INTERVIEW: Professor Jan Zielonka — ‘Europe once had sex appeal’
Jan Zielonka is Professor of European Politics at the University of Oxford and Ralf Dahrendorf Fellow at St Antony’s College. He is the author of Is the EU Doomed? (Polity Press, 2014) and Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union (Oxford, 2006). In this interview with Olivia Arigho Stiles he discusses the future of austerity in Greece, immigration and the urgent need to reinvigorate European democracy.
Photo: Stephan Röhl, Flickr
With the recent victory of Syriza in the Greek elections, are we seeing a new challenge to Europe’s ‘financialised neoliberalism’?
I see resistance to this [neoliberal] consensus growing but I don’t think Syriza and Greece by itself can deliver. This is because a lot of people look with fear to what is going on with Syriza. Some of those are in Greece. Let’s not forget that New Democracy helped certain groups of people to walk through the crisis with no tremendously painful losses or judicial scrutiny over what they have done in previous years. There are those who are also afraid, not just entrepreneurs but the old political establishment and the clergy. They will certainly put up enormous resistance to what has happened there. Politicians from the old establishment and from the creditor countries don’t want to hear about a change, of course. They want to give Greece an aspirin but not treat the serious illness. Juncker has already said forgiving debts is not on his radar. Even Bloomberg acknowledges a partial debt write-off is the most reasonable solution even though ideologically they have nothing to do with Syriza as you know.
With the spectre of Brexit and Grexit, does the EU have a future as an integrated union?
The Eurozone is much more prepared for Grexit than they have before. They are able to handle this. But from a symbolic point of view, it would mean a lot; divorce is probably better than staying together in a bad marriage but it is never a good symbol for the institution of marriage itself. This will be a precedent and other countries will ask, are we next? Not to leave. but to be kicked out basically.
I think this is a different question. Greece was traditionally very pro-European. Britain was never very pro-European. It’s a different starting point. It’s true that Nigel Farage and Syriza are both sceptical about the current EU but Farage would rather leave immediately while Syriza wants to renegotiate the terms. So there is a difference here. And of course Britain is not in the euro so if there is suffering it is self-imposed. But as you can see the political elite is very skilful to shift responsibility on to migrants. It’s a beautiful case, immigration from within the EU because I’m old enough to remember when those eastern European countries joined the EU, Britain didn’t have to take those migrants, it could impose seven years transition period, it didn’t have to take them. They profited economically no doubt about that but at the same time they have not taken care of the normal provisions that should be [in place] if migrants arrive– schools, medical care and housing, and provisions for local people who cannot compete with low wage migrants. And of course this produced resentment.
You have advanced the idea of a ‘neo-medieval’, imperial Europe in contradistinction to a Westphalian state. Who ultimately, then, is the ultimate driving force behind this imperial Europe – Merkel?
First of all the medieval aspect means there are multiplications of actors. There was this idea that nation states will eventually merge into a European state but this is obviously not what we’ve seen.We see that there are emerging some semi-imperial states like Germany and some semi-failed states like Greece or Cyprus. We see that most growth is generated not by states, but by cities, mega cities. And we didn’t know a few months ago whether Britain would stay in one piece. We don’t know if Spain will stay together.
There are other actors emerging – private companies, NGOs and think tanks. If you are a young person today do you want to work for the government or for an NGO?
My colleague [the political theorist] Benjamin Barber recently said ‘States are like those old trees in the forest – they will eventually die, but they are still taking the light and they coexist with younger trees and bushes’.There is enormous change today but our discourse still is very much ‘nation state versus Europe’ because this is where the political arena lies. This is where the media provides entertainment around electoral processes but it doesn’t work this way, in Europe particularly.
What has prompted these changes?
We have had enormous external shocks over thirty years. First, the geopolitical collapse of the Soviet Union and everything which has happened next, the reunification of Germany, wars in the former Yugoslav and Soviet federations. Then we had an enormous economic shock when the single market as well as the euro were introduced and as a consequence economic borders evaporated. And finally we had the internet revolution which took away all barriers to communication. So we are grappling with these changes and it is very clear that the EU has not proven the most skilful actor in dealing with these changes.
To pick up the point about NGOs – they have proliferated in the past thirty years and share a relationship with the rise of neoliberalism and changes taking place in higher education and shifts towards its marketisation in particular. Have privately funded NGOs eclipsed universities as laboratories of critical thinking?
NGOs monitor governments these days probably better than parliaments. This changes the nature of democracy, in a sense; to paraphrase John Keane; a monitory democracy has replaced a system of parliamentary representation. NGOs, the media and social media in particular, play a crucial role in this new system. Parties are fading away. Who is joining political parties today? I recently read that the average age of British Conservative party is 74. It tells you something about where the future is.
- Photo: Martin Fisch
To return to the EU – Do the TTIP negotiations indicate that the EU is now little more than an arena for elites to advance their financial interests?
There is no doubt that corporations have easier access to the EU than civil society, but we will see. We had an example with ACTA before; young people mobilised themselves overnight through social networks and organised demonstrations all over Europe against ACTA which the EU had tried to push at the insistence of some corporations. So we will see how it will work with TTIP. But some details of this agreement have been published only recently, before they were totally secret so it is too early for me to make a judgement. But it is clear that unless some conditions will be met the agreement will not be easily accepted by various political and societal groups.
You have argued as part of the neo-medieval thesis that Europe’s borders are ‘soft and fuzzy’ rather than rigidly delineated. Yet over 400 migrants have died in January of 2015 alone after attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe. Surely ‘Fortress Europe’ and its reality of harshly closed borders belie this interpretation?
Those borders are soft in the field of communication and finance in particular. But in terms of the movement of labour or migration, Europe of course makes them hard but with very little result. You can talk a lot about check controls at airports and harbours but 80% of immigrants came on a valid visa. It’s very difficult for governments to control that because they would like millionaires in to spend lot of money and to keep poor people out, or to take only skilled workers and not their families, but it doesn’t work this way. And as long as we are not producing more babies we are dependent on migrants anyway to keep our economies going. Our immigration discourse is deeply hypocritical. I do not suggest an “anything goes policy” in the field of migration, that governments shouldn’t try to have some oversight and control and negotiate with their electorate the notions of multicultural society and the scale of immigration. But where it has been done, it has been done in the most crude, counterproductive and primitive ways.
“Old trees in the forest?”
Photo: subflux, Flickr
How do you square the idea of a liberal and tolerant Europe with its apparent resentment of Islamic and migrant populations?
Europe is very diversified. We have very different people with diverse political views; some are more open, some are xenophobic. The EU used to play a positive role for many years, but no longer. Today the EU is seen as a symbol of austerity, external impositions and sanctions. Migrants are being repelled rather than invited.
Does the EU have a future?
These days the EU is hampering integration rather than helping it to grow. That is a big problem because there are mounting challenges that can only be resolved collectively. Moreover, populist forces campaigning against the EU are gaining strength. Europe needs to reinvent itself. In my last book about the EU [Is the EU Doomed? (Polity Press, 2014)] I proposed a more decentralised Europe of networks. I argue that functional transnational networks will work better than a European super state. Besides, Europe is unlikely to construct such a single continental federation because nation states will not commit suicide by delegating all their powers to Brussels.
What are the three most pressing issues facing Europe today?
Austerity, Ukraine and immigration. These are the issues which were the most pronounced in the European elections and I’m afraid the EU is not in a position to efficiently tackle any of them. I’m the last one who would believe that nation states can take power back from Brussels and sort out these issues. You heard me before saying: nation states are like those old trees in the forest. So we must work together in this very interdependent continent but we have to find new ways of doing that. Greece gives us a chance to reverse the course and let’s hope that Europe will come back to the years of glory. Don’t forget that Europe once had sex appeal. Many wanted to join us, admired us and wanted to imitate us but in a few short years we have wasted our enormous credentials. I hope we can renew them.
What sustains Europe as an idea? What is binding European countries together in the 21st Century?
First, the legacy of war in Europe still binds us, maybe the young population less than the old one. Second, economics. We are more economically interdependent, including Britain, than with any other part of the world. Three, culture. You realise how much we are culturally bound together if you go to Asia Pacific for example. And international competition – unless we stick together any dictator like Putin will try to call our bluff in foreign policy, so we have enormous reason to stay together. But we have to find ways to make staying together bearable, if not enjoyable. The Greek election results show that the people have had enough and it will be like that in many other countries unless we change the course.
Professor Jan Zielonka was speaking to Olivia Arigho Stiles.
‘We will say that Heroes Fight like the Greeks’
Syriza’s victory returns sovereignty to the Greek people and represents an opportunity to realise democratic change across Europe writes Manolis Glezos, Syriza MEP and WWII anti-Nazi hero.
- Manolis Glezos MEP
The Greek election result signals the beginning of a new era for the whole Europe. It is the catalyst for political evolution, not just in Greece but in the whole world.
The victory of SYRIZA, despite all the attempts to terrorize the Greek people, to slander and to defame them, as well as the unethical interference by the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, is proof that the Greek people have decided to take their future in their own hands. SYRIZA is not just a political force but a representation of the political conscience of the Greek people.
The victory of Syriza means that sovereignty will be returned to the Greek people, alongside national independence, the abolition of austerity measures and the elimination of unemployment, hunger and wretchedness in Greece.
The Greek people have no need of externally administered loans, because they know very well, and have lived through what Menandros said in the 4th century B.C.: «τα δάνεια δούλους τους ανθρώπους ποιεί» (loans turn people into slaves). This phrase was repeated four centuries later by Plutarch in the expression: «το δανείζεσθαι της εσχάτης παραφροσύνης και μαλακίας εστίν» (getting a loan is an act of the utmost madness). Using its own agricultural resources, renewable energy and the mineral wealth of the country, Greece will be able to produce goods and growth through the efforts of its working citizens.
We do not wish to exit the Eurozone and the European Union. On the contrary, we wish to pave the way for a different Europe. Rejecting the Europe of NATO, which is bound behind the chariot of the US with Germany as its principal governor, we wish to create a Europe of equal Member States, a Europe for its citizens, recognising popular sovereignty, enabling progress and peace and supporting fundamental human rights and democratic values.
Those who conspire in the background and attempt to marginalise Greece within Europe will eventually face greater losses than those they have been anticipating.
Given this chance, I would like to remind the people of Europe that after the epic resistance of 1940-1941, Winston Churchill declared,,“From now on we will say that heroes fight like the Greeks”.
In truth, he was forewarning everyone that the Greeks never betrayed neither their history nor their culture.
Manolis Glezos, May 2012
Manolis Glezos MEP is a member of Syriza and sits with the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left. He participated in the Greek WWII resistance and spent over 11 years in prison under successive fascist dictatorships for his political views.
For recovery, Europe needs to support labour not trade
The March issue of the Government Gazette features a balanced and evidence-based overview of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, with opinion and analysis from both sides of the debate. Here, Jeronim Capaldo from Tufts University reveals that TTIP, if successfully concluded, would result in job losses, wage decline and fiscal instability for Europe.
In the coming weeks and months Europeans are likely to hear a great deal about the benefits of trading with the US. The EU and the US have just resumed negotiations of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP), an agreement that would further liberalize trade between the two Unions. In fact, EU-US trade is already quite free from tariffs but TTIP aims at reducing or eliminating residual barriers, mostly related to differences in regulations, in order to facilitate exchanges even more. To those who expect trade liberalisation to always bring economic opportunities and jobs this seems like a good idea, while those concerned about the distribution of the costs to different social groups remain scpetical.
Unfortunately, official projections of TTIP’s effects offer no certainties. At first glance, the main studies seem to leave little doubt about TTIP’s economic benefits. All of them point to an increase of GDP in the EU, although of negligible amount (less than one percent after fifteen years). However, if we look deeper into those studies, including those endorsed by the European Commission, things soon appear less reassuring.
The first thing to note about existing projections of TTIP is that most of them use a version of the same economic model, a fact that makes the convergence of their results unsurprising. Using the same assumptions about the way economies work and often using the same data, the variety of results that researchers can expect is clearly limited. Secondly, a central assumption in many of those studies is that actual markets function so smoothly that no resources are ever underutilized, including labour. Since this is clearly at odds with a European reality of persistent unemployment, it is important to understand how projections would change if we removed that unrealistic assumption. In a recent Tufts University working paper I investigated this alternative by projecting the effects of TTIP with the United Nations Global Policy Model, an economic model in which employment falls if total demand decreases I obtained dramatically different results.
Projected with the more realistic United Nations model, the effects of TTIP appear decidedly negative for Europe. Although total exports might increase, the overall trade balance is projected to decrease leading to a slight contraction of GDP and the loss of approximately 600,000 jobs across the EU. At the same time, labour incomes are projected to decrease (by 4,200 Euros per worker in the United Kingdom), which would lead to higher inequality between wage and profit incomes. This adds to other negative consequences on government revenues and overall economic stability.
These alternative projections point to bleak prospects for EU policymakers. Faced with higher vulnerability to any crises coming from the US and unable to coordinate a fiscal expansion, they would be left with few options to keep the economy afloat: favoring an increase of private lending, with the well-known risk in terms of financial instability, seeking short-lived competitive devaluations or a combination of the two. In other words, projections based on the United Nations model indicate that seeking a higher trade volume, via TTIP or other similar agreements, is not a sustainable growth strategy for the EU. Instead, the projections suggest that any viable strategy to rekindle economic growth in Europe would have to build on a strong policy effort in support of labour incomes. Seen from this perspective, TTIP appears to be a step in the wrong direction.
Jeronim Capaldo is a Research Fellow in the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.
Visionary Structures: From Ioganson to Johansons
Olivia Arigho Stiles interviews Ieva Astahovska, curator of Visionary Structures - a new exhibition at Bozar Expo which explores the Latvian avant-garde.
Gustavs Klucis, Dynamic City (1919) Latvian National Museum of Art
As Latvia assumes the 2015 rotating EU Presidency, the Bozar Expo gallery in Brussels is showcasing some evolving structures of a very different nature. In collaboration with the Latvian National Museum of Art, Visionary Structures presents the spatial constructions and futuristic technologies of the Latvian avant-garde. The exhibition is coming to Brussels after a stint in the Riga 2014 European Capital of Culture programme. The exhibition spans the 20th and 21st centuries and features the works of seven Latvian artists; Karl Iognason, Gustav Klucis, Valdis Celms, Jānis Krievs, Artūrs Riņķis, Gints Gabrāns and Voldemārs Johansons. The exhibition offers a exploration of utopia, perceptions of artistic reality and the common currents between the generations of the avant-garde. It is also a reminder of the importance of the sometimes maligned Lativan element of the Soviet avant-garde.
One of the key themes, as curator Ieva Astahovka outlines, ‘is the relation between imagination and reality, and how artists from different generations imagine these ‘possible worlds’. This imagination, or visionary thinking, is driven by the linkage of art, technology and science, the socio-political context, the subjective and collective perception. With each generation this vision transforms quite radically. For the Constructivists, Gustavs Klucis and Kārlis Johansons, this is the utopia of the new world with idealistic structures; in the art works of the 1970s these are creative explorations in the framework of “technical aesthetics” and in contemporary works these are complex structures of the micro-worlds, allowing us to see the phenomena which normally are not visible to us.’
Arturs Rinkis (1942) Still from the video film – kinetic painting EMU. 1978. Courtesy of the artist
The exhibition spans a wide chronology, featuring the work of artists belonging to significantly different generations and eras. So what can the Constructivists Gustavs Klucis and Kārlis Johansons possibly have in common with postmodern artists? For Astahovska, the dialogue between the artists is indirect, but connections undoubtedly exist. Separated by time, they are also divided by perceptions of utopia and reality.
The early avant-garde was galvanised by the possibility of new, ideal worlds different from the existing one. The driving force of Klucis and Johansons was the political realisation of revolutionary art. However, ‘in the 70s, one can still see the traces of utopia but in rather an escapist, poetic or in some cases ironic manner. Artists propose heterotopic visions, embodying poetic escapism rather than a socially or politically active position. Today’s artists are not imagining utopias anymore; they are fascinated by the possibilities of exploring reality itself’.
A striking difference hence emerges in the level of politicisation within the art works. In the works of Constructivists Gustavs Klucis in particular, as Astahovska elucidates, ‘there are political images, symbols and messages of Communist ideology, which manifest the desire of building a new state. In contrast, the works from the 70s are completely apolitical. But this erasure of ideology shows the mismatch between Soviet rhetoric and real life in the 60s, 70s and 80s. These works are still embedded in the socialist and cold war circumstances with their ideals of technical aesthetics and science-fiction esque imagination’.
This exhibition exposes the power of utopianism and idealism within the avant-garde enduring across generations, while responding to differing socio-political stimuli. Its curator Ieva Astahovka has skilfully explored the complex nature of these connections. Sustaining itself through time and space, the dialogue between avant-garde artists over new visionary structures and new (im)possible worlds remains perennially captivating.
Visionary Structures runs from 13th February to 31st May at Bozar Expo, Brussels.
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Oppressed Peoples of the Whole World (…) (1924), Latvian National Museum of Art
- Valdis Celms
Architectural proposal Kinetic light object ‘Balloon’ (1978), Collection of the Latvian Artists’ Union
Olivia Arigho Stiles is Commissioning Editor at Government Gazette.
All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
As part of the Government Gazette’s extended feature on the 2015 Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU, Artis Pabriks MEP analyses the impact of tensions between Russia and the EU in the wake of the escalating conflict in Ukraine.
Photograph: Ivan Bandura
Amongst other things, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union is a maturity test for Latvia. It is the first time since the accession of Latvia to the EU in 2004 that the country has held the Presidency. To Latvian authorities and its wider public, the EU Presidency is seen as an opportunity to integrate national and regional interests into the EU agenda as well as to end the informal perception of Latvia as a ‘new Member State’.
Obviously, the capacity of any presiding country to influence the EU political agenda is limited due to a number of factors. The EU agenda is dependent on current geopolitical challenges, national agendas, internal discourse among the Member States, the position of the Council and the European Commission including the Office of the EU High Representative. Yet the Presidency is nonetheless an unrivalled opportunity to steer the EU’s political and legislative direction.
Every Member State sets its priorities long before starting the actual Presidency but the country holding the presidency has to be prepared to adapt to unforeseen challenges. When Latvia took over the rotating EU Presidency on 1st January 2015, it was faced with a number of pressing foreign and security issues. Most important is the ongoing tension between the EU, USA and Russia initiated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea which has escalated as a result of Russian military and political support for the irredentist movement in Eastern Ukraine. Russia’s policy in Europe challenges a number of internationally agreed principles and laws in an unprecedented way. Even if some European political figures at the beginning of the Latvian Presidency hinted that sanctions against Russia may be softened in due course, the indiscriminate bombing of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and hostilities in the rest of Eastern Ukraine makes it unlikely or at least unwise from the EU perspective.
Secondly, the increasing power of ISIS in Iraq and Syria as well as the rise of other terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram are necessitating immediate changes to the European security agenda and require better cooperation not only between the EU Member States, but also between the EU and relevant international players. The recent attack on “Charlie Hebdo” has also reaffirmed the need to develop and modernise European anti-terrorist policy.
“Russia’s policy in Europe challenges a number of internationally agreed principles and laws in an unprecedented way.”
The Latvian Presidency has a chance to take the lead on these two issues in a pragmatic fashion as the next few months will serve as a building block for the EU’s position. As far as Western policies vis-à-vis Russia are concerned, Latvia as a neighbouring country has additional expertise. From the outset, preparations for the Eastern Partnership have been a priority for the Latvian Presidency and later in May Latvia will host the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga.
Anti-terrorism activities and EU policy towards Russia are matters which will define the Presidency of Latvia and give Latvia a chance to play a leading role in their resolution. However, it would be naive to hope that both matters will be resolved within the six month Presidency term. Both will dominate EU and world politics for many years and will require a long term approach.
Artis Pabriks MEP
(Photograph: Ernests Dinka)
Apart from these geopolitical challenges, the Presidency of Latvia will additionally be influenced by the EU’s internal discourse. Notably, the rise of Euroscepticism on both right and left of the political spectrum constitutes a threat to European economic growth, political stability and geopolitical influence.
Its expressions are evident in the recent election results in Greece in which the left wing populist party Syriza swept to victory while far right extremist movement Golden Dawn came third. Furthermore there is a fear that Greece may become a ‘Trojan horse’ in the EU-Russia tensions, with photos circulating online linking the new Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who was blacklisted by the EU for sponsoring Russian extremists in Eastern Ukraine. The rise of the far right as well as the populist left is a challenge to the fundamentals of the European Union and the values it represents. If not countered properly by mainstream political forces it may become a disruptive force across the continent and may undermine the very existence of the EU.
Yet the European Union is not an isolated actor in world politics. Traditionally, Latvian foreign and security policy has focused not only on the Eastern Partnership but also on the transatlantic partnership with the United States and Canada. The Presidency of Latvia will no doubt support and initiate activities which will strengthen this partnership. Equally, the Latvian Presidency will assist and support efforts to strengthen trade links with North America in the form of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are both at different stages in their negotiations. These transatlantic trade agreements possess immense economic importance and represent a chance for the EU to set an example for free trade agreements across the world.
How far the Presidency of Latvia will advance these issues remains to be seen. However, it is fair to expect more assertive policies than might initially be assumed from this small EU Member State. Latvia has the knowledge and opportunity to pass this EU test and break the stigma of being a new Member State once and for all.
Dr Artis Pabriks MEP is a former Latvian Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is part of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) grouping in the European Parliament. He co-authored Latvia: Challenge of Change, (Routledge, 2001).
Sustainable development targets need firm spending commitments
As part of Government Gazette’s extended focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Linda McAvan MEP argues that Europe’s leaders must make firm spending commitments in order to tackle the challenges of poverty and climate change.
Photograph: Nana B Agyel
Will 2015 go down as the year global leaders took decisive action to secure a sustainable future for our planet? That is the crucial question as the UN steps up negotiations on replacement targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the General Assembly in September in New York. Draft documents propose new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), applicable to all countries. Then just two months later in Paris, global leaders will come together again to seek a deal on combating climate change.
2015 has also been designated the European Year for Development and as we mark this year perhaps lesson number one is that development policy works. The MDGs have helped cut extreme poverty in half. Millions have been lifted out of poverty, millions more children have gone to school, been protected from malaria and over 2 billion people have been given access to clean water and sanitation.
But unless upcoming global talks in 2015 are successful, and matched by spending commitments and the right policies, our objective of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 and progress could be lost. This was why European Parliament is calling on the EU to play a leading role in these processes to make sure the goals are ambitious and have at their heart the eradication of extreme poverty, human rights, good governance, reducing inequalities and empowering women and girls.
“Poverty will never be history unless we tackle climate change.”
Securing funds to deliver on these policy goals is now a priority. A special international conference on financing development has been called for July in Addis Ababa. The European Commission has just published a paper calling on the EU to re-commit to the target of spending 0.7% of their national income on development aid, a move I applaud as essential to getting all global players on board.
Coming quickly on the heels of New York are the climate talks in Paris in December. For the world’s poorest peoples global warming is not a future problem but a real and present danger. We need a renewed sense of urgency and serious emission reduction targets backed up by policies to deliver them if we are to stabilise global temperatures. Poverty will never be history unless we tackle climate change.
I believe the EU should prioritise delivering results in these processes, using its important position in the world as the world’s largest aid donor and as a region that has pushed forward with binding legislation to tackle climate change. Our aim should be to achieve genuine improvements in people’s livelihoods and encourage policies for better stewardship of the world’s natural resources. If the EU can achieve this in 2015, backing up words with concrete actions, it will do much to enhance its role in the global community. My colleagues and I on the Development Committee are ready to help meet this challenge.
Linda McAvan MEP is Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee for International Development (DEVE) and Vice President of the Labour Campaign for International Development. She is a member of the Socialist & Democrat (S&D) group in the European Parliament and represents Yorkshire and the Humber.
TTIP: A deal to bolster the power of non-elected bodies
The February-March issue of the Government Gazette features a balanced and evidence-based overview of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, with opinion and analysis from both sides of the debate. Here, Jean Lambert MEP (Green, London) argues that TTIP transfers regulatory power away from elected bodies into unaccountable corporate hands.
Jean Lambert MEP
The proposed trade agreement currently under negotiation between the EU and the US is proving highly controversial. We have seen the Commission forced to respond to public concern by increasing transparency and holding a public consultation on the Investor-State-Dispute -Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. So, what’s different about the trade deal getting increasing headline space at the moment – TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)?
For one thing, the sheer scale of it: the EU and USA have about 40% of global GDP, so what is agreed in the deal will have a global effect.
The scope of the deal is also why TTIP is coming under greater analysis now. Unlike most trade deals, it is designed to go beyond tariff barriers to other areas seen as potential ‘barriers’ to trade. This will make a difference to regulations that include the protection of social, labour, environmental and animal welfare standards. There are also questions about its effect on procurement and the provision of health and other public services. Opposition to TTIP has risen commensurate with increased levels of public awareness. Some key areas coming under increasing scrutiny are:
- Impact on jobs
- Food safety, animal protection and environmental legislation
- Access to generic medicines
- Digital rights, and our rights to privacy
These are far-reaching concerns centring on what we eat, what we are treated with and who watches what we do. Facebook and Google for example, are presently able to sign up to a Safe Harbour agreement, effectively a self-certification system to ensure that their data protection standards are at least the same as those required by European law.
However, then came the Snowden episode. After he revealed that US agencies were conducting surveillance on European citizens using US-held data, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Member States to suspend the US Safe Harbour agreement until such secret surveillance is at an end. The European Parliament has long-standing concerns with EU-US data co-operation and there could be problems with the TTIP e-commerce chapter, for example, if EU data protection standards are undermined via TTIP. For the US negotiators, data protection is a potential trade barrier but for the EU protecting personal data is a fundamental right.
Generally, TTIP wants to harmonise standards in many areas via a Joint-Regulatory Board, or possibly go for mutual recognition: this probably means lowering standards where previously they had been higher for one side. It is also not yet clear how national elected bodies would be able to challenge such Board decisions.
The legislative ability of parliaments on both sides of the Atlantic to make laws on behalf of their citizenry is no longer a given. The crux is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), allowing corporations to actually sue governments in front of an arbitration panel made up of corporate lawyers, rather than using the Courts. Resulting decisions are not subject to legal challenge.
So when it’s all added up, the picture is sinister. We could have trade deals completed without proper scrutiny, effectively in secret, whittling away European citizens’ hard-fought-for rights. Within this, we also have a mechanism that allows corporate lawyers free reign to make major decisions in secret.
There has been a lot of focus on ISDS but this comes with a warning: ISDS is only one problematic element. We can tinker with ISDS, improve it – even succeed in removing it, but the larger problem of TTIP moving power from elected to non-elected bodies will persist.
The Greens in the European Parliament oppose TTIP. Other MEPs from other parties claim it will bring growth and jobs, but ultimately at what cost?
Jean Lambert is a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance political group in the European Parliament and a Green representative for London.
TTIP: Offering Benefits beyond Big Business
The February-March issue of the Government Gazette features a balanced and evidence-based overview of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, with opinion and analysis from both sides of the debate. Here, Kara Sutton from Bertelsmann Foundation argues that TTIP holds huge economic potential for SMEs in Europe and the USA and presents a step towards greater regulatory cooperation between the two trading blocs.
Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade
(Photograph: News Øresund – Johan Wessman)
The current conversation about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is subject to much fear mongering. Groups opposed to a deal, by complaining of a lack of transparency in the negotiations, are promoting myths that TTIP will force Europeans to eat engineered “Frankenfoods” or “Chlorhuhn” (chlorine-washed chicken) and allow American companies to take over European healthcare systems. The public debate, awash with such unsubstantiated claims, has become bogged down in some of the minor, even non-existent, elements of a potential deal. Lost in the hysteria, however, is the main reason for initiating TTIP negotiations: the potential economic gains.
The rhetoric surrounding TTIP’s launch in 2013 was highly optimistic. It is no surprise that topics such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and geographic indications (GIs) are plaguing negotiations. These issues have, after all, been for decades sticking points in the trans-Atlantic relationship. Political leaders and other proponents of TTIP need to reset the narrative by focusing again on the big picture. Part of TTIP’s needed “fresh start” in 2015 requires getting back to the basics of why the US and Europe need TTIP.
More Growth, Same Spending
The major economic rationale behind TTIP is lacklustre growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While the US economy has picked up, the EU continues to lag. EU unemployment averaged 11.4 percent in 2014, and concerns about deflation and a weakening investment climate loom over the European economy. Retaliatory sanctions from Russia and the outcome of Greece’s recent election only add to the stormy scenario. To scatter the clouds, the EU needs new sources of growth and investment. TTIP represents an opportunity to help spur European growth without increasing public spending or implementing politically difficult structural reforms.
The trans-Atlantic relationship is already huge: US$1 trillion in two-way annual trade and US$4 trillion in investment maintain 13 million jobs. The implementation of an ambitious TTIP would solidify the trans-Atlantic link further by increasing GDP growth by an estimated 0.5% for the EU and 0.4 percent for the US (in absolute terms that translates to €119 billion and €95 billion, respectively). Given the euro area’s unexceptional 0.8 percent growth rate in 2014 after two years of economic contraction, an additional 0.5 percent represents a healthy boost. In addition, since US and European economies and their supply chains are already highly integrated, TTIP’s lifting of existing trade barriers would increase trade and investment flows while underpinning hundreds of thousands of more jobs.
Benefits Beyond Big Business
Critics argue TTIP is only for large corporations, but the benefits would actually extend to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Lowering tariffs and eliminating regulatory barriers would reduce the cost of doing business across the Atlantic for companies large and small. It would also support new jobs and provide consumers with access to cheaper and higher-quality products.
The average tariff in the trans-Atlantic marketplace is between 3% and 4% That may seem low, but it’s enough to prevent some SMEs from expanding overseas. Lower tariffs, or a customs de minimis provision that would allow SMEs to export duty free, would be highly beneficial for such businesses, which comprise approximately 90% of the US and EU economies.
SMEs also face challenging regulatory barriers that larger corporations can easily overcome with their vast resources and legal teams. Regulatory cooperation via TTIP would help reduce the red tape that SMEs face, such as extra product testing or customs requirements, and allow for quicker export processes, reduced costs and lower prices. And that, in turn, could boost demand and create jobs.
TTIP could also raise wages. Increased US exports over the last four years have supported 1.6 million jobs that on average pay 13% to 18% more than non-export-related jobs. A Bertelsmann Foundation-sponsored study found that lower trade costs and job growth due to an ambitious TTIP fully implemented by 2027 would increase the annual income of the average American household by US$865. The equivalent figure for a European household is US$720.
Much of the buzz around TTIP is the prospect for increasing exports, but imports also provide economic benefits. 30% of trans-Atlantic imports are inputs for American- and European-made products. Lower barriers to trade, therefore, would translate into lower production costs, which can lead to higher wages and job creation.
TTIP carries an addition advantage: It would address standards in business sectors and areas where the US and EU already see eye to eye. These include e-commerce, intellectual property, state-owned enterprises and rule of law. The digital marketplace, for example, is increasingly becoming the primary platform for international trade although it is only minimally guided by international policy. By creating a protocol for cooperation between American and European regulatory bodies, TTIP can help them anticipate potential hiccups in trans-Atlantic trade and promote better regulation.
The US and EU should seize the opportunity afforded by TTIP to agree to rules governing emerging trade issues, which can then be advanced in multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). The trans-Atlantic partners comprise forty percent of global GDP and one-third of international trade. If TTIP becomes the vehicle to establish common standards, including high environmental and labor regulation, for nearly half of the world economy, such provisions could be the basis for future trade agreements and could secure for the US and EU a level playing field in a rapidly evolving global economy.
Capitol Hill, Washington D.C
(Photograph: Nicolas Raymond)
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Much of the current fear mongering exists because TTIP is not a traditional free-trade agreement. A deal would likely go beyond tariff elimination to set standards, an area that can evoke passionate feelings in the public. But fear is also being spread by an allegedly opaque negotiating process that requires, in fact, some level of confidentiality to achieve an ambitious outcome. This has led to a dissemination of misinformation.
TTIP negotiators do not aim to weaken strong standards or government protections on either side of the Atlantic. They are, rather, endeavoring to ensure higher-quality trans-Atlantic standards. An accord would not be a giveaway to multinational corporations. It is a unique opportunity to provide SMEs with an advantage in the trans-Atlantic marketplace while supporting new jobs and higher wages. TTIP also represents a chance to create a sturdier trans-Atlantic alliance that would position the American and European economies for global competition.
Reaching an agreement will not be easy. TTIP requires compromises and trade-offs, and, in some areas, these will not always be possible. But the potential economic prospects―the basic premise that has buttressed TTIP from its inception―make the pursuit worthwhile.
Kara Sutton is project manager for legislative relations at the Washington D.C. based Bertelsmann Foundation.
2015 Latvian Presidency – Will Latvia secure a détente with Russia?
As part of the Government Gazette’s extended feature on the 2015 Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU, Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka and Kinga Dudzińska analyse the significance of the Latvian Presidency for the EU’s relations with Russia.
Ukraine (Photograph: Streetwrk.com, Flickr)
Latvia has taken over the rotating presidency of the EU Council at a turbulent time, marked by intensified terrorist threats and disturbances to territorial integrity on the continent. The exacerbating Ukrainian conflict and aggressive Russian policy in the region pose a direct threat to the stability of the Eastern flank of the EU and will be a test for Latvia’s pragmatic approach towards Russia. In the current geopolitical circumstances, the aim of the Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, expressed at the beginning of the presidency, to overcome stereotypes and convince Moscow that the Latvian stance is “in no way anti-Russian” might be difficult to realise.
As a country with strong economic ties to Russia and with 25% of its population of Russian origin, Latvia has to date followed the most pragmatic policy towards Moscow of all three Baltic states. Moscow remains one of Riga’s most important trading partners, accounting for about 10% of Latvian exports and imports. Russian monetary capital is still significant in the real estate and tourism sectors and Latvia is extensively dependent on energy supplies from Russia.
Yet at the same time, Latvia has been a member of the Economic and Monetary Union since 2014, views the EU as its most trustworthy partner and, despite its small size, would like to see itself firmly at the EU’s core. As regards foreign policy, before taking over the EU presidency, Riga stated it would be impartial in the implementation of EU priorities, but Latvia was expected to lean towards the neutralisation in its relations with Russia. In this uneasy context, it would be prudent for Latvia to keep a low-profile on the Eastern front while being seen to speak with the EU’s voice.
The present EU institutional context actually makes this task easier for Latvia by posing certain constraints to the agenda-setting role of the presidency. First, the Treaty of Lisbon formally weakened the role of the Presidency in the area of foreign policy to the benefit of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. Secondly, the mechanism of the so-called ‘trio presidency’ further disciplines Member States against pushing particular national interests. In addition, the increased political ambitions of the new leadership of the EU in the form of Federica Mogherini and Donald Tusk further overshadows the role of the Latvian Presidency in the Russian debate.
LATVIA and EU POLICY TOWARDS RUSSIA
Latvian policy towards Russia hitherto has been ambivalent. Until now Latvia, as well as other Baltic States, has maintained a hard position in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict and has called for the increased presence of NATO forces in the region. At the same time however, just a few weeks ago Latvia admitted ago that it is not against the reduction of EU sanctions towards Russia. On January 12th in Moscow, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs met with Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and affirmed that the EU is interested in normalising relations with Russia but the annexation of Crimea cannot be recognised.
When it comes to its own initiatives on the Russian question, Riga has applied a “wait-and-see” policy and has taken a reactive position towards EU leadership by following the contours of the EU debate and by adhering to the decisions taken by European powers. Latvian presidential activity has remained ‘low key’ and limited to that of moderator between the hawkish, and the conciliatory tendencies in EU policy towards Russia. A change in this course should not be expected in the near future.
Yet Latvia’s approach will be tested at the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit planned for May 2015 in Riga, during which Donald Tusk can count on the fact that Latvia will put pressure on other countries to tighten their policy towards Russia. However, the Latvian foreign minister has already promised a new orientation for the EaP, in order not to provide grounds for further antagonism with Russia. In the meantime, Mogherini expressed the hope that Latvia, at the helm of the EU, could help in reaching a détente with Russia.
(Photgraph: Streetwrk.com, Flickr)
Despite the Baltic States’ persistent efforts to increase security on the eastern flank of NATO, Latvia may also seek to cool EU action towards Moscow in the face of potential disagreement within the presidency trio, as Italy also opposes stricter sanctions on Russia. For Latvia this is especially important given that Russia’s trade embargo on various products in response to the EU sanctions could cost Latvia a contraction of 0.7% of its GDP. At the moment, securing a consensus in the Eastern policy could be difficult since unity among EU Member States appears weak, evidenced in the latest statements by Greek and Hungarian leaders.
Moreover, the effectiveness of the existing sanctions has been undermined as their main political objective has not been achieved. While economically the Russian market has been hit hard, sanctions did not prevent Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the events in Mariupol and Donetsk represent a severe setback in the negotiations with the EU which urgently needs solidarity and consistency if it is to make progress in this conflict.
Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in the EU Programme and an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Science of the University of Wrocław. Kinga Dudzińska is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in the Eastern and South Eastern Europe Programme.
Greek elections: Syriza and the populist blame game
© European Union 2015 – European Parliament
The February-March issue of the Government Gazette offers an extended focus on the implications of the 2015 Greek elections and the eurozone debt crisis. Here, Takis S. Pappas assesses Syriza’s populist rhetoric and analyses the possible political machinations behind a Grexit.
In last month’s snap election, the Greek voters brought to power the populist Coalition of the Radical Left (known by its acronym, Syriza), a party led by the 41-year old Alexis Tsipras. However, as Syriza was unable to muster a parliamentary majority on its own, it opted to form a coalition government with the rightist populist and ultra nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL), a party that was launched in February 2012 also on an anti-austerity platform.
ANEL party leader Panos Kammenos is a vocal champion of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views and has a penchant for conspiracy theories that verge on the absurd. This seemingly “unholy” alliance of Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Kammenos is the equivalent of a working relationship between say, Michael Foot and Nigel Farage in the UK, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan in France, or, at party level, Die Linke and the Pegida movement in Germany.
In the aftermath of the election, the new prime minister was quick to place his government between a rock and a hard place. First, he made clear that the government is not interested in an extension of the current bailout program, thereby setting Greece on a collision course with its foreign lenders that may eventually cause a Greek exit from the euro.
Second, Tsipras made pledges that are clearly undeliverable without extra money, including an increase of the minimum wage, the halting of privatisation plans and other reforms, the abolition of an unpopular property tax, and the promise of generous social welfare packages to low-income groups in society.
But, third, as he now has effectively brought his Government (and Greece) to the brink, Tsipras was also quick to identify those to be held responsible in case of a Grexit: Germany, which, according to the new Greek government, still owes Greece reparations for its invasion during World War II, the ECB, which recently stopped acting as a lender of last resort for Greece, the Greek banking system and, of course, the previous government for all its misdeeds.
Is it all irrational brinkmanship, then, or is there some logic to it? For it seems that the Greek prime minister, himself under considerable pressure from far-left internal opposition, may indeed welcome a Grexit and then engage in a blame game against the Germans, the ECB, the Greek bankers and the outgoing political classes for having betrayed the Greek people.
As opinion polls now show that over 70 percent of the Greek public supports an open confrontation with the Troika, Tsipras has tried to project himself and his party as the sole representatives of Greeks. As he put it in his first policy speech before the Greek Parliament on February 8th, “This government is just the voice of [our] people. In the honour, history, and civilization this people carries in its luggage, we can only be its own will … We are flesh from the people’s flesh, we come from within the pages of this people’s history [book], and for this reason we are going to serve it to the end”.
Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis
Syriza is a populist party par excellence and as such, is guaranteed to antagonize the liberal political elites. It conceives of and refers to, Greek society as divided between the “pure,” “ethical” or blameless people, and the parasitical native political oligarchy which is firmly subservient to foreign interests. These two groups stand poles apart and there can be no reconciliation between them, or, as an earlier slogan of Syriza snapped, “It is either Us or Them.” Nor is there any need for compromise since the people as a natural majority are bound to finally win and impose their collective will on the political system. In fact, some believe that so strong will be the impact of the Syriza-led popular movement in Greece that it will soon sweep across the rest of southern Europe to the north until all “European people” finally regain sovereignty.
Will this government last? Well, that depends on whether the country can retain its position in the Eurozone. Staying in will give the new government a new lease of life but it will be forced to implement painful structural reforms under the eye of foreign lenders and against forceful internal party opposition.
Being compelled to leave the Eurozone, however, may actually offer the government a better chance of retaining power because, in that case, it would be able to mobilize a rainbow of political forces from both the left and the right, domestically and internationally, in a relentless blame game against all actors who could be held responsible for such a development.
For the time being, and as important decisions about the future of Greece are currently being taken in Athens, Brussels and the other major world capitals, Greece’s liberal democracy is in the balance. Since the crisis began in 2009, the Greek people have taken part in four elections, put six different prime ministers to the test of office and experimented with government coalition partners of most political hues – from the nationalist and populist ANEL, to the ultra conservative Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) to the centre-right New Democracy and the centre-left PASOK, to the moderate leftist Democratic Left, and now the radical leftist Syriza. The only other parties that have not been given a chance to govern in crisis-ridden Greece are the Communist Party (KKE) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. This naturally raises the question of what may be the next development in Greece if even Syriza, in its strange partnership with ANEL, may not succeed in solving the Greek crisis.
Takis S. Pappas is the author of Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece and co-editor of the forthcoming book ‘European Populism in the Shadow of the Great Recession’.
A labour of love? Challenges for trade unions in Latvia
As part of the Government Gazette’s extended feature on the 2015 Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU, Martins Svirskis, the economic advisor to trade union confederation LBAS outlines priorities and upcoming projects for the labour movement across Latvia and the EU.
Much like most EU member states and their respective trade unions, Latvia and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) have been dealing with the challenges generated by the global financial crisis. In the EU, Latvia has been a poster child for the austerity policies promoted by the ECB and IMF. The apparent success story of Latvia and its economy has been lauded by austerity advocates in the Commission, but unlike the growth of GDP and other prerequisite indicators of economic potential which originally enabled Latvia to join the euro zone in 2014, the parallel story of bleak job prospects, low income households and social insecurity has not been publicised so enthusiastically.
Additionally, trade unions in Latvia have been facing an obstacle familiar to trade unions around the world – how to consolidate their position within the modern labour market and maintain their membership and influence in the decision making process on national and international levels. Membership plays a crucial role in enabling trade unions to fulfil their social role and functions. However the trade union movement currently faces a decline in trade union membership resulting in fewer financial resources and a reduced ability to provide comprehensive services and support for workers.
“trade unions do not belong to the past but are active, relevant and well worth joining”
On the 1st January 2015 Latvia for the first time took over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council. The Latvian Presidency has expressed three overarching priorities: Competitive Europe, Digital Europe and Engaged Europe. With an additional focus on increasing security, boosting growth, creating jobs and establishing a digital single market, Latvia will have plenty to do at the helm of the Council Presidency the coming six months.
LBAS is a national social partner and is actively involved in the Presidency agenda. During the Presidency LBAS hopes to facilitate a better understanding of several key issues as well as generate a future action plan. The key issues that LBAS is mobilising around are:
- Creating quality jobs in partnership with trade unions
- Promoting youth employment and encouraging youth trade union membership
- Encouraging labour force mobility
- Increasing trade union influence and capacity across the EU
LBAS hopes to find innovative solutions to these issues during the Presidency in the international conference “Trade Union Role in Promotion of Sustainable Growth and Quality Job Creation” organised by LBAS in Riga on the 26th-27th February 2015.
Also high up on the conference agenda will be the need to tackle youth unemployment across EU, how trade unions can facilitate youth employment, and the impact of the European social partners’ agreement on the Framework of Actions on Youth Employment.
Other topics of discussion will include international and national trade union partnership projects to protect migrant workers’ rights and promote integration. Experts from Latvia will address the challenges of the free movement of workers and labour force migration in the Latvian and European context. An assessment of trade union influence in the EU and its regions will also be put forward. Latvian and foreign trade union representatives will share their experience of membership challenges in their home countries and suggestions will be made as to how to strengthen trade union capacity, improve the quality of employment services and increase trade union influence in decision making at national and EU levels.
On the 31st of March Latvian social partners – LBAS and LDDK – will organise an international social partners’ forum “The Role of Social Dialogue in Ensuring the Economic Growth and Qualitative Work Places”. Experts, government representatives, trade unionists and employers will share experiences on promoting social dialogue between European countries. At the beginning of June, LBAS will organise a special international trade union youth forum on strengthening young people’s participation in decision making processes across all levels.
LBAS President Peteris Krigers states that the key role of these events will be to foster the exchange of experiences among European trade unions, and to offer suggestions on how to deal with issues facing trade unions today. In addition, it will also be a good opportunity to show the public that trade unions do not belong to the past but are active, relevant and well worth joining.
Through events in Riga and other Latvian regions, LBAS will mark its 25th Anniversary, commemorating people who devoted their lives to strengthening the trade union movement in Latvia. Additionally on the 24th of April LBAS Youth Council will organise a discussion entitled “Trade Union Future in the Hands of Youth”, and on the 1st of May a trade union volley-ball game will take place. The major anniversary events will be organised around 14th-15th May in Riga, with a conference on LBAS activities during the past 25 years and a ceremony entitled “The Best Partnership Award” to greet the best trade union cooperation partners over this period. Ultimately European trade unions must celebrate the many achievements of their past, while preparing for the challenges of future.
Martins Svirskis is the economic advisor to the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS).