my take on

Europe and the World • by Ralf Grabuschnig

When Europe stopped acting European

The EU stopped acting European.

There is still a shared sense of what being European means. Politics however, stopped acting that way.

The EU is in a state of constant crisis. It has been since the global financial meltdown of 2008 and has only aggregated more crises since then. The financial one was accompanied by the Euro crisis, the debt crisis, and finally the refugee crisis. A lot of this lies beyond the EU’s control. Europe cannot eliminate its debt or bring peace to the Middle East overnight. However, whilst attempting to solve its manifold crises – something the EU has proven quite bad at – it has forgotten what it’s really good at: bringing societies and people together, maintaining peace and dialogue, fighting for democracy and human rights and expanding these beyond its borders.

The main problem, it seems, is that political leaders in the EU are scared to act European. Parties on the right, claiming to represent the silent majority of the “normal” people, have successfully taken over the agenda. Instead of focusing on what the EU is good at, leaders all over the continent increasingly copy their demands. They talk about a “smaller” but “deeper” European Union, while reintroducing border checks, bringing back the Dublin migration system and building fences all around.

Two developments in particular illustrate the grave mistakes EU leaders have committed in recent years – two fatal sins against the European idea.

Sin #1: Ending EU enlargement

Enlargement has been the EU’s number one success story. When in 2004, eight former members of the Eastern bloc were triumphantly received in the EU family,  this was rightly considered a milestone. Just 15 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the EU helped expand democracy, human rights and the rule of law eastwards, thereby re-uniting the continent. Since then, albeit slowing down, another three Eastern European states have joined the Union. This phase of enlargement showed the EU at its best: as a guarantor of peace, growing prosperity, democracy and freedom, expanding these notions beyond the old members’ borders. What happened since is nothing short of a betrayal of these achievements.

Today, there are still four serious candidates in the Western Balkans and even more prospective members waiting to join the EU but none is likely to become a member in the next ten years. In many cases, of course, reforms in the respective countries simply aren’t sufficient. But there is also an audible weariness to enlargement within the EU. Just why? There is no indication that anyone lost from accepting Eastern European countries into the club. On the contrary, it arguably made the whole continent safer, wealthier and more convenient to live in and travel through (also have a look at this article why enlargement still matters).

The simple answer is that leaders in the EU are scared. They are scared of a loud minority demanding an end to enlargement, like they demand an end to open borders, free movement and everything else that makes the EU what it is. It is right-wing populists spreading lies about enlargement, making it responsible for problems it has nothing to do with. Instead of facing these myths however, leaders in Brussels and the member states give in to populist demands and thereby surrender a huge success story. No wonder the EU is perceived as a losing team by more and more people around the continent.

Sin #2: Closing down borders

The dying Schengen area is a second field where the EU – or rather its member states – betrayed European ideals and stopped acting European altogether. A year and a half ago, Germany reintroduced border checks along its border to Austria, which have just been extended until the summer. Other countries followed suit so that today, Schengen is pretty much dead in large parts of Europe. It has been like that for so long that borders feel normal again – trust me, I’m crossing the Austro-German border quite regularly. A historic achievement of European unity was destroyed in a matter of months by nothing but political helplessness and lack of conviction!

The fact that the Dublin system is now to be reinstalled only exacerbates the situation. This system, by which the first EU-state a migrant sets foot in (i.e. almost exclusively Greece and Italy) is responsible for processing the asylum claim, is what made the refugee crisis spin out of control in the first place! It provides no solution for the EU’s challenges, while showing no sign of European solidarity whatsoever – a combination of factors guiding way too many EU policies these days.

Do what you’re good at – act European!

Over the last couple of years the EU impressively demonstrated what it isn’t good at. Dealing with Greek debt, the Euro and the refugee influx has taken up a large part of the EU’s energy but produced little to no outcome. Certainly no successes at least. In the process, the EU stopped doing what it is actually good at though: expanding its understanding of human rights, democracy and freedom, accepting new members into the club and breaking down borders – both physical and mental – between them.

Fears of the populist far-right, claiming to represent the silent majority, prevent the EU from focusing on its strengths and finally succeeding again. But that would be the only solution to the populist threat. A successful European Union will always find the support of its citizens! We don’t need the EU to close our borders. National governments do that just fine. So let’s focus on what the EU is good at and for god’s sake: act European!

3 ridiculous predictions for Europe and the world in 2017

Predictions, the fear of every serious journalist. Luckily, I'm not one.

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”, Winston Churchill is credited with saying. But hey: why not give it a shot nonetheless?

The end of a year and beginning of a new one is a time, when journalists and bloggers alike like to reflect on the year that was. And so did I in my most recents posts because obviously, it’s an easy and entertaining thing to do at a time when there is little other news out there. What most serious journalists avoid doing ever though, is give predictions for the new year.

It’s equally obvious why. More likely than not, your predictions will be proven wrong and world politics in particular is a field so constantly changing you can never really be sure about anything. No serious journalist wants someone else to point to his predictions at the end of the year, demonstrating how utterly wrong he was. Luckily, I’m not a serious journalist so let’s give it a shot nonetheless. Here are my top three ridiculous predictions for 2017!

1 | Trump will step down

Now that’s one you might have heard before. But hey: I’m not here to set out for the impossible. I need at least a tiny chance of a 3:0 win by the end of the year so my number one has to be Trump stepping down as President of the United States. But why?

There are many scenarios imaginable here but two in particular seem most likely. The first one is connected to Trump being an outsider, even in his own party, and an ignorant one for that. While most Republicans in Congress nicely fell in line behind him throughout the last months, this could change very quickly in 2017. Recent events around the attempted abolition of the House Ethics Committee and Trumps response on Twitter are a clear sign. Also speaker Paul Ryan is known to personally dislike Trump and would not stand by his side if serious conflicts were to erupt. The fact is that he like most other Republicans would simply prefer Mike Pence as President.

Secondly, Trump cannot go on breaking norms the way he did until now. Taking a call from Taiwan might be ignored in Beijing once. Another faux-pas like that could lead to serious troubles. Also Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian hacking in the elections and his perceived closeness to Putin won’t serve him well in the long run. His attacks at the US intelligence agencies and closeness to the “Alt Right” do the rest. There are therefore many possible roads to a Trump resignation during his first year in office.

2 | Erdoğan will withdraw his support from a Cyprus solution

One thing I already (sort of) predicted for 2016 was the re-unification of Cyprus. Evidently, this did not take place and it didn’t for diverse reasons. There are still open questions concerning the form of a future Cypriot state. Where should the border between the two entities of the state lie? How exactly should the political system be constructed and so on and so forth. However, all three international guarantors involved in the Cyprus question, Great Britain, Greece and Turkey, still back re-unification.

This might change in 2017. President Erdoğan has already shown first signs of a harshening approach towards the EU last year. He repeatedly threatened with ending the EU-Turkey refugee deal, turned to Russia over the war in Syria and started diplomatic disputes with several EU members. Evidently, he is trying to maintain and increase political pressure on the EU. Torpedoing a possible Cyprus-deal would do just that.

My prediction therefore is that leaders in Cyprus will agree on re-unification in 2017 but Turkey will block it last minute. They will probably name “humanitarian concerns” or “international law” as the reason.

3 | Nicola Sturgeon will call a new Scottish Referendum

My last prediction then is that Scotland will call or at least announce another independence referendum for 2018 or 2019. Recent months already showed that Theresa May and the UK government seem to be heading for a “hard Brexit”. They made migration their main concern and so far showed little will to compromise on the matter. The EU on the other hand, increasingly seems to accept this outlook and prepares for hard negotiations.

These are finally about to start in March – if May gets it through Westminster, that is. Michel Barnier, the EU-Commissions chief negotiator already said he wants negotiations to finish by autumn 2018, well before the end of the 2-year period foreseen by Article 50. He argues the EU and UK would need the extra six months to implement any deal made. However, it is more than obvious that no serious compromise can be reached in just 18 months of negotiation. Instead, the UK will likely be “granted” a transition deal.

Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party could easily take that as an invitation. By the end of 2017 it will be abundantly clear that the UK government will not achieve anything palpable by the end of the negotiation period. A hard Brexit will still be the most likely outlook, so Scotland calls for a new  independence referendum before a transition deal takes effect.


And there we go. My three predictions for 2017. At the end of the year, I am going to look back at them to see which, if any, have actually happened. Most likely, I will lose desperately but that’s the thrill of it.

Let’ see what the new year will bring. In any case, I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting one for Europe and the world. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated on new posts throughout the year!

Get new posts by email

Brexit revisited. Six months after the referendum

Brexit revisited. Six months after the vote that changed Europe

Half a year has gone by since the Brexit referendum. What’s next?

We’ve made it. It’s 2017! Before jumping into the new year though, which – as I have said in my last year-in-review post – probably won’t be much better than the last, let us revisit one of the defining issues of 2016: Brexit. It’s been six months since the game-changing referendum on June 23rd. What do we know, what’s the state of Brexit and what can we expect for 2017?

The Brexit fronts started taking shape

Frustratingly, there still isn’t much to say about the specifics of Brexit but some of the battlefronts of the next two years already started taking shape. The last six months have been characterised by turmoil in the UK and quiet anticipation in Brussels. In the UK, Theresa May formed a new government and throughout the autumn seemed to be moving towards a “hard Brexit”, when she made immigration the government’s top priority. Later, this trend was somewhat diverted, when British courts ruled that Westminster will have a say in the leaving process. Everyone expects Article 50 to be officially triggered in March nonetheless but also that isn’t 100% certain at this point.

The EU on the other hand seems well prepared to start negotiations anytime. With Michel Barnier, the Commission presented its chief negotiator already in summer and the Parliament soon followed suit by appointing Guy Verhofstadt. Both of them are considered hardliners and their choice indicates two things: that the member states were this far willing to leave negotiations to the central institutions and that the EU is prepared to let the UK go for good.  From today’s view, the EU also seems unlikely to give in on key issues like free movement of people and will therefore take a hard stance vis-à-vis the UK.

There’s a lot at stake for the EU

However, there is also a lot at stake for the EU. 2017 will be a challenging year for the Union, even without Brexit. With France, the Netherlands, Germany and likely Italy, we are headed for at least three major elections this year, that could well result in an anti-European backlash in some core member states. Dealing with all that on top of the Brexit negotiations will be a serious test for European unity. So far, the EU states have shown a consistent face and left Brexit actions to the European institutions though this is unlikely to persist. After all, it is more than obvious that the 27 EU-states have highly diverging interests when it comes to Brexit and this will inevitably come to fore throughout the leaving process.

Let me just to give you an idea of the complexity. France can traditionally be put in the “Anglophobe” camp, pushing for a harsh and punitive British departure from the Union. But while this sentiment is indeed strong and historically grown, a National Front victory in this year’s presidential elections could change everything overnight, as Marine Le Pen has no interested whatsoever to punish the UK for something she wants France to do as well. Under changed auspices, the situation is comparable in Germany, where Angela Merkel can be put firmly in the “Anglophile” camp. While Merkel has this far accepted the hard stance of the EU institutions, this is bound to change after her (likely) re-election in September. But then again, in case she loses, the situation could change entirely with a possible leftist coalition.

I could go on and on, listing all the EU countries heading for elections this year and those who don’t. The point is: we ultimately have no guarantee for anything concerning Brexit, also on the EU side. What we do know is that the path taken this year will have immense ramifications for the future of the EU as a whole. A soft approach towards the UK could set a dangerous precedent that leaving the Union is an advantageous thing to do. A hard approach, on the other hand, could be seen as punitive and unfair in some member states. That’s the thin line we will be walking in 2017. By the end of the year, the future of the UK and EU will be a lot clearer though. And that’s the true importance of this year.

The year when terror became a normality in Europe

The Eiffel Tower was lit in the colours of France, Germany and Belgium this year and the attack in Berlin was only a sad conclusion of an even sadder year. Will 2017 be any better?

So now Berlin. Will the Eiffel Tower ever get bored of all the colours it has to put on?

In the light of recent events in Berlin, it seems both necessary and sadly fitting to dedicate my second end-of-the-year review to terror in Europe. This will be a short one though. A lot has been said about the topic, also on this blog, and there truly isn’t much to add at this point. Monday’s events in Berlin only confirm what we have all known already: Terrorist attacks have became a normality 2016 and they won’t stop anytime soon. We should better prepare for more to come in the new year.

After Berlin: did we get used to it yet?

After the Brussels attacks in March, I wrote an article saying that we’ll have to get used to these kind of terrorist attacks. Sadly and predictably, this statement held true throughout 2016. This year, Europe has repeatedly been hit by acts of terror, making the above pictures of the Eiffel Tower lit in different national colours an almost mundane view. But did we get used to it already? Signs from Berlin indicate yes.

Hideous terrorist attacks like this most recent one have long become a sad reality and 2016 will go down in history as they year when they did. Gone are the days when terrorist strikes like the 2004 Madrid train bombings or the 2005 attacks in London sent the European public into a state of shock. Now, we almost routinely switch into our “post-terror mode”. We know the condolences by heart, we add the respective national colours to our Facebook profile photos, we create hashtags, we mourn, discuss and theorise. What we do less and less is to give in to the  fear. And that’s the good news of 2016.

Let 2017 come and hope it will be better

While each and every terrorist attack in Europe is a tragedy on its own, we have long started to cope. 2017 will come, it will more likely than not deliver more terror, and solutions are still hard to come by.  We can only hope the situation in the world and the Middle East in particular will improve and that a solution for Syria can finally be found. What we can actively do is to help make sure that the blame is not put on the weakest people in Europe – migrants and refugees – and to do our part in preventing the further rise of right-wing populists, trying to profit from pain and tragedy. If we achieve that, 2017 will be a good year. Nevermind the terrorists.

And with these semi-optimistic words, let me wish you a Happy Christmas. Enjoy your holidays and see you in the new year with the last part of my little “year-in-review” series, looking at another topic discussed a lot in 2016: Brexit. Stay updated on my new posts and subscribe or follow me on Twitter!

Get new posts by email

3 reasons why the EU Turkey deal is still awful

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul - a symbol of Turkey's pas achievements. The Turkey deal however, is a disaster.

The EU Turkey deal has been in force for the better part of a year. It’s still awful.

Another year is drawing to a close and gives us the opportunity to look back and reflect on the events that shaped it. This is exactly what I want to do in the last remaining blog posts of this year. To start things off, let’s have another look at a topic I have been talking about a lot in the earlier months of the year: the EU-Turkey deal (here and here, for instance). Now this deal has been in force for the better part of a year and its results are, unsurprisingly, not great. Three reasons why the EU Turkey deal is still awful:

1 | The Turkey deal didn’t stop the flow of migrants

The first thing to observe is that the Turkey deal simply did not do what it was supposed to. Or at least, there is no way of proving it. The numbers of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea did indeed drop after March 2016 but this does not necessarily have anything to do with the Turkey deal. After all, this is also exactly the time when Austria and other countries closed the Balkan route and of course less and less migrants bothered to cross the Aegean after the information got through that their final destination would be a dirty camp near Idomeni.

But not only did the deal with Turkey not curb the number of migrants, the relocation mechanism it envisaged never even started to work.  Only some 750 (!) people were sent back from Greece to Turkey under the deal and even fewer Syrians were accepted into the EU from Turkey as a result. The only so-called success of the deal is therefore the mutual claim that it somehow magically discourages people from leaving Turkey. And as I have said, there is no way of verifying that. Instead, the deal made Europe dependent on an autocrat and egomaniac.

2 | Turkey is no trustworthy partner anyway

Even before the attempted coup d’état in July, Turkey has become a less and less reliable partner for the EU. President Erdoğan has for years moved towards a more autocratic style of government, this year only marking a new peak in an ongoing development. But let me nonetheless remind you why exactly Erdoğan’s Turkey can be no partner for Europe.

Since July, the Turkish regime has detained at least 70,000 people and arrested more than 30,000. Close to 100,000 members of the military and judiciary, teachers, academics and journalists lost their jobs and/or had to leave the country. Thousands of institutions allegedly linked to Fethullah Gülen – Erdoğan’s personal nemesis – were closed down, including schools, universities and religious centres. And that is without even mentioning the recent crackdowns on Kurds and the pro-minority HDP party. No, a regime like that can by no means be a partner for the EU.

3 | We surrendered ourselves to Erdoğan

The problem is that we did not only make this rogue state our partner though, we made ourselves completely dependent on it! Just this week, the EU council of foreign ministers rightly discussed the suspension of EU accession talks with Turkey. This move should not be any question really but the EU is – as a result of the Turkey deal – unable to do anything. Whenever the matter of Turkey is discussed, be it EU talks, protests against illiberal actions there, the Armenian genocide or even mock poems on German TV, all that Erdoğan has to do is wave the refugee card. “I will release millions of refugees into Europe!” – yeah, sure.

We must realise that ultimately, Erdoğan is bluffing. There is no proof that the refugee deal ever worked at all so we have no reason to believe he can simply “open the floodgates”. Refugees likely wouldn’t leave Turkey once the deal is suspended – they know they would be stranded at the Macedonian border. The EU should instead develop a real approach to migration and then end this miserable deal. Only then can we  start to treat Erdoğan’s regime they way it deserves. Like the rogue state it is.

Populism is not unbeatable, we just beat it

Van der Bellen meets chancellor Kern. Did they beat populism?

Van der Bellen meets chancellor Kern. Did they just beat populism? Photo: Amélie Chapalain

What a day! As you may have gathered from my blog post last Sunday, I was not particularly optimistic about the Austrian presidential elections. When the results came in in the early evening and delivered a clear Van der Bellen victory though, I was obviously relieved, surprised and really, really happy. But very soon, new questions sprung up. What does this victory mean? Did we just beat populism or is this something else? What’s next?

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist and populism guru summed it up very nicely in a recent Guardian article: “One battle is won but the war over liberal democracy is still very much on.” This made me think. What actually are the chances of liberal democracy winning this war? I have three theses:

1 | Populism is still on a roll

Despite Alexander Van der Bellen’s stunning victory in Austria, we should not underestimate the ongoing populist tide. Right now, this win might seem like something game changing because we (by which I mean liberals) like to believe so. But let us not forget what was at stake here: the overwhelmingly representative post of President in a small Central European country. You can hardly put that in one league with Brexit or Donald Trump’s victory, representing two major countries falling for the populist option this year.

Prospects for 2017 are not looking great either. Matteo Renzi’s lost referendum in Italy the very same night Van der Bellen won in Austria, gave us a quick reminder of the challenges that remain. People are still angry at “the establishment” and are ready to take their chance to oust it, if asked. Next year, Italy will most likely see new elections, so might Austria. On top of that, France goes to the polls in April, followed by Germany in September. Everywhere, we will see populist parties play a powerful role, from Bepe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle to Hofer’s FPÖ, Marine Le Pen’s Front National to the German AfD.

No, populism is not beaten, not because of a loss in an Austrian presidential election. And definitely not by a loss that still handed a candidate from a right-wing populist party 46% of the vote.

2 | If Austria is any indicator, this is no good news

A victory is a victory, one would think. However, the Austrian elections are still something of a sour victory. After all, this was a direct face off between the right-wing populists and… basically everyone else. Most Hofer voters, one can assume, do not have a major problem with also voting for the FPÖ in a general election. While this is not to say they would necessarily do so, it is still very different to Van der Bellen, whose supporters were coming from all corners of the political spectrum and for a large part voted more against Hofer than for Van der Bellen. And in this setting, Norbert Hofer managed to get 46% of the vote. That is truly no promising outlook.

3 | The fight is very much on but it’s winnable

The main takeaway from last weekend must therefore be: we won this round, there is no reason to believe the next couple of rounds will be easy but yet, it can be done. However divided the non-populist voters may be on any given issue, they are a force to be reckoned with.

It felt good to be on the winning side for once this Sunday but 2017 is coming and with it there are many important elections coming our way. Even though I know the Austrian result shouldn’t be overestimated, I still haven’t felt this good about our chances for a long time (since June 23rd, to be precise). And that’s already something.

Groundhog day in Austria: Presidential elections again

Vienna's Hofburg, where the President of Austria resides

The race for the Hofburg, where the President of Austria resides, might finally be over

Today, we inevitably have to talk about the presidential elections in Austria one last time. After more or less continuous campaigning for the last ten or so months, two rounds of elections, one embarrassing annulment and one even more embarrassing postponement, Austria’s new president might finally be chosen today. We will find out tomorrow, whether we have elected the first far-right president in Europe since 1945 or dodged the bullet by a millimetre. Either way, this election will send a clear message.

I have a bad feeling about this

I like to think of myself as an optimist. After the first round of elections, when Alexander Van der Bellen was trailing behind Norbert Hofer by almost 14%, I was certain he could turn it around and was actually quite surprised when he “only” won by 30,000 or so votes in the end.

Back in May, I still had the feeling that when worse comes to worst, centre-left and centre-right voters would come together to prevent a far-right president. This is what happened very impressively in the last regional elections in France and it seemed to make sense to me as a logic that also applies to Austria.  In short, I had a firm belief that after all, reasonable, non-radical status-quo voters are a majority and a 50% plus vote for radical change is unlikely.

Since then, this belief took one hit after the other. First of course, there was Brexit. Also there, I was almost 100% certain that people in the UK would not take chances and vote for such radical change. I was certain they would prefer stability over uncertainty but as it turned out, I was very, very wrong about this. Like many others, it seems I greatly underestimated the sense of frustration and blatant anger, simmering in Western societies like the UK’s, that led people to vote against their own best interest out of an overpowering sense of powerlessness.

This trend was of course taken to a new peak with the US Presidential elections and the circumstances were quite similar: rural, white working class people voting for radical change in their masses and against their best interest.

These developments made me wonder: why should Austria be any different? Yes, sure, last time around people voted for the reasonable candidate. But that was by a 0.2% margin. Compared to that, Brexit seems like a landslide! Additionally, Austria has always been a European forerunner when it comes to right-wing populism. Already in 1999, Norbert Hofer’s FPÖ won almost 27% in parliamentary elections and today, the party is leading all national polls and were there elections now, it would probably win with up to 35% of the vote.

Prepare for the angry 48%… or 49.8

All in all, it would be remarkable if Austria of all places would withstand the populist tide today. I truly hope it will but my sense of optimism has taken a huge blow over the last months.

In any outcome, we will probably see the 48%, or the 49.8% take the streets tomorrow. Any President, to almost half of Austrians wouldn’t be “their President” and that is truly no positive outlook.

Can psychology explain right-wing populism?

Authoritarian minded people tend to value authority, perceive the world as threatening and prefer conventionalism

The “authoritarian personality” sees the world as a threatening place, values authority and uniformity

The other day, while browsing through Facebook, I stumbled upon a post that raised my interest. In a local group, where people talk about things happening in our town, someone started a, let’s say, discussion about cyclists and their behaviour in traffic.

What he posted was one of these typical internet memes and while the topic itself was nothing peculiar, the reactions it provoked really were. This is the meme:

 

A screenshot of the Facebook post provoking authoritarianism in the comments

 

Roughly translated it says: “Dear cyclists. I have a crazy idea. It might sound daring but how about TURNING ON THE LIGHTS AT NIGHT?!”

So far, so unspectacular, you would say. That is, until you scroll down to the comment section. This was when the post really raised my attention and made me think about the issue over the next couple of days. I started to see a connection between how people reacted to this seemingly unimportant topic and something I learned back at university: the phenomenon of right-wing authoritarianism. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first take a look at the comments.

What people had to say on the post

While I tend to agree that having the lights on when cycling at night does have some advantages (duh), people in the comments turned it into much more very quickly. Here are some of the comments:

“Dear police. I have a a tip on how to increase your budget a bit. Just send someone to the town bridge at night and fine every cyclist riding without the light on. You’ll probably need reinforcement very quickly.”

“I would like to see more police controls for cyclists as well and this could add to the state budget quite a bit. One out of two cyclists doesn’t have the light on, one out of five doesn’t have his hands on the handlebar and one out of three has headphones on. Not to even mention the mobile phones! 10€ per offence and the police force would pay for itself. Maybe that would also bring some learning success. Who knows.”

“They all need to be punished, if necessary by taking their licences when they don’t learn their lesson.”

“The ridiculous fines we have here in Germany don’t suffice in these cases.”

“Fines have to really hurt. Otherwise traffic offenders just suffer a laughing fit, as they do with our fines at the moment.”

“I would just like to drag them across the asphalt until they come to their senses.”

These are signs of right-wing authoritarianism

I found these comments deeply troubling and quickly discovered why. They reminded me of something I learned at university – the concept of right-wing authoritarianism.  Back then, I actually wrote a paper on that concept, contrasting it with the 2013 campaign of the Austrian Freedom Party. You can find that here if you’re interested.

Right-wing authoritarianism is a concept from social psychology that is designed to explain certain beliefs like ethnic prejudice and ethnocentrism through psychological processes. The creator of the concept, psychologist Bob Altemeyer, in the 1980s worked out a test, in order to map such “authoritarian preferences” in people. He described a person ranking high in this test as someone who generally sees the world as a threatening place, who is as a result willing to submit to authority and who appreciates uniformity and conventionalism.

Like any personal belief system, Altemeyer traces back such preferences to a diverse set of social factors, parenting and childhood experiences. Crucially though, his test proved a powerful tool to predict convictions like ethnic and religious prejudices, hostility towards outgroups and ethnocentrism amongst its subjects. The test worked!

The implications of this should not be overlooked

Now this is exactly what I saw in the comments above. Statements based on authority, conventionalism and a black and white view on the world, sparked by nothing but some cyclists. Authoritarian minded people exist out there, they are numerous and increasingly open about their beliefs. Having in mind that these beliefs are proven to be a powerful indicator for prejudice, outgroup hostility and ethnocentrism, it is not hard to see why this is a problem. Additionally, it can explain a lot of our current politics – right-wing populism in particular.

After all, it is exactly these kinds of authoritarian convictions – the notion of the world as a threatening place, the idea that a homogenous and uniform society is better than a diverse one, the belief that authority needs to stand above everything else and that things were better in the “good old days” – that fuel the rise of populists like Trump, Le Pen, Hofer and the Brexiteers. These socio-psychological factors are too often overlooked besides all the legitimate social and economic factors for populist success.

This is unfortunate as widespread authoritarian convictions are ultimately nothing but an open threat to our liberal societies and they are now more shamelessly shared than ever. To make things worse, parties like the Front National, AfD and FPÖ also openly cater to these authoritarian beliefs, rendering them more mainstream.

The fact that a banality like careless cyclists spark calls for heavy punishment, law and order measures and “dragging them across the asphalt” from otherwise reasonably looking people therefore cannot be ignored. This is a real problem and lies at the root of the populist surge.

Slovakia’s “plan” on migration

Migration, EU solidarity and Slovakia don't seem to go together very well. Robert Fico's new "migration plan" won't change that.

Bratislava is working on an “alternative migration plan” for Europe. Unsurprisingly, it’s no good.

It’s no secret that the Visegrád states, especially Hungary and Slovakia, are no big fans of the EU’s migration policy. Last autumn, they were outvoted in the EU Council that pushed through the refugee relocation theme and they have called for a different approach ever since. Now, the Slovakian EU presidency finally presented one and unsurprisingly, it’s  no good.

Slovakia’s plan on migration: what do they want?

So what is the plan presented by Slovakian PM Robert Fico? Well, they call it “Effective solidarity: a way forward on Dublin revision” and it doesn’t get much more detailed than that, really. But here are the key points:

  1. The introduction of a three-pillar system, categorising the “severeness” of the “migrant situation” in EU countries from normal via deteriorating to severe
  2. Once a country’s situation is deemed deteriorating, an EU “solidarity mechanism” should set in. This can either take the form relocation of migrants or financial aid
  3. In “severe cases”, the EU Council should furthermore decide on “additional supportive measures, on a voluntary basis”

Why this plan is utter nonsense

There are more obvious flaws with this “plan” than I can list. First of all, it assumes that the situation in EU countries can be easily and objectively categorised. But apart from this basic misconception, who should even do that? I assume – as for everything else in their plan – they envision the EU Council to decide, so nation states can obstruct the process from the very beginning, not even labelling a situation as “deteriorating” in the first place.

Secondly, financial aid or more contributions to the EU asylum agency and border guard – as the plan suggests for “deteriorating cases” – are not sufficient and definitely no solution to the problem. More importantly still, it is definitely no European solidarity, as they claim. Leaving thousands upon thousands of migrants on Lesbos and then sending money to Athens is not showing solidarity, it’s a disgrace!

But the last and most important point: what the hell do they mean by “additional supportive measures”? What is this and why is it again the EU Council deciding on it? And as if that wording wasn’t vague enough already, these measures are also supposed to be voluntary! Give me a break!

This so-called plan, my dear Robert Fico, is no plan at all. It’s wishful thinking at best and a cheap excuse at worst.

We finally need a strong answer

This newest proposal is further proof that we cannot count on the Visegrád states to show solidarity with their European partners when it comes to migration. The plan is a pretext not to offer any substantial help also in the future and the EU must finally find an answer to this!

We can no longer accept that countries like Slovakia, Hungary and Poland cherry pick what part of European solidarity they would like to participate in. It is unfair that some five countries are left with the burden of accommodating virtually all refugees coming to Europe. It is equally unfair that Slovakia and others, who are all receiving more money from the EU than they pay in, simply choose to deny their solidarity.

Last year’s relocation plan was not perfect. Of the 160,000 people to be relocated, only a fraction actually was. But this is not really a problem with the plan itself. It was exactly countries like Slovakia that made the plan fail in the first place. So instead of even discussing this new non-idea amongst responsible EU-members, let’s instead make relocation work. If necessary against the will of the Visegrád four.

Get ready for the populist age

Trump's victory might just be the beginning of a populist age

Trump’s victory might just be the beginning of a populist age

What a year. After the Brexit vote in June, Donald Trump now won the US presidential elections and will be the 45th President of the United States. This is truly shocking to anyone believing in liberal democracy, equality, human rights and damn it, basic human decency. But it happened, there are reasons why it did and these reasons do not only exist in the United States. In fact, we might actually be heading for a populist age.

People are evidently angry

Of the many factors that contributed to Trump’s surprising victory, one in particular was repeated a lot recently: anger. People all over the United States, especially the “disenfranchised” white working class, are angry with the system as a whole and with politicians representing it. Hence, they happily took the opportunity to throw a brick into its façade.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We have heard the exact same thing after Brexit. It was the working class in neglected post-industrial English and Welsh towns. It was the shrinking middle class, the “losers of globalisation”, the “ordinary people”.

But what can we make of that? Unfortunately, I think not much. The fate of these people almost certainly will not improve in the future and we should better prepare for more anger to come.

The “angry white men” will not disappear any time soon

The problem is – contrary to what populists like Trump say – people in America’s rust belt and in the north of England are not disenfranchised because politicians chose to neglect them. They are because their communities were eaten up by modernisation. Mining towns and industrial cities are bound to decay in the West, there’s no way around that. And whatever Trump and Co. say, they won’t fix this problem. There simply is no easy way to fix it.

Now of course, this is nothing new. The economic decay in these areas goes back to the 1970s at least. The difference now is that these people got politically active and that’s the decisive nature of the populist age. Demagogues like Trump, Nigel Farage and Norbert Hofer manage to tap this group of voters that for so long abstained or silently voted with the majority.

We are almost certainly going to see more of that in the future and we need to look no further than to the Austrian presidential elections on December 4th.

All eyes on Austria, the cradle of modern populist politics

As I have described before, Austria has for long been a front runner of populism. Since 1988, the country has had a powerful right-wing populist movement embodied by Jörg Haider, reaching 27% in parliamentary elections as early as 1999! It seems only consequential that the populist wave hits Austria next.

And the presidential run-off there already looks a lot like the US election, with the country almost evenly split between the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen and his right-wing populist contender Norbert Hofer.

The reasons for people to vote for Hofer are by and large also the same as for Trump. They vote for him out of a feeling of disenfranchisement, political impotence and to throw a brick into the window of a system they think is broken. This is accompanied by similar rhetoric about rigged elections, conspiracies and evil foreigners. Even the ridiculous talk about Clinton’s health is mirrored in Austria, where van der Bellen had to release his health report!

You better get ready for more

Whether we like it or not, this has not been it. Brexit and Trump might just be the beginning. Next up is Austria and in 2017, France and Germany hold their general elections. No people, this is far from over. We can only hope that Brexit and Trump actually work as a cautionary example for voters in Austria and elsewhere. My feeling is that it might not.

People are angry. They feel disregarded and powerless and no US-Presidency or Brexit, however devastating it may end up, will change their minds. Only the populists themselves can end their age and they will, as they inevitably fail to deliver what they promised. In ten years’ time, the angry white men in former industrial towns and mining communities will still be in despair and no populist will change that. More likely, they will go back to abstaining from voting. And that this is the most positive thing I can say about the topic is the real tragedy.

« Older posts

© 2017 my take on

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑