entered the workforce.

So has Trump delivered on his promise? First, it’s too soon to tell. The impact of whatever Trump did will take some years to show up. No political measure is ever instantly translated into measurable economic effects.

Second, we need to remember that Trump in his first two years has only really achieved two things:

(1) deregulation of the environment, paralyzing the Environmental Protection Agency – a boon for the fuel and coal industry and steel; and

(2) an unprecedented tax break for Big Business and the One Percent – at the expense of the middle class and the lower blue-collar working class.

Both measures will need time to impact the economy in full, but we already see early signs that can tell us which way things will be going.

The expected early burst due to Trump’s tax break is much like a wave of fresh funding currently translating into higher overall employment and attracting new people in the labor market. Problem: It is not going into every nook and cranny in the economy, as the Republicans expected.

There is a good reason for this shortcoming. A considerable amount of the funding freed from the tax is not going into new investment, but instead going into stock buybacks to please shareholders. For now, that makes Wall Street and the One Percent very happy. But every cent and dollar going into stock buybacks means it is not going into Main Street and jobs for blue-collar workers.

The amounts diverted into stock buybacks is extensive: By end 2018, it is estimated that of the announced 1.1 trillion in buybacks, a record amount, already $800 billion have actually been purchased. Record buybacks are usually a sign that CFOs believe their stock is undervalued. But not all buybacks have happy outcomes. Consider the case of Apple that was recently badly hit by dropping sales for its smartphones in China:

Then there’s another problem: Robotization. This had nothing to do with Trump’s policies. The trend to automation started a long time before Trump reached the White House. Except for one thing, he should have foreseen the problem.

A good leader sees farther than his voting base. He should have understood that jobs in the coal and steel/aluminum industries that existed twenty years ago are no longer there because of automation. For example, Austria boasts of an almost entirely automated steel plant: It only needs 14 people to run.

The same is true for the United States, as a Brookings article abundantly documents. The last time employment peaked in the coal industry was in the 1920s. Already, by 1980, it was plunging – from 785,000 in 1920 to 242,000. And by 2015, it had lost 59% of its workforce compared to 1980 – most of the loss due not to trade but to automation.

The change from pit mining to surface mining (using explosives and considerably less labor) accelerated the move. Capital intensive highly productive technologies are already in use everywhere and it is expected that over the next 10 to 15 years, their deployment will be ramped up.

But Trump didn’t see that coming. He is not interested in either automation or the opportunities opened up by Artificial Intelligence.

As a result of his tax cut, jobs in the steel, aluminum and coal industries have rebounded, sure, but only modestly. Not enough to change the equation in the rust belt. Moreover, Big Business hasn’t changed its modus operandi, as the recent decision of General Motors to close down plants in the U.S. and send 45,000 people home shows.

Bottom line, Trump is only interested in easy-to-sell slogans, not in resolving difficult problems.

Case # 2: Europe

Consider the European Union, and take a close look at one of its best-grounded, most  emblematic democracies: Italy. The country where after the disaster of World War II, a particularly representative democracy was set up with a carefully crafted Constitution, intended to avoid the dictatorship of the majority and give equal representation to all citizens, excluding none.

The rest on Impakter, click here. Let me know what you think!

Comments Off on Populism’s Broken Promises: Two Emblematic Cases

Filed under politics

Murderers in the Mediterranean: How to Stop Them

Just published on Impakter:

Two days ago, 117 people died in the Mediterranean. People talk of massacres whenever migrants drown. And then forget about it, overwhelmed by the relentless news cycle of our digital age. Perhaps if we called a spade a spade, people wouldn’t forget: Murderers at work in the Mediterranean is a better description of what happened.

Consider the facts.  They had been 120 when they escaped from Libya in hope of a better life in Europe. Then, after about eleven hours of navigation, their overloaded rubber dinghy deflated and capsized. They tried to swim for hours, but most couldn’t make it. There were ten women among them, one was pregnant. And there were two children, one of which was a two-month baby. Most of them came from Nigeria, Cameroon, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Sudan. Three survived to tell the story and were brought by helicopter to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

All the others could have been saved but weren’t.

With modern satellite technology, any boat crossing the Mediterranean can be spotted. For years, the Italian navy did a magnificent job of spotting them and saving lives, earning people’s gratitude and admiration across the world.

In the Photo: An over-crowded boat of refugees and migrants is rescued in the Mediterranean by the Italian Navy as part of the Mare Nostrum operation. Source:  © Massimo Sestini for the Italian Navy

But with far-right populist leader Matteo Salvini in charge (he is Italy’s Interior Minister), all that has changed. Of course, we have no proof that the Italians watched as people drowned. Only one thing is certain: These people fought for hours in freezing waters before going under.

Salvini has made his policy crystal clear: He has closed Italian ports and accuses NGOs of playing the game of human traffickers, saying:  “As long as European ports will remain open…sea traffickers will continue to do business and kill people.”

This causes an excruciating moral dilemma. People are killed anyway, closing ports and looking the other way is no solution. There are ways to stop “sea traffickers”. For example, one could work out agreements with governments on the southern coast of the Mediterranean – especially with Libya and Turkey – to gain control and police the areas where the traffickers actually operate – and not in the open sea, when it’s too late. But Salvini is doing none of this. 

MAP showing where the rubber dinghy with 120 people aboard sank. Source: Mail Online

For now, the situation is in an ugly stall. Countries (like Italy) that should welcome refugees are not doing so. And putting themselves in the unwanted role of murderers at sea.

For example, exactly two days after 117 people were left to die, one of the ships of the NGO Sea Watch saved 47 migrants including 8 unaccompanied children. These were migrants in similar circumstances, clinging to a sinking dinghy. They were found by Sea Watch in international waters north of Zuwarah in Libya. Who will take them in?

A few days earlier, in another angle of the Mediterranean, in the western sea of Alboan, another 53 people had died in similar circumstance, with only one survivor – a fact documented by UNHCR.

This brings the total for this month to 170 deaths from drowning. A lot of deaths in just a few days.

The overall number of people who died crossing the Mediterranean in 2018 was, according to UNHCR, 2,262. Too much, even if we are far from the peak of 2015 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously opened the doors of Germany to a “million refugees”. UNHCR’s data speaks volumes:

Source: UNHCR

UNHCR tweeted dismay at the latest tragedy:

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe’s doorstep.”

@cochetelhttps://t.co/wJ7yVHbxH6

— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) January 20, 2019

The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella was also moved to issue a press release expressing his “profound sorrow for the death of over one hundred people, including women, men and children”.

The only one who remained silent was Salvini.

Yet, his policy of closing borders is putting him at odds with international law, in particular, the principle of “non refoulement” ( a French term, in deference to the fact that French has been traditionally the language of international diplomacy) – as explained in this UNHCR video:

The rest , including UNHCR’s excellent video about the non refoulement principle, is on Impakter. To read, click here.

Comments Off on Murderers in the Mediterranean: How to Stop Them

Filed under politics, Uncategorized

Populism in Europe: Can the New Left Defeat it?

Just published on Impakter:

Trump is the face of populism in America and the midterms have shown that a Democratic “blue wave” could stop and even defeat it. How about populism in Europe? After the traditional parties on the left collapsed and the center right à la Emmanuel Macron is stalling, political winds are turning. A New Left is rising, as recent elections in Germany have shown. Can this New Left defeat populism? 

The next elections for the European Parliament in May 2019 will be the first big test for the New Left, with Europe as the prize. If populists win, the European Union and the dream of a United Europe will be badly broken as a retrograde “Europe of Nations” is installed. If the New Left wins, Europe will come out strengthened but it will have to undergo deep structural reform to bring its institutions closer to the people – and away from the private corporate interests that hold it hostage now.

The full extent of the growth of populism in Europe was  revealed this week in groundbreaking research conducted by the UK Guardian with inputs from leading political scientists and covering national elections in 31 European countries over two decades.

The findings are striking and show that populist votes have tripled since 1998, with one in four Europeans voting populist:

Credit: U.K. Guardian (screenshot)

Twenty years ago, populists were rarely in government: Only 12.5 million Europeans lived in countries where at least one cabinet member was a populist. Today the figure has jumped to 172 million. Note, as shown in the graph above, the research counts equally populist parties on the right, left and middle, but the “irresistible rise of the far right and populism”, as many UK Guardian readers have commented, is the crux of the matter. Far right populists have nearly tripled their votes, from less than 5 percent in 1998 to some 14 percent in 2018.

The rise of extreme right populism has been accompanied by a deep crisis in center-left parties that have suffered a sharp drop in support in several countries across Europe, notably in Germany when the German Social Democrats retreated in the 2017 German federal elections; in France when the Socialist Party collapsed in the French presidential and legislative elections in 2017; likewise in Italy with the Democratic Party (PD) going to a historic minimum in Italy in 2018.

Center-left parties are currently part of only six EU governments out of the 28 member states, notably in Spain with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) who came to power in May 2018. However the PSOE is not the “New Left”. Founded in 1879, it is the oldest party in Spain and, historically, the one most often in power (most recently from 2004 to 2011 under Zapatero). Moreover Sanchez has a very thin margin (only 84 seats over 350) that constrains his ability to steer policies. Most analysts don’t expect him to finish his mandate (it ends in July 2020). As of now his government is “blocked” on the budget issue and new elections are probable.

Why Populism is Successful

There are four reasons:

  1. Populist politicians are able to convince their audiences that they do not belong to the hated traditional political system, that they are not part of the establishment, of the “corrupt elite”; Trump famously succeeded in convincing his fan base that he could bring his businessman’s savvy to government (“the art of the deal”) even though, as a real estate tycoon,  he is clearly an oligarch, part of the “corrupt elite”;
  2. They focus on simple issues that people feel are close to them, threatening their personal well-being, like migrants taking their jobs and splurging on public services or China flooding the market with cheap goods; both are presented as sources of “unfair” competition and the cause of destruction of employment in manufacture;
  3. They are masters at stirring up emotions, a winning technique to drive voters to the polls as Trump amply demonstrated in the US midterms, cynically causing fear and anger with fake news about a supposed migrant invasion, a “caravan” threatening the southern border;
  4. They have been helped by the rise in social media over the past two decades; as noted by Claudia Alvares, professor at Lusofonia University Lisbon, “social media are very permeable to the easy spread of emotion”; they are also very permeable to cyber war techniques by the Russians and voter manipulations; the Cambridge Analytica scandal that affected millions of Americans on Facebook is proof.

Populism is on the march everywhere in Europe, notably in Eastern Europe where democracies are new. What is more surprising is to see populists leaders win power in West European countries where nobody expected them to be that successful:

  1. In Italy, right-wing and left-wing populism came to power together, in May 2018, a historical first and an unlikely alliance, built on the 17 percent won by Matteo Salvini’s extreme right League and the 33 percent won by Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement;
  2. In Sweden, this summer when the Sweden Democrats,  a populist far-right anti-immigration party founded in 1988, with Nazi roots, had its best-ever results:
Read the rest on Impakter, click here.
Let me know what you think, I love to hear from you!
 
Featured image: A tramp in Paris (Palais Royal) Creditjeangui111

Comments Off on Populism in Europe: Can the New Left Defeat it?

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

My latest article in the “Populism is Dangerous” series, just published on Impakter:

In the photo: Migrants: Germany to accept 50 rescued migrants after Italy’s plea July 15, 2018 Source:Reuters article

Populism is dangerous and puts public health and the economy at risk. But it is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. Particularly the so-called “migrant crisis”.

Italy is a harbinger of things to come in liberal democracies. It is where political change often happens first. The largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union was in Italy; yet it was the first to go after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlusconi, a showy media tycoon who came to power in 1994 was a proto-Trump.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here) and the public health crisis (here). Now we look at the false “migrant crisis” fabricated by populists. Yet  there is a real migrant crisis caused by the lack of assimilation of migrants already in Europe. Because the issue is not correctly diagnosed, no European country, or for that matter the U.S., has yet developed a set of policies to address it – with the exception of Sweden with its pro-active labor policies and Italy with its “Riace model”.

There is a migrant crisis for sure, but it’s not the one described by populists.

Exhibit ABrexit. The UK voted to leave the European Union, panicked by the imagined threat of a migrant invasion and is now facing economic disaster.


In the photo: Brexit poster used by UKIP  

Exhibit B: Trump, with his assault on migrants and Muslims. In view of the midterm elections, he’s upped the ante in an exceptional op-ed he wrote for USA Today on 12 October and a few days later, he re-opened his “caravan” scare on Twitter.

In the photo: Note how they move from right to left, just as in the UKIP Brexit poster, but there are children here.  These are Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., during a leg of their travel in Chiquimula , Guatemala October 16, 2018.  Source: REUTERS/Edgard Carrido Reuters article and video

In a string of tweets, he threatened to cut off funding to the countries from where immigrants fled (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and demanded that Mexico put a stop to it. If it can’t, he announced he would use the military to shut the southern border. The most striking tweet is this one:

It encapsulates his favorite accusation against the opposition (“All Democrats fault for weak laws!”) but it puts forward an astonishing new notion: His trade wars, he says, are less important to him, even the newly achieved NAFTA that now goes by the name USMCA, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (it still awaits ratification). That’s remarkable, considering that he could claim USMCA as an achievement.

Like any good populist strategy, such technical considerations are set aside: the point is to divert public attention to fabricated issues – like “caravans” – that readily stir up emotions. Nothing is better than the true and tried recipe of evoking migrant invasions – just as was done by Brexit supporters. By comparison, trade is profoundly dull.  To whip emotions to a frenzy, there’s nothing like spreading fake news:  “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up to try and get to the border by Election Day,” Trump declared, without any evidence for this.

He immediately got support from the Republican party. U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. border security was a key election issue: “We have to secure that border once and for all,” he told Fox News in an interview.

The False Migrant Crisis

Trump tweets of “criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in”, a vivid, scary image. But how bad is it really to allow migrants to enter the country?

Historically, America has been a beacon for migrants because of its “values”. Which is exactly what Europe also offers. And Italy in particular, a Catholic country that hosts the Leader of the Universal Church, the Pope.  What values are they exactly? A respect for human rights and human dignity. And for political refugees in particular, the protection provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of host countries.

However that welcoming environment changed in Italy well before the populists came to power in March 2018, as this PBS video makes clear:

The ground was laid out for the arrival of the populists. What we need to realize is that the austerity policies imposed on Europe since the Greek debt crisis exploded in 2010 are the root cause of the problem.

Countries that are impoverished by austerity policies  – Greece lost half its GDP, Italy is stagnant and its youth suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe  – are easy prey to populist anti-immigration policies. Blaming foreigners for one’s woes is far easier and more satisfactory than trying to sort out the problem and come to a constructive solution.

Europeans have very negative views of migrants, and the countries with the most negative views (for example, Hungary) are those that close their borders, build walls and refuse to cooperate with European Union members:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

Filed under politics

War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Just published this article about the (depressing) results of Swedish elections – once again, the extreme neo-nazi right has scored a win – and here’s why we should worry. The article opens on the results of the elections and goes on to explore the consequences for  liberal democracies in Europe and America:

This Sunday 9 September, all eyes were on Sweden, where elections for a new parliament were taking place and where populists, playing on widespread and rising hostility to migrants, seemed set to win a decisive victory. And they did. Almost one in five Swedish people voted for the Swedish Democrats (SD), the neo-nazi, anti-immigration party, giving it 17.6% of the votes:

Why has Sweden become the battlefield to watch? One of the world’s richest economies, it has drawn proportionately more migrants than most countries in Europe, along with Germany, when in 2015 Chancellor Merkel famously opened the doors to a “million immigrants”. And, in spite of an excellent “model” for integrating migrants in its economy  and statistical “proof” that migrants have contributed actively to the rise in Swedish GNP – more about this below – people in Sweden have nevertheless been drawn to the siren songs of the populists. Just as they have in America, with Trump’s fight against immigration.

While the anti-immigration SD did not gain the 20 to 25 percent predicted by some polls before the elections, it is still a sizeable win that spells gridlock in Swedish politics.

Though early news indicate that the Swedish system of two blocks (left and right, each with around 40% of the votes) that has dominated Swedish politics over decades could be coming to an end. The outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen indicated that he would keep governing and would open to the center-right block. His party the Social Democrats, while losing some ground (it’s the worst result since 1908) still came out first at 28.3%. The problem is that the center-right leader Ulf Kristersson strongly feels he should be the one forming the new government.

Can this gridlock be resolved by the SD? The SD leader Jimmie Åkesson sees himself as a kingmaker. But other parties see him as definitely dangerous and don’t want to talk to him. Small wonder: SD has proposed a “Swexit” referendum to take Sweden out of the European Union and has vowed to end Sweden’s asylum policies.

The SD’s policies resonate in Swedish society, shaken by the flows of migrants that have strained housing, health care and welfare services. Public services came under pressure in 2015 when 163,000 asylum seekers were let in, proportionately the highest number in Europe in relation to the population. And the SD call resonates particularly in rural areas where industries and public services have been cut back. The party has repeatedly tried to link a rise in violence to immigrants, although official figures show no link.

In the photo: Comment made by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Monday 20 February, when he discussed the recent comments by US President Donald Trump about terrorism in SwedenSourceBBC

Malmo, in spite of Nigel Farage’s claims, is not the rape capital of Europe. Rate of reported rapes are high in Sweden because of the way Swedish law is applied; but the rate in Malmo, and other urban centers, has not dramatically risen in recent years and has in fact declined from its peak in 2010, before the recent large increases in refugees. In short, there is not way to link

But the problem is bigger than Sweden. While such a win certainly signals another tightening of the screw on migrant inflows, more importantly, it threatens Europe’s future and the liberal values it stands for. In short, it marks a further rise in xenophobic populism.

Xenophobia is Back in Europe

It is back in Europe with a vengeance. Because that is the right term for this type of populism, rooted in the hatred of the other. The term, derived from Greek, has deep roots in History. Indeed, the ancient Greeks were the first to give it a name. They called foreigners with the derogatory term “barbarian” and saw them as only fit to be slaves.

This formula – ascribing a rise in violence and a decrease in public services to immigrants –  is exactly the policy of all populists across Europe, from Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Hungary’s Viktor Orban – spurred on by Steve Bannon who’s working hard to pull together all the European populists for a big win at the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019.

The populists’ aim is simple enough: kick the foreigners out. They won’t hear of managing the situation and integrating whoever can prove that they are able to work and contribute to national wealth. Integration is a dirty word, something they won’t even discuss.

The Swedish elections are a litmus test for liberal, democratic values, a test that is causing fear across Europe and should equally worry Americans. Because a strong win for populists in Sweden does two things:

  1. Confirm Trump and populist leaders like him around the world and not only in Europe, that populism rooted in anti-migrant sentiments is a winning card and that they should keep playing it;
  2. Lead to a rise in euro-skepticism and nationalism across Europe – or what used to be called chauvinism because you cannot grace this new phenomenon with the hallowed term of patriotism (although they do – but populists are masters at manipulating people’s emotions with the “right words” and spreading fake news).

The term “migrants wars” is bandied about as if flows of migrants were still on the rise, while they have in fact sharply fallen since the high in 2015. And that is the biggest piece of fake news that populists bank on.

A quick look at the facts is needed to dispel any doubts that migrant flows are rising.

The Migrant Crisis that Doesn’t Exist

Consider this diagram showing immigrants arrivals to Europe in 2018 (UN data)…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

Comments Off on War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Filed under politics

Europe Haters, Unite! Steve Bannon at work in Europe

Steve Bannon is roaming Europe trying to unite nationalist populist parties, in preparation of the next European Parliament elections coming up in May 2019.

Bannon is a man to watch:  alt-right guru, former investment banker, former executive chairman of Breitbart News, former CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign, former White House strategist (for seven months), he has remained Trump’s close friend. And he is dangerously savvy: As vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, he was able during the 2016 Trump campaign to use its data to target and manipulate voters.

Last month, Bannon announced he would move to Brussels to found a new pan-European populist movement, called “The Movement”. His hope? To get all populist, anti-establishment parties in Europe to join his Movement, which he views as an umbrella “supergroup” to lead them to victory. He could just as well have used the slogan “Europe Haters, Unite!”

It all started a few months before, in March 2018 when Bannon was invited by Marine Le Pen to speak to her party’s annual summit meeting, the National Front congress in Lille. That’s when he realized that he had a goal cut out for himself. Bannon told the LePen crowd:

“What I’ve learned [visiting Europe] is that you’re part of a worldwide movement that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of it. And history is on our side. The tide of history is with us and will compel us to victory, after victory, after victory!”

The following video of the event is instructive:

Note how Bannon uses typical populist oratorical ploys: “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists” he yells, adding meaningfully: “Wear it like a badge of honour.” A badge of honor, really? Yes! Nothing to be ashamed of! And why not?

Here’s his answer: “Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker.”

Notice how this works: He is suggesting to his audience that they are on the “right side of History”.

The last time we heard that argument, it came from the communists and the Soviet Union. They too claimed to be on “the right side of History”.

We know how well that ended. At the Berlin wall.

“Next May is hugely important,” Bannon told the Daily Beast. “This is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos. This will be an enormously important moment for Europe.”

What he calls disparagingly “the party of Davos” are the political and business leaders who meet to debate world issues at the World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January of every year.

Yes, Bannon is busy trying to destroy the Europe we love. Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Do let me know what you think!

Comments Off on Europe Haters, Unite! Steve Bannon at work in Europe

Filed under European Union, politics

The People vs. the Elite? Democracy is the Loser

Yet another one of my articles just published on Impakter. Here’s the opening: 

BOOK REVIEW: THE RETREAT OF WESTERN LIBERALISM BY EDWARD LUCE, PUBLISHED BY LITTLE BROWN (JUNE 2017)

In his latest book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce argues that with the rise of populism, Western liberalism is facing its gravest crisis since World War II. And without a deliberate effort on the part of the governing “elite”, it may be impossible to save it.

An Oxford-trained journalist and currently the Financial Times columnist in Washington and author of several bestselling books, Luce has made a solid reputation for successfully predicting the future, anticipating in his 2012 bestseller, the rise of middle class resentment and fight over immigration that led to Brexit and Trump’s victory.

In this book, with his deep knowledge of History and keen observing eye, he zeroes in what is ailing our society: At the heart of the crisis, the people pitted against the elite. That part of the middle class left behind by globalization – now fast becoming a large, vociferous mass of angry people –  rising against the experts. As he put it:

“Here then is the crux of the West’s crisis: our societies are split between the will of the people and the rule of the experts – the tyranny of the majority versus the club of self-serving insiders; Britain versus Brussels; West Virginia versus Washington. It follows that the election of Trump, and Britain’s exit from Europe, is a reassertion of the popular will.” (p. 120)

The Enemy is Within

“This time,” writes Luce, “we have conjured up the enemy from within. At home and abroad, America’s best liberal traditions are under assault from its own president. We have put arsonists in charge of the fire brigade.”

As we all know, that was just the beginning in the US and UK. Abroad, populism has already made giant steps, starting in Russia where despite the hopes raised by the fall of the Wall of Berlin, democracy was still-born and Putin gained absolute power, increasingly unopposed.

Luce reminds us that liberal, democratic forms of government are recent, they arose some two hundred years ago, and they are notoriously fragile. There are numerous historical precedents for setbacks and relapses into autocracy. Two dozen democracies have failed since 2000 and we now find such “illiberal democracies” everywhere, in Orban’s Hungary, Erdogan’s Turkey, and Duterte’s Philippines.

This growing tension between the people and the experts could end up killing Western liberalism (and democracy) or at least, as the title of Luce’s book implies, cause a serious “retreat”:

“Europe and America’s populist right wants to turn the clock back to the days when men were men and the West ruled. It is prepared to sacrifice the gains of globalization – and risk conflict with China – to protect jobs that have already vanished.” (p. 67)

Conflict with China? That possibility is explored in Chapter 3 aptly titled “Fallout”. Populist trends all point in that direction – “fear is the currency of autocrats” as Luce says.  Add irascible, narcissistic Trump to the mix, and what you get is (inter alia) war with China.

Luce estimates it could very well happen in 2020 and he makes the case that the man who is likely to stop this conflict is… Putin.

Really, Putin-the-peace-maker? It sounds over-the-top and crazy but, alas, probably it is not.

IN THE PHOTO: PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN OF RUSSIA. PHOTO CREDIT: CNN

To drive the point home, Luce draws a striking parallel between the world today and the world in 1914, noting that the “decades preceding the First World War marked a peak of globalization that the world economy only regained in the 1990s”.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on The People vs. the Elite? Democracy is the Loser

Filed under Book review, non-fiction, politics, Uncategorized

Europe at the Crossroads

20170119_ep-047334a_mch_099-1050x699

Impakter has just published my latest essay: EUROPE AT THE CROSSROADS. I’ve worked hard to try and figure out where Europe is going, if anywhere… 

Here is the beginning:

 

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION?

On 25 March 2017, we will know whether Europe – as a “project” for an increased “union” – plans to go forward, fade away or split up.

That is the date of the much-awaited European Summit to be held in Rome to celebrate (without UK Prime Minister May) the 60 years of the European Union. The celebration could turn into a funeral if the 27 heads of EU member nations cannot agree on a so-called “White Paper”, a.k.a. “the Rome Statement”, that they are meant to adopt as a common declaration on Europe’s future.

Alarm-Europe-Logo PHOTO CREDIT: MARCH FOR EUROPE

What does this White Paper say? If you google it, you won’t find it. At the time of writing, it’s still under wraps in Brussels. All we know for now is that there has been a preliminary “white paper” prepared by the Benelux countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, part of the original six founding member countries (the other three are France, Germany and Italy). And there was a recent declaration by German Chancellor Merkel at the EU Summit meeting held in Malta that drew attention and irked some EU members. “This would destroy Europe!” thundered the Pole with the nodding support of other Eastern Europeans.

What did Ms. Merkel say that was so provocative? She aired the possibility of a “multi-speed” Europe – the idea is simple enough: those EU members who want it should be allowed to go forward with integration, the others would be left to proceed slower, at their own pace.

IN THE PHOTO: ANGELA MERKEL PHOTO CREDIT: ELZA FIÙZA/AGÊNCIA BRASIL, CC BY 3.0 WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This is not a particularly new idea, she had already aired it two years ago. And it is an idea dear to the Italians who have been pushing it for some time – most recently asking for a “Schengen union for security” to try and solve the problem of immigrants rushing across the Mediterranean. Leading Italian political scientists are also behind the “federal solution” for Europe –  notably Sergio Fabbrini, Director of the Luiss School of Government and author of multiple books on Europe who has also expounded it in the country’s leading financial paper, il Sole 24 Ore.

Annoyed by the brouhaha from Eastern European members, the French President Hollande who felt a reference to a “multi-speed Europe” should find its way in the March 25 White Paper, told reporters:

Europe isn’t a cash-box, not a self-service restaurant, a Europe where you come and take what you need, where you take your structural funds or get access to the internal market and then show no solidarity at all in return. Europe was built to be stronger together and it’s that rule, that principle, which should be driven home in March.

PHOTO (above): FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE PHOTO CREDIT: FLICKR/JEAN-MARC AYRAULTCC BY 2.0, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

So we have two contrasting views of the European Project and, implicitly, a two-speed Europe: a “Europe à la carte”, that pleases Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians who only seek economic benefits and balk at political integration; and a “federal Europe”, more forward-looking and congenial to continental Europeans. Also, good news for federalists, the French-German alliance that had been driving Europe so far could turn into a foursome: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. They have already agreed to meet in Versailles on 6 March – holding a preparatory “mini-Summit” of their own; and thus immediately angering Poland that threatens to hold counter mini-summits with either the Visegrad group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) or the Bucharest nine (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary).

Multi-speed Europe is already a reality…

Meanwhile, the Benelux countries in their “white paper”, while supporting the “Bratislava Declaration and its roadmap” as the way forward, talked about the “subsidiarity” and “proportionality” principles in the usual convoluted EU Treaty language that baffles most European citizens:

“The EU shall only act if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action be achieved at Union level. The EU will only do what member states themselves are not able to deliver for their citizens.”

Note the phrase “by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action”: this is meant to indicate the Union (because it is larger in scale) can do certain tasks better than a member country. The corollary: European integration cannot impinge upon what is best done at national level, that’s where “subsidiarity” stops.

So where does this leave the “European Project”? Do we go for more “union” or less? Is “more union” politically viable?

THE ROOTS OF EUROSKEPTICISM

The basic problem is rising “euroskepticism”, a new term coined to indicate that Europeans are distrustful of Brussels and European institutions that they see as “power-grabbing” and too distant from them.

Brexit was only the first alarm bell. We now speak of Frexit (for France), Nexit (for the Netherlands), Auxit (for Austria) etc. Trump’s constant denigration of the EU (calling it a “vehicle for Germany”) and his open support of Brexit and other EU-member exits, has further unsettled Europeans.

On 18 February, at the Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Pence sought to reassure Europeans that the US supports NATO and the Minsk II accord for Ukraine, indicating America would stand firmly behind Europe against Russia. Can Europeans trust Pence? A month into the Trump presidency, it is still unclear whether Trump is top dog and therefore his bark matters, or whether he is a tweeting Reality TV star and therefore his cabinet matters. On February 24,  in an interview with Reuters, Trump made a surprising u-turn, declaring himself  “totally in favor” of the EU…but for how long?

It is a fact however that Trump has become a populist icon, deeply resonating with the rising populist movements in Europe, all calling for an exit of the Euro and Europe – from Marine Le Pen in France to Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Frauke Petry in Germany to Beppe Grillo in Italy. They all liken themselves to Trump.

IN THE PHOTO: BEPPE GRILLO AT THE RALLY OF THE FIVE STAR MOVEMENT IN PIAZZA DANTE IN TRENT, ITALY, FOR THE PARTY’S PRESENTATION OF ITS 2013 ELECTORAL SLATE PHOTO  CREDIT: NICCOLÒ CARANTI

Listen to Grillo, an ex-TV comedy star, now sixty-nine but with a continuing appeal on young Italians:

“I’m a comedian. You have to understand that my brain doesn’t work like a politician’s brain. I think about something, then the next day I say something else. It’s a very beautiful word, populism. I’m proud to be a populist.”

And about Europe, this is what he had to say:

“It is an enormous apparatus, with two parliaments, in Brussels and Strasbourg, to please the French. I am in favor of a different Europe, where each state can adopt its fiscal and monetary system. I want the Eurobond, a 20 percent devalued euro for southern European countries, protecting our products against those arriving from abroad, and a revision of the 3 percent deficit budgetary rule. I no longer feel the spirit of Europe.”

To read the rest, click here: http://impakter.com/europe-at-the-crossroads/

Comments Off on Europe at the Crossroads

Filed under Economics, European Union, politics