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

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The curious case of North Korea

  1. Overview

North Korea, considered to be one of the last communist regimes on earth and one of the most secretive; was seen with a certain curiosity and fun how such a ‘self isolated’ country survives in a globalized world like the one we have today. North korea was originally united with her “sister” South Korea being a single Korea, however as a result of the cold war in 1948 they were split in two, with two separate governments.

However that division was never really accepted by both Koreas, each one of them believed they had the legitimacy to govern all Korea. This friction escalated, and on 25 June 1950 North korea, supported by the communist regimes of China and Soviet Union, moved south and started what would be called as the Korean war. On 27 June, 21 countries from UN constituted an UN force, with the vast majority being american troops, to help the south korea against what was considered to be the communist faction (north korea, soviet union and china). The war would last 3 years with more than 2 million fatalities, the most being South and Northern Korean soldiers.

After that the North and South became more distant than ever. The North allied with China and Soviet Union – the communist faction, while South Korea became an ally of US, Japan and other UN member states. This alliance with the communist factions was really important, not only in terms of geopolitics and defense against the south korean allies, but also as a source of financing since the Soviet Union was a major source of money for the North Korean communist regime. This alliance however would get weaker, as Deng Xiaoping became the 1st chinese leader to visit the US in an attempt to open it’s country to the outside and foreign investment what would be called China’s capitalist revolution. In 1991 came the collapse of the soviet union, which was a major source of financing to North Korean regime. The combination of these events led to the isolation of the North Korean regime and its continuing closure.

As many people state this country is not simply a communist state as it represents the mixture of communist ideology, nationalism, Juche and Songun philosophy. This combination was set up by what are considered to be “eternal leaders of north korea” Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. The country fell in a repressive and authoritarian regime that used, and still continues to use nowadays with Kim Jong-Un, the cult of personality where everything that has been made or planned was an act of “divine intervention” by the supreme leaders.

It’s 25 millions inhabitants are believed to live under extreme poverty, that many human rights are violated – something it’s defectors tell to the outside world, and the fact that human rights organizations like International Amnesty do not get a permit to visit the country shows that these aren’t just rumors and western propaganda. Under the many accusations, it’s the fact that this is one of the few countries in the world who still conduct public executions, just for “committing the crime” of not agreeing with the regime and supreme leader.

 

  1. A rising threat

At first sight we are to believe we are in the presence of some crazy dictatorship that lives under the cult of personality, is a closed country that violates human rights but poses no threat to the world. However in 2006 that started to change as North Korea managed to carry out its first successful nuclear explosion, in 2009 it carried out its second and more powerful nuclear test. Subsequently, they continued with their research and tests but no one seemed to believe they were really making progress in terms of Nuclear power. Many said some of the nuclear warheads we see in North Korea military parades are made of paper, or that they had soviet technology that was completely outdated.

But since Kim Jong Un got in charge in 2011, their nuclear research and activity seemed to boost. Despite having a hard time in terms of economics, specially with the tougher economic sanctions, 16% of GDP is dedicated solely to military activity – having one of the largest paramilitary organizations (roughly 25% of the north korean population are military). By mid 2016 they started to show major developments which culminated with the launch of ICBM missiles this year during summer and the creation of what is supposed to be thermonuclear weapons, way more powerful than the nuclear bombs US launched on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.

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(source: Center for Strategic International Studies )

This obsession with military and nuclear power is above all the result of the Songun philosophy North korea has, which is basically “Military first policy”, in other words the state priority should be to achieve a powerful and mighty military force so no nation even thinks of challenging its regime. Something that Kim Jong Il saw happening in Iraq with US intervention in 2003, and regime change that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein and the execution of Gaddafi after he was overthrown in 2011. This was probably one of the reasons north koreans reconducted their nuclear research in 2003 after a 5 year break and in 2006 had their first nuclear weapon test with success.

Geographically speaking, we can see it as a “child trying to show he is a grown up as well”, its neighbours are all world leading economies China is the 2nd largest economy in the world, Japan the 3rd largest and South Korea, the eternal rival, is the 11th largest economy in the world according to the IMF and Work Bank data from 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear pursuit is used by the North Koreans as a show of force to their neighbours – in order to display that despite their languishing fiscal condition, the North remains a strong nuclear force to be beckoned with.

The reason behind North Korea’s constant show of force is simple. It’s used as a deterrent to their neighbours and helps consolidate their position in the area as a force to be beckoned with – despite their fiscal degradation.

Due to their isolationist attitude towards globalisation over the years, the North has constantly been at risk of falling into obscurity and nothingness. However, their strategy over the years has been simple – to remain in the news through whatever outlandish story they can pump out to the world. Thus they have constantly made outlandish claims of having found miraculous drugs to cure terminal illness amongst other things.

What initially remained a harmless yet comic display of faux aggression from the reclusive nation over the years, has slowly developed into something more sinister. The North’s experimentation with high grade Nuclear weaponry has alerted the international community.

The North’s lack of regard for the international community makes it a dangerous wildcard in a strategic location for the West. Whilst the North has nothing to lose from any of this, their maverick attitude towards conflict can have devastating effects on the world both in regards to trade and environmental reasons.

Recently, Japan endured incredibly large unnatural tremors due to what can only be guessed as military experimentation from their North Korean neighbours. This has further ramped up the need for the international community to band together in dealing with the North Korean threat.

The danger remains simple – North Korean recklessness with Nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry that is potentially beyond their capacity to control, put the whole region at the risk of an apocalyptic scenario where a fall-out causes millions of lives to be lost within minutes and global levels of catastrophes ensuing from the conflict. The lives would not only be lost by the military weapons used – but also from the environmental disasters that would follow. In recent years – we have come very close to seeing a nuclear melt down at the Fukushima Power Plant. This would undoubtedly trigger that and a whole load of similar scenarios.

But North Korea has now boldly made claims they have missile capabilities of reaching the US – which can be loaded with their new thermonuclear Hydrogen Bomb stronger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a scenario of the worst kind. Something that you only get to see glimpses of in apocalyptic action movies from Hollywood – but it’s now become a real possibility.

 

  1. Trump foreign policy

This brings into question what role America plays in dealing with this dangerous scenario. The North has remained a bone stuck in the throats of many previous Presidents – from the Bush father and son to Bill Clinton, Obama and now Trump.

Previously, despite the North being very vocal in their desires for Nuclear supremacy, there hasn’t been much of a display of aggression physically. Just a mere war of words – which previous Presidents have responded to with ridicule, humour, sanctions and other not too complicated means such as mediation through China and other regional partners.

However, with the election of Trump – a firebrand in the Oval Office. It seems Kim Jong Un has found his match. Both share similar characteristics of being outspoken, often outlandish and having little regard for diplomatic dialogue.

Despite Trump’s campaign focussing on establishing China as his enemy No. 1 for their trade malpractices and its impact on US economy. Ever since his election, Trump has had to change his direction. Softening his stance on China and trying to forge a friendly relation with President Xi Jinping. It is evident to the Trump administration that their best hopes of dealing with North Korean problem is by optimising China as a mediator – even if that means giving up some ground on the on-going fiscal war between China and the US to become the next fiscal Hegemony for the new age.

But the problem doesn’t end here for the Trump administration. The real issue here is that they lack a clear and coherent strategy or direction in regards to how they hope to deal with this crisis.

Despite Trump trying his best to cosy up to the Chinese – including his infamous anecdote about eating ‘Chocolate cake’ with President Xi while America launched missile strikes. Former Trump Election Chief Steve Bannon proudly went on record to ‘The Prospect’ stating that:

We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.

Furthermore, Trump pledged to respond to North Korea with “Fire and Fury”. only to once again be contradicted by Bannon – who in the same interview, went on to say:

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.

Many would have argued that these views are Bannon’s own and thus he has subsequently been removed from office and relieved from his White House duties by President Trump.

However, it doesn’t end there. Trump’s Defence Tsar Nikki Haley at a UN Emergency Meeting regarding North Korea made the bold statement that; North Korea’s “Abusive use of missiles” displayed that Kim Jong II was “Begging for war”. Only to be followed by Trump’s Defence Secretary; General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis briefing the Press at the White House through a self contradictory statement saying “We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, But as I have said, we have many options to do so.”

If this wasn’t enough, the President decided to take it one step further himself. In a display of having absolutely no clue at all in regards to dealing with international military conflict or the North Korean issue that is escalating, Trump decided to answer a reporter who shouted out a question to him as he was walking to his ride “Mr. President, will you attack North Korea”. Rather than remaining diplomatically coy about it like other statesmen and women would, Mr. Trump decided to break his stride, turn to the reporter and reply “We’ll see”. before smiling, waving and walking off again in true Trump fashion.

 

  1. Bottom Line

What remains certain is that whatever the real capability of Nuclear warfare that North Korea may possess, the threat is now more realistic than ever.

Despite the well known fact that North Korea has a habit of making exaggerated and outlandish claims, their recent test results display not only a real desire for the reclusive nation to develop, improve and create Nuclear warheads, but also display the fact they have finally refined their research and become capable of achieving their nuclear dreams.

This makes the scenario a very dangerous one for the international community as North Korea can no longer be dismissed as a Political Parody of a state with an eccentric but foolish leader, it is now a unhinged state with Nuclear capabilities – catapulting the world into a dangerous scenario.

Alongside this, what isn’t helping is President Trump’s approach of lacking a clear strategy and his constant displays of amateurish antics which can only be compared to Kim Jong Un.

The stark reality is that we live in a world where two egomaniacs are displaying their masculinity to each other through a war of crass rhetoric and insults. On one hand we have a cartoonish Dictator who revels in killing or jailing political opponents and anyone he sees as a threat to him – including students visiting his nation, and on the other hand we have a US President who takes to twitter 3am in the morning to insult those who oppose him with childish slurs. Yet these two men hold the codes to some of the most powerful Nuclear artillery in the world.

 

Luís Carvalho, Graduates of Democracy Editor in Chief

Mu-hamid Pathan, Graduates of Democracy President

 

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion

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

 

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 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.

 

18012659_1947625368794495_426899917_o Continue reading “The Left needs to dump YOU!”

The Budget of Fear and Individualism

An overview

Trump’s first budget proposal is out, one of the most expected budgets ever in american history that symbolizes Trump’s campaign motto: “Make America Great Again”. In case people doubt about it he made sure people would really see that on this budget by labeling it as “America First: A budget blueprint to make America great again”. As promised during his whole campaign he will do everything in his capabilities to shift priorities in Washington to make the American society safer, stronger and prosper while making other nations fear his administration. Does this budget represents this?

Yes, the most absorbing fact of this budget proposal is the fact that there will be a $54Bn. increase in the defense department with the goal to buy more jets, warships, and boost the military activity against ISIS. That will also be of the like of the Defense Industry that has ties to the Republican party. To balance the budget this massive increase in defense and military will be offset by a huge decrease across all others departments

Captura de ecrã 2017-03-18, às 15.20.22

(US Gov Departments expenditure, source: Washington post)

As we can clearly, Trump’s administration represents an inversion in what has been American policies in the last 8 years during Obama presidency. Cuts for almost every department except the Defense, the Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs departments. This ultra conservative and anti government intervention is clearly emphasized in this budget, specially when looking at the EPA department that will be the most affected one (in %) according to this administration hardline stance on global warming. Another way to look at this is seeing the decrease of nearly $10.1 Billion at the State Department which goes along the isolationist mindset that is reshaping american politics.

Proposals and a new paradigm in American policy

As we can see in the table above, Trump administration will do several large cuts in some key departments like the State, Labour and Education departments.

Among the major program cuts implemented by Donald Trump we have:

-The elimination of the USDA Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, a reduction of $498 million.

-The reduction or elimination of 20 programs within the Department of Education including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and Impact Aid support payment for federal property and international education programs.

-Cuts FEMA state and local grant funding by $667 million, including the Pre-disaster Mitigation Grant Program and Homeland Security Grant Program.

-Eliminates funds for Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing.

-Ceases payments to the United Nations’ climate change programs for the Green Climate Fund and other funds.

-Scales back funding for the World Bank and other international development banks by $650 million over three years.

-Shrinks the Treasury Workforce by an unspecified amount

-Stops funding for the Clean Power Plan.

These measures like the elimination of funds for affordable houses and education show that Trump will do major cuts in several traditional welfare sectors contradicting his electoral promises of giving better living conditions to the American people being not so different of many traditional Republican proposals that refuse the government intervention in these key sectors. Another sector in which this can be seen is in health with the removal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which will mean that many Americans will become unable to pay health insurance meaning they cannot be assisted if they have an emergency health problem and will also become unable to pay treatment for oncological and chronic illnesses. Despite Trump’s promises that Obamacare will be replaced by something better until now, no concrete proposal was made.

Less surprising is the decrease in funds for Climate, Development and Migration issues. On these subjects Trump presents a populist evolution of the Republican stances by ignoring or in some cases, even denying the existence of some of World’s major problems, in a contrast with a more internationalist and interventionist position taken by the Obama administration.

As it is typical in a nationalist budget proposal this also marks a shift is the balance of the United States policy that will give now less importance to Global Affairs and more importance to Internal Affairs following the concern of many Americans that worry about their living conditions and jobs but not about a war in some Middle East country or a big natural disaster in Asia.

In the limit this could mark the return of an isolationist America. This can appear surprising if we consider the United States policy after the Second World War but in fact if the US was quite isolationist and protectionist during the XIX century and most of the first half of the XX century. However unlike in the XIX century this position is now much more irresponsible because some problems like the Climate Change, Islamic terrorism and the Migration crisis are global and require agreements between the World’s most powerful nations, among which is included the United States, in order to overcome them. There is also a moral imperative because the United States has responsibilities in some of this problems specially in Climate Change and in the instability in the Middle East.

Economic prospect

Above we’ve seen how the budget might be for the next year, but numbers alone don’t mean anything, however if we take into consideration its implications for the american economy now that’s something even more interesting to think and look at.

One of the most famous economists ever, that is still a reference in our days, John Maynard Keynes said that Aggregate demand, in other words, a country GDP is represented by the below equation:

Y= C+G+I+Nx, where Y is the country output (we refer it as GDP most of the times), C is private consumption, G government spending, I is Investment and Nx is Net Exports ( Exports – Imports).

Taking into consideration the proposed budget G will decrease in 2018 due to government slashing some expenditure on social programs, as a consequence many poor families will lose their subsidies which will make them poorer, and since Investment is divided between private and public, we see that it might have a negative variation (seeing for example the Transport Department projected expenditure variation). With this in mind we could already see that, all things remaining constant, American 2018 GDP might degrow a bit, however there is still one thing to take into consideration, which is Net Exports, for that we need to take into consideration the effect of the Interest Rate and Exchange Rate.

Last week, we saw an announcement by FED’s president Janet Yellen stating that FED interest rate will rise from 0,75% to 1%, which has its economic consequences.

fig32

(Exchange Rate, Rate of Return, source:University of Colorado Boulder)

Represented in the image above, we have the vertical line which is the domestic interest rate, the horizontal line the foreign interest rate, the vertical Axis the Exchange Rate level and the horizontal Axis the expected rate of return. We see that an increase in the american interest rate (From left to right) will mean an higher expected rate of return of american investments. This means that the dollar will be more desirable and demanded which will trigger it’s value, that is to say, it’s exchange rate goes up, a dollar now is worth more Euros, Kwanzas, etc.

This interest rate hike and consequently Dollar appreciation might deteriorate American Net Exports, since the dollar is now more expensive and so are the american products.

This combination of raising interest rate while cutting government expenditure can lead to a deceleration of the american economy in 2018.

In the end, we should bear in mind that this is just a budget proposal and needs congress approval to become a reality. Even though it is creating some divisions among republicans this proposal seems a plausible budget and it seems likely to be approved by a congress in which Republicans have the majority of the seats. This is a budget proposal that represents fear, individualism and isolationism focusing on military activity, instead of supporting social, education and healthcare programs that can be a social uplift for many poor families and improve the living conditions of many americans. Sectors like the environment are also ignored by this budget proposal. These measures will not only be negative for the economy because it lacks enough of a stimulus, but will have the likely result of dividing and polarising even more the American society which can create more social unrest special among the poor and minorities.

 

Luís Carvalho, economics student and proud 2015 graduate of democracy

Pedro Diogo, economics graduate

Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion it does not represent the whole platform

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?”

Third Way is Kaput

Third Way

In the 1980s, Neoliberalism dogma was still underway, but according to author Stuart Hall, another movement was being created, it was “New Times”.

The “New Times” that would become one of the causes of the Third Way, consisted in the transition from industrialized economies to tertiary and IT-oriented economies. In addition to economic changes, these “new times” also reflected the decline of the political class, the expansion of people’s individual choices in terms of consumption and lifestyles, as well as the beginning of the debate on the issue of sexuality that began to emerge as a “hot” topic at the time. Continue reading “Third Way is Kaput”

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”