Macedonia’s new government: First signs are promising but there is a long way to go!

On Monday (5 June 2017), the newly elected Macedonian government, led by the new PM Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia Party (SDSM), held its first session. This was the first opportunity, ever, for the media to have a look at the excessive luxurious interior of the renovated government building which had been completely hidden from the public by the previous VMRO-DPMNE (The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) led government. This refurbished Government building forms part of the megalomaniac and publically contested project Skopje 2014 – a trademark of the previous 11 years of populist but non-transparent rule of the VMRO-DPMNE and their leader Nikola Gruevski. During his decade in power, Gruevski, who came to power in 2006 as a  promising technocratic PM with ambitious reform agenda, finished his prime ministerial career as a corrupt nationalist who captured state institutions, abused public resources and stalled Macedonia’s integration towards EU and NATO membership.

The new Macedonia Government. 

The new Macedonian government comes into power after more than a two year long political and institutional crisis that fully polarized the country and threatened its fragile inter-ethnic relations. The crisis involved illegally wiretapped materials, allegations of mass corruption, blank pardoning attempt by the President Ivanov, mass protests and an internationally sponsored political agreement that offered a political and institutional solution to the crisis and an opportunity to hold early elections. Following the early elections on 11 December 2016, a new parliamentary majority without VMRO-DPMNE was formed, which backed by the President, obstructed the peaceful transfer of power. The obstruction of the transfer of power culminated in the brutal attack on the Members of Parliament of the new parliamentary majority by a violent mob which gained access to the parliament’s premises with the help of VMRO-DPMNE MPs and police forces loyal to Gruevski.

Now as the new government is finally in place, the new PM and SDSM have to prove they are substantially different not only from Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE, but all other political predecessors. Namely, as a young, post-socialist democracy, with limited democratic tradition and weak institutions, Macedonia even before Gruevski was plagued with flagrant abuses of power and resources for private or partisan means. After a decade of state capture, this has to now come to an end: state institutions, especially those responsible for the rule of law (judiciary, police, anticorruption agency) have to be let free from political interference: corruption and clientelism must no longer be the rules of the game.

Moreover, SDSM’s pre-election moto ‘One society for all’ now needs to be implemented in practice to ensure inclusiveness and economic and social cohesion. The new government should dramatically shift from an ethnic based discourse characteristic for VMRO-DPMNE to a discourse and policy agenda based on improved social services, healthcare and education for all citizens. The same goes even more for their junior coalition partner DUI, the long-term VMRO-DPMNE partner, who is now part of the new government coalition.

Additionally, the new government will have to provide new prospects for Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership aspirations previously stalled primarily because of the name dispute with Greece and the EU’s enlargement fatigue. The new Macedonian leadership should contribute towards fostering good neighbourhood relations and the establishment of new international allies that could prove crucial for Euro-Atlantic progress.

Last but not least, Macedonian international partners should learn important lesson from the past decade – that if a fragile Balkan democracy like Macedonia is kept too long without any tangible EU and NATO membership prospect, the emergency of populist state capture will likely ensue. Therefore, they must also open the door and facilitate relations with Macedonia’s new leadership and offer their strong support to Macedonian democratic reforms. This should involve NATO membership and the opening of EU accession negotiations as well as strong international mediation over the name dispute with Greece.

Taking into consideration the complexity of the domestic and regional context, these ambitions, specifically at first glance, look difficult to obtain. However, Zaev’s programme and his selection of key cabinet members looks promising and offers reasonable reasons for optimism that meaningful reforms are possible. On the other hand, Macedonia inevitably needs new opposition leadership to keep the new government to account: VMRO-DPMNE has to be deeply reformed in order to regain domestic and international legitimacy and that change has to start with the departure of Gruevski and his closest allies. Lastly, the new government members should keep their feet on the ground and not forget that in the last couple of years while fighting the old regime, Macedonian bottom up civic activism evolved significantly and is now ready to mobilize against any form of populism and state capture, regardless of party affiliation! The formation of the new government may have broken the decade-long pattern of crisis, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that past government actions remain firmly in the past!

Borjan Gjuzelov is PhD candidate at Queen Marry University of London. His main academic and professional interests are related to democratization of the post-socialist societies, good governance and informality. In the past three years, he has been part of the Macedonian opposition protests.

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Austria – Snap elections and a possible FPÖ victory: Potential to alter the functioning of Austria’s semi-presidentialism?

The Austrian presidential elections last year was a sign of tremendous change in the country’s party system. Both of the hitherto dominant parties – Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) – failed to have their candidate elected (let alone enter the run-off), while support for the far-right FPÖ and its candidate, deputy speaker Norbert Hofer, soared. Although veteran Green politician Alexander Van der Bellen eventually won the election, the threat of the FPÖ becoming the largest party in the next elections has been looming over Austrian politics ever since. After Chancellor Faymann (SPÖ) resigned in the aftermath of the presidential election debacle and was replaced by his co-partisan Christian Kern, relations between coalition partners SPÖ and ÖVP were tense. Three weeks ago, the coalition effectively collapsed with the resignation of vice-Chancellor Mitterlehner (ÖVP) and the announcement of his successor, foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, to call snap elections for October 2017. The outcome is unpredictable as of yet, but will provide a difficult parliamentary arithmetic in any case and may transform the way in which Austria’s semi-presidentialism functions.

To date, presidents have largely practised a “Rollenverzicht” (i.e. relinquishing of an active role in day-to-day politics) and made generally sparing use of their powers, particularly in the appointment and dismissal of Chancellors where they followed the will of parties. Nevertheless, the Austrian president belongs to the most powerful presidents in European democracies (more powerful in fact than the president of France; see also Robert Elgie’s interview here) and can theoretically dismiss governments at will. The possibility that Norbert Hofer, if victorious,would appoint FPÖ party leader Strache as Chancellor was discussed as a distinct possibility. While the FPÖ currently holds 38 of 183 seats (20.8%) in the National Council and is thus only the third-largest party after SPÖ and ÖVP, it now has a realistic chance of becoming the largest party and claiming the office of Chancellor (see figure above).

An electoral victory for the FPÖ would not only put the established parties, but also president Van der Bellen in a difficult position – domestically and internationally. Van der Bellen has not only repeatedly declared that FPÖ leader Strache would be an unsuitable choice for Chancellor but also that he would refuse to appoint a FPÖ-led government even won the most seats in the next election [1]. Furthermore, when the FPÖ participated in Austria’s federal government (albeit as junior partner in a coalition led by the ÖVP) the last time (1999 to 2002), other EU member states reacted with diplomatic “sanctions” due to the FPÖ’s openly xenophobic and revisionist positions (many of which remain part of the party – albeit less openly – to this day).

SPÖ and ÖVP have been very pragmatic in preparing for a potential coalition with the FPÖ. Starting with the failure to openly back Van der Bellen’s candidacy against Hofer in the run-off of the presidential election, neither party has excluded a coalition with the FPÖ outright. Thus, president Van der Bellen will likely assume a crucial role after the elections. Interestingly, the president has so far refused to comment on the snap elections – except for asking parties toremain civil and stating that he would expect them to formulate clear positions regarding the EU, education, labour market and human rights. Given the Austrian Chancellor once appointed does not require a vote of confidence or investiture, Van der Bellen would have the option to appoint a minority government. In that case, he may effectively become a ‘third coalition partner’ and much more strongly and openly involved in day-to-day politics that any Austrian president before. Yet even Van der Bellen chose to appoint a government with participation of the FPÖ, he could likely still refuse to nominate its candidate for Chancellor over that of a (junior) coalition partner [1]. Irrespective of the scope of the FPÖ’s participation in government, Van der Bellen would face both domestic and international pressure to provide a balance to the FPÖ.

Come October Van der Bellen will most likely not be able to rely voters to produce an ‘uncomplicated’ parliamentary arithmetic as could his predecessors. Rather the election with force him – or provide an opportunity for him (depending on one’s perspective) – to assume a more active role in Austrian politics. During his election campaign, Van der Bellen had already hinted at a slightly more activist understanding of his role. Assuming a strong FPÖ result (or victory), the question is now whether Van der Bellen will want to use the vast powers of the presidency and to what extent this will lead to a transformation of Austria’s semi-presidentialism.

 

This post first appeared on http://presidential-power.com/ on 31 May 2017.

Dr Philipp Köker is a Senior Research Fellow in Politics and IR at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. His research is primarily concerned with presidential politics and political parties in Euroipe. His thesis won the ECPR Jean Blondel Prize 2016 and is the basis on his first book ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ (Palgrave, forthcoming July 2017).

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[1] Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves made a similar statement with regard to Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar in 2010 but remained inconsequential as the party failed to win the elections.
[2] An international precedent for this would be Polish president Lech Walesa’s nomination of PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak as prime minister of a SLD-PSL coalition in 1993, even though the SLD had won more seats.

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What Macron’s victory means for Brexit

Amidst the turbulent past few weeks of UK-EU Brexit wrangling, relatively little attention has been paid to the effect the election of a new French president will have on these negotiations. UK tabloids have been busy instead making hay with their preferred EU bogey-figures, namely Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, who are both portrayed as bullies embittered by the very notion that a member state wants to leave the club. The victory of Emmanuel Macron – the insider’s outsider –suddenly means there could be another leader that comes to embody EU hostility to the UK after the Brexit referendum.

Macron’s win is a boon for Europe’s stockmarkets as he shares the pro-EU, pro-euro outlook that characterises Juncker, Merkel, and other powerful brokers of the Brexit talks. The opposite, of course, was true of his opponent in the run-off vote: Marine Le Pen. Where these two candidates also differed markedly, therefore, was on their attitude to how the UK should leave the EU.

During the tetchy drama of the presidential TV debate, Macron was at pains to explain to Le Pen that leaving the EU – which she had threatened to do by calling a British-style In/Out referendum – inevitably carries a large exit bill. In other words, the new French President can be expected to support a hard line on this aspect of the Article 50 negotiations. Here France will be singing from the same hymn sheet as Germany: both Merkel and her rival for the German chancellorship, Martin Schulz, insist that a settlement of the UK’s liabilities to the EU is a precondition for talking about a new free trade deal.

Another reason the UK may find itself at odds with France under Macron concerns the status of the border arrangement covered by the 2003 treaty of Le Touquet. It is this treaty that allows UK authorities to be based at French ferry ports in order to carry out passport checks; a similar rule applies for the Channel Tunnel. In effect, this system means the UK border authorities can filter out travellers without proper documentation, thereby reducing the number of people able to claim asylum upon landing on British soil. That is a big advantage as the French authorities may otherwise have an incentive to allow people to transit to Britain, because then they become someone else’s responsibility.

The Le Touquet Treaty is a bilateral agreement that has no relation to the EU or EU law. In principle, nothing stops this arrangement from continuing after Brexit. What it depends on is the willingness of the French government to stick to the deal and Macron is on record as saying he would seek to renegotiate this agreement. The deal is unpopular with the French public and several candidates made it a topic in their campaigns. Whether the new president is prepared, with the electioneering out of the way, to take a stance contrary to UK interests remains to be seen.

The problem, from a British perspective, is that the Brexit talks offer more avenues where France could play hardball. That would certainly be in line with Macron’s overall philosophy on the matter, which is best captured in his campaign quip that “the best trade agreement for Britain is called membership of the EU”.He has also made no secret of coveting the relocation of bankers and EU agencies, such as the European Banking Authority, from London to Paris. Indeed, the official EU negotiating stance is that the UK needs to cover the costs associated with moving agencies back to a member state.

Equally, discussions over a UK-EU free trade arrangement to replace EU membership will provide Macron with broader scope for promoting French interests. Issues of regulatory equivalence, the term used to designate mutually agreed standards for selling goods and services, will be central to this deal. It is thus quite plausible to imagine that the new French president will seek terms of equivalence that reduce the UK’s ability to deregulate in areas such as financial services. That would be a way to protect French banking and encourage a maximum degree of job relocation to Paris.

Whatever the exact outcome of the Brexit bargaining, the British government and the British electorate can expect a very different presidency from that of François Hollande. France’s outgoing leader was very much a quiet Frenchman who lacked domestic support and international credibility. His opinions on Brexit barely registered in the UK, which explains why David Cameron’s EU renegotiation was always preoccupied with winning concessions from Germany. Although a former minister to Hollande, Macron is keenly aware that he cannot make the same mistakes as his predecessor. Brexit offers the new president a chance for France to regain its standing in the EU system, which is why the UK government will need to stop focusing all its attention on German politics.

Andrew Glencross is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Aston University and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

This Blog originally appeared on the LSE Europp Blog. 

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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’.

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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!

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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

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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