When elections were held in Belarus on August 9, Aljaksandr Lukaschenko had already been in power for 26 years. He has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, and his reign has seen many rigged elections. This presidential election however, was different. For one, even though the country’s stagnating economy has caused dissatisfaction with Lukaschenko, COVID-19 was what fuelled most of the recent outrage against the president. The case numbers in Belarus are a lot higher than in neighbouring Poland, which has about four times as many citizens, and Lukaschenko has refused to introduce rules for social distancing. For him, the virus is merely a “psychosis“ – but his citizens fear for their lives. Additionally, the opposition found an unexpectedly popular candidate in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya after her husband, who was originally meant to be in the race, was arrested by Belarusian authorities.
Lukaschenko is said to have won with 80% of the vote with an 84% participation rate, but soon after the results were made public, people took to the streets all over the country, contending the election was rigged. It’s the biggest protests the country has ever seen – and they have one goal: to push Lukaschenko out of office. Riot police responded with tear gas and stun grenades to break up the protests. Thousands of people were detained and hundreds hospitalised for their injuries.
Two days later, the EU’s High Representative released a declaration, criticising that the election was neither free nor fair, and that state authorities used “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” . Without any progress on human rights in Belarus, its relationship with the EU could only get worse and the EU would assess the actions of Belarusian authorities to review its relations with Belarus. A week later, EU leaders released a statement declaring that the EU would not recognise the results, as the elections were neither “free nor fair”.
Among EU member states, there has been much debate about how to respond to the situation. Neighbouring states Lithuania, Poland and Latvia have all offered to be intermediaries. Lithuania, for instance, proposed a “National Council” for Belarus including both members of civil society and the government as well as an immediate end to police brutality in the country. Hungary meanwhile warned not to burn diplomatic bridges to Minsk – hardly surprising, considering that President Viktor Orbán has good relations with Lukaschenko and already called to end the existing EU sanctions against Belarus.
On Friday the 14th of August, the EU’s foreign ministers took the first step towards imposing new sanctions on Belarus. After agreeing on imposing sanctions, the EU’s diplomatic body, the European External Action Service, will start preparations to compile a list of individuals and organisations responsible for the fraud violence around the election. All member states will then have to approve every name on the list before sanctions can be put in action, and how long this process will take is unclear.
by Restitution of African cultural heritage as chance
At this moment, 90 percent of the African cultural objects are in Europe (Kassel & Zimmerer, 2018). Most Africans do not have access to their cultural heritage as not everyone has the financial capacity to buy a plane ticket to Europe and visit a European museum. The Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy recommended to restitute the cultural objects according to the right to cultural heritage (Arend, 2019). On their recommendation, the French President Emmanuel Macron promised to pave the way for the restitution of culture objects within five years (Arend, 2019). This initiated a Europe-wide debate. In Germany, for instance, the government stipulated in the coalition agreement that it aims at promoting provenance research (Förster, 2019, p. 78). However, it did not consider the restitution of African cultural heritage. Provenance research includes the examination of the acquisition practices and power asymmetries during the acquisition (Förster, 2019, p. 85). This means that it checks if the acquisition has happened without consent or under coercion (Förster, 2019, p. 85). At colonial times, the trade relationship was oftentimes not fair or voluntary (Förster, 2019, p. 85). The price reflected the economic and political power asymmetries (Förster, 2019, p. 85). Sometimes cultural objects have been acquired in the context of colonial wars, pillages or punitive expeditions (Förster, 2019, p. 86). Provenance research uncovers these circumstances. However, the German historian and specialist in African studies Jürgen Zimmerer fears that provenance research postpones a decision on the restitution of culture objects (Zimmerer, 2019). In this article, I would like to examine the legal point of view, the opinion of the museums and the view of the critics of the museums on the restitution of African cultural heritage.
From a legal perspective, following principle applies: Colonial goods are assumed to be unlawfully acquired until it can be demonstrated that this is not the case (Zimmerer, 2015, p. 24). Furthermore, the UN declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007 states that indigenous societies have the right to self-determination which also includes the access to ceremonial objects (Förster, 2019, p. 90).
From the point of view of the museums, restitution is seen rather negatively. The Belgian director of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Guido Gryseels, warns against insufficient infrastructures in Africa and empty museums in case of restitution (Kirchner, 2018). He claims that depositories and possibilities of restauration are unsatisfactory in African countries as Congo (Kirchner, 2018). Museums are defending their collections of colonial goods by insisting on extensive provenance research. Provenance research takes a lot of time as there are oftentimes only poor records about the object’s origin. It is thus difficult to find the owner of the cultural object as there may be a “chain of ownership” (Förster, 2019, p. 82). Sometimes it is not clear to whom these objects should be restituted: To the state of origin, the families, societies or the ancestors (Förster, 2019, p. 82)?
The critics of the museums accuse the museums to not adequately deal with their past. With their exhibitions and representation practices, cultural differences and asymmetries of knowledge have been underlined and naturalized (Bobineau, 2019, p. 95). During the colonial era, European museums popularized racist stereotypes (Förster, 2019, p. 78). If the museums are not willing to look critically at their past, it is a wasted opportunity to come to terms with the past and to learn from it.
Some museums proposed to lend the objects to African museums or to create digital versions objects (Mangold, 2018). Both ideas would, however, contribute to a maintenance of power asymmetries between global north and global south. The restitution of colonial objects is therefore a good way to promote the Eurafrican dialogue and to eradicate postcolonial power asymmetries. Furthermore, restitution may be a chance to reconciliation and to dialogue. European politicians and museums should thus start getting proactive and not loose time with extensive provenance research. By engaging in an extensive provenance research in Europe, we reserve the right to determine the future of the objects that our ancestors acquired unlawfully.
Bobineau, J. (2019). Koloniale Diskurse, afrikanische Epistemologien und das AfricaMuseum in Belgien. Zum Potential einer postkolonialen Interkulturalität bei Felwine Sarr und Bénédicte Savoy. interculture journal: Online Zeitschrift für interkulturelle Studien, 18(32), 87-102.
Förster, L. (2019). Der Umgang mit der Kolonialzeit: Provenienz und Rückgabe, 78-103.
In 2016, the European Union’s (EU) Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s efforts to control low taxes for big, multinational companies led to the Commission ordering Apple to pay back 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes to Ireland. Including interest, that number has now surpassed 14 billion – a sum that both Apple and the Irish government have submitted an appeal against. To understand why, and what this could mean for other tech companies in similar positions, one has to look into both the history of the case and Ireland’s economy.
Apple had already been under fire in the US for corporate tax avoidance in 2013, a case during which US senators called Ireland a tax haven for global companies. Three years later, the European Commission ordered Apple to compensate the Irish government for the taxes it had not paid between 2003 and 2014 due to a preferential tax deal. Such a deal that was not available to other companies, which made it a case of illegal state aid under the EU law. Now, Apple’s appeal was approved by the EU’s General Court, which argued that the Commission had failed to provide enough evidence to prove that Apple was receiving preferential treatment.
The Irish government stressed that it had been clear Apple had not received any special arrangement. That Ireland welcomed the decision is hardly surprising, considering that Dublin is the host of many other multinational companies – with its low corporate tax rate, the country is an attractive location for large corporations, and they provide a considerable number of jobs and income for the country. Receiving several billion euros in taxes is, at least for the Irish government, a penalty in this scenario. Apple CEO Tim Cook had been even more decisive in his judgement of the EU’s move to order Apple to pay back its taxes, saying it was “political crap”.
The EU now has two months to appeal the decision and is expected to do so. The EU’s appeal will then be presented to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, which will issue a final decision. Vestager stated she would study the judgement carefully and then decide on her next steps but added the Commission will continue to investigate aggressive tax deals to multinational companies.
Apple’s successful appeal has been called a landmark ruling – not least because Amazon and Google have submitted similar appeals that are still pending. Apple’s case could create a precedent and deliver a setback to the efforts that have been made towards curbing the monopolistic position of big tech companies in Europe.
Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda has been re-elected for a second term (Walker, 2020). In this article, I will investigate the effects of Duda’s electoral campaign on Polish society and the implications of his re-election for Poland and the EU.
In his electoral campaign, Duda made use of an anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric which had a polarizing effect and consolidated anti-European attitudes (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Among his voters, he reinforced the notion that “Polish values are under threat in Europe” (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The President thus instrumentalized European problems for his purposes. Voters that support his party share traditional and nationalist values. Therefore, his anti-European strategy resonated well with his electorate. However, Duda not only stirred up hatred against the EU but also against the LGBT+ community. In his electoral campaign, Duda propagated traditional family values and made use of a homophobic rhetoric (Walker, 2020). His party condemned LGBT+ rights as a “foreign import that threatened Polish identity” (Henley, 2020). The President’s rhetoric received a great deal of attention in the older and Catholic electorate (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). Krawkow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski even warned of a “rainbow plague” (Chadwick, 2019). This shows that Duda’s anti- LGBT+ rhetoric was particularly welcomed in conservative Catholic circles. Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric thus further polarized the country. The societal division was especially clear due to the closeness of the election results. Duda’s opponent Rafal Trzaskowski secured 48,8% of the votes (Walker, 2020). The voter turnout was even above average with 68,18% showing the importance of the election (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).
The Polish sociologist Maciej Gdula Duda is convinced that Duda’s welfare policy was a decisive factor for his electoral success (Broder, 2020). During his first term of office, Duda promoted direct benefit payments for families, which was highly appreciated (Broder, 2020). Furthermore, the PiS party was able to win voters from the working and middle class in rural areas by “promising to focus on their problems and to bring down the arrogant elites” (Ciobanu, 2020). Duda’s success was thus also based on his social policy and his positive attitude towards families.
Apart from its social policy, the President’s party, Law and Justice (PiS), characterized itself as fighting for Christianity “against foreign forces” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). The national conservative party argued that “Germany and other outside powers were trying to meddle into Poland’s affairs” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). This fight against foreign involvement was part of Duda’s strategy to distract from real problems.
In his campaign Duda was supported by public television (Walker, 2020). His liberal opponent, Trzaskowski, was frequently criticized or attacked, also for its positive attitude towards the LGBT+ community (Walker, 2020). The elections were thus held under an „unfair media environment“ (Tharoor, 2020). Despite these conditions, the opposition was able to secure a large amount of votes (around 48%).
Duda’s re-election has several implications not only for Poland, but also for the European Union. Duda’s political agenda of the past years already suggests what he might plan for the future (Tharoor, 2020). He might adopt measures to further politicize and hollow out the judiciary and the media. The state’s system of checks and balances is expected to be further deteriorated and it is feared that democratic institutions are further dismantled as in Hungary (Henley, 2020). The re-election might thus put the Polish rule of law, judicial independence and media independence to the test. However, it also puts the European Union to the test (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The re-election makes it harder for the EU to guarantee that Polish citizens feel supported by the EU and to ensure the rule of law in the country (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Furthermore, it remains questionable whether President Duda will be able to persuade the European Union that minority rights are respected in Poland (Zerka & Buras, 2020). For the EU, Duda’s re-election raises important questions on how to respond to the politicisation of the judiciary and to the discrimination of minorities.
In conclusion, Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric further polarized and divided the country. The fact that Duda’s opponent was supported by 48,8% shows how deeply divided the country is. Furthermore, Duda’s re-election is expected to put the Polish rule of law and independence of Poland’s judiciary to the test. The European Union is also put to the test as it is asked to find a response to these developments.
Seán Lemass, an Irish politician who advocated for an active role of Ireland in the international community, said, “Irish people are citizens of the world as well as Ireland.” Often called “the global island” due to the worldwide presence of its diaspora, Ireland is now taking further steps to leave its footprints in the international political scenario. In the past years, the European country struck substantial diplomatic victories which go from assuming a protagonist role in the Brexit negotiations, to securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council and reaching the presidency of the Eurogroup. The latter two can be traced back to a public policy launched in 2018 by the Irish government whose main goal is to turn Ireland into a main political actor by 2025.
The United Kingdom`s decision to leave the EU raised several questions concerning the Irish border with Northern Ireland (UK), trade, cooperation between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK, and the Good Friday Agreement. On the one hand, a no-deal Brexit which implied hard borders could undermine the regional political stability and revive old rivalries. Having this in mind, Dublin lobbied for the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was finalized by the European Commission and May’s government to guarantee a free-border island. On the other hand, Brexit’s economic damage severely affects both countries as their supply chains are highly integrated, and they are close trading partners. Only in 2018, goods exported to the UK amounted to roughly 11.5% of total Irish goods exports (nb the growth of the pound sterling is estimated to be 1% or 2% lower per annum after Brexit, which is bad for the Irish export business). Based on this interdependency, Ireland gained an important leverage power to bring the UK to a softer Brexit. Additionally, Ireland, Cyprus, and Spain were granted by the European Union with an enhanced role in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The European Commission itself stated that it would respond positively to any requests of these countries.
Global Ireland 2025 is an initiative that aims to increase Ireland’s role in Europe, the United Nations, and the world. In practice, this global vision involves, among others, opening up new embassies and consulates, building new air and sea connections, welcoming more international students, and expanding existing missions. A further aspect of the plan is to promote Ireland’s values of peace, humanitarianism, equality, and justice. The benefits of such a complex plan are various: presenting a unified and positive image of Ireland, increasing the infrastructure to support the Irish diaspora, developing tourism, doubling Eurozone exports and diversifying trade (beyond the UK), influencing multilateral institutions and attracting investment.
In June, Ireland won a two-year-long seat for 2021/2022 in the United Nations’ Security Council, debunking the more influential and powerful candidate, Canada. Some reasons for that were the good relationship which Ireland sustains with the islands and African countries, its position in favor of a two-state solution in the Middle East and being the only EU country in the race. President Higgins highlighted that the campaign “engaged with social global issues such as peace-building and peacekeeping, the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of multilateralism, and reform of the United Nations.” Irish PM Leo Varadkar declared that Ireland will use this position to advance causes such as “peace and security, conflict resolution, reconciliation, climate action, sustainable development, and gender equality.”
One month later, Paschal Donoghoe, the Irish finance minister, won the presidency of the Eurogroup against the Spanish candidate, Nadia Calvino, who was preferred by countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Spain. Facing a predicted recession for 2020 of 8.7% in the Eurozone, Donoghoe described himself as a “bridge-builder” who will seek to bring together conservative nations with the ones who have a looser approach to public finances. Donoghoe reinforced the importance of reinstating financial targets along with the recovery plan for the European economy.
In brief, the increasing presence of Ireland in key positions worldwide represents a significant shift in the more restrained international approach of the country in the post-2008 period. This phenomenon was influenced by the Brexit process, which pushed Ireland for an active role in the negotiations, and by the Global Ireland 2025 plan. Irish PM Leo Varadkar said that Ireland must assume a leadership role so as to be in the heart of the European community and, more ambitiously, at the “center” of the world. Lastly, one can see that it is noteworthy to keep an eye on the Celtic island because Ireland is on the rise.
The civil war in Yemen began five years ago in 2015, when Shiite rebels named Houthi took control of its capital city Sana’a after negotiations with the government failed. In March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and support by the United States launched air strikes against the insurgents. Since then, numerous attempts at installing peace – including peace talks facilitated by the UN – failed, and regional powers such as the Gulf states and Iran continuously intervene in the conflict.
Meanwhile, the toll on Yemen’s population has been enormous. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “four out of every five people” need lifesaving aid, which makes the number of Yemeni people dependent on relief efforts 24 million in total. More than eight million directly rely on UNICEF for water, and their operations in Yemen are so short of money that some are at risk of being shut down, which would leave millions without soap and water. Additionally, the war has displaced millions from their homes, many of them fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti.
And not only do precarious sanitary conditions and floods increase the risk of older diseases like malaria, dengue fever and cholera, but COVID-19 now poses an even bigger threat to the population of Yemen. Since the country recorded its first case on April 10th, the number has risen into the thousands. But considering the low testing rates and the disorganised situation in the country, the real numbers are likely to be much higher – and according to Guterres, it is likely that community transmission has already begun in Yemen. Mortality rates are among the highest in the world, which is not surprising given that trying to improve the country’s health services (such as hospital’s supplies of electricity and oxygen) is difficult when half the population does not have access to clean water.
What Yemen lacks is about 2 and a half billion US dollars in aid. The EU has given almost 500 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen, mostly focused on food, healthcare and hygiene measures. Nevertheless, Yemen is still in dire need of lifesaving aid, and according to UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock, gathering the money necessary to deliver aid is the biggest problem. But what Yemen needs most is peace. In October 2018, after the death of Saudi-Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the European Parliament called on its member states to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Germany responded with suspending all its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but after pressure coming from the United Kingdom and France, where companies depend on German-made components to build their arms, the decision was revoked.
In the EU, the Common Position on arms export controls defines the criteria by which potential export licenses must be judged – including respect for human rights. But although it is legally binding, there is no mechanism to enforce it, and since defence policy lies with the member states’ sovereignty, it is often ignored in favour of commercial interests. And since EU-made arms have allegedly already been used in multiple strikes that involved civilian casualties and at the very least enabled Saudi Arabia to launch military intervention in Yemen in the first place, this begs the question how the EU can justify this next to its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. In France, minister Florence Parly first claimed that French weapons were not directly used in the war. When evidence of the contrary surfaced, she claimed there was no evidence that these weapons had been intentionally used against civilians. To hold onto its values and promote peace in the region, the EU needs to start enforcing its Common Position on export controls.
After World War I, in 1920, the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Hungary was obliged to sign an agreement with the Allied Powers at the Trianon Palace in Versailles, France (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). Hungary lost two thirds of its territory and millions of people found themselves in another country from one day to another (2020, Ozsváth). Due to the immense loss of territory, almost every family experienced the consequence of Trianon, meaning that “every family has a family member who either had to leave their home and move to (the new) Hungary, or was separated for decades” (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). After World War II, Hungary was under the influence of the USSR. In the wake of the socialist doctrine, the Soviet Union aimed at pacifying the region and the trauma of Trianon was increasingly tabooed (Mdr.de, 2020). However, the conflict did not disappear. Now, 100 years after Trianon, the treaty still has an impact on national politics and the comprehension of history.
The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, uses Trianon for his political purposes. Calling Trianon, a “dictate” (which calls to mind the right-extremist choice of words of the Nazi-Propaganda in the times of the Weimar Republic), Orbán creates a myth around Hungary’s past in order to consolidate and promote nationalist ideas (Mdr.dw, 2020). Orbán invested 14,5 Million Euro into a monument commemorating Trianon (Schlagwein, 2020). The monument shows the names of all the 12.536 places that have been part of Hungary before World War I (Mdr.de, 2020). However, some of these places have never been populated by a Hungarian majority (Mdr.de, 2020). On the day of the centenary of Trianon, flags were at half-mast (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). By drawing attention to Trianon, Orbán not only promotes nationalist ideas, but also manipulates the national understanding of history.
Orbán aims at creating a national feeling across borders in order to secure the electoral support of the Hungarian diaspora. Hungarian people living abroad are also granted the right to vote and a dual citizenship (Sandford & Magyar, 2020). Furthermore, Orbán supports the Hungarian diaspora financially by investing in Hungarian speaking schools, universities and churches (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). The integration of the Hungarian diaspora has the purpose to generate a devoted and faithful electorate. 90% of the Hungarian diaspora living in Romania votes for Orban (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). In Romania, the Hungarian minority is not well integrated in the society. Orbán actively supports the isolation of the Hungarian minority in Romania by financing Hungarian cultural and educational projects (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). By further contributing to the isolation of the Hungarian diaspora he not only secures important votes, but also creates a relationship of dependence which has a positive effect on his expansion of power.
The isolation of the Hungarian minority, however, also leads to conflicts as in 2019, when Romanian nationalists and Hungarian nationalists disputed “the right to place crosses for Romanian soldiers in an international war cemetery which contains the remains of soldiers of multiple nationalities from both world wars” (Palfi, Asbóth, & Musaddique, 2019). In Slovakia, Hungarians are better integrated into the society. The party of the Hungarian minority has even been part of government from time to time (Fillinger & Nowotny, 2020). In Slovakia, only 50% of the Hungarian minority support Orbán. This shows that the more Orbán influences the Hungarian diaspora politically and financially, the more likely the electorate is to support him.
In May 2020, Orbán published a post on Facebook showing a map of Hungary before World War I, before Trianon, on the occasion of the final history high school exams in the subject history (Schlagwein, 2020). This was an international scandal. The president of Slovenia, Borut Pahor expressed “rejection and concern” over the map (Walker, 2020). This shows that until today Trianon is a sensitive issue. However, approximately 85% of Hungarians see Trianon as Hungary’s “greatest tragedy” (Than & Fenyo, 2020). This shows that Orbán’s attempts to manipulate the country’s understanding of history was successful.
In conclusion, Orbán successfully instrumentalized Trianon for its purposes. By drawing attention to Trianon, Orbán promoted nationalist ideas and manipulated the national understanding of history. In the wake of the idea of the “dictate of Trianon”, Orbán can more easily mobilize his electorate and justify his extension of power.
The European Union’s concerns with its commercial relations with China have been gaining new dimensions with the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. Sino-European partnership goes from the political to the economic realm, encompassing environmental policies and debates about human rights. The global pandemic and the need to strengthen the Chinese image in the National Assembly, in Beijing, pushed China to an aggressive diplomacy style that is causing tension amidst European actors.
While many countries still struggle with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis, China seems to be recovering quickly, at least for now. Pragmatic cooperation with Beijing regarding medical supplies and assistance is indeed at the top of the Sino-European agenda, nevertheless, Xi Jinping is also taking the height of the crisis as an opportunity to exploit political and economic vulnerabilities in Europe.
At the beginning of the crisis, when countries like Italy and Spain were hit hard by the high number of infections, the European Union was divided on how to deal with the situation. The lack of action by the EU and the lack of solidarity among EU members not only caused a new wave of Euroscepticism to arise but gave China space to offer essential medical support that was urgently needed. Xi Jinping raised the notion of building a “Health Silk Road” while talking to the Italian PM Giuseppe Comte, in what many specialists would interpret as one of the many soft power victories China is striking in Europe.
The escalating tensions in the Sino-Indian border, Hong Kong, South and East China seas, increasing investments in nuclear weapons able to reach many NATO members, violation of human rights regarding the Uyghur minority and disinformation campaigns attempted the European Union to an aggressive Chinese diplomacy style and its inability to stand up to it. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell highlighted Beijing’s advances to play on the differences between Europeans. It is not news that Chinese investments in Europe have repeatedly blocked EU statements criticizing Beijing’s actions, as it was the case of Hungary and Greece rejecting a declaration against Chinese actions in the South China sea. However, in the past months, China tried to intervene in the European information network. In April, for example, Beijing pressured Brussels to modify the wording of the EU’s report on disinformation. Along with, the China Daily, under the influence of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, required the EU ambassador to delete a sentence declaring that the outbreak of the pandemic happened in China as a condition to publish a Sino-European relations celebration text (co-written by him and 27 EU ambassadors). The modification was accepted by the EU delegation, causing a fierce opposition in Europe. Also in this period, the Chinese embassy in France accused French care workers of abandoning elderly patients to starve and die. This type of declarations about the mismanagement of European countries toward the crisis and the spread of fake news led the European Commission Vice-President, Vera Jourova, to say that, “Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around COVID-19 in the EU, its neighborhood and globally, seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarization, and improve their image in the COVID-19 context.”
In Europe, the last word in foreign affairs still rests on national governments, so that it remains difficult to present a united front against or in favor of foreign actors in many matters. Knowing that different European countries face different types of pressure, it is important to hold an open yet watchful posture toward foreign investments in companies that are key to the national interest and security. In the Sino-European case, for example, China is a relevant partner in climate change policies, the EU’s biggest source of imports, and its second-biggest export market. Particularly, China holds many investments in Europe, buying for instance stakes in many airports, ports, and relevant industrial companies. Most of these are made by private actors, thus representing no political harm. However, several private actors are subsidized by the Chinese government, causing unfair competition to European companies, and raising concern that some of these actors may be influenced by the Chinese government.
All in all, it is as desirable that the European Union stands for an open trade relationship with China as it is to combat Beijing’s protectionism and aggressive diplomacy. Some ways to do that is by balancing Chinese investments and demanding (as well as showing on the EU’s behalf) transparency. In June, the European Commission presented a package of tools to protect the European business fabric, such as engines to control the purchase of European companies by foreign parties (mainly those who receive state support). Nevertheless, a recurrent problem came up again: the EU Member States are also in competition with each other, and the approval of such tools is still uncertain.
When Germany’s constitutional court ruled that the European Central Bank (ECB) had violated the German constitution, the effects were immediate – the value of the Euro as well as the debt ratings of the eurozone countries fell. Next to being unprecedented, the decision also came at a time at which it puts pressure on the coronavirus relief package of the ECB – and the response among policymakers and legal experts was accordingly urgent.
Though the court issued its decision on the 5th of May, the case had been going on for much longer. It goes back to 2015, when the ECB established its public sector purchase programme (PSPP), which was supposed to stabilise the eurozone after the financial crisis by buying government debt.
In the years that followed, the German constitutional court asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a judgement on the bond-buying program of the ECB twice, and twice did the ECJ issue its permission to the ECB. Now, on the grounds that the ECB was overstepping its mandate and failed to incorporate political oversight into the purchases of the bonds, the German constitutional court has ruled the ECB has violated the German constitution.
EU law still remains superior to national law, and the ECB is not a subject of German national law. The German central bank (Bundesbank) however, is bound by the decision of the German constitutional court. The ECB now has three months to explain why their bond purchases are proportionate to their mandate – otherwise, the Bundesbank, which is the biggest shareholder of the ECB, would have to pull out of the PSPP. And this is the crux of the issue: although the German constitutional court recognises the EU’s exclusive competence in monetary policy, it has still put forward a judgement on whether or not the ECB and the ECJ are operating within their mandate. It could set, as many have argued in the following weeks, a dangerous precedent.
The reactions to this ruling were widespread and mixed – in Poland for instance, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the decision one of the most important rulings in the history of the EU, as it reaffirms the agency of member states. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen meanwhile is considering starting a treaty violation proceeding against Germany. Monetary policy is an exclusive EU competence, she reasoned, and the ruling therefore posed questions that touched the heart of the EU’s sovereignty. Members of the European Parliament called for all EU institutions to support the decisions of the ECJ, to avoid putting the integrity of the EU’s court and the eurozone in jeopardy. In the end, not even legal experts share a consensus on what this decision means for the future of the ECB and, by extension, the EU. While some theorise it could lead to the break-up of the eurozone, others see the decision itself as a threat to the ECB’s independence. This is especially interesting since – though formally, the ruling has no effect on this – the ECB’s coronavirus relief package is a €750bn bond-buying program, which could now also be called into question.
In 2018, after the introduction of Poland’s contested Holocaust law, Jews faced a wave of antisemitism. The law aimed at legally prohibiting statements accusing Poland of collaboration with the Nazis (Santora, 2018). Due to the international protest, the Polish government decided to weaken the Holocaust law by amending the punishments in case of violations of the law; the amended Holocaust law refrains from a three-year prison sentence (Zeit Online, 2018). In Poland, antisemitic beliefs are adopted both by people with poor educational backgrounds and by people with high educational backgrounds (Krzeminski, 2002, p. 25). Even young people agree with antisemitic ideas. A study of 566 young poles conducted in 2011 showed that “more than 30% of young Poles think that Jews abuse Polish feelings of guilt” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813). Antisemitism is represented in the left and right political spectrum (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 831). However, studies have shown that a significant percentage of voters of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and the conservative-nationalist party (PSL) share antisemitic attitudes (Zuk, 2017, p. 85). The scholar Werner Bergman (2008) also claims that antisemitism is highly correlated with right-wing national attitudes which can be illustrated by the fear about the Holocaust’s negative repercussions on the national prestige and self-confidence (p. 358). Furthermore, he evokes that “the Holocaust and the collaboration of certain sections of the nation during the Nazi persecution were initially suppressed from public consciousness after 1945 in Eastern European countries” (Bergmann, 2008, p. 359). Bergman (2008) emphasizes that the Holocaust was first addressed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, so that the country started struggling with questions about the national self-identification and self-esteem after 1989 (p. 359). Before the Second World War, more than three million Jews lived in Poland. However, after the Holocaust, only a small number of Jewish survivors and repatriates remained in the country (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2802). Despite the small size of the Jewish community, there is an increase in antisemitism. Some scholars call this phenomenon “anti-Semitism without Jews” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.823). The question thus arises why this phenomenon is still so prevalent in a country which faced the cruelties of the Holocaust and in which Jews only represent a small ethnic minority.
There are different forms of antisemitism in Poland. The most widespread form is modern antisemitism which is rather secular form of antisemitism and appears to be a relic from the political ideology of the Polish nationalist movement. It comprises secondary antisemitism (claiming that Jews themselves are responsible for antisemitism) and Jewish conspiracy theories (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.823). Secondary antisemites are “willing to forget about the Holocaust and actively oppose compensation or restitution to the victims” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813)
Different theories seek to explain the causes of antisemitism in Poland. Some scholars highlight situational aspects such as crisis or deprivation that promote antisemitic beliefs (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 824). The relative deprivation theory puts forward that ethnic prejudice results from a group’s “subjective perception of lower group status” (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p.236). The ideological model of scapegoating developed by Peter Glick, however, claims that in times of “shared frustration”, people are more prone to ideologies that blame certain groups as responsible for the situation (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p. 236). People who feel underprivileged are often frustrated and try to find someone they could blame for. Conspiracy beliefs provide a scapegoat, so that they can express their frustration in the aggression against the chosen scapegoat, which is in the Polish case the Jewish community (Bilewicz & Krzeminski, 2010, p. 242). Bilewicz, Winiewski and Radzik suggest that antisemitism not only has a scapegoating function for post-transitional problems, but also “allows the denial of the responsibility of historical crimes towards Jews” (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2817). However, some studies proved that personality factors such as authoritarianism and nationalism are better at predicting antisemitism than situational factors such as financial or economic crisis (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p. 825). Scholars putting forward the concept of competitive victimhood to explain antisemitism, suggest that if national identification is based on ideas moral superiority and a victimization history, people within this group are more likely to deny that other groups might also share the status of historical victimhood (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Kofta, Wójcik, 2013, p.286). Competitive victimhood thus diminishes the capacity to feel empathy towards people outside of their own group (Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik, 2012, p. 2813). Bilewicz, Winiewski, Radzik (2012) suggest that especially relative victimhood (“the perception that Poles were more victimized in the past than the Jews”) fuels antisemitism in Poland (p. 2813). Other scholars explained anti-Semitism in Poland with the help of the idea of collective narcissism. According to Golec de Zavala and Cichocka (2011), collective narcissism leads to antisemitism as it provokes a negative stereotyping of Jews within the non-Jewish society. The concept of collective narcissism implies that the members of a group (in-group members) develop the perception of vulnerability to external threats from out-group members which is deemed to be hostile (p. 359). Out-group members (in the Polish case, Jews) are negatively stereotyped and due to the increasing amount of stereotypes and prejudices, antisemitic ideas are fuelled.
In conclusion, there are situational, personality factors, and identity-related factors which might explain the phenomenon of antisemitism in Poland. However, the phenomenon appears to be very exceptional due to the fact that only a very small minority of Jews lives in Poland. The increase in antisemitism definitely raises questions about democratic values, the dealing with the past and societal values and norms.
Bergmann, W. (2008). Anti‐Semitic attitudes in Europe: A comparative perspective. Journal of Social Issues, 64(2), 343-362.
Bilewicz, M., & Krzeminski, I. (2010). Anti-Semitism in Poland and Ukraine: The belief in Jewish control as a mechanism of scapegoating. International Journal of Conflict and Violence (IJCV), 4(2), 234-243.
Bilewicz, M., Winiewski, M., & Radzik, Z. (2012). Antisemitism in Poland: Economic, Religious, and Historical Aspects. Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, 4, 2801.
Bilewicz, M., Winiewski, M., Kofta, M., & Wójcik, A. (2013). Harmful Ideas, The Structure and Consequences of Anti‐Semitic Beliefs in Poland. Political Psychology, 34(6), 821-839.
Golec de Zavala, A., & Cichocka, A. (2012). Collective narcissism and anti-Semitism in Poland. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15(2), 213-229.
Krzemiński, I. (2002). Polish-Jewish relations, anti-Semitism and national identity. Polish Sociological Review, 25-51.