Don’t throw the firecrakcers yet

If you’re one of those cheering for Steve Bannon’s getting fired and believe this will mean change inside the Trump administration, you’re probably not seeing the whole picture.

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Bannon’s presence inside the WH as Chief Strategist was always seen as the “source of evil” behind Trump’s policies. Others saw him as a troublemaker inside the WH, even going as far as accusing him of leaking insider info. However, truth be told, “evil” didn’t start with him.

Having been officially aiding Trump with his campaign only since August 2016 – after Trump got the Republican nomination, most of the controversial policies/statements had already been made before Bannon got in. The first of those ideas – which is now currently on hold, was the wall at the US-Mexico border to stop Mexican immigrants to come to the US – who according to Trump, were coming over “committing serious crimes like rape, killing and selling drugs”. By the end of 2015, the new flavour of the month was the Muslim ban, in which Trump proposed temporarily stopping all Muslims from entering the country “Until we know what’s going on“, something that is now being seen by the Supreme Court.

Bannon is no moderate, in fact he is a well know right-wing nationalist and the reason why Breitbart became what it is today; a website that spreads alt-right propaganda with immense exposure in doing so. His world views are no secret of his, he warns of an incoming apocalyptic war between Islam and Christianity and warns that if the US doesn’t act, China might outpace the US both in terms of economic and military capacity. Something that can be seen in his interview at ‘The American Prospect’.

This interview of his was quite scandalous because of the old “on-off the record” controversy, but also because of what he said in that interview, especially about North Korea:

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us”

Something that might have not gone well with his former “chief”, but Bannon’s mistakes didn’t start here. If we go back to April we could see that clashes between Bannon and Trump’s most sacred treasure, his family, started to come up especially with Jared Kushner, who was accused of being a “Democrat” – aka soft republican, and a “Globalist”. Trump tax cut plan; typical of Republican establishment, might have been a stab in the back for Bannon – who’s a fierce economic nationalist and clearly saw the impact that would have on the electoral base that got Trump elected – leading to Bannon remarking in his interview at The Weekly Standard:

“What Trump ran on—border wall, where is the funding for the border wall, one of his central tenets, where have they been? Have they rallied around the Perdue-Cotton immigration bill? On what element of Trump’s program, besides tax cuts—which is going to be the standard marginal tax cut—where have they rallied to Trump’s cause? They haven’t.”

For those who are trilled and happy with Bannon’s getting fired don’t throw the firecrackers yet. There is more than meets the eye in this administration. Bannon might have gone, but if we can learn something with this is that Republican establishment and Trump’s nepotism are alive and well.

 

Luís Carvalho, Bsc graduated in Economics and proud 2015 graduate of democracy

Disclaimer: This might not reflect the whole group’s opinion

 

Is Trump boosting the Economy?

US June Jobs report has come out, and unlike the previous mistrust from Trump  regarding the official numbers of unemployment rate he and his supporters seem to be astonishingly happy for a unemployment decrease that according to experts is just an extension of the trend that was observed in 2016 under the Obama administration in terms of Job Creation.

According to data, in June nonfarm payroll employment, which is any job with the exception of farm work, unincorporated self-employment, and employment by private households, the military and intelligence agencies, increased by 220,000 in June. The unemployment rate suffered little changes, considering the 2 previous months (4,4% in April and 4,3% in May) being now at 4.4 percent. Special highlight for the Health Care, Social Assistance, Financial activities and mining, in terms of jobs creation.

Many Trump supporters, and specially his vice president Mike Pence believe this Jobs report just show Trump’s commitment to create “tons of jobs” is being delivered. At the same time there is an urge by some people to believe investors and economic agents are confident on the economy and the way things will evolve.

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Employment by Selected Industry, source: US Labor Statistics

Taking into consideration the chart above we can clearly see that the Education and Health Services was the industry that had added more jobs to the economy in June, around 59,100, not the type of industry that depends on business owners feelings but more on the needs of the population. Retail Trade which only added around 8,100 jobs in June and Utilities, which added 1,800 jobs, this past month are betters examples of industries driven by economic feelings and weren’t that much expressive as it was Education and Health Services, even if take into consideration their added jobs together.

This happens for a reason, optimism towards the economy is seeing a decline, referring to pre-election levels, as we can see in the chart below.

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Source: New York Times, Neil Irwin’s article

This decline in optimism between consumers can be expressed in their practically stagnant wage. As the June Jobs reports states, in this month average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $26.25 in comparison to May. However if we look from June 2016 to June 2017 average hourly earnings rose only 63 cents, around 2.5 percent. This is an important factor to take into consideration because if consumers don’t have a reasonable disposable income or aren’t pretty confident on their future economic conditions they won’t consume which won’t create a Demand for business owners to invest and hire more people to meet the demand for more products/services.

In the end a question still has to be answered, “Is Trump boosting the economy?”

Not even 6 months have passed since his inauguration and even though there is a urge to say this economic evolution is due to the “Trump factor” to justify the argument that “He isn’t so bad after all” I do believe it’s really early to make such assumptions. Yes he already signed legislation to roll back some regulations to promote jobs creation and expressed his intention to cut taxes, even though trickle down economics has proven to be mislead, but some things take time to start affecting the economy this is just one of them, we’ll probably have to wait the first year or two to see if he is really boosting the economy or just continuing the trend that started under the Obama administration.

 

 

Luís Carvalho, economics bachelor student and proud 2015 Graduate of Democracy

Catalonia: A new state in Europe?

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Localization of Catalonia in Spain and Europe

On the next first of October it will be held in Catalonia the referendum to its independence. This referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish government but the outcome of this referendum can be very important for the future of Spain and of the European Union. To better understand this referendum we need to understand the reasons that are behind it.

Catalonia is an autonomous region located in the Northeast of Spain, bordering both France and the Mediterranean Sea as you can see in the map above. It has several distinctive factors from the rest of Spain most notoriously the Catalan language (that is also spoken in other regions of Spain, Andorra, and in small parts of France and Italy), and several cultural traits like building a human tower, called castell (meaning castle in catalan) or the ‘sardana’, a type of circle dance. Historically the region was part of the Crown of Aragon, which even had a Mediterranean empire including a Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Southern Italy and even a portion of Greece. However in 1469 the Aragon and Castilian crowns united under Ferdinand the first, and this led to a centralisation of power in Madrid that led to the Catalan Revolt in 1640-1652. Afterwards in the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1715) they supported the Austrian Habsburg pretender Charles VI against Phillip V from the French house of Bourbon. Eventually they lost the war and the region became under Spanish or more exactly Castilian control. During the XIX century Catalonia endured a process of industrialization while Catalan nationalism developed. Later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Catalonia fought alongside the republicans that eventually lost the War against the fascist Francisco Franco. His dictatorship was particularly harsh for Catalans since their culture was heavily repressed and Catalan language banned from public use. Despite that, industry and services developed a lot during this period attracting many migrants from other regions of Spain. Since 1975, after Franco’s death, Catalonia recovered its autonomy, restoring the parliament in 1977. It’s also important to note that Catalonia, and the Catalan countries, are not the only regions of Spain with important differences from Spain, like the Basque Country and Navarra, two regions in the North of Spain with a language that has no other known relative as well as other cultural differences. They have also been fighting for independence and more autonomy, including violent acts done by the terrorist organization, ETA.

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The ‘estalada’, the flag of catalan separatism

There are two many reasons that justify the independence of Catalonia, the economic reason and the sociocultural reason:

Regarding the economic argument, Catalans state that they are being treated unfairly by the Spanish state. The region has 16% of the Spain’s total population but accounts for 19% of its GDP. Data from 2011 showed that the region paid €8,5bn more in taxes than what it got back, a tax deficit from the Spanish state of around 8%. State investment in Catalonia is also decreasing, from nearly 16% in 2003 for 9,5% in 2015. They also have the third largest trade surplus in EU being Luxembourg and Ireland. So despite Catalonia being the fourth Spanish region with an higher GDP per capita and the richest Spanish region in terms of total GDP, many Catalans feel that the region could be even better economically if it was not integrated in Spain. Public infrastructures that are under central government jurisdiction are also in worst conditions than others in other regions, like it happens with the connections to Barcelona Airport, that don’t have a metro connection, has a poor train service and old roads while Madrid Barajas Airport has a metro and train connections and more recent roads. So there is a feeling that Catalonia is being forgotten by the central government.

Regarding the sociocultural argument, Catalonia is indeed a territory with unique characteristics when compared with the rest of Spain. The Catalan language is spoken by 9,5 million people the majority of them in Catalonia. Unlike what many people think, this is not a dialect of Spanish but rather a true Romance (Latin) language that is the brother language to Occitan, a minority language spoken in the South of France. Catalans have a lot of pride on their language, the 14th most spoken in European Union, specially because they were forbidden of doing so during Franco’s dictatorship, and they think an independent Catalonia will make it easier to protect it as well as other traditions like the castell or the sardana. Catalonia has also some quite distinctive aspects like the fact that Bullfighting, a big tradition in the rest of Iberian Peninsula, was banned in 2010.

Politically Catalonia autonomous community is governed by the Junts per Si (Together for yes in Catalan), a coalition that joins centre-right (the Catalan European Democratic Part, the biggest party and the Democrats of Catalonia) and leftist parties (like the Republican Left of Catalonia and the Left Movement). All of this parties favor, albeit with some differences among them, the independence of Catalonia. In the last regional elections they gained a total of 62 seats and a percentage of 39,6%. In second place it came, the Ciduadanos ( Citizens) with 17,9% and 25 seats, a liberal party that is against the independence of Catalonia, but curiously founded by a Catalan, Albert Rivera. In third place, came the PSOE (Socialist Party) with 14,4% and 16 seats won, in fourth the Catatlunya Si que és Pot, a leftist party linked to Podemos, with 8,9% and 11 seats won, in fifth the Partido Popular (Popular Party), the right wing party that governs Spain had 8,5% and 11 seats. Finally in fifth place it came the CUP, with 8,2% and 10 seats, a radical left part that defends the idea of a Great Catalonia which means not only the independence of Catalonia but also of other Catalan speaking regions (Països Catalans), the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands.

Among the main Spanish political parties, the Popular Party is clearly against the independence of Catalonia as well as the referendum and also giving more autonomy to the region, they rejected a proposal of fiscal autonomy by the Catalan government. The socialist party also rejects the independence and the referendum to the independence of Catalonia but they are willing to give them more autonomy, integrated in a federalist Spain. The Citizens is anti-independence and anti-federalist as it can be seen is this statement from its leader Albert Rivera: ‘Catalonia is my homeland, Spain is my country and Europe is our future’. They also defend strengthening the powers of the Spanish central institutions and decreasing the powers of regional administrations. Meanwhile Podemos does not officially support the independence of Catalonia, although some members are in favor like their Catalan wing, the Catalunya Si que és pot, but they support the referendum to the independence and more powers to autonomous governments across Spain.

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Map of the Catalan speaking regions

Regarding the possible outcome of the referendum the Yes and the No seem to be neck and neck on the last polls. Out of the four polls done this year, three of them give the victory to yes and the other gives the victory to the no, although the maximum difference between the two outcomes is just 4,6% and there are still a sizeable amount of undecided voters that can change the final outcome, so the final result should be very close. Some important remarks that are important to make are the following: the Catalans that have a Catalan origin tend to support more the yes independent Catalonia while the Spanish origin people that live in Catalonia, tend to support more the no and the yes tends to have more support in rural areas where live older people that still remember the oppression their culture suffered under Franco’s dictatorship. Another interesting thing is that the refusal of the Spanish government, unlike the UK one, to accept this referendum is probably increasing the number of people that wants to vote yes because Catalans can see that Spain is a democracy with many flaws. However, even if the yes wins in this referendum that will not automatically mean an independent Catalonia, because this referendum was considered illegal by the Spanish state. If the yes does indeed win, this can lead to Catalan institutions trying to separate the region from Spain which could mean, Spanish central government giving more autonomy to Catalonia, like the long-sought fiscal autonomy or if central government doesn’t yield this can end with the Spanish military being used to suppress the Catalans will to self-determination which would be a grievous attack to the international law.

Another very important question is that if an independent Catalonia would have to apply to EU membership or if because it’s already a region of European Union, it would still continue to be a part of the European Union, now as a country. It’s important to reach a conclusion about this because this question could be decisive to the final outcome of the referendum, having in consideration that the vast majority of Catalans are pro-EU. Unlike what some international press says the self-determination process in Catalonia as in other nations like Scotland is not a danger to Europe, and not a sign of its division, but a clear demonstration of healthy democracy. This referendum, especially if the yes wins can also give more strength to other pro-independence /self-determination movements like the Basque, the South Tyrolean, the Northern Irish, the Flemish and the Bavarian.

 

Wrote by Pedro Diogo, Economic’s Bachelor graduate

 

Bibliography

Texts

La Vanguardia

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20170514/422577266884/europeos-independencia-espana-catalunya.html

El Món

http://elmon.cat/noticia/209219/el-40-dels-espanyols-vol-que-sapliqui-larticle-155-si-es-convoca-el-referendum

BBC

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29478415

The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/09/catalonia-calls-independence-referendum-for-october-spain

The Telegraf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/09/tensions-grow-spain-catalonia-independence-referendum-confirmed/

Images

Catalonia in Spain and Europe

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34787795

Catalan independence flag

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estelada

Catalan speaking territories

http://politica.e-noticies.cat/la-cup-encara-creu-en-els-paisos-catalans-71916.html

 

 

The renaissance of young progressive activism

I often read that the youth are uninterested in politics; that young people believe that politics has become irrelevant, and that our generation might be willing to share posts on social media, but many of us will not cast our vote and decide an election. Generally, I am afraid much of this is true. Not many young people ever took part in a political rally, and many of us are probably less ideologically driven than earlier generations. From an electoral perspective, not only we are less numerous than the elderly, but we are also less likely to vote.

General Election 2017

Continue reading “The renaissance of young progressive activism”

Seven Nation Army

“In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon…”

 

It has become some kind of European routine: confronted with an increasing number of citizens displeased by the Union’s policies, lack – or excess – of shared programs, European leaders revive the idea of a European army from time to time. There’s nothing new about using the military to reassure people, for it’s both a useful tool and a symbolic object of the utmost importance: in France, politicians are after all still debating about re-establishing a military service and arguing about its ability to mix social groups ([1]) within a single, united corp. But as Russia seems to be revaluating its strategic orientations to promote a more active approach to security issues while revitalising its military industrial complex, Europe, now forced to act by The Donald’s erratic way of handling foreign affairs, might have no other choice but to go “once more into the breach.”

Still, obstacles are various: even though interoperability have been promoted for quite a long time, European armed forces still use different material, especially in strategic realms such as the air force – the French Armée de l’Air uses Rafale and Mirage, while the German Luftwaffe uses Eurofighters, for instance. Moreover, shared industrial program such as the A400M one ([2]) – which aimed at providing various European armies with a common transport aircraft – met surprising difficulties, costs skyrocketing without any apparent progress being made. In addition to those technical, industrial issues, the sole idea of a common European armed force raises many more issues, from political ones to military ones: what would the missions be of such a force? By whom would it be commanded? What about language and structure? Where would its bases be located? In order to rationalise all of these rightful inquiries, one has to draw the line somewhere: it is almost impossible, if not simply bizarre to imagine that 28 countries will ever come together to form an armed force capable of designating its capacities, foes, theatres of operations and missions in a clear way.

The French Armed Forces, created in 1792, are currently divided into five branches: the Armée de Terre, the Marine Nationale, the Armée de l’Air, the Gendarmerie and the National Guard. Recently deployed in Sub-Saharan Africa (3,000 troops) in Iraq (3,200 troops) the French Armed Forces are also taking part in various peacekeeping missions by mobilising nearly 1,000 blue helmets. Besides enjoying the world’s only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy, the French Armed Forces can rely on highly functional tools as various as fifth-generation aircraft (Rafale) and ultramodern frigates (FREMM) Yet, the French Armed Forces are suffering from the same drawbacks as most of their European partners: a chronic lack of funding which currently sever its ability to carry out  missions on its own and this has resulted in a lack of strategic airlift and unmanned aerial vehicles. However, recent reforms have been announced: they include investing in the modernisation of the Rafale, investing in the French special forces and speeding up the modernisation of France’s armoured vehicles

While discussing military integration, less is more. It is always easier to merge a small number of forces into one than to try and design a European military based on twenty-eight countries’ will to create something shared and common. ([3]) In fact, common characteristics exist between some militaries in the Union: German and French forces, for instance, are reaching an almost similar level of operational capacity, France’s main asset being that they have  acquired important experiences on theatres as diverse as South America, Sub-Saharan and Central Africa, Levant and Middle-East and own combat-proven aircrafts (Rafale) self-propelled howitzers (Caesar Canon) infantry fighting vehicles (VBCI) tactical transport helicopters (Caracal) and attack helicopters (Tigre) the latter being the result of a European military program and therefore used not only by France but also Germany and Spain.

 The Spanish Armed Forces aren’t as important as the French or Italian ones, but they still represent forces to be acknowledged, members of both NATO and the Eurocorps and representing around 130,000 men and women divided between the Ejército de Tierra, the Armada Española, the Ejército del Aire and the Guardia Civil. Though only carrying modest missions and relying on small battlegroups, the Spanish Armed Forces enjoy modern and various equipment including German MBT (Leopard II) European and American helicopters (Tigre, Chinook) and Austrian-Spanish IFV (ASCOD Pizarro) asserting its capacity to act in coordination with other western forces. Yet, and as many European forces, the Spanish ones suffer from a lack of investment resulting in poor operational abilities based on aging tools and gears, which was made even worse by the political turmoil faced by the nation a year ago

 This, for instance, came from a simple thought: “We all need a similar tool to carry out similar missions on similar theatres of operation. Why not share the costs of production as well as future, prospective benefits?” such a model of military cooperation being encouraged by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation ([4]), which currently supervises no more than twelve military programs, from armoured fighting vehicles (Cobra) to multi-mission frigates (FREMM). Its most active members include France – with nine shared military programs – Italy – seven – Germany – three – and Benelux – three. Seven military’s therefore sharing highly efficient tools and reaching an almost unmatched interoperability capacity; seven countries active on shared battlegrounds such as Mali or Iraq and who could, at one point, start to exist as a Seven Nation Army.

As far as organisation is concerned, the Forze Armate Italiane can be compared to the French one. It is divided into four corps: the Esercito Italiano, the Marina Militare, the Aeronautica Militare and the Arma dei Carabinieri and represent nearly 300,000 men and women. Recent reforms in the Italian military included a decrease in the number of the army personnel meant to reallocate military funds to instruction, training and armaments. Its main assets include: owning two STOVL aircraft carriers – short takeoff and vertical landing – meant to carry short-range missions in the Mediterranean Sea, having at its disposal a vast number of military aircrafts – the most recent being Eurofighter and F 35 – and an even more impressive number of soldiers. This military strength furthermore relies on two things: an efficient arms-industry – Leonardo, Beretta – and a satisfactory operative level based on experiences acquired in Afghanistan

But as important as industrial cooperation might be, their sine-qua-non conditions remain to share strategic orientations and goals, and that’s where the rub is. Italian and French objectives include controlling the Mediterranean Sea or having the means to carry out short-range missions, but France has interests in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It therefore needs slightly different tools, including the ability to carry out long-range missions, such missions relying, for instance, on tanker aircrafts and light warships. But why would Germany need those? Its most recent military doctrine has been designed after the Ukrainian Crisis and mostly revolves around countering any Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. ([5]) Such a threat isn’t to be deterred by tools designed for long-range projections, but rather by mechanised and armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons, intelligence and counterintelligence assets or artillery systems. But what would France make of those in Mali’s desert, or in Bangui’s unstable streets? That’s when the dream of a European army meets a dead end.

With military budgets barely superior to 1% of their GDP, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces aren’t as impressive as the French or German ones. Though mostly equipped with modern equipment, they are both in need of more recent planes, the Royal Netherlands Air Force having already settled for American Lockheed Martin F-35. This of course came as a surprise, since such an investment would have been a perfect occasion to support Europe’s military-industrial complex. Moreover, the Composante Terre/Land Component suffers from the same flaws as the French Armée de Terre as it is currently used to patrol the streets which weaken the soldiers’ morale while damaging its military budget. Though modest in strength, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces are still members of the European military cooperation programs, with one each: the A400M Atlas and the Boxer

Finally, the idea of a European military poses another issue: the one of nuclear defence. In its recent article The Case for a European Nuke, Foreign Affairs’ Doug Bandow ([6]) perfectly explained how the perspective of a shared nuclear programme could benefit both the European and the American military interests by reducing Washington’s expenditures on our soil while increasing our influence in the West’s military decisions. As noted by Ulrich Kühn of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “it would be far too expensive for Europe to match Russia’s store of 2,000 to 3,000 tactical nuclear weapons” but Europe could, by using France’s nuclear doctrine settle for a deterrent force. “Europe,” notes Doug Bandow, “is also the most obvious place for Washington to close at least one of its nuclear umbrellas. None of the United States’ Asian allies possesses nuclear weapons, and their development would have unpredictable regional effects and be more likely to trigger proliferation” making this issue of a European Nuke a priority of the utmost importance.

Such a European military revolution would nevertheless have to be handled with care. Creating a European Nuke and therefore increasing the number of nuclear weapons possessed by European nations could arguably have an important impact on non-proliferation. It would also pose a very concrete question: to whom should fall the ultimate decision to fire those weapons? This has been established by many specialists: the first and main strength of a nuclear deterrent is its credibility. Not only do you have to let your prospective enemies know about your weapon, you also must absolutely erase any possibility to let them think you might not be prepared or ready to resort to those weapons of mass destruction. In the French case, the president has the possibility to order the use of nuclear bombs without referring to any counter-powers. This of course goes with him constitutionally being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and raises some political issues, but it is also ultimately there to assert France’s ability to punish any important attack on its most vital interests. In the event of a European Nuke, who shall we entrust with the possibility to unleash weapons so powerful one might think of them as blasphemous ([7])? Here, the military idea of a shared weapon meets the political necessity of a common executive power.

The almost romantic idea of a European Army, let alone of a Seven Nation Army, is no dream nor illusion, but a strategic necessity. Yet, the obstacles to be overcome in the process of creating such a tool are both various and imposing: beyond the inherent need to build it around shared military objectives, orientations and tools, it would furthermore require a common sense of politics, a remarkable – almost unreachable in those modern times – pedagogy and the insurance that this device, while being controlled by civil authorities, would not be neutralised by them. In the meantime, humble industrial cooperation appears to be the main way forward in designing the collective tools upon which unity shall, one day, be accomplished.

 

Hugo Decis is currently studying International Relations i Paris and is the current Communication Officer. This article was previously posted on Mercoeur, a french blog specialised on International Relations, at this address:  https://mercoeur.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/seven-nation-army/ 

 

[1] Le Creuset de l’Armée : Un Mythe de l’IntégrationJean-Dominique Merchet, Libération

[2] Airbus : Le Programme A400M est-il en danger ?Michel Cabirol, La Tribune

[3] Samuel Beckett’s European ArmyDaniel Keohane, Carnegie Europe

[4] Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, official website – available at: http://www.occar.int/programmes

[5] In a Reversal, Germany’s Military Growth Is Met with Western ReliefAlison Smale, The New-York Times

[6] The Case for a European NukeDoug Bandow, Foreign Affairs

[7] Towards the Nuclear Sublime: Representations of Technological Vastness in Postmodern American PoetryRob Wilson, Cambridge University

Giovanni Falcone: at the periphery of power, at the centre of the State

When an Italian goes abroad, s\he already knows what will be the first three words heard: pizza, mafia and mandolino.

This set of words might have slightly changed over time, being substituted by various other ‘symbols’: gelato, The Great Beauty, Berlusconi…

But if there is one word that keeps being said to Italians, that one is, beyond any doubt, mafia.

However, while it is true that everyone knows about the whole world rotating around ‘mafia’ , with its symbols, lifestyle and hierarchy, (and here it is where the film industry, see: The godfather, might have played a role!), very few can nod their heads at the hearing of the names of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Apart from my personal stories, also a simple google research can prove this. Try google ‘italian mafia’, and you will get 10.000.000 results. Try again with ‘antimafia judge Giovanni Falcone’: 22.400 results (mainly from Wikipedia and old articles).

So: who was Giovanni Falcone? 

Giovanni Falcone was an Italian anti-mafia judge who eventually paid with his life his commitment towards the preservation of justice and the State.

Sicilian by birth, Falcone had, therefore, a direct and clear perception of the problems that his city, Palermo, was facing back then. Almost all the businesses were forced to pay  pizzo to mafia bosses, as a way to seek protection and avoid further problems with the local ‘mafiosi’; the streets of the city were often the theatre of bloody confrontations between rival mafia families and the State was not equipped with the necessary tools in order to combat the phenomenon.

Against this background, Falcone brought about a real revolution in the way mafia was treated judicially. As a judge in Palermo, he was asked by Antonino Caponnetto to join the first ‘antimafia pool‘: a group of 4 judges (besides Falcone, there were Paolo Borsellino, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta) that will join forces, for the very first time, and conjunctly analyse the activities of ‘Cosa Nostra’ (literally translatable as: our own thing). 

The latter was a powerful Sicilian mafia organisation whose structure was still thought to be, at the time, made of various groups with autonomous decision-making powers. Falcone was the first to understand the hierarchical nature of Cosa Nostra and, consequently, the fundamental role of joint investigations beyond national barriers.

During the investigations, he applied what would be known as ‘Falcone Method’ which can be best summed up with this words: ‘ In order to understand the mafia, you need to follow the money’. This interdisciplinary approach led him to liaise with banks and obtain critical information about capital flows and illicit affairs that the mafia was conducting abroad.

Meanwhile, the environment was exacerbating, making it more and more difficult for the judges to continue their work amidst death threats.

For this reason, Falcone and Borsellino were forced to move with their families to a prison (what an irony!), where they would continue their investigations in a more secure way.

Finally, the long investigations came to an end. On February 10th, 1986, which will be remembered as a historical day, the very first and big trial against Cosa Nostra (known as maxiprocesso ) started. This trial would change the way State-mafia relationships are governed, and will give the very first serious blow to the strongest mafia organisation of the time.

The ‘maxiprocesso’ would be also the main reason Falcone and Borsellino are known today; unfortunately, it was also the reason why they were both assassinated years after – respectively on May 23rd and July19th, 1992.

If you are wondering why it was called ‘maxi-processo’, a few figures could put it into perspective: 475 defendants, 200 lawyers, 900 witnesses, 600 journalists, a sentence to 2665 years in jail in total.

But not just the numbers can speak about the unicity of the judicial proceeding. A look at the place where the trial was conducted itself, with blinded doors and bulletproof windows, can help convey the tension surrounding the happenings: these Youtube videos (in Italian) are a must to better understand the ‘mafiosi’ and their insolence, irony and attitude towards justice.

Giovanni Falcone and its fellow judges could finally breathe a sigh of relief: they had just proven that mafia was not invincible. That the State was present and strong, and it was capable of punishing Mafia bosses.

However, this positive spirit would not last for long. Soon enough, Falcone will be isolated, his systematisation of the way anti-mafia investigations were held, jeopardised.

When it came the time to elect the successor of Caponnetto at the office in Palermo, he was thought to be the natural candidate for this position. However, the National Council of Judges (CSM) voted in favour of Antonino Meli, an older judge who started to dismantle the work of the antimafia pool. Believing that the Casa Nostra was made of various autonomous cells, rather than a single, vertical organisation, he did not embrace the unifying and interdisciplinary method of Falcone. To the contrary, he spread the judicial cases over various offices – in so doing, connecting the dots and looking for the ‘fil rouge’ linking all of these cases would become way harder.

But it was not just the lack of institutional support that caused the isolation of Giovanni Falcone. A mixture of suspicious theories, according to which Falcone had brought a ‘pentito’ (mafia informer) back to Sicily only to diminish the power of the antagonist mafia family, along with an environment of mistrust and delegitimisation, eventually led the judge to say:

Why does one die? Loneliness, or the fact of entering a game that is bigger than ‘us’. 
Lack of necessary alliances, lack of support. 
In Sicily mafia kills the State servants which haven’t been protected by the State

Unfortunately, his predictions were right. However, as we say in Italy, ‘time is a gentleman’. It puts everything back on the right track.

Following its cruel assassination, in fact,  Falcone has become a national hero. Streets, schools, festivals, awards have been named after him. As I am writing, a national manifestation is going on in Palermo with thousands of students coming from all over Italy to commemorate his memory.

This mythologising of his figure that has been happening lately if, on one hand, it was a necessary expiation for those who had not understood his importance back then, on the other hand, it epitomises the lust for justice, equality, rule of law the new generations have.

Given the changing nature of mafia, however, one should be wary of this ‘hero’ narrative that has pervaded the Italian media. By defining those who have conducted their role with respect to the State and the rule of law as ‘heroes’, one could start detaching their stories from reality. By delegating the fight on mafia to ‘extraordinary figures’, one could then justly feel exempted from fighting its own battle on injustice.

Giovanni and Paolo, before being visionary judges, were great citizens with a great sense of respect towards Italian institution, the State, their beloved homeland. The thing is that they were too ahead of time; and, as it happens in this cases, they were not understood by the majority of the people.

They were seen as heroes because they were going against the flow.

There is no better way to honour their memory than to conduct our daily ordinary acts of legality. Together, we can make sure that nobody is left alone anymore: not because the flow has stopped, but because it has finally started going in the right direction.

Federica Giordano Galasso is a 2015 Graduate and the President of the Erasmus Student Network Roma LUISS

Trouble in Paradise

Sweden is often praised as one of the, if not the, most successful welfare states in the world. Many progressives around the world take the country´s strong welfare system, pared with a healthy economy, as an example. According to a recent survey by World Economic Forum Sweden stands out as the best country in the world to live in, with top rankings in areas like gender equality and business climate. But something in this does not seem to translate into reality. Polls suggest that many Swedes do not think that their country is heading in the right direction, and the political situation is becoming more and more uneasy with minority governments and threats of snap elections. The Social Democrats, often attributed for Sweden’s success, seem to be heading for one of their worst election results ever, just around 30%. And how could a populist right wing party, that has its roots in 80s neo-nazism, become the third largest party and parliamentary kingmaker in the world’s most successful welfare state?

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Continue reading “Trouble in Paradise”

The Left needs to dump YOU!

Each left-wing movement in Europe has its own intricansies, but almost all of them were born of the Labour movement. After the industrial revolution, poor people, working class rallied together in center-left parties for more rights like paid sick leave, Universal Healthcare, social benefits. Social democratic parties were the party where the masses rallied in hope for a better life. Now the masses couldn’t be more detached from Social democratic parties. In Britain, the Labour Party is just the third most popular party among the working class, in France, the Front National also leads by a wider margin among working class while the socialist party drowns in popularity with this group of people and the same story happens in the Netherlands, Austria and many other countries. Center left parties are, in some cases, more popular among rich people than with poor people. Why this is happening? Very simple: Center left parties were once the party of the poor, unemployed, the factory worker, the uneducated, disaffected the one who was against the establishment. Now Center left parties are the party of the well connected, the rich, the college professor and the corporate lawyer.

Center left parties had once a clear agenda because they were made by working class people and for working class people; they knew clearly what they want and what were their priorities. They knew their struggles and their problems and wanted to solve them. Now, center left parties aren’t made essentially by the same people as before. They are leaded by elitist people who don’t have a clue how life is outside college campus or big cities. For some of these elitist people, going to a disaffected community or a desindustrialized area may be a field trip or a campaign stop but it will be never be their reality, their struggle, their problems, so working class or people in those communtities will never see them as their own representative.

 

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La Primera de Muchas

17888097_1259379007502561_1214337678_nAyer fue un día triste para el socialismo español. Ayer, mientras seguíamos discutiendo sobre un proceso interno que cada día que pasa nos va enfrentando un  poco más, murió a los 46 años Carme Chacón a causa de problemas cardiacos.

Carme Chacón materializaba gran parte del ideario socialista. De familia humilde, gracias a sus profundas convicciones progresistas, a su gran trabajo como concejala de Esplugas de Llobregat y a su labor como observadora en la OSCE  , consiguió hacerse  un hueco en el mundo de la política. Fue una férrea defensora de la “Nueva Vía” de Zapatero y todos los valores que ella representaba, convirtiéndose en una de los miembros  más populares del gobierno del presidente socialista.

Carme Chacón fue la primera mujer en llegar al cargo de  Ministra de Defensa  en España, pero no fue sólo eso, fue mucho más. Continue reading “La Primera de Muchas”