Travelling on the Schulzzug

Last week, I have travelled through Germany and campaigned  together with the Jusos (young socialists, the party youth affiliated to the social democratic party (SPD)) for the upcoming federal elections. Besides offering support to my party, it was a good occasion to gather some impression of the current political mood in Germany. The following article reflects mainly my own opinion and impressions that I have formed during this trip.

Travelling on the Schulzzug

Last weekend, the Jusos Brussels – a section of the German party youth affiliated to the social democrats party (SPD) – organised a campaign action called the ‚Schulzzug‘ (German for ‚Schulz train‘) in which I was involved. The idea was to travel by train from Brussels to Berlin with stops in all sixteen regional states in Germany. There, we met with local sections of the Jusos and the SPD, took pictures and made videos with red paper train frames and masks of Martin Schulz for our social media, supported them in one of their campaign actions and interviewed them, asking them why they support Martin Schulz. The pictures and videos were uploaded on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The action was inspired by the saying that went round in social media when Martin Schulz announced his candidacy for becoming chancellor that there was a Schulzzug rolling from Brussels to Berlin straight into the chancellor’s office. With no breaks. We thought that we could contribute by making something real out of it – a real train rolling from Brussels to Berlin. And who would be better placed to organise such a campaign action than we were in Brussels?

https://twitter.com/tagesschau/status/826841984149180420

Motivation and supporting young candidates 

The aim of the Schulzzug was obviously not to have a direct impact on the opinion polls. It would have been pretentious to think that we could come from Brussels for less than one week and convince people in about twenty different places that they should vote for the SPD. Maybe, we had a positive effect on the opinion of one citizen or another we met during local campaign actions. But the more tangible effect was that of motivating people who are campaigning for the same cause.

During our trip, we met many other members of our party who greeted us with much enthusiasm. Many complimented us for our commitment and might have felt inspired. Moreover, our trip somehow created a link between all the local sections that we met. We all felt part of a bigger project, symbolised by the Schulzzug – the train that rolls from Brussels to Berlin with no breaks. Everyone was somehow involved in our campaign, either by appearing on our social media or simply by talking with us, exchanging opinions and impressions.

One important contribution is that we managed to offer support to young candidates for the Bundestag by interviewing them and publishing the interviews on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Our social media pages – which are known all over Germany now – would give them a lot of visibility. Thus, we could help raise awareness about the concerns of young people and show that there is something at stake for us too. And, besides this, we could show that going into politics is not only something boring for old people, but it can actually be fun.

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Meeting the local section of the SPD in Trappenkamp

An impression of political numbness

This last point is crucial. In a way, our broader mission was to show how to engage with politics in an original and enjoyable way – make it more fun without however loosing the content of our political stance out of sight. Besides singing, making pictures, videos, distributing flyers and making interviews, we also had a lot of discussions and questions: What can be done to offer young people an easier access to education and a perspective for the future? How can it be made easier for a young couple to found a family without having to give up their professional projects? What can we do to live in a more just society? In what kind of Europe do we want to live?

It is important to highlight this process of political reflection because I have a feeling that too many people in Germany have lost their interest in politics. On our trip, I could not help having the impression that many people we met simply didn’t took notice of the electoral campaign. Very often, people simply ignored us, didn’t seem to care about the ongoing elections. Some people even told us explicitly that they would not vote because in the end it wouldn’t make a difference.

I cannot blame these people too much. There is a reason why people are turning their back on politics: With a grand coalition that has brought the two leading parties much closer and a weak opposition in the Bundestag, there is little dissent in German federal politics. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, which we watched at our final destination on Sunday, illustrated this very well. It seemed that both candidates almost didn’t differ on the issues that were discussed: the need to integrate refugees, fight extremism, return migrants who do not fulfil the conditions for asylum, the stance toward North Korea, etc. As rightly pointed out by Sebastian Stölting in his blogpost, Schulz failed to use the TV debate to create a momentum and enter a more confrontational debate with Merkel.

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The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz on 3 September failed to show significant points of dissent between the two leading candidates of CDU and SPD

Of course, this is not least due to the circumstance that many important topics such as education, health care, pensions or working conditions were simply left out of the debate. Yet, it is also due to the fact that the differences between the parties are difficult to recognise: both agree that the education system or digital infrastructure need to be improved, that the pensions system needs to be adapted to an ageing society, that some taxes need to be reduced, etc. And how could it be different? Even though Schulz was not part of the German government – he could not have come up with radically different positions because he would directly have been confronted with the question: So why didn’t your party act differently during the last term?

Time for a revival of Germany’s political culture

No matter what the outcome of the elections will be – I sincerely hope that there will not be a grand coalition again. The assimilation of our leading parties is detrimental to our political culture. I have recently learned a new word which describes the political mood in Germany very well: “Infantilism“. It describes the process of political detachment in which people have a feeling that everything is going well and let themselves lulled into complacency, not caring about political differences and alternatives. They are behaving like spoiled children who are happy with what they get and don’t want to take up any responsibility. The nickname “Mutti“ (German for „mommy“) commonly given to Merkel is symptomatic for how this trend is even celebrated in Germany’s political discourse.

No matter what the outcome of the elections will be – it is time for a stronger opposition, clearer differences between the parties and a revival of a more vibrant political debate culture. Prosperity and social justice are not the only aim of politics. Politics should also aim at democracy. And for democracy to work, we need responsible citizens who are able to form themselves an own opinion through discussion and reasoning. Political indifference is the first step to authoritarianism. That’s why I urge everyone not only to go to the ballot, but also to get involved in politics – be it in a party, in an association or a sport club. And that’s why I jumped on the Schulzzug in the first place – because I don’t want to leave decisions about the society I live in only to others and because I want to fight for political alternatives.

Laurin Berresheim, 2016 graduate of democracy

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion. The article can also be found at the Author’s blog, The Squirre’s Thought Box .

 

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Turning the tide? German Elections 2017: TV Debate Merkel vs. Schulz

The German federal election is held on the 24th of September, with its results highly anticipated in the European Union Member States, due to Germany’s significant influence on collective decisions. Recent polls, before the debate, suggest a win by Angela Merkels Christian Conservative party (CDU) over the Social Democrats (SPD), led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the EU Parliament, with a sizeable margin (CDU 38%; SPD 24%). Her fourth consecutive win, would extend her reign, since 2005, for another four years term and then match in length only with former chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU, 1982-1998). The debate was therefore referred to as a possible turning point or even the last chance for Martin Schulz to maintain a viable chance in winning the upcoming election.

No-one less than the ‘new Leader of the Free World’ is sought

Former US President Barack Obamas last call in office was dedicated to Angela Merkel, which led the Independent and subsequently other media outlets to conclude, that she is the ‘new Leader of the Free World’. At least it might be so in the opinion of Obama, who praised her leadership frequently after the election of Donald Trump. However, several experts and pundits across the world aligned with these remarks. Especially fostered through Trump, often as reckless or childish proclaimed, policy decisions and manners, which deteriorated the image of the President of the United States in an unprecedented way.
If this claim to the honorary title is not only to understand as a personalized one, to Merkel’s often as prudent described leadership skill, but in a broader sense related to Germanys position as a leading state, boosted by a solid and strong economy, which provides effective leverage on multilateral decisions made in Europe and beyond, this title travels ex officio to the next chancellor in charge. This truly would justify a huge attention to the contest for power in the central European state. On the contrary, the campaign so far and its non-producing of exciting theme complexes, nor contested arguments about anything is widely perceived in the public as ‘boring as usual’. For the electorate it seems hard to distinguish between the positions of the biggest parties in German politics. They are wildly observed as alike, which might be explained through the reoccurring of a ‘big coalition government’ by the same in the past. This apparently makes it hard for politicians to single-out their very own achievements in the past and alleged difference policy approach pursued in the future.

Strategic restraint vs. a whiff of populism

A TV debate between the two most promising candidate for chancellorship in Germany is already a fixture in an election year. Angela Merkel (CDU), is infamously known for her very slow reaction to breaking news and non-surprisingly therefore refused again, after 2005, 2009 and 2013, to contest in more than merely one TV debate. Martin Schulz (SPD) appeared in the campaign once in a while willing to put some populist twist into his approach of challenging Merkel and by this unsuccessfully tried to win over public support. Infamously he accused Merkel to be ‘anti-democratic’, in the understanding that she more or less purposely refuses to make clear policy statements and campaign pledges, which would foster a lively debate in Germany about different pathways, on which society and state could evolve. Furthermore, brought up by observers, Merkel strategically avoided to name Schulz in any regard, which helps her to appear actually uncontested. Several direct confrontations are therefore seen as an advantage for the contender Schulz from the Social Democrats. Anyhow, as this is not happening, the debate on last Sunday shall have attracted an even higher attention. It was viewed live by more than 16 million people. In regard of general given attention, Merkel’s tactic admittedly works, in 2013 17,4 million and 2009 even 21 million Germans followed the Live TV Debate.

Debate topics vs. interest of the public

The most disappointing participants at the debate have certainly been the four interviewers by the various German TV channels and their highly selective questions. It was quite astonishing to realize that about two thirds of the 90 minutes debate time was used up for the topic migration and Islam. Additionally was the last third overshadowed by a huge portion spend on the relation to Turkey and even the international tensions around North Korea and the handling of it through US President Trump. How all this lays at the heart of interest of the general public and not only of right-wing driven factions is questionable. Media critics said it seems the interviewers have apparently feared criticism of being not harsh enough on the contestants with controversial topics and therefore showed predisposed obedience.

The integration of slightly more than one million asylum seekers is certainly a challenge posed to the German society and state, even though a well-balanced perspective shall be maintained. Germany has a population of 82 million people, faces a looming demographic crisis due to constant low reproduction rates paired with a constant growing demand for labor, boosted by a solid and strong economy.
The debate constantly circulated around questions about how to deport people who have been denied asylum and furthermore, how to thwart the influence of foreign powers and especially the ones with Islamist interests onto migrants living in Germany. From here the debate drifted apparently seamless also to the four million Muslims currently living in Germany. The positions here did not differ at all. Both contestants tried to show their decisiveness, in combating extremism and deny those adherents any foothold in Germany, while expressing that respect towards all citizens is crucial. Merkel repeated a former German President’s famous sentence that Islam is a part of German society, she stressed that these citizens as well form the base for economic prosperity.

Schulz tried to expose Merkel with his bold statement of canceling completely the EU-Membership negotiations with Turkey. Merkel responded, arguing on technical matters, that this decision can be taken only unanimously among all EU member states. She added, a bit contradicting herself and therefore confusing, that she wants to state clearly that she has opposed Turkish membership from the very beginning.

Well, all these more or less petty fights made it easy to overlook that education and infrastructure have not been mentioned at all. While the unsustainable retirement and social system, rising social inequality and prevalent low-paid jobs got devoted only one sentence each – in the final ‘do you agree with this statement’- round. Quite a shame if we consider that there are more than 8,3 million pupils and 2,8 million students in Germany, who, and their respective families, would like to had their issues addressed. On Schulz side, this would certainly had gave him the chance to repeat his campaign promise to increase the federal student grant and increase state spending on educational infrastructure. While for the car driving population Schulz at least managed to sneak in his position to repeal the already parliamentary approved, bi-partisan as Merkel pointed out, Autobahn toll system.

The lack of addressing a wide range of topics and problems which many Germans might experience more on a daily basis caused a public outcry through social media channels, which led to severe criticism of the four interviewers.

Foreign policy, statesmanship and Europe

In its final moments the debate ran bizarre, when questions circled around the North Korean crisis, what Germany is doing and say could be in it and how to keep the western world on track in opposition to Donald Trump lack of leadership skills. Merkel keenly recalled all the foreign state leaders she is in constant contact with, to avoid any military escalation, which she as well as Schulz firmly opposes. On this, both candidates knew the general public in Germany decidedly agrees. In his regard Schulz, as experts claimed, failed to keep up with Merkel’s foreign policy experience. However, it has to be mentioned that across the debate he repeatedly called for European approaches to problems. He strongly condemned eastern European states and their lack of solidarity and support to foster those solutions. He declared himself in favor of tighten the grip on fellow member states that benefitted for years from the EU and now sabotage its common efforts. However, he blames Merkel and her unilateral moves in the heat of the 2015 migration crisis to be the origin of current misunderstandings and lack of coherence within the EU. Even though Schulz would have acted doubtless similar, for instant he declared it unfeasible and undesirable to close down any borders. Anyhow, Schulz condemned therefore Merkels statement, given to a newspaper, that she ‘would do everything again as she did in 2015’.

Still undecided

The debate was followed up by immediate polls, to declare as soon as possible a winner of the debate. The results named Merkel as winner, because she came across more experienced and less excited than her opponent. However, before the debate every second German voters declared to be still undecided, who to vote for. New polls show now, this debate has not changed much on that fact. It can be concluded that the clear trend to a re-election of Angela Merkel however remains unbroken.

Schulz needs to start a momentum to keep a win a viable possibility and end Merkel’s drowsy approach to politics. To do so he needs to find a way in attracting the attention of the electorate and convince them of a necessary change. A way would be to make them aware that Merkel has effectively over the last ten years not once accurately tackled systemic problems of the German economy and tax laws, which only reinforce the strong trend of a growing social inequality and financial unsustainability in the health care and pension scheme. Through the complex German election process and the wide variety of possible governing coalitions the German Election 2017 nonetheless stays a promising political event to follow.

 

(An analysis how the left might argue to win over public support and what preconditions have to be met, also electoral results wise, to achieve a parliamentary majority for a Leftist-Coalition has the author published at an earlier date.)

Sebastian Stölting studied Political Science in Dreden and Cairo and currently follows the Research Master in Social Science: Specialization in Comparative & International Politics at the University of Amsterdam.

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion. Picture Screengrab by Reuters

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

 

 

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

Juncker’s White Paper: The Implications for CSDP

On March 1st European Commission (EC) President Jean Claude-Juncker presented his White Paper on the Future of Europe. The aim of the Paper is to line up 5 potential scenarios for the European integration varying from more deepened federalist-like union to less tight, minimalist economic cooperation. The timing is also not a coincidence: it can give some food for thought for the Rome summit on March 25th celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Economic Community. The Paper received criticism from the left, especially from Gianni Pittella S&D president for not giving a clear indication on what is the EC’s preferred way forward and not committing itself to a more advanced, integrated Europe.[1] There was also a reserved interest from the in-generally EU establishment critical Visegrád 4 countries (Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary) warning against the disintegration, while in the meantime not committing themselves much towards further integration either.[2]

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Lobbyists in Brussels – the Dark Side of the European Union?

In front of the the European Parliament, there is a small square with a lot of little bars and coffee houses called ‚Place du Luxembourg‘. Every workday, it is busy with people who work in the European institutions and the many offices in the vicinity of the Parliament. You can sit there in a coffee house and watch them pass by. It would not be surprising to find, here and there, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and his assistant sitting at a table with a business(wo)man or the representative of a NGO, talking over a file of documents, while having a coffee and a piece of cake. Continue reading “Lobbyists in Brussels – the Dark Side of the European Union?”

Verhofstadt Surrenders to Political Opportunism

The presidential elections in the European Parliament last week have shown low instincts and political intrigues at their best. Opportunism and the strive for power have prevailed over political integrity and the adherence to values and ideas. Guy Verhofstadt has best illustrated how quickly one can fall prey to the little intrigues and deals that animate life in politics. The man who has strongly endeavoured to become known as the fiercest defender of democratic values and pro-European ideals has not shied away from playing Continue reading “Verhofstadt Surrenders to Political Opportunism”

2017: A practical guide for the worried voter

The year 2016 has ended, for some a terrible year where we have lost dozens of famous people. From football legend Johan Cruyff to legendary singer Leonard Cohen. People who were not only great in their profession but who also influenced the world around them. Take Olympic champion and anti-war figure Muhammad Ali. A hero and inspiration for many who showed us we should never give up on our dreams despite our social background, religion, or race. Continue reading “2017: A practical guide for the worried voter”

Soft Security: A Natural Tool for the EU

After the Austrian presidential elections and the Italian referendum there are mixed feelings around Europe. The public opinion praises the fact that the far-right lost an election – despite the fact that their approval rating is still very high meaning they are not going away soon – and some mourned the anti-establishment statement of the Italian people by voting no to the constitutional reforms. In the year of Brexit and the election of Continue reading “Soft Security: A Natural Tool for the EU”

La Gauche sans Ordre de Bataille et l’Echec Annoncé de 2017

Alors qu’il disposait au moment de son élection des majorités sénatoriale et parlementaire, d’une majorité de communes et de conseils régionaux, le président Hollande s’est, en cinq années d’exercice du pouvoir, révélé incapable de structurer son mandat ou de doter sa politique d’une colonne vertébrale cohérente. L’échec du premier président socialiste depuis François Mitterrand est ainsi révélateur d’une réalité indéniable : sans conviction, sans audace, sans raison, la gauche s’est fourvoyée et semble avoir incarné un leadership du hasard, terne et inconséquent. S’il fallait résumer le président Hollande à un chiffre, ce serait celui-ci, paru dans l’édition du 25.10.2016 du Monde : 4% d’opinion favorable. Aucun président n’avait atteint un tel (non) score sous la Vème République, et si l’on peut à juste titre reconnaître qu’il s’agit là d’une preuve de la ruine d’un système qui depuis des décennies, se complait dans la corruption, le népotisme, l’incurie et la malhonnêteté intellectuelle la plus crasse, force est de constater qu’Hollande, rassembleur mou et solitaire, n’a jamais su ni pu redorer le blason de la politique française, de renoncements coupables et demi-mesures fades. C’est simple : à trop arpenter les profondeurs, Hollande pourra bientôt prétendre au premier rôle d’un remake du Grand Bleu. Comment expliquer qu’avec autant de cartes en main, le pouvoir du président se soit ainsi abîmé d’une manière si complète ? Qu’alors qu’il pouvait mobiliser autour de lui sénateurs, députés, maires et autres élus locaux, Hollande ne soit jamais parvenu à pratiquer un exercice sain et cohérent du pouvoir ? La faute à une erreur multidimensionnelle, à la fois idéologique, stratégique et politique, qui a conduit le mandat Hollande à définir un cas d’école de l’échec en politique.

Continue reading “La Gauche sans Ordre de Bataille et l’Echec Annoncé de 2017”