Israeli elections: what kind of Israel will we be witnessing?

By Niclolai Santianello

In April 2019 Israel will be holding general elections for its legislative body, the Knesset. There are of course different parties and coalitions standing for a range of political views, but what is not immediately obvious is how the resulting winner might have an influence on EU-Israel relations and the occupation of the West Bank.

The incumbent is prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, running for his right-wing party Likud even though he is accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and the country’s attorney general plans on charging him for these counts [1]. Regarding relations with European countries, Netanyahu has developed close relations to a number of populist, right-wing parties which have had success in legislative elections all over Europe. Some examples of this growing relation are Netanyahu’s political friendliness with Italy’s Deputy PM, the Austrian chancellor, the Hungarian PM, who are exponents of Europe’s Euro-skeptic far-right [2]. Even though Likud is currently behind the Blue & White coalition, Netanyahu’s re-election is far from ruled out, and this occurrence would mean growing support and closeness between the Israeli PM and European right-wing parties.

Even though Netanyahu is a very successful politician and statesman he now has to deal with a new force in Israeli politics, the Blue and White coalition headed by ex-army colonel Benny Gantz and the political figure Yair Lapid [3]. This center party is characterized by a liberal ideology both in social and economic terms and takes a softer stance on the occupation than their right-wing counterparts [4], but still consider the settlements in the West Bank as a part of the State of Israel. This political alliance has the potential to change the direction that Israeli politics has taken with Netanyahu’s four terms in office as PM, and could also establish closer ties with the moderate political forces in Europe which have so far been on opposing ideological sides to Netanyahu.

On the more left side of the political spectrum there are parties which currently have little chances at governing the country. Amongst these are the Labor party [5] which is a social democratic party and observer member of the Party of European Socialists and Meretz, pushing for secularism, egalitarianism, and environmental awareness. These parties are also focused on a two state solution for the Israeli Palestinian conflict and respectively control 19 and 5 seats in Knesset (out of 120). Other than these “Jewish” parties, there is also Hadash which is headed by an Arab Israeli and follows a borderline communist ideology, and currently holding 6 seats in coalition with Ta’al.

After mentioning relatively smaller parties on the left of the spectrum we should also take a look at the right-wing (or far right) parties, who could potentially shift the election results because of their coalition potential. There are for example Shas and United Torah Judaism which are both right-wing ultra-orthodox parties and currently control respectively 6 and 7 seats. There are then the New Right party and Yisrael Beitenu which are both nationalist parties, with the first opposing judicial activism and supporting a one-state solution, and the second supporting secularism and widely appealing to the Russian population. They respectively control 3 and 5 seats in Knesset possess some coalition potential with other right-wing parties [6].

Depending on the elections which are scheduled for April 9th 2019 Israel could have a very different political leadership. The main competitors for this are Likud and Blue & White coalition, neither of whom will probably be able to win a majority at these elections and might have to rely on parties which have potential to form a coalition, of which there are likely to be a few on each side of the political spectrum. If Netanyahu wins again he will in all likelihood increase his friendship with the rising European populist right. In case of a victory of the center coalition White & Blue we would probably see a shift in Israel’s international ties away from the European right, even though it is not sure who they would befriend in Europe’s political context.


Sources used in this article

  1. Yolande Knell, “Is Netanyahu in More Trouble Now Than Ever Before?,” BBC News, last modified March 1, 2019
  2. Anshel Pfeffer, “Netanyahu is Risking Israel’s Interests by Riding the European Nationalist Tiger,” Haaretz.com, last modified December 12, 2018
  3. “Gap Between Gantz and Netanyahu Narrows As Polls Show Right-wing Bloc,” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, last modified March 10, 2019
  4. “Neither Right nor Left, Gantz Offers ‘hope’ to a Crowd Calling for ‘change’,” The Times of Israel | News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World, last modified January 30, 2019
  5. “Labor, Bound for Collapse in National Elections, Holds Primaries,” The Times of Israel, last modified February 11, 2019
  6. “These Seven Parties’ Fates Will Decide Israel’s Election,” Haaretz.com, last modified March 11, 2019

 

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EUSA presents: Ukrainian Ambassador Vsevolod Chentsov

Ukraine and the EU: relationship goals?

This is the question we ask ourselves when EUSA next weeks invites to a discussion with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Vsevolod Chentsov. He will share his views on the relationship between Ukraine and the EU, the role of Ukraine when looking at the future development of the European Union, as well as the fast-approaching presidential elections.

Ambassador Chentsov has previously worked in Ukrainian missions in Turkey and Poland. Furthermore, he has been the Deputy Head of Mission of Ukraine to the European Union (2007-2011) and Director of the EU Department of the MFA of Ukraine (2011-2017).

Join our interesting discussion on Thursday the 21st of March at 17.30 in room 2.58 Wijnhaven (The Hague). See you there!!

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Time: 21st of March, 17.30

Location: Room 2.58, Wijnhaven

 

EUSA presents: MEP Andrey Kovatchev

On the 26th of February, Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev will join EUSA to talk about his work at the European Parliament and to share his views on one of the most interesting issues in the current political landscape of the EU, the current situation and the future of the Western Balkans.

Andrey Kovatchev is a Bulgarian politician, Quaestor of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the EPP Group, responsible for Enlargement and Mediterranean Policy. Currently, Mr Kovatchev is also the Head of the Bulgarian EPP delegation in the European Parliament. Between 2011 and 2018, he was Vice Chair of the Union of European Federalists. Mr Kovatchev has a long-lasting knowledge of and experience in Foreign Affairs, EU Mediterranean and Enlargement policies. Since 2009, he has been an active member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) of the European Parliament, and between 2012 and 2014 he was its Vice-Chair. In this term, Andrey Kovatchev is also Member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights. He is a Substitute member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Mr Kovatchev is one of the co-initiations of the interest group on Patient Access to Healthcare.

17-10-04 Kovatchev portrait STR-22

When: 26.02.19, 18.00

Where: Room A.144, KOG

People-powered change – an interview with party chairman of Volt Nederland Laurens Dassen

By Kirsten Overboom

The new pan-European, progressive movement Volt has established itself in Amsterdam and other cities in the Netherlands ever since june 2018. With the European parliamentary elections coming up this May it is about time to get to know this somewhat different party, so we contacted its chairman, Laurens Dassen.

Change is what they strive for, but it is also what created the party. Big changes such as the ever decreasing amount of youngsters that are politically active and the ever growing support for anti-European movements, resulting in phenomenons such as the Brexit, sparked the creation of Volt. Laurens explains that the party wants to improve the political system from within. With the global challenges we face politics needs to change, especially at the European level according to Laurens. One big obstacle however, is the still defining role of national politics in the European system. To overcome this, Volt reaches out to citizens unbound by national boundaries.

So how does it work? Uniquely the party is active in all member states of Europe with a singular programme, the declaration of Amsterdam. To prevent the party from being unable to react to change, they use a ‘grassroots’ approach, meaning that the debate at a local level is taken into account at the European level. One monthly event, hosted in about 70 cities at once, ensures meaningful discussion at all levels and in all member states. By doing so Volt aims to produce rational solutions to European problems. According to Laurens, citizens are nowadays focused on specific cross-national problems such as climate or migration.These kind of problems have nothing to do with whether politics should be left or right, but with finding the best solution.

Taking on the political system as a whole might come off as an ambitious plan. Despite that, their support is growing, not only amongst youngsters, making it a full-fledged opponent of traditional parties. In a few months we will know whether Europe’s chooses change or tradition. Let’s vote!

 

 

Alternative visions of Europe – the debate we must now have

By Norbert Rebow

This year brings a series of momentous events for the European Union. Scheduled first to arrive is Brexit which at the time of writing is still undetermined. Then, we will have a chance to cast our ballots in an election that will be conducted in a political reality unlike any other since direct elections to the European Parliament were introduced in 1979. These developments and others were described by my colleague Nicolai in the last edition of this newsletter. One area he covered was the rise of parties and movements on the right that reject the European Union in its current form but do not argue that their countries should leave the organisation, indeed they are building networks across the continent advocating for a different, more conservative, Union. Nicolai was concerned about what this would mean for the EU –  here I want to assuage some of those worries and argue that these developments provide an opportunity to strengthen the European project in the long run.

Let me clear, the point of this article is not to argue for the vision of Europe that draws on opposition to immigration and the Christian heritage these movements espouse. Rather, I will underline that this change on the anti-establishment right creates space for a debate that Europe badly needs. Discussions on democratic deficit in the EU have always focused on the distribution of power between the institutions of the Union, I contend that the most significant problem for democracy has been a lack of diversity in visions for the future of the European project. Until now we had a choice between the neoliberal consensus of the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats on the one hand and the utter negation of the benefits of the EU coming from people like Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen. The emergence of movements that offer an alternative redirects the energy of those who are frustrated by the direction of politics in their countries and in Europe from a general opposition to a championing for a vision of Europe.

EU politics has seemed distant, confusing and unresponsive to many, translating into consistently low rates of turnout at European elections. The key, I think is not to ask why European politics appears boring but why national-level developments have the capacity to inspire real passions. Sure, the EU regulates plenty of areas that do not inspire the imagination. Similarly, however, national governments deal with questions that most of the population shows no interest in. The difference lies in the sense that the vision for the future of the country is contested at the ballot box in national elections. The important change the new movements bring is that they replicate this level of passion at the European level. The movements on the right make a claim to a European identity, one drawing on the continent’s heritage and seek to rally supporters. On the other hand, as we see in this issue with the example of Volt Europa, the tumultuous European politics of recent years has also inspired to action those who want to build a liberal Europe.

Early European federalists believed that they would achieve the aim of a united Europe by replicating some of the processes that led to the creation of European nation states in the nineteenth century – as European institutions take over responsibility for the economic wellbeing of citizens, like the central governments did before them, the people will switch their allegiance up to the European level as their nineteenth century counterparts did from the local to the national. All this was to be underpinned by European values mirroring how the previous process was driven by nationalism. At least so far, however, that shift of allegiance has not happened but I would claim that the emergence of alternative visions of Europe inserts the missing part of the puzzle from this modern mirror of nation building. Over the course of the nineteenth century, nationalism diversified and evolved. Starting off revolutionary and liberal as exhibited by the revolution in Germany in 1848, it came to be adopted as a principle in conservative circles, most notably in the case of Bismarck and the crafting of Imperial Germany. Indeed, it is this diversification of nationalism that made the creation of nation states possible.

My point here is not that we are now inevitably going to see a United States of Europe built along the lines of those right wing movements – stressing the continent’s Christian heritage and limiting immigration. Rather I would argue that we have reached a point where without a discussion on what Europe is and its values are, we cannot continue to integrate – EU citizens must feel that they shape the European project and not that they are simply being moulded into a predetermined model of what a European is. That debate is beginning – it will no doubt be contentious and at times may appear to strain cooperation. However, whatever concoction of liberal and conservative, socialist and populist ideas emerges to serve as the guiding principle for the future of the EU, it will leave us with a Union that is better equipped to face the economic and political shocks that, as the last decade has shown, have not left our continent. The nation states of Europe survived the hardships of the twentieth century because their populations at large believed they were represented by them, we need to find a similar solution for the EU to survive the twenty-first.

The role of human rights in the accession of the Western Balkans

by Emma Myhre

In 2018, the European Commission adopted a strategy for enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans(1). It presents that the EU holds its doors open for more member states, with the condition that the state satisfies EU accession criteria. In the Western Balkans this remains a struggle, and human rights concerns have become subject to compromise. There are several important dynamics that come into play, some of which will be discussed in this article.

In order for a country to become a member of the EU, it must fulfill the Copenhagen criteria(2). These are based on common European values, including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and a market economy. In past EU negotiations, such as those with Montenegro and Croatia, human rights concerns have been of central importance. Several institutional advancements were made to strengthen the role of human rights in the EU’s enlargement policy(3). However, several scholars point out that the EU’s attempt to spread its democratic values in the Western Balkans has had an underwhelming effect. This becomes particularly evident when compared to the Central Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004(4).  

There are many ways of looking at the limited impact that EU conditionality has had in the region. Evidence shows that the EU has prioritized concerns related to security rather than those related to human rights and democracy(5). However, the lack of pressure on human rights concerns in the Western Balkans – such as the rule of law and media freedom – is astounding considering recent experiences with Poland and Hungary. Worth pointing out is that the EU has significantly more leverage over accession candidates compared to member states, raising the question even further of why the EU has not aimed for more strict accession policies regarding human rights in the Western Balkans.

Some argue that accession candidates are more likely to adopt EU rules when there are credible incentives and low adoption costs(6), especially when it comes to questions of national identity. However, some cases might display a different image. Serbia, for example, has shown a strong commitment to accession and has been willing to compromise on highly sensitive cases, such as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal and Kosovo(7). Perhaps it is more relevant to look at media reforms and independent institutions. To continue with the example with Serbia, it is evident that the Serbian government has been more reluctant with these reforms(8). Such institutional changes would challenge the country’s power concentration, seemingly running more strongly counter to the government’s incentives. This perspective suggests that questions of national identity matter less than questions of government authority.  

The EU has shown willingness to accept the slow progress in terms of media freedom and democratic institutions. It has strong incentives to keep Serbia and other countries in the region on the path to accession and keep its political leverage. Concerns such as the refugee crisis and a more aggressive Russia urge the EU to make compromises(9). It may want to prioritize security concerns over more consistent conditions for accession in regards to human rights.

In the coming year, the EU will be faced with tough dilemmas. The union is in a position where it struggles to find a balance between enforcing human rights concerns without losing its political leverage over the Western Balkans that are on the path to accession. Crucial will be to take human rights seriously to avoid painful repetitions of the problems posed by Hungary and Poland, and aligning EU incentives with those of the Western Balkan governments and peoples.  

 

EUSA and LDU presents: EU debate

EUSA is pleased to announce that we are cooperating with the Leiden Debating Union (LDU) for our next event, which will take place the 19th of February in Leiden. LDU is hosting a special debating event particularly focused on the EU and European politics, and EUSA will join them for a night of proper debating. This is therefore not only a great chance to work on your debating skills in a welcoming setting, but also to get to know members of another student association of Leiden University.

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After the debate we will join the members of LDU at Cafe de Keyzer for drinks, so that we can get to know each other better! Who knows, maybe the debate will continue there…

EUSA will meet outside KOG at 18.45 and to together to the events, which starts at 19.00. We hope to see you there!

Location: Law faculty (KOG) in Leiden

Time: 19th of February, 19.00

A 100 years since a Christmas of uncertainty and hope

by Norbert Rebow

Last month the world marked the centenary of the end of the war that many contemporaries had thought would be over by Christmas 1914, but in fact lasted more than four years. Christmas 1918 was thus the first to be celebrated after the signing of the armistice with people across Europe and the globe having to face a world that had changed dramatically over the previous four years – and was continuing to do so. Let us take a look at that first postwar Christmas and how it compares to Europe almost three-quarters of a century since the last major war, and over a quarter since the constraints of the Cold War were lifted from the continent.

The first question to ask is who was in Europe at Christmas 1918 and with whom they were spending this festive season. The war brought soldiers from around the globe to fight or support the effort. This included troops of armed forces of non-European states such as the US Army on the Western Front and a squadron the Japanese Imperial Navy operating in the Mediterranean [1]. It also consisted of a 140,000 strong Chinese Labour Corps as well as forces and support services from the colonies and dominions of the European imperial powers. Over the course of the war, a million men from French and British possessions had served on the western front [2]. Some European soldiers were able to celebrate Christmas at home with families, as the process of demobilization began, though the demands of complex logistics and of an unstable world kept conscripts at arms for another year. Allied soldiers that had been captured and held as prisoner of war camps in Germany, began returning home with some 576,000 being repatriated in December 1918[3].

What were the challenges and uncertainties that Europe faced as 1918 drew to a close? In short, it was a time that demanded great resilience. 1918 saw the outbreak of the Spanish Flu pandemic. A number of regions, especially those in central Europe, faced food shortages. The case of Vienna is of particular interest – the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire left one of the largest cities on the continent cut off from its sources of food supply [4]. Furthermore, the main war may have concluded, but old fault lines were invigorated and new conflicts arose. In Germany the survival of the newly established Weimar Republic was in question and in Russia civil war had already begun. The nations between them, however, were able to celebrate recovered or newfound freedom, though independence immediately brought with it the competition over claims between different people and diverse political visions for their futures.

It was undeniably a Christmas of crisis, but it was also a time of new beginnings. The war had powerful effects that laid the foundation for how we conceive Europe and the world today. With the Paris Peace Conference set to begin in January 1919, the last days of 1918 saw the beginning of the arrival of the representatives of Allied states and of people’s aspiring to statehood in the French capital. US President Woodrow Wilson was insisting on the peace being built on the basis of national self-determination which encouraged this particularly multinational environment at this time. In a world of uncertainties, the upcoming peace conference seemed, at least to some, to have the potential to right wrongs. The respect for smaller nations and the idea of multilateral cooperation and permanent international institutions as embodied in the League of Nations may have failed in the 1930s but they underpin international, and especially European, cooperation today. The end of the war also saw a democratization of the continent as voting rights were expanded. To name but a few examples – the 1918 elections in the Netherlands were the first held under a universal male franchise, in Britain the general election held in December 1918 was the first at which women had the right to vote and in the first days of independence, Poland instituted universal suffrage.

Christmas 1918 was, therefore, characterized by a striking blend of pain, conflict, hope and reunion and the events of this period laid a foundation for the lives of general peace and freedom that we enjoy in Europe today. As the centenary commemorations of the First World War come to an end, we must make sure we keep remembering those past sacrifices that still shape this continent and the world.


Sources used in this article:

  1. ERIC JOHNSTON, ‘Japan’s little-known, but significant, role in World War I’, 2017, retrieved from: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/09/national/history/japans-little-known-significant-role-world-war/#.XBLc3GhKjIU
  2. SANTANU DAS, ‘Experiences of colonial troops’, 2014,  retrieved from: https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/colonial-troops#,
  3. https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/soldiers/a-soldiers-life-1914-1918/demobilisation-and-discharge/
  4. PATRICIA CLAVIN; The Austrian hunger crisis and the genesis of international organization after the First World War, International Affairs, Volume 90, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 265–278.

 

The new year: what is the EU looking ahead to?

by Nicolai Santianello

When reading this question there are of course many events in one year that an organization as big and influential as the European Union has to deal with. But, as many might be thinking there are two main events occurring in 2019 that might independently change the EU as we know it. These events are obviously Brexit and the parliamentary elections.

Given that Greenland was (and still is) a territory of Denmark, its 1984 exit from the EEC doesn’t quite count as the first country to exit the EU. This gloomy first place was however happily taken over by the United Kingdom, with its referendum in 2016, and is hence expected to leave the Union on the 29th of March 2019. Since the referendum there have been a series of negotiations involving the exit of the UK from the EU, with a particular focus on their economic relations, rights of Brits living in Europe and vice versa, and question of the Irish border[1].

The latest deal would include a free trade deal between the EU and the UK with the possibility of different trading options for the UK, but would also see the UK leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. The UK and the EU will continue cooperating in matters regarding defense, security, counter-terrorism, and international sanctions. Also there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some things have changed, but the deal seems to satisfy neither side of the British political spectrum, and one of the biggest challenges of closing this proposed deal will be getting it through Parliament[2]. As if Brexit wasn’t already unstable enough, the European Court of Justice expressed its legal opinion that the UK could unilaterally revoke Brexit if it decided to, giving new hopes for a second referendum[3].

As for parliamentary elections, this is more of a threat from within for the EU as we know it, and is thus maybe much more dangerous than Brexit. Many populist parties in Europe have in fact obtained huge success in their home countries, and could easily become a main force in the Parliament if they have major success in the 2019 elections, bringing major turmoil to the political scene and starting to implement their own agenda for Europe[4]. Major political parties in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria have already aspired to such a “revolution” to occur at the 2019 elections, but the Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orban has been the most directly outspoken about the future of the EU[5]. We might think these populist parties are claiming victory ahead of time and might be getting ahead of themselves, but we can’t forget we live in a continent where one out of four people votes populist[6].

The EU will have a long and eventful 2019, which will start to be defined more clearly with its two first challenges: seeing through Brexit in the best way possible, and trying to contain the populist parties for the upcoming elections. Brexit in the end seems to be in the hands of the British Parliament and the British people right now, and the situation progresses day by day. For the elections however there seems to be a lack of motivation on the non-populist political spectrum, a problem which the EU and the parties which support it need to address before it’s too late.


Sources used in this article:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0xGHf8o-9
  2. Elgot, “Theresa May postpones Brexit deal vote,” last modified December 10, 2018
  3. “European Court of Justice Rules Britain Free to Revoke Brexit Unilaterally,” RT International, last modified December 10, 2018
  4. Maia De la Baume, “Populist Plan for 2019 Election Puts EU in Crosshairs,” POLITICO, last modified June 5, 2018
  5. Angela Dewan, “Hungary’s Orban Warns of Backlash Against Immigration in European Parliament Vote,” CNN
  6. Josh Holder et al., “Revealed: One in Four Europeans Vote Populist,” The Guardian, accessed December 10, 2018

The holiday season for those with no home

By Emma Myhre

Many associate the holiday season with going home, spending time with friends or family, and taking it easy before getting back to everyday life. However, this is not the reality for everyone. More than 20 000 people in the Netherlands are homeless1, faced with being left out in the cold during what is supposed to be the merriest season of all.

Mees has experienced being homeless herself. Now she wants to see a change of attitude towards homelessness. “Homeless people are often regarded as dangerous, or as a problem to society. In reality, the society is the problem, and homelessness is just a result of it.” Mees spends a lot of her time empowering her community: she bikes around The Hague, picks up food, cleans up litter, helps those around her and brings people together. ”Bad things keep happening because good people look away.” She wants to take an active role in improving the system, and wants others to do the same.

The holiday season may bring joy to a lot of people, but some are left out. Mees says it is very difficult to be homeless during the holidays. Not only is it cold: most places will be closed and there are not many places to go. There are some special cold weather arrangements for the homeless population in the Hague2. They come into force when it becomes too dangerous to stay the night outside. Frost, strong winds and rain put people at risk of serious health problems. Shelters provide a bed, a meal, and a few other facilities. However, Mees is not happy with the arrangement. From her experience, the quality of the shelters is not great and people get distressed when staying there.

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Mees with her bike, 10.12.18 | Emma Myhre

Mees thinks it is upsetting that the city has so much empty space that could have been used in a better way. She notices apartments that stay empty for days, weeks, months. Some people own so many things that they do not use, while others get nothing. “I think it is caused by a greater problem of consumerism. We do not value the things we have and people always want more and more.” She encourages people to use a little less, to value the things they have more.

Finally, Mees wants people to be aware of their actions, be kind and not judge others so quickly. “Homeless people are not bad people. They are very intelligent and everyone is just trying their best.” They are people, just like anyone else. They do not only need food and shelter, but also a sense of purpose and belonging. “Instead of ignoring them, I think people should say hi to them, talk to them.” Perhaps we all should take a moment in the holiday season to be a little more aware of the people around us and the society we live in.