Editorial of May 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

Europe: “Ceci c’est pas une pipe!”

Populism has manifested itself not only in the form of public (or at least published) streams of public opinion, but also through the result of (naturally) democratic and legitimate electoral acts. And such cases of populisms materialised in the exercise of representative democracy, generated in the democratic institutional functioning in the context of the rule of law, begin to not be unusual. Deep down, we have seen expressions of populism that acquire power and influence (sometimes determining), with an anti-democratic tendency, created by democracy itself.

Populism appears nowadays as especially adjusted, attractive and intellectually comfortable for a considerable part of the European and American population (in other words, for a large amount of the electorate). There are, as I see it, several reasons, mostly articulated, that cause this relative outbreak now with direct political consequences – that considerably surpass the juridical-constitutional dimension. Those causes are not exclusively attributable to dysfunctions in the dynamics of the democratic institutions.

Such reasons are rooted also in something deeper and concrete than the legal abstraction or the political activity and representation: it has to do, to a great extent, with our current way of life and cosmovision in the context of the technical societies of information and – why not say it – abundance. It should be noted that the intention is not to disregard the existence of reasons attributable to the bad juridical architecture and the bad political functioning (or even the bad performance of politicians); but they are not the only explanatory causes for populist phenomena that disturb democracy….

I won’t reflect or develop, at this occasion, the issue of the causes non-directly juridical, or institutional, of populism. They might also be sociological and cultural tendencies; they could be as well a reaction to extremisms, relativisms and the loss of collective references resulting from the erosion of gregarious institutions, social and natural. That erosion has a lot to do with the overvaluing and a revival of tendencies (neo)hedonist and (neo)utilitarianist which have been potentialized particularly well with the economic growth, modernity (especially in the post-war) and, lately, with the immediacy (created by technology and consequent globalisation). From the legal perspective, such relativism makes it difficult to understand normatively the basic principle of equality, turning it into a principle of the existential relativism: everything is equal to its opposite, blurring and even disabling normative senses, decisions and value options, as everything is equivalent.

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Editorial of February 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
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On the Southern EU countries summit – challenges of democracy in times of austerity and dismay

Last Saturday, 28 January 2017, seven Member States from the south of Europe (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) gathered in Lisbon to send the message of their national public opinions to the public opinions of the other Member States of the Union: surely the EU has to fight terrorism and to adopt a cohesive migration policy but such issues cannot bypass the attention towards the economic problem. It is a clamour of the Southern Europe in the regard that economic convergence becomes priority in the EU’s strategy through policies that create financial capacity in the euro zone and the development of European programmes to support investment. In the horizon, there would be solutions which involve a larger risk sharing – as the adoption of common taxes, an European system of bank deposit guarantee, common debt issue (eurobonds) as well as policies of positive discrimination in favour of indebted Member States that fulfil the adjustment rules.

The message of the citizens from the south of Europe holds that they advanced in the structural reforms and budgetary consolidation as much as it was possible (and the results in Spain and Portugal, mostly, are clear). But under the current circumstances of strong indebtedness and high unemployment it’s impossible to carry on without some relief from the financing constraints. Otherwise the Mediterranean societies will be driven to a situation of social rupture with unpredictable consequences, considering the populisms that lurk around. All that is inserted in a broader debate that the European institutions are facing on how to produce more jobs and better economic performance so that the European citizens can again see the European integration as an asset in their lives. It wasn’t for a different reason that in the first session of January the European Parliament approved a report on the Social Pillar (here). In the same regard, in March the European Commission will submit proposals aiming at reinforcing the social rights – that is, the access to minimum wage and minimum insertion allowances, access to a compulsory health insurance, extinction of unpaid internships, etc. In a year in which there are elections in several Member States, the strengthening of social protection means a European strategy to hinder the adhesion to populist movements.

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Editorial of September 2016

Pepper Police @ Dresden Nazi Frei

by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
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Democracy at the crossroads

A little over one month ago, the European Commission advanced its disciplinary procedure against Poland, after accusing Warsaw of failing to address concerns over democracy and the rule of law in the country. The Polish government reacted harshly, stating that this is not the kind of presence in the EU they have agreed on, and affirming that the procedure goes beyond the Treaties and the Commission’s competences.

The situation in Poland is serious but it is not unique. Hungary was the precursor in the authoritarian drift. The Tavares report on the country, published in 2013, denounces the weakening of checks and balances, especially the actions against the Constitutional Court, the Parliament and the Data Protection Authority, the undermining of the independence of the judiciary, the restrictions to the rights of persons belonging to minorities and the interference with the media and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The Union has strong reasons to fear the dissolution of the rule of law in the East. But the process of re-engagement with it is long, difficult and complex. One of the more obvious difficulties, from a constitutional law point of view, is that the EU’s own track record concerning democracy and the rule of law during the last ‘crisis years’ is at least fuzzy.

The ongoing crisis has been used to contest the steps taken during the last 15 years towards the parliamentarisation of the EU. In fact, there is a remarkable institutional change within the Union – both at national and European levels – promoted in the framework of an ‘emergency politics’ that tends to enhance the powers of executive authorities and of informal, non-accountable, decision mechanisms, in detriment of democratic representative institutions.

Furthermore, the EU has promoted necessity over democratic consent and effectiveness over deliberative reason as decision’s criteria. It has allowed, justified and sometimes even actively furthered the weakening of constitutional mechanisms that control and limit the exercise of power. This has clearly limited the space for well-minded critics, for alternative proposals, for self-reflection and correction of mistakes. Paradoxically, it has also, as the cases of Hungary and Poland sadly demonstrate, opened the floor for the true enemies of European integration and European democratic values. Will the Union still be able – and willing – to save them?

Picture credits: Pepper Police  by MonteCruz Foto.

Editorial of July 2016

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by Professor Alessandra Silveira, Editor

Every cloud has a silver lining. On the referendum able to push forward the unity of the Europe and the disunity of the Kingdom

Modern democracy, with which the West has lived since the liberal revolutions, is representative – exceptionally accompanied by moments of semi-direct democracy through referenda or popular consultations. Such exceptionality is based on the very survival of democracy as referenda hardly ever manage to escape high doses of manipulation and abuse. When Hans Kelsen was asked once about the rightfulness of popular consultation, he allegedly answered that, despite they make sense in certain situations, it should not be forgotten that an uninformed population preferred Barabbas over Jesus Christ. This metaphor illustrates one of the main assumptions of the democratic theory (which no one described as brilliantly as Norberto Bobbio): the excess of democracy may kill it.

This becomes crystal clear in the referenda (supposedly) on European issues, tendentiously instrumentalized by national political elites that convert them in arenas to internal disputes. The day the world awaked in astonishment with the results of the British referendum, the top questions at the social networks and search engines in the United Kingdom on the European Union since the Brexit result was officially announced were: “What is the European Union? What does it mean to leave the European Union?” That reveals that many British have voted without really knowing what the EU is or what it stands for in their daily life.

And so 17 million British, deceived by the most despicable demagogy, decided about the destinies of 500 million European, subverting the most elementary democratic rule of a polity – the one of majority will. They did so openly for the worst reasons – fear, hostility, xenophobia, all wrapped in the sovereignty narrative –, offering weapons for the Leftist and Rightist populisms all over Europe to wield a speech against the Brussels’ technocracy. The same technocracy that will stop paying grants to British agriculturists, that will cease supporting research in the British universities, that will discontinue the stimulation for the movement of British Erasmus students, that will interrupt law-making towards promoting equality and non-discrimination among the British.
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General Comment – foyer (or Cul-de-sac A Failure Not Worthy Being Called a Failure) [PART 1]

[This is the introductory part of a comment on the Portuguese elections aftermath, the author will provide further updated analysis on the topic.]
by Sérgio Maia Tavares Marques, Jurist and 
student of the Master's degree in EU Law of UMinho

Before the third and final beep sounds – which is in theatrical and operistic traditions the last notice for the foyer to be vacated and for seats to be taken – I must briefly point out that my goals with these contributions and this category are not properly rigorous from a scholar vantage point. Academically strict writings are to be found on Reviews and Essays. What we are looking for here on News and Comments is inter alias to encourage free and open debate, a reflection start-up so to speak. So… take your seats and take part!

i) As in every premiere, it seems only suitable to meta-analyse what lies before us. UNIO Blog comes to stage at just the right time to promote academic discussions involving the European Union and its legal/political system throughout society. In the path of the finest European tradition, the Centre of Studies in European Law of University of Minho (CEDU) deserves a project of this kind due to its acclaimed reputation. Research centres of European DNA are known for their critical autonomy and for spreading ideas, for scientific freedom and for intercultural pluralism. Concerning both their agents and their contents. Know this, all readers, authors, partners and critics, such values are in the core of this blog. They move it.
Some of the greatest journals and reviews of the world keep a platform like this one in order to enhance more informal, open and free considerations amongst their collaborators. Unlike the American experience in which it is absolutely and placidly accepted the express and public defence of a certain line, stream or current of thought as well as its interests´ protection to which the think tank adheres, this space is the respectful democratic house of the most diverse scientific-academic theoretical orientations.

ii) Let´s move to the substantial matter of this comment.
The subject has been on the news. Portugal has been seeing a complex election afterwards situation. Not only politically, but also historically and legally/constitutionally. For the first time in 40 years, – that is since democracy was re-established with the dissolution of the Salazarista regime – the winning party is not able to present a stable government proposal. The coalition between right-wing PSD (89 elected members) and CDS (18) does not hold majority in the Parliament and it has failed to accomplish some sort of agreement (by abstention, for instance) with the Socialists (86) and Leftists (19 + 15 + 2). Altogether the latter group can compound an absolute majority to form the government.
Apart from questions concerning the legitimacy of an alliance shaped only after the elections and the anti-EU agenda of leftist parties, the issue that interests us here is the formation of a new government.

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