France, Europe and ‘Frexit’: Was the French election a vote on ‘Europe’?

In a recent blog post, Caterina Froio has correctly noted that the politicisation of Europe has been one of the central factors in the French election campaign. While Europe is often a secondary issue in election campaigns, in this case it represented an important point of contention for many of the parties involved. Disagreements on the future of the EU were one of the elements that prevented a joint campaign between Mélenchon and Hamon; there were no less than five candidates arguing for renegotiation or ‘Frexit’, and pro-Europeanism has been Macron’s USP. Overall, in the first round of the election, Eurosceptic candidates received over 40% of the vote which led to a narrative that 40% of the French population voted ‘against Europe’ and, in the most extreme cases  some newspapers  claimed that the French, like the British, would get to vote on the future membership of France and the EU. ‘Frexit’, they claimed, was no longer a seemingly abstract idea but a potential political reality.

The narrative above, however, is highly misleading. First of all, it obfuscates the diversity in the positions of the various candidates. Secondly, it overestimates the extent to which the EU actually mattered.

On the first point, what was really interesting to observe in this campaign were the varieties of Euroscepticism being displayed. The safest way to open a discussion on Euroscepticim is by stating that Euroscepticism is the kind of word that we should be using in the plural. This campaign was no different: we’ve seen internationalist opposition to the EU, sovereigntist critiques, moderate critiques, and positions varying from ‘renegotiation’ to ‘renegotiation or Frexit’ to plain Frexit – and that is not even mentioning the euro, whereby the objectives have gone from leaving the euro to transforming it into a shared currency (as opposed to a single currency). The two candidates whose Euroscepticism stood out were Marine Le Pen on the far right, and Jean-Luc Melenchon on the far left.

Le Pen’s party, the Front National, has had an ambiguous relationship with the EU. Up until the early nineties, in fact, it was broadly supportive of EU integration as a safeguard against the Soviet Union and the United States. However, from the early nineties and especially since the ratification of the Maastricht treaty, it has moved solidly into the ground of opposition to the EU.  Le Pen’s main issue with the EU is one of sovereignty. Her programme proposed to return monetary, legal, territorial and economic sovereignty to France. Initially, she had also promised a referendum on the euro, although she slowly backtracked on the point during the campaign. In the presidential debate in particular, she presented  a very confused picture of how she envisaged the future of the monetary union.

Mélenchon, on his side, placed himself in the tradition of French Left-wing Euroscepticism. Left-wing Euroscepticism in France is rooted in the idea of protecting the unique French social model and typically criticises the EU’s excessive liberalism and lack of solidarity. Mélenchon, just like Le Pen, proposed to renegotiate the treaties, but his concern was very much to counter ‘German Europe’ and create a new democratic, social and green Europe. His position was centred on staunch anti-austerity, a topic which did not feature particularly high in Le Pen’s concerns.

So, if Europe is what voters cared about, they were being offered some very different options for the future of the EU. The other question to be answered, however, is one about how much of a central issue was Europe.

The vote in itself was not a vote on the EU. In fact, there is a big difference between voting for a candidate that is also anti-EU and voting against the EU. According to a Harris interactive poll published between the first and second round, the only voters who put Europe on the top-five of their priorities in the first round were Macron voters. Neither Melenchon nor Le Pen voters considered it a priority. These parties were much more associated with other issues than they are with the EU issue, while the ‘strictly anti-EU candidate’ got around 1%, not exactly a flying start!

Does this mean that if there was a vote on ‘Frexit’ (which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future) they would vote against? No. We know how referendum campaigns tend to end up being about anything but the question being asked. But neither does it prove that they would vote to leave. Thus, while the vote in France will have some important implications for the future of Europe it should not be read as a vote of approval or disapproval of the EU. It was a vote that opposed candidates that were, among other things, opposing the EU and a candidate who, among other things, cared about a stronger EU. Now that Macron has won, we will have to wait and see if he can deliver the change he has promised for the European project. The seemingly looming threat of ‘Frexit’ may be have subsided, but the issue of Europe will remain salient on the political agenda.

 

Marta Lorimer is a PhD candidate at the European Institute, London School of Economics. She holds a degree in European Studies from Sciences Po Paris and the LSE. Her research interests include far right parties, European politics and ideas of ‘Europe’.

Posted in brexit, Elections, European Union, Euroscepticism, France, Politics, Referendum | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Deadline Extended: CfP ‘Democratic Recession and Europe in Flux: Everyday Perspectives’

The UACES CRN “Europe and the Everyday” (EUEve) invites proposals for its second workshop at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017.  

Following on from the debates in our first workshop, which engaged with the topic of ‘researching Europe and the everyday’, the theme for the 2017 edition is ‘Democratic recession and Europe in flux: Everyday perspectives’. From Brexit to the Euro Crisis, from new authoritarian tendencies in EU Member States to the challenges of the ongoing refugee crisis, wherever one looks Europe, the European Union and its citizens are facing fundamental challenges. Core political assumptions, including the values of liberalism and democracy, the benefits of currency union and further EU integration appear to be unravelling. Hence, in this workshop, we aim to discuss, analyse and critically evaluate the challenges and ensuing changes of this evolving political and social landscape. We are particularly interested in everyday perspectives referring to local experiences and grassroots engagement with the abovementioned themes.

Research questions include:

  1. How do crises, such as the refugee crisis, the Euro crisis or the crisis of democracy in Eastern Europe affect the daily lives of people?
  2. How do alternative visions of Europe and the European Union affect, change and/or challenge existing dominant discourses and patterns?
  3. How do challenges to liberal and democratic ideas influence everyday politics in Europe and beyond?
  4. How have marginalised groups reacted to crises?
  5. How have grassroots political groups engaged with the effects of crises and the idea of ‘Europe’?

We invite paper proposals from PhD students, early career researchers and senior academics.

The organisers are considering different publication options for papers presented at the workshop.

The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017 at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. Reasonable travel and accommodation expenses for PhD students will be covered, where applicable.

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography of no more than 300 words (including your full contact details and affiliation) to Europeevecrn@gmail.com

The deadline for applications is the 15 June 2017. 

For more information on the UACES CRN on “Europe and the Everyday (EUEve)” please see: https://europeandtheeveryday.wordpress.com/

We look forward to receiving and reviewing your abstracts!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: Democratic Recession and Europe in Flux: Everyday Perspectives

Democratic Recession and Europe in Flux: Everyday Perspectives

The UACES CRN “Europe and the Everyday” (EUEve) invites proposals for its second workshop at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017.  

Following on from the debates in our first workshop, which engaged with the topic of ‘researching Europe and the everyday’, the theme for the 2017 edition is ‘Democratic recession and Europe in flux: Everyday perspectives’. From Brexit to the Euro Crisis, from new authoritarian tendencies in EU Member States to the challenges of the ongoing refugee crisis, wherever one looks Europe, the European Union and its citizens are facing fundamental challenges. Core political assumptions, including the values of liberalism and democracy, the benefits of currency union and further EU integration appear to be unravelling. Hence, in this workshop, we aim to discuss, analyse and critically evaluate the challenges and ensuing changes of this evolving political and social landscape. We are particularly interested in everyday perspectives referring to local experiences and grassroots engagement with the abovementioned themes.

Research questions include:

  1. How do crises, such as the refugee crisis, the Euro crisis or the crisis of democracy in Eastern Europe affect the daily lives of people?
  2. How do alternative visions of Europe and the European Union affect, change and/or challenge existing dominant discourses and patterns?
  3. How do challenges to liberal and democratic ideas influence everyday politics in Europe and beyond?
  4. How have marginalised groups reacted to crises?
  5. How have grassroots political groups engaged with the effects of crises and the idea of ‘Europe’?

We invite paper proposals from PhD students, early career researchers and senior academics.

The organisers are considering different publication options for papers presented at the workshop.

The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017 at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. Reasonable travel and accommodation expenses for PhD students will be covered, where applicable.

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography of no more than 300 words (including your full contact details and affiliation) to Europeevecrn@gmail.com

The deadline for applications is the 2 May 2017. 

For more information on the UACES CRN on “Europe and the Everyday (EUEve)” please see: https://europeandtheeveryday.wordpress.com/

We look forward to receiving and reviewing your abstracts!

Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, Aston University

Dr Simona Guerra, University of Leicester

Dr Soeren Keil, Canterbury Christ Church University

Mr Paul Anderson, Canterbury Christ Church University

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Snap election and the risk of ‘No Scottish mandate’

On 8 June 2017 voters will be at the polls again. The Prime Minister has called a snap election in order to bolster her plan for Brexit and unite the country.

But will another election really unite the country? Highly unlikely. Polls suggest that the SNP will not lose any of the 56 seats it won in 2015. In fact, it is not entirely implausible to argue that the Conservatives may lose their only Scottish seat. The incumbent Secretary of State for Scotland held onto his seat in 2015, but with a feeble majority of only 798 votes. This will indeed be a key target seat for the SNP, but the Tories are equally enthusiastic about usurping the Nationalists.

What happens, however, if the Conservatives win a majority of seats in England but have no seats in Scotland? This predicament, oft-described as the ‘Doomsday Scenario’, is not new and was increasingly discussed during the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. If the Conservatives lose their only Scottish seat, the phrase ‘no Scottish mandate’ will once again be bandied around. It worked in the 1980s and 90s to fuel support for a Scottish parliament, might it also work to boost support for independence?

Since 2014, the SNP’s electoral juggernaut has shown very few signs of slowing down. The upcoming general election is not a referendum, but will no doubt be framed in Scotland as a dichotomous choice: Union versus Independence. The vote on June 8 has already been dubbed the ‘Brexit election’, but in Scotland the dominant issue – once again – will be independence and Indyref2.

Paul Anderson is a PhD researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main research focuses on territorial autonomy and secessionist movements in western plurinational democracies.

Posted in brexit, Constitutional Crisis, Constitutional Politics, Devolution, Elections, Paul Anderson, Politics, Referendum, Scotland, Uncategorized, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

The Ventotene Manifesto and the European Union at Sixty

In 1941, two anti fascist intellectuals, Ernesto Rossi and Altiero Spinelli were placed under arrest on the Italian island of Ventotene, and there wrote a manifesto for a free and united Europe, against nationalism, for solidarity, cooperation and respect for cultural plurality.

By reading a speech given by Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister in 2000 nearing the time of EU eastward enlargement, and the Declaration that the 27 EU leaders signed in Rome on Saturday 25 March 2017, it is possible to trace the same values and the same call to ‘move onwards’ the path of European integration.

‘A free and united Europe is the necessary premise to the strengthening of modern civilization, for which the totalitarian era represented a standstill.’ (Ventotene Manifesto) And more than one third of EU citizens are satisfied with the EU’s respect for democracy, human rights and rule of law, as well as its economic and trade power.

On Saturday, Heads of State and Governments met in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, signed, in 1957, by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, establishing the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.

The Treaty of Rome focused on a few basic principles to create a common market, and as such established the four free movements, of goods, people, services and capital. The goals behind a common market were to bring the peoples of Europe closer together (‘ever closer union’), reduce economic and social differences, establish a common trade policy, pool resources to preserve and strengthen peace and freedom, and progressively lead to a closer political union.

‘Quo vadis Europa?’ asked Joschka Fischer, then German Foreign Minister, at Humboldt University in Berlin in May 2000. It was a call to Europeans to move ‘…onwards to the completion of European integration. A step backwards, [would have represented] a fatal price of all EU Member States and of all those who want to become Members’.

Almost twenty years after, the call is the same, the EU needs to re-start, after the positive image of the EU has been declining across all its member states since the economic and financial crisis hit its peak in 2008, with 55 per cent of citizens asserting that their voice does not count in the EU.

The spiral of Euroscepticism, as qualified and outright opposition to the EU integration process, is embedded, with negativity bias and misrepresentation, across traditional and new media (Galpin and Trenz 2017), has become persistent (Usherwood and Startin 2013) in public debates, and culminated with the British vote in the referendum on 23 June 2016 to ‘Leave’ the EU.

Meanwhile, the domestic politics in countries holding general and presidential elections is characterised by the strengthening of the vote for populist and populist radical-right parties, with Marine Le Pen in France asserting that Britain has shown the world the way. Concurrently, the migration crisis evolved into a crisis of solidarity, going against a basic principle of the EU.

In Rome, the 27 EU leaders gathered together to re-start the EU project after a few troublesome years. British Prime Minister Theresa May declined to join the extraordinary meeting, arguing that as ‘the EU 27 are moving in one direction, the British public voted to go in another direction.’

The Declaration of Rome they signed opens with a recognition of the awareness of the new and ‘unprecedented’ challenges facing the Union, but shows its determination to offer citizens security and new opportunities. The EU seeks to become more resilient, sustainable and ‘socially responsible’.

Its four main objectives focus on a safe Europe, combatting terrorism and organized crime; sustainable growth and development, with ‘structural reforms… towards completing the Economic and Monetary Union’; ‘a social Europe’, promoting cultural diversity; and a stronger Union globally, supporting prosperity in the neighborhood.

The pledge to listen to citizens, respond to their concerns, and pursue solidarity, reflect the need to react to the current lukewarm support across some member states. Although some EU leaders, such as Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras signed the declaration after expressing some dissent, this seemed to be an instance of necessary posturing for their domestic audiences. Yet, commitment to common goals seems to depend on the development of a multi-speed EU, as the current EU cannot cope with further slowdowns and veto players.

So, how can the EU be re-energized? Unavoidably, it needs to fill a gap that still exists between its institutions and citizens. The British referendum was characterized by deep divisions and heated debates, where anger, disappointment and anxiety, were present in the political and social spheres.

The economic and financial crisis has further created mirroring populist ideologies, with austerity creating anti-German sentiment in Greece while concurrently the bailouts increased support for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), in Germany. Sergio Fabbrini suggests a return to the federalist idea within a new political agreement that can actually refresh the work of the EU institutions.

Just a few hours away from the moment when Theresa May triggers Article 50, the EU needs to face its future and its citizens’ concerns and demands. According to Eurobarometer survey data, these are fostering social equality and solidarity, protecting the environment, and improving living and education standards.

As the Ventotene Manifesto closed its call to unification, the challenge is for the EU to re-start the process of integration with its citizens, based on solidarity, cooperation, and social equality that make a difference in citizens’ life.

As a researcher on public attitudes towards the EU, I find that it is in the citizens’ recent resistance against the possible success of extremist and nationalist sentiments, in the organization of the ‘pulse of Europe’ demonstrations and the pro-EU marches in the UK, as on March 25, that the re-launch of the EU could find new energy and possibly re-start from the grassroots of Europe.

Simona Guerra is Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Leicester.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: UACES CRN Workshop ‘Democratic Recession and Europe in Flux: Everyday Perspectives’

Democratic Recession and Europe in Flux: Everyday Perspectives

The UACES CRN “Europe and the Everyday” (EUEve) invites proposals for its second workshop at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017.  

Following on from the debates in our first workshop, which engaged with the topic of ‘researching Europe and the everyday’, the theme for the 2017 edition is ‘Democratic recession and Europe in flux: Everyday perspectives’. From Brexit to the Euro Crisis, from new authoritarian tendencies in EU Member States to the challenges of the ongoing refugee crisis, wherever one looks Europe, the European Union and its citizens are facing fundamental challenges. Core political assumptions, including the values of liberalism and democracy, the benefits of currency union and further EU integration appear to be unravelling. Hence, in this workshop, we aim to discuss, analyse and critically evaluate the challenges and ensuing changes of this evolving political and social landscape. We are particularly interested in everyday perspectives referring to local experiences and grassroots engagement with the abovementioned themes.

Research questions include:

  1. How do crises, such as the refugee crisis, the Euro crisis or the crisis of democracy in Eastern Europe affect the daily lives of people?
  2. How do alternative visions of Europe and the European Union affect, change and/or challenge existing dominant discourses and patterns?
  3. How do challenges to liberal and democratic ideas influence everyday politics in Europe and beyond?
  4. How have marginalised groups reacted to crises?
  5. How have grassroots political groups engaged with the effects of crises and the idea of ‘Europe’?

We invite paper proposals from PhD students, early career researchers and senior academics.

The organisers are considering different publication options for papers presented at the workshop.

The workshop will take place on the 20th and 21st of September 2017 at Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK. Reasonable travel and accommodation expenses for PhD students will be covered, where applicable.

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography of no more than 300 words (including your full contact details and affiliation) to Europeevecrn@gmail.com

The deadline for applications is the 2 May 2017. 

For more information on the UACES CRN on “Europe and the Everyday (EUEve)” please see: https://europeandtheeveryday.wordpress.com/

We look forward to receiving and reviewing your abstracts!

Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik, Aston University

Dr Simona Guerra, University of Leicester

Dr Soeren Keil, Canterbury Christ Church University

Mr Paul Anderson, Canterbury Christ Church University

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Locating the 2013 Anti-Government Protests in Bulgaria

Discontent with political systems has proliferated in the past decade, with established political actors facing increasing challenges from populist actors. The election of Donald Trump in the United States, the decision of the UK to leave the EU and the emergence of political outsiders globally clearly demonstrate the potential for anti-establishment movements to challenge conventional wisdom. Protest actions can be seen as a key measure of this discontent and challenge, forcing governments in democratic and non-democratic political systems to cope with claims from below. Large-scale protests have even taken place in countries and regions where the populations were deemed, rightly or wrongly, relatively quiescent.

Uncertainties introduced by the global financial crisis that began in 2008 challenged apparent progress towards democracy and good governance in Eastern Europe. Countries across the region saw protests challenge the state and more recently led to a form of populist backlash and as assertion of national sovereignty. In this context, Bulgaria has seen a significant degree of upheaval, as its weakly institutionalised political system has struggled to manage and address frustrations from the population. Following the dismantling of the communist regime in 1989, Bulgaria attempted to move towards a form of democratic governance. Aside from the outbursts that brought down the government in 1996, the apparent level of public discontent remained low, even in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

This pattern of apparent quiescence was challenged by the eruption of protests in 2012 over energy prices that signalled the beginning of a wave of protest. While actions were initially focused on particularistic concerns they soon escalated into a large-scale, sustained nationwide campaign that questioned the legitimacy of the regime. Faced with opposition on this scale the incumbent Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) government was forced to resign in February 2013. In spite of the resignation and change of government the protests evolved to address new claims and subsequently intensified over the summer, challenging the newly elected BSP government. The scale and sustained nature of the protests was unprecedented, thereby requiring a closer examination of pattern of protest.

Drawing on a protest event catalogue compiled from stories reported by the Bulgarian News Agency, it is possible to get some sense of what issues drove the protests and how they manifested. Figure 1 presents the issue areas that were advanced in protests over the 2010-15 period. It shows that 2013 was unique in the scale of protest during this period, but that it was not unprecedented, as 2010-11 saw heightened levels of protest activity. While the government was brought down in February 2013, the range of issues was quite diverse, with issues of governance featuring in a minor fashion. Over the rest of 2013 issues of governance came to dominate the protests, as the resignation of the government appeared to open the space to contest governance effectiveness. Outside of this period the range of protests was far more diverse, with economic concerns featuring as a consistent issue of concern in terms of employment.

Figure 1 – Protest Issues (2010-2015)

 fig-1 

 Turning to the types of actions adopted during the protests, the level of diversity is reduced. However, it is possible to see a change during the peak period of protest. Figure 2 shows the broad category of protest actions with up to four recorded for each event. Demonstrational actions (such as display, march, costume) make up the majority of all actions, as the protest seeks to demonstrate an area of injustice or concern. Levels of events involving appeals (address, present) or violence (attack, damage) are lower, as the likely effects may be limited in the case of the former or the costs associated may dissuade particular actions. Of interest in the figure is the increased level of confrontational (such as obstruct, enter, disrupt) actions during the period of peak intensity. This can be linked to the sustained character of the protests as participants interacted more frequently with actors seeking to maintain order (in particular the police).

Figure 2 – Forms of Protest (2010-2015)

 fig-2

The 2013 protests clearly represent a cycle of contention whereby protest ‘peaks with new interpretive frames, tactical innovation, and diffusion to new groups’ before declining ‘through a mixture of institutionalization, government reform, state repression, and/or participant exhaustion.’ The claims presented evolved over time, moving from disputes over electricity prices to quality of governance and subsequently to more fragmented claims regarding a range of government practices. Protest events prior to the peak were characterised by heavy involvement of identifiable non-government organisations, such as trade unions. As the level of contention declined, grassroots mobilisations played a more prominent role, suggesting the possibility of some ongoing legacy from the protests. This also occurred in an environment where the issues were more diffuse, suggesting that there had been an activation of new participants. The spontaneous nature of the protests raised questions about their ability to address the underlying concerns that initially sparked action. The pattern of protest events during the waning period of the cycle suggests that there has been a return to previous patterns.

The pattern of protest in Bulgaria over the 2010-15 period demonstrates the diversity of issues involved and forms of contention. The scale of the 2013 protests presented a significant challenge to the political system, even if the lasting effect appears to have been more limited. Perhaps more significant are the effects on civil society organising, as grassroots mobilisations and diffusion of issues suggest the activation of new participants. Cycles of protest fluctuate over time, fading as issues are settled or fatigue sets in, but they also have the potential to alter the landscape. The question in this case is how the legacy of the 2013 protests will shape future developments.

Thomas O’Brien, Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. t.obrien@cranfield.ac.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment