State of the Union 2017 scenario: with full breath ahead

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

On September, 13th President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the annual speech of the State of the Union (here). Against the background of the White Paper on the Future of Europe and in solid dialogue with the European Parliament, President Juncker presented some new ideas as well as highlighted previous proposals. More importantly, the European Commission demonstrates that it is effectively holding the position of initiative with which the Treaties empower it – in close democratic discussion with the Parliament.

Here we intend to comment the first impressions about key aspects of some of the topics the Juncker Commission brought to life and debate.

1. After valuing the European institutions role on “helping the wind change” for growth, job creation and control of public deficits, he expressed the will to strengthen the European trade agenda by negotiating international agreements. It seems that after the cases of the Paris agreement (on environmental issues) and the uncertainty around TTIP, there are two messages underlying this point. The first is to make the EU the main business platform worldwide (Canada, Japan, Mexico, South America and the proposal to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand). Reliable and stable, Europe wants to be the ideal partner and the first in line in global economy. With many interrogations amounting over the US, this also seems to be an external policy strategy (“we are not naïve free traders”, he said). Alongside investment, the idea is to make the industry stronger and more competitive as well as being the leader in fighting climate change. More and more signals of the projection of the leadership of the Union in the world.

2. As far as migration, external borders and the Schengen area are concerned, migration will remain a priority. So will the support to Italian authorities who are “saving Europe’s honour in the Mediterranean”. In parallel, the Commission wants to work on legal pathways to end illegal activities like trafficking at the same time it calls for solidarity in welcoming refugees. This is a novelty. After Germany’s policy of opening doors, now the EC looks like the new leading actor in this matter. Contrary to the position of his political family, which never clearly came out, President Juncker took on a stand closer to the approach of S&D. It will be interesting to follow the next parliamentary debates and what the EPP’s reaction will be, even though its following remarks were in a more agreeable way to these terms. Finally, suggesting that Romania, Bulgaria and soon Croatia should become members of the Schengen area is a political movement on a critical region where Russia has been growingly active. The idea seems to be to overpower its influence there – the direct reference of the 100th anniversary of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania proves just that.

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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 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.