Lieber Sandmann

Mass Media and the Construction of a New National Identity in Eastern Germany

By André Francischetti Moreno

“Sandman, dear Sandman, it’s not over yet; we’ll first see the evening regards; before every child must go to bed; you certainly still have time!”

If you come from Germany, or at least lived there, you have probably listened to this song from the children´s cartoon Unser Sandmännchen while you were growing up. In fact, in despite of the apparently naïve lyrics of the opening song, the cartoon´s origins relate to a not so-long time ago when Germany was still divided in two, during most part of the Cold War.  What most people do not pay attention, however, is on how the then government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) used the cartoon to build a new national identity. Indeed, national identity is not an inherent feature of human beings, rather it is something that must be constructed and disseminated. Smith (1988) goes further and argues that the concept itself can be regarded as a “political myth” as it holds that mankind is naturally divided into different nations. In 1949, the foundation of the GDR disrupted more than 78 years of German identity-building and set an important challenge to the new administration: “How to locate the newly formed East German State in the present, past and future of the common German experience” (Nothnagle, 1993, p. 93). The Unser Sandmännchen cartoon is a substantial example of how the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) used mass media to create a new national identity through the redefinition of values and historical aspects of the German society, differentiation and use of national symbols.

Firstly, Unser Sandmännchen conveyed a very important tenet of SED, which was the redefinition of the historical Heimat. The concept of Heimat, explored by Becker and Applegate (1992), denotes a homeland. It involves values and history, and thus may be used to legitimize a state, leading to a greater appreciation of the surroundings and a genuine and democratic patriotism (Palmowski, 2004, p. 369, 377). Essentially, the socialist Heimat was determined by class relations and proposed that socialism was the only way to become a fair society. (Schwarz, 1956). Emphatically, Peter Blümel, the former director of Unser Sandmänchenn, stated that the cartoon was projected to “reflect life in east Germany, transmit class consciousness and feeling of solidarity” (Molen, 2015). Moreover, historical approximation was also involved in the cartoon, endorsed by the “German-Soviet friendship myth” (Nothnagle, 1993, p. 103). The appearance of socialist symbols and, more subtly, Sandmann´s favorite place to spend holidays, Moscow, are examples of this shift. Volker Petzold, a Sandmann historian, said that it was made by and should convey a communist belief in a better and more just world, whose model was the Soviet Union.

Secondly, the government quickly recognized the political potential of the socialist Heimat and used it to differentiate the principles and policies of the new Eastern German State. Above all, the government utilized it to induce pride in the GDR’s achievements vis-a-vis the Federal Republic of Germany (Poiger, 2000). Unser Sandmännchen clearly represented the attempt of policy differentiation, when the little puppet traveled to Vietnam, in the middle of the Vietnam war, and to young nation-states in Africa and the Near East spreading the values of socialism (War´s, 2019). Furthermore, Sandman, who sometimes used a spaceship, traveled to space both fictionally and in real life (when in 1978, during the Space Race, the East-German astronaut, Sigmund Jähn took a puppet with him to the Soviet space station).

Thirdly, symbols were also used in order to construct a new national identity. As it comes to the transition from the old Germany to the GDR, the Eastern leaders agreed on five official ideological phases of the GDR development, of which one was the era of “Socialist Construction”, from 1952 to 1989 (Von Buxhoeveden, 1980). According to KolstØ (2006), national identity must be learnt, and audiovisual aids such as flags, coats of arms and national anthems play a crucial role in nation building and nation-maintenance). This can be seen when Sandmann and young pioneers board on a type of plane and fly over a Berlin full of GDR flags.

In brief, one can see that the GDR government used mass media to construct a new national identity in Eastern Germany and that the cartoon Unser Sandmännchen was an outstanding example of it. First, SED was able to reach its goals through the redefinition of values and historical aspects of the German society by creating the socialist Heimat and nearing German and Soviet history. Second, it differentiated its policies by exhibiting its achievements and political engagement. Third, national symbols such as the national flag were present to consolidate a national feeling. As one can see, “Communication is (understood as) the means through which a nation forges a common identity, a common purpose, and a common resolve, and mass media are the forum in which this communication occurs” (Grossberg, Wartella & Whitney, 1998). Luckily, from now on you will have a much broader idea over the cartoon, and more ideas to frame your dreams.

Photo by Barbara Evening on Pixabay

References

Becker, C. A., & Applegate, C. (1992). A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat. The German Quarterly, 65(1), 55. doi: 10.2307/406805

Grossberg, L., Wartella, E., & Whitney, D. C. (1998). MediaMaking: Mass Media in a Popular Culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kolst⊘, P. (2006). National symbols as signs of unity and division. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(4), 676–701. doi: 10.1080/01419870600665409

Molen, A. (2015, September 8). Documentary: The lost world of communism part 1/3 (East Germany) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znb_X48WXUg

 Nothnagle, A. (1993). From Buchenwald to Bismarck: Historical Myth-Building in the German Democratic Republic, 1945–1989. Central European History, 26(1), 91–113. doi: 10.1017/s000893890001997x

Palmowski, J. (2004). Building an East German Nation: The Construction of a Socialist Heimat, 1945–1961. Central European History, 37(3), 365–399. doi: 10.1163/1569161041445661

Poiger, U. G. (2000). Jazz, Rock, and RebelsCold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany. doi: 10.1525/california/9780520211384.001.0001

Schwarz, S. (1956). Die Liebe zur Heimat: Ein wesentliches ziel unserer patriotischen erziehung (Doctoral dissertation). Berlin, Germany: Humboldt University.

Smith, A. D. (1988). The myth of the ‘modern nation’ and the myths of nations. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 11(1), 1–26. doi: 10.1080/01419870.1988.9993586

Von Buxhoeveden, C. (1980). Geschichtswissenschaft und politik in der DDR: Das problem der periodisierung. Cologne, Germany.

War´s, D. (2019, October 18). Fernsehen in der DDR: Sandmann, propaganda und ein kessel Buntes [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTpRRm2cxm0

The EU’s struggles to end Daylight Saving Time (and why they are so hard to solve)

By Lea Schiller

When daylight saving time was first introduced during the First World War, the goal was to maximise the use of summer daylight and conserve fuel. By moving sundown to an hour later in the day, it was possible to sustain daily routine while burning less fuel for light. First introduced in Germany, the scarcity of wartime helped it spread throughout Europe to the United States. Though abandoned after peace was established, some European countries picked up the practice again during the oil crisis of the 1970s. In 1996, the European Union adopted legislation that requires member states to conduct clock changes in March and October of every year to keep differing time zones from destabilising the single market.

In September 2018, after conducting an online public consultation on the clock change in the European Union, the European Commission decided on the goal of ending the seasonal time changes in 2019. With about 4.6 million respondents, this consultation ended up generating the highest number of responses ever received in any public survey of the European Commission, though most of the votes originated from Germany and Austria. 84% of those who voted decided in favour of abolishing the seasonal time changes, with over 70% of all voters reporting they had a “Very negative” to “Negative” experience with the clock change – only 10% of described their experience to be “Very Positive”. The seasonal time change has been associated with causing short-term jet lag, similar to the experience after travelling through different time zones. This disruption of the biorhythm not only causes sleep disturbances and mood swings in the short run, but increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes (Deutscher Bundestag, 2016).

By the end of March, the European Parliament had voted in favour of discontinuing the time changes, leaving the governments of the individual member states to decide whether to stay in daylight saving time or maintain standard time. Naturally, the need for a coordinated approach was evident, as a patchwork of timezones could have disastrous consequences for Europe’s closely knit transportation and communication systems – not to speak of the active cross-border trade. Especially for neighbouring countries, differing time zones could cause massive complications to the schedule of international trains and cross-continent flights. The Parliament amended its proposal, stressing the importance of coordination and long-time certainty in this operation. But this certainty appears to be waining. Most countries face domestic disputes over which time to keep, or are instead in conflict with their neighbouring states, trying to cooperate in order to avoid a patchwork of timezones. Meanwhile, Britain is wondering whether EU law will even apply to them by the time the discontinuation comes into force (O’Hare, 2019). Just a month after the Parliament’s decision, the General Secretariat of the Council (2019) published a note saying they had only received positions on the time change from a small amount of member states:

“It appears that most Member States need more time to conclude relevant national inter-ministerial and stakeholder/citizen consultations, as well as consultations with neighbouring countries before finalising their position.”For now, the EU has abandoned its goal of abolishing the seasonal time changes by the end of this year. The new goal is set for 2021 – as long as all member states submit a plan on how to deal with the consequences by the end of October 2020.

Photo by Bryce Barker on Unsplash

Resources

Deutscher Bundestag (2016). Studien zu gesundheitlichen Folgen der jährlichen                                                Zeitumstellung auf die Sommerzeit. Retrieved from: https://www.bundestag.de/resource/                         blob/407624/d1fa2b547812da531f580ce77f348b4f/wd-9-044-14-pdf-data.pdf

Council of the European Union (2019, May 27). Retrieved from: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/                  doc/document/ST-9414-2019-INIT/en/pdf

European Commission. Seasonal clock change in the EU. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/                          transport/themes/summertime_en

European Commission (2018, August 31). Summertime Consultation: 84% want Europe to stop                                   changing the clock. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/summertime/                        news/2018-08-31-consultation-outcome_en

European Parliament (2019, February 15). Retrieved from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/                   document/TA-8-2019-0225_EN.pdf?redirect

Es ist Winterzeit – Wissenschaftler gibt Tipps gegen die Müdigkeit (2019, October 26). Welt.                                Retrieved from: https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article202237376/Zeitumstellung-2019-                        Es-ist-Winterzeit-Wissenschaftler-gibt-Tipps-gegen-Muedigkeit.html

O’Hare, M. (2019, October 25). Europe will change its clocks for the last time in 2021. Should                          Britain bother? The Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.zeit.de/politik/2019-10/                        winterzeit-zeitumstellung-eu-kommission-jean-claude-juncker

Schaverien, A. (2019, March 27). EU votes to end mandatory switch to daylight saving time. The                     New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/world/europe/                                 daylight-savings-time-european-union.html

Winterzeit: Zur Abschaffung der Zeitumstellung fehlt der EU die Einheit (2019, October 25). Zeit                    Online. Retrieved from: https://www.zeit.de/politik/2019-10/winterzeit-zeitumstellung-eu-             kommission-jean-claude-juncker

Twenty Years After the Belfast Agreement

A Historical Review on the Troubles and Brexit Implication to Northern-Ireland’s Future

By André Francischetti Moreno

“I’ve seen cruelty and injustice at first hand; so, then one fateful morning I shook bold freedom’s hand; for right or wrong I’d try to free my land”

This excerpt, taken from The Wolfe Tones’ song Joe McDonnell, refers to a terrible period of British history. The Troubles were a conflict of great violence in Northern Ireland, in which an ethno-nationalist catholic minority fought against the British Army for civil rights and unification with the Republic of Ireland. However, the Irish nationalist feeling refers to the island’s cultural renaissance, in the beginning of the twentieth century. Conflicts between Catholics and the Protestant population of Ulster date back to 1916, peace has prevailed for several decades in Northern Ireland, established after Ireland’s independence recognition in 1922. However, 1960s economic decline and marginalisation of the Catholic minority revived old tensions. Furthermore, civil rights agitation from 1968 brought a violent response from the state and loyalists, culminating in severe rioting in August 1969. 

This spiral into violence caused the rise of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), and the deployment of British troops to the region. On 30 January 1972, 14 civil rights protestors were killed by the British Army in Derry on a day that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’ It was not until 1994 that paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland, and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement of 1998, put an end in a violence wave which caused 3,500 deaths, of which 52% were civilians.

In 2016, after the UK voted to leave the European Union, new concerns arose as a non-deal Brexit would result in  a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. This meant limited and physically controlled crossing points. In order to avoid this outcome, in 2018, the then British Prime Minister Theresa May, proposed the Northern Ireland Protocol, also known as the Irish backsto). The protocol would keep the United Kingdom in the European Union Customs Union and Northern Ireland partially linked to the European Single Market, until a better solution was found. The Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposed this provision, as it believes that it undermines the integrity of the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly, the backstop was rejected three times by the Parliament and the inability of Mrs. May to conduct Brexit led to her resignation. 

This week, the European Union approved a new draft proposed by the British PM, Boris. Johnson. The main difference with previous proposals is that instead of having customs checks at the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, there would be checks in the UK itself, at ports along the Irish Sea and airports. In other words, products shipped to Northern Ireland, which are suspected to be furthered to Ireland would be taxed (VAT figures as the main consumption tax). In the case they are not effectively furthered, merchants would be indemnified. The next step to formalise this deal is the approval of the British Parliament. Nevertheless, DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds put out a joint statement laying out their concerns with the deal terms, “As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.” Moreover, DUP said: “These proposals are not, in our view, beneficial to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and they undermine the integrity of the Union.”

What happens if the Parliament rejects the deal? According to the Ben Act, Mr. Johnson, who currently holds the minority in the Parliament, would have to request a three-month Brexit delay, unless he can get MPs to approve a no-deal exit by 19th October. While the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, does not rule out an extension, EU Commission President, Mr. Juncker, is more resistant. The British PM repeatedly stated that the UK must and will leave the European Union by the 31st of October, and appealed, “Now is the moment for us to get Brexit done and then together work on building our future partnership, which I think can be incredibly positive both for the UK and for the EU.” 

Twenty years after the entry into force of the Good Friday Agreement, another deal could define the future of Belfast and its relations with London. Now, it is up to the British Parliament and EU leaders not only to issue a careful decision, but to promote a peaceful and smooth transition to the more than 1.8 million Northern-Irish people who do not want a hard border on their island.

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Resources

1966 and all that: the 50th anniversary commemorations. (2013, April 17). Retrieved from https://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/1966-and-all-that-the-50th-anniversary-commemorations/.

Brexit deal: What does it mean? (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50084090.

Brexit: EU and UK reach deal but DUP refuses support. (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-50079385.

Campbell, J. (2019, January 23). No-deal Brexit ‘means hard border’ – European Commission. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46961982.

Daly, P. (2019, October 17). Brexit: DUP’s concerns with Boris Johnson’s deal – customs, consent and VAT. Retrieved from https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/brexit-dups-concerns-with-boris-johnsons-deal-customs-consent-and-vat-38604045.html.

History of The Northern Ireland Conflict. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.history.co.uk/history-of-the-northern-ireland-conflict.

Weaver, M. (2019, October 17). DUP says it cannot support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/17/dup-boris-johnson-brexit-deal.

“We do not need to fight for a European identity”

By Antonia Schräder

“Bringing Europe back to the People” this is what the Europeans People Party is campaigning for. This is a big promise considering the growing EU scepticism and the ever widening gap between Brussels and the Europeans. The young Europeans play an important part, they are the future. But how will the EU manage to reach out them, to make them go vote, to make them feel that there vote matters? In an interview with Dirk Gotink, Spokesperson of Manfred Weber, I tried to understand the roots of the missing European identity, which is crucial not only for the upcoming elections, but for the future of Europe.

Manfred Weber is familiar with elections on both levels, on the national and the EU level. In what way is this different for a politician ?

Interesting to see is that actually the method is the same. You want to reach your candidate and you have your ideas and your programmes how you can directly reach people. There is not a Spanish way of doing that or a German way of doing that. I mean it is basically the same. Also the concerns of people are very similar.

A major point in both, the Maastricht treaty and the treaty Amsterdam is the endeavour to create a common European identity. But we still see a cleavage between national identity and a European identity. I was wondering how to overcome this cleavage and to follow what actually binds us together as European citizen?

Well the starting point is not the European identity. The starting point is first of all to consider that people have several layers of identity, loyalty and being part of community. The first one is of course local and regional, then you have the national one and there is a European one. What the extremist try to do is that they try to oppose this to each other. This perspective is a mistake, because they belong to each other and in many places it is totally normal. Take for example someone from Castilla la Mancha in Spain, they are proud to come from the region la Mancha, they are proud to be Spanish and are a proud European. Basically we do not need to fight for a European identity, but rather we have to take into account that those different layers of identity belong together. We shouldn’t allow extremist make contractions between them. Between regional and national and European one. That is nonsense.

Even though we have these different layers of identity, which may not contradict each other, we still see that there is a lack of identity at the European level and that the national identity is still much stronger. In his campaign Manfred weber is mentioning that he will give europe back to the people. How will Mr.Weber, as the future president of the commission redeem this promise to the European citizens?

Two things are here necessary. First, in the decision making process: taking another step in the decision making process, so that the level of prioritisation, is one step closer to the people and one step further away from the the technocrats. This is not easy, because the machine is obviously very big, but the most important message for the elections is, that we have to show the people, that how they vote and what they vote has an direct impact on what happens afterwards. Basically this is the simple process of democracy. Second, in the visibility: topics such as migration, economy and climate are most import ant to europeans. These three topics you will find everywhere in Europe. People are worried about Europe not controlling the external borders. Obviously it changes from one country to another, but almost in every country it is on the top concerns. Further people are concerned about a stable economy. Priorities in our program are to give young people a perspective to a job, and give young families access to housing.We need to make sure that not an entire generation will gonna grow up indebted and that the houses the bought once, will never be sold for the same price again. We saw this in Ireland. And then the climate. Which is basically this big categorical imperative. So bringing that decision making or the topics much closer to the concerns of the people.

How is it possible to achieve this? Currently European citizens see an ineffective commission and a slow decision making process in Brussels?

I don’t agree. I think the commission has done a lot in the last 5 years. The problem is that the last 5 years were really crisis management years. Just like the 5 years before. So we’ve been already in ten years of crisis management. Which means you can not really set up a positive programme, you always have to react to the realities and the political problems of the day. Essentially, what we need to do now is have a new start.We need to present a positive agenda again. That can also lead to quick decision making. Take for example the FRONTEX decision of stocking up extra border personnel to 10.000. The council agreed to the proposal to have this full capacity by 2027. This is 12 years after the start of the migration crisis. That is not good enough, so yes: we have to deliver quicker and of course this brings some big challenges like you also have on national or local level. We analyse the problem together and then we propose a solution. Between the two steps there is some kind of a link. Important is that people have to see this link, people have to see that their concerns bout the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 and their experiences in that period have a direct effect on the decision making of the commission in the same mandate. And exclude that we already have managed a lot, but at the moment the migration files are stuck and that will be the top priority for the next commission, which is up to Mr. Weber to solve that.

Coming back to the quote from the campaign: giving Europe back to the people. As a student who has the chance to study in another european country and who benefits from various university programmes funded by the EU, it is easier to see what impact the EU has on my personal life. The ‘Standard Eurobarometer 89 Spring 2018’ on European citizenship show that a higher level of education represents an increased level in European identity, trust in the EU and higher voting rates. The EPP campaigns for reaching out to all people. In the past we have not seen this to a great extent. How will Mr. Reach out to those young people who are not going to university? What will the Commission do for the lower middle class?

First of all we need to make EU funds and exchange programmes also accessible to lower levels of education and we have done that with Erasmus. Those funds have been increased. Further Mr. Weber has introduced an INTERAIL ticket, to give 18 year olds the chance to discover the countries around them. Also those kind of programmes need to be accessible, not only to university students, because we know that university students, they normally will take care of themselves. But surely its important. So we need to open up those funds to lower levels of education, for example when you consider the technical professions. This is what we mean by giving Europe back to the people and this is indeed not just an elite project in Brussels of high educated, super flexible cosmopolitans, speaking 6 languages. It is really something that people get picture of Europe as taking their concerns into account and moreover that Europe is actually protecting them in a globalised world. This would be my best answer to the populist and all the extremist who are attacking Europe. That we deliver, that the EU is the only mechanism we have. To built on the success we already achieved in the last 60 years.

Unfortunately, we have not seen Manfred Weber at the Maastricht debate, which was an important debate for many europeans, especially young europeans. Will we see Manfred weber in another high profile debate before elections ?

He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible. Yes of course. There will be a very big debate on the 15th of may in the European Parliament. We will be there. And there will be a debate on German television between Timmermans and Weber on the 16th of may. ARD and ZDF respectively. He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible.

Women in EU politics: What the Elections may Bring for Gender Parity in the EU

By Emma Myhre

2019 sets the one hundred year mark since several EU countries gave women the right to vote in national elections. Yet, women are underrepresented in political decision-making at local, national and European levels (1). Achieving gender parity in representative politics is arguably needed not only to uphold social justice and women’s rights, but as an important condition of effective democracy and good governance that strengthens and enhances the democratic system. This article will take a look at women in EU politics in light of the European elections, and discuss what the upcoming elections may mean for women’s issues in EU decision-making.

Since the first directly elected legislature in 1979, the percentage of women has risen after each election up to 35.8% after the 2014 election. This is above the world average for national parliaments and above the EU average for national parliaments (2). No EU-wide data exists on political representation of different groups of women, such as women from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ women, older or younger women, or women with disabilities, but the data available suggest that these groups are underrepresented (3). In other words, women are relatively well represented in the EU compared to the rest of the world, but there is still be a way to go. Additionally, the progress already made demands subtle interpretation, as it is sometimes hard to see tangibly what the EU does for women.

That being said, gender equality and the fight against discrimination is a core part of the EU’s treaties. Furthermore, the European Parliament continues to show commitment to the cause – for example, it has recently approved several resolutions regarding gender equality. These include the prevention of and fight to counter harassment in the workplace, in the public domain and in the EU political sphere (as of 11th September 2018), and on male-female parity, calling for measures to guarantee gender equality and improvement in the institutions (as of 15th of January 2019). (4)

The institutional renewal which will follow the European elections on 23rd-26th May, the formation of the new Commission and the appointment of new presidents at the European Council and the European Central Bank represent an opportunity and a risk. While it is true that recent political decisions have resulted in modest advancements in regards to gender equality, it is no less possible that these developments can be reversed (5). Worth pointing out is that the political climate in the bloc is increasingly polarized. Euroscepticism and populism will likely hold a significant role. Furthermore, the cleavage between member states and Brussels when it comes to the future of the European project continues to put pressure on the union as a whole (6). The upcoming elections will hence put the courage of European leaders to the test. A more diverse parliament would possibly disrupt the status quo. Yet it is an opportunity to enable Europe to remain, as well as advance, its position as a globally unchallenged promoter of gender equality. The EU’s advocacy for human rights will not stand as strong if women’s rights are not guaranteed.

A United Right? Prospects for a New Grouping in the European Parliament After 5 Tumultuous Years

By Norbert Rebow

With the elections to the European Parliament set to take place next week much about the future of the European Union in the coming years is shrouded in mystery. One thing that seems relatively clear, however, is that the trend of an increase in the representation of parties to the right of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the Parliament is set to continue in these elections. The past five years have seen the emergence, strengthening and consolidation of support for right wing parties opposed to the EU establishment and the current direction of the European project. Whether these groups and their views will hold sway in the formation of the new Commission and the term of the new Parliament will depend much on the extent to which they are able to coordinate their actions. As the deputy prime minister of Italy and leader of La Lega, Matteo Salvini, tours Europe in search of allies, let us take a look at the likelihood of his goal of unity on the European right.

Before we start to make predictions about the new parliament, we should take a look at the current state of play. Three blocs sat to the right of the EPP in the outgoing European Parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) with 76 seats, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy with 41 seats (EFDD) and Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) with 37 seats[1]. The ECR was the third largest group in the parliament and taken together the total of 154 seats reached by the three groups together was still less than the second largest Socialists and Democrats grouping on 186 seats.

Why has there been this level of fracturing on the right? One thing that needs to be pointed out is that the ECR has been a distinct force, often calling themselves Eurorealists and being termed as soft Eurosceptics. For most of its existence, all the national parties that formed part of the group were committed to keeping their countries in the EU while often being critical of the direction the Union is taking and, in some cases, calling for powers to be returned to Member States. While this still remains the stated stance of the group as a whole, the largest party in it, the British Conservative Party began to support its country’s departure from the EU in 2016. While the group has been sceptical of transferring more power to Brussels it has also traditionally been a champion of the development of the single market, supporting initiatives and legislation that brings down barriers for businesses operate across the Union.

Meanwhile the EFDD and the ENF for most of this parliamentary term consisted of hard Eurosceptics with many of their constituent parties calling for referenda on the departure of their countries from the EU. With this key factor in common we may wonder why they never formed a united bloc. The EFDD formed around UKIP while the ENF was originally organised by the French Front National. Citing differences on economic policy and concerns about “prejudice and anti-Semitism” UKIP refrained from entering an alliance with Le Pen’s party in 2014[2]. With any participation of the Brexit Party and UKIP in the new parliament set to be temporary, the partnership options for other hard Eurosceptic parties are now unlikely to make a choice to go with their British counterparts.

It is not only Brexit that makes today’s situation different. Some of the parties of the ECR, most notably Poland’s Law and Justice, have found themselves at odds with the European Commission and others over issues including migration. Meanwhile, some previously hard Eurosceptic parties have changed their tune. After her defeat to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen dropped her party’s demand for a Frexit referendum, instead seeking to shape fundamental changes to the EU[3]. Similarly, in Italy Matteo Salvini has dropped his party’s proposals to take Italy out of the Euro while continuing to criticise the European institutions, especially over the migration crisis and its impact on Italy[4].

Could this seeming convergence in political orientation lead to a stable alliance of the right? It is not immediately obvious that it will. Matteo Salvini has certainly made great efforts to build a pan-European coalition, visiting leaders across the EU, most notably in Warsaw and Budapest and launching a new grouping last month. This new project has gathered the Lega with right-wing parties from Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Germany along with the National Rally in France[5]. The absence of Law and Justice and Fidesz, however, is glaring in the context of building a bloc whose weight will be felt in the new parliament.

One problem facing efforts like Salvini’s is the question of Russia. Along with Marine Le Pen, he has argued against EU sanctions on Russia, seeking a better relationship with Moscow for Italy and the EU[6]. This runs completely against the committed position of Law and Justice to a hard and united European position against aggression from Vladimir Putin’s government. Given Poland’s geopolitical position, Law and Justice is sceptical of movements toward a change of course which could make it difficult to make common cause with parties that downplay the threat from the Kremlin.

Another issue is the perspective with which the potential member parties approach the EU and the categories of success for a joint movement. Both La Lega and Law and Justice have come to describe their agendas in European terms – the goal of their proposed reforms of the Union are presented as improving the relationship of EU citizens with the institutions and ultimately ensuring the sustainability of the European project. Meanwhile, listening to a recent Euronews interview with Marine Le Pen in which she repeatedly bemoans the fact that the French state pays more into the EU budget than it gets out of it, it is difficult to escape the impression that behind the statement that she would now fight to reform the Union there is little willingness to make the compromises that would make such a movement for change work[7].

There is little doubt that the realities of European politics have changed massively over the past five years. Parties of the anti-establishment right will be stronger in the coming parliament than the last and that they are being pushed closer together as they seek a way forward without Britain in the EU and with support for Union membership rising among voters across Europe. These processes are still in flux, however, and continued disagreements may very well preclude a joint bloc forming when the new MEPs take their seats in July. These developments will not suddenly stop though and Matteo Salvini’s efforts may come to fruition in years to come.


Sources used in this article:

1] Pollofpolls.eu

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/18/nigel-farage-rejects-ukip-tie-french-front-national

[3] https://www.trtworld.com/europe/le-pen-drops-frexit-in-favour-of-an-eu-of-the-far-right-25868

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/1920a116-fd3b-11e8-ac00-57a2a826423e

[5] https://www.dw.com/en/frances-far-right-national-rally-joins-salvinis-european-alliance/a-48411442

[6] https://www.france24.com/en/20190505-le-pen-hungary-poland-far-right-european-parliament-alliance-salvini-populists[7] https://www.euronews.com/video/2019/04/04/le-pen-dreams-of-nationalist-supergroup-exclusive-interview

Alternatives to EU membership: The Norway model in light of Brexit

By Emma Myhre

Out of all non-EU countries, Norway is the one that is the most involved with the EU. Norway’s membership in the EEA means that it has full access to the single market, and very limited barriers to trade with the EU. Furthermore, people from across the EU are free to live and work in Norway, and vice versa. Norway is exempt from EU rules on justice and home affairs, and also on policies on agriculture and fisheries, as it is not part of the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. Most other policies, however, are adapted. These include the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people [1]. The idea of a “Norway model” for the UK has been brought up as a possible plan B for Brexit because of the harsh resistance in the UK parliament to the draft agreement signed off by the EU and UK [2]. The model is relevant because it is as close as a country can get to the EU without membership. Hence, some would consider it a valid option to keep trading relations as tight as they currently are.

However, the Norway model is not perfect. Perhaps the biggest problem with Norway-EU relations is that Norway has no formal say in EU policy-making, because it has no representation in any of the main European institutions [3]. This point has been a cause of discontent among Norwegians towards the current deal. Although the EEA is the most important way for Norway to access the EU single market, Norway finds itself in a suboptimal situation in which it has no vote in the electoral processes that determine EU policies that Norway ultimately has to adopt.

Many Norwegians recognize that the current model is not ideal, but the political parties are at stark disagreement on how to improve it. While some parties wish for Norway to join the EU as a full member, others think it is a better idea not just to reject EU membership but to withdraw from the EEA entirely and form a new set of agreements with the EU. Those that want to join the EU argue that Norway should have a say in EU decision-making and secure Norwegian economic interests by being a member of the union. Another important point the advocates for membership bring up, is the fact that the world needs more cooperation to tackle global challenges that exceed country borders [4]. However, those opposing membership point to democratic problems within the EU and the importance of having politics at a close distance, as well as a clash of values when it comes to international and domestic solidarity and questions of climate [5].  

For the UK to adopt something like the “Norway model” would be difficult. Adopting the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people, would be a tough sacrifice. The British government’s desire to retain control over its own borders and a say in who it lets into the country is an important factor in its relations with the EU [6]. Moreover, being only on the receiving end of policy-making, and following EU rules without voting on them, will raise skepticism among many Brexiteers because it takes significant control from London over its own economic policies. Another important point is the issue with Ireland. To avoid a hard border, the UK would need to have a customs agreement with the EU, pointing towards a so-called “Norway-plus” option. Such a model could further limit the UK’s ability to settle its own trade deals [7].

There are also aspects of the model that are attractive to Brexiteers. Apart from it being a way for the UK to keep its close ties to the EU and the single market, it would give London the ability to set its own policies on important sectors, the way Norway does on its large fishing and agricultural industries [8]. Additionally, it would allow the UK to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries [9].

The very fact that the Norway model has been discussed by politicians and scholars to such an extent proves that it holds significant relevance. However, there is much more to the solution than just picking some kind of a premade package with a guarantee of success. The UK adopting the Norway model would come with significant costs, something the parliament has also recognized. It is also undeniable that the UK and Norway are different countries with different (although overlapping) interests in the international system. Hence, it is not perfectly realistic for the UK to follow suit of Norway. A more pertinent approach would be to look at Norway as an example of an alternative, although perhaps suboptimal solution to EU membership, and make whatever adjustments necessary to produce the best case scenario in the UK context.

Unique Britain – Brexit and the Distinct Characteristics of the British Political System

By Norbert Rebow

If you have been following Brexit developments recently, you may have been struck by some of the distinct ways the British political class and the country’s institutions have handled this process. In this article I will try to dispel some of the confusion and mystery surrounding the British political system to help you make sense of the drama emanating from London.

One distinct area of the Brexit process have been the passions in the debate about the  possibility of a second referendum. The opponents of a second vote argue with intense conviction that asking the public again would be overturning ‘the will of the people’ and be dangerous to democracy. How does the British political system influence this debate? Two related points are of particular importance – historically referenda in the UK have been rare and there is a different theoretical approach to the source of power. There have been only three national referenda – the 1975 European Communities membership referendum, the 2011 referendum on changing the electoral system to alternative vote and the 2016 EU membership vote. Prominent politicians including the prime ministers from both the Conservatives and Labour including Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee have criticised the use of referendums as being tools of dictators.

Unlike in most European democracies, where written constitutions explicitly state that the people are the source of sovereignty, in the UK where the constitutional set-up consists of ordinary laws and conventions, sovereignty originates from the Queen and is exercised by Parliament. This is why you may have heard parliamentary sovereignty being mentioned in Brexit debates over the last few years and especially in recent weeks as MPs have sought to take control of the agenda.

Taken together these two elements mean that the British political class is inexperienced and uncomfortable in dealing with the outcomes of referenda. The sheer rarity of these votes gives them a prominence that make their results difficult to ignore – indeed many British politicians who campaigned on both sides of the 2016 referendum have expressed deep concern about the consequences for faith in democracy if Brexit is not implemented. Recent polls do show an increased support in the British electorate for solutions to the current constitutional crisis with some stark methods – more than half are in favour of the country being led by ‘a strong leader willing to break the rules’ [1]. The importance of parliamentary sovereignty also helps explain why the party manifestos are mentioned so frequently in the Brexit debates – historically votes for a party in a general election have been interpreted as endorsements of the full policy platform. This is strained in a situation where the electorates of both major parties are divided on the issue of EU membership.

Many Europeans have also been shocked that it is only in the last weeks, as the Article 50 period has been extended, that the two major parties have started talking about a common approach to Brexit. This lack of coordination arose partly out of the particular style of democracy and electoral that the UK employs – it is an adversarial system where coalitions are extremely rare. In the British conception democracy is maintained by the electorate choosing from a range of manifesto proposals, then judging the party that won at the next election on whether it has fulfilled its promises. The first-past-the-post system that Britain uses to elect its Members of Parliament usually returns the overall parliamentary majorities that allows this understanding of democracy to function. The country is divided into 650 constituencies which each elect one MP who takes up a seat in the House of Commons – to be elected a candidate needs to get the most votes in the constituency but not a majority. On the national scale this means that large parties and parties that have their supporters concentrated in specific parts of the country, have a higher share of seats in parliament than their share of all votes cast. In almost every election since the Second World War this has resulted in one party having an overall majority – the exceptions were February 1974, 2010 and in 2017, when the current House of Commons was elected.

The 2010 election led to Britain’s first coalition government since 1945 and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government passed a constitutional change that influences events in the British Parliament today. Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act became law in 2011, while each parliament could last a maximum of 5 years, the prime minister could unilaterally call an election earlier. In order to avoid David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister of that coalition, arranging a snap election when the polling was good for his party, the Liberal Democrats insisted on changes that brought in the requirement for a supermajority of 2/3 or for 2 weeks to pass after a vote of no confidence in the government for a new election [2].

The 2017 election also did not deliver a majority for any party. Theresa May formed her current government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. She thus leads a minority government, something that is also almost alien to the British political system The DUP is a party from Northern Ireland that is the main representative of unionists – supporters of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It backed Brexit in the referendum while 55% of people in that part of the UK voted to remain. The DUP is concerned about anything that might undermine the link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain over the course of the Brexit process [3]

In short, therefore, as Britain makes decisions on the largest reorientation of the country since the Second World War, it does so in a political situation that is not suited to its constitutional traditions. It is also showing how distinct its political culture is on the European scene.


Sources used in this article

  1. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/08/uk/hansard-strong-leader-brexit-poll-gbr-intl/index.html
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/17eda04e-ea24-359a-8c7e-d0caed79cb5e
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-news-latest-dup-article-50-theresa-may-a8847041.html

After a spiky past of EU-UK military cooperation, what could Brexit change?

By Nicolai Santaniello

As far as the EU and UK go back there have been controversies in various fields of policy. The UK was primarily understood to have originally wanted to join the EU for economic reasons, and it was facts such as these that pushed France to vetoing Britain’s accession to twice. The UK and the EU had their disagreements on a number of issues after their entry such as budget allocation and certain aspects of monetary policy [1], and there was a general feeling that the UK was not as conceding as other European nations to the loosening of their sovereignty [2]. This could be especially noticeable when they didn’t sign the Schengen Treaty, or adopt the Euro currency gaining an exemption, together with Denmark, at the Maastricht treaty. However one thing which had divided the UK and Europe since even before they joined the EU was defense policy – something which could also be a key issue post Brexit.

The European Defense Community was one of the first projects for European common defense coordination projected after the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. The plan was sponsored strongly by the French, even though in the end it was rejected in their National Assembly in 1954. The British however had not been supportive of the project until intimidated by the US, and even then they were far from aligned with the ideas of the EDC [3].

The UK had been supportive of the creation of the Western European Union in 1948, which created a defense pact amongst UK, France, and the Benelux countries. However the organization was mostly dormant and mostly coordinated with NATO, with the UK never really openly supporting EU autonomous military capabilities. Things however did seem to change in 1998 when the UK signed the Saint-Malo declaration with France, promoting EU defense coordination and autonomous military forces.

Recently however growing Euro-skepticism, and in 2016 the vote to exit the EU on behalf of the UK, have led to two important developments. First the UK is again distancing itself quite decisively from ideas of more integrated EU military cooperation, speaking against ideas such as the French sponsored EU army proposal – which would be the second biggest army in the world. Secondly the UK will want to participate in some kind of European military cooperation, probably promoting ever more cooperation with NATO [4].

With the exit of the UK the EU could really take another more federalist approach to their military cooperation, even though this can be increasingly hard in the current context. On the one hand with Trump as US President and his controversial statements on NATO collective defense the EU member states should be looking for a concrete solution to their defense problems which could be found in some kind of federalist military cooperation. However the nationalist wave which is spreading across Europe is seeing popularity amongst beliefs of less federalist powers and more sovereignty with nation states. With Brexit the EU could find a way to get past many of its past obstacles to closer military integration, but there could be new problems right when the old one end.


Sources used in this article:

  1. William Wilson, “Love ’em or Hate ’em – Britain’s Rocky Relationship with the EU,” BBC News, last modified April 1, 2014
  2. Robert Skidelsky, “The UK Was Never Truly Part of the European Union,” Financial News – Setting the Agenda for the City, last modified July 17, 2018
  3. Ari Turker, “The European Defence Community,” SAM | Center for Strategic Research, accessed April 11, 2019, http://sam.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/6.-TurkerAri.pdf
  4. Jacopo Barigazzi, “Britain Digs in Against ‘EU Army’,” POLITICO, last modified September 28, 2016

The Netherlands: Will the Port of Europe endure a hard Brexit?

By Antonia Schräder

Brexit is on its way, and a no deal scenario is becoming more realistic. The Netherlands is one of the countries that will be most affected – the reason being its strong bilateral relations with the UK as the UK is the third largest destination for Dutch goods [1]. Illustratively, approximately 200,000 jobs in the Netherlands are bound to trade with the UK.

The Netherlands also plays a bigger role in Brexit than most European countries as it is home to Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam. Officials of the port complain that they need more clarity in order to prepare in the best possible way for any Brexit outcome. Each year 40 million tons of goods arrive from the UK at the Port of Rotterdam [2]. In close cooperation with the Brexit Taskforce of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of The Netherlands, the port is preparing for a no deal outcome, which in the worst case would mean a WTO scenario. A WTO scenario implies control on every single item coming from the UK and entering the EU [3]. In this case, the port will firstly have to limit the number of transit issues to an absolute minimum. And secondly, what Mark Dijk (Manager of External Affairs of the Port of Rotterdam) presents, is a new community system for the port, called PORTBASE. This system has developed a program to automate all custom formalities.

Dijk explains that they expect some businesses to be insufficiently prepared and organized in the first six to eight weeks. In that case, they will be refused at the gate of the ferry terminal until they have their paperwork properly arranged. After this cumbersome phase, Dijk expects all businesses to have registered with the Dutch port community system Portbase, connecting all parties in the logistics chains of Dutch ports [4]. This would hopefully allow for continued smooth trading with the UK in the future. “Brexit is coming and we cannot change that. The only thing we can do is join forces to ensure that trade continues as well as possible. We’ve done this by creating Portbase. All that we ask of the businesses is that they register with Portbase, so that the system operates smoothly and our port is properly prepared for Brexit.”

Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, Brexit could give the Netherlands some benefits. Because of the recent strong economic performance of The Netherlands, firms that used to have their headquarters in the UK are moving to The Netherlands such as Unilever, Mitsubishi Financial Group, Tradeweb and MarketAxess. Yet, the voices from domestic economists are concerned. Though the Netherlands is prepared and may become more attractive to some firms, the benefits Brexit may bring will not be able to weigh up for the costs of the changes and preparations The Netherlands have to take on in order to minimise the disorder that WTO regulations on British products would create [5].