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Europeans Goodbye?

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‘Demography is destiny.’ Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon

In 1825 the world’s population reached, for the first time, the figure of 1 billion with a doubling of the population 100 years later and on to 5.3 billion in 1990. It stands today at 7.5 billion.

A demographic transition is taking place worldwide but at different rates. Seven per cent of the world’s population is over 65, and this is unevenly spread, with. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with Europe and Japan harboring the smallest number of children.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to number 9.5 billion, assuming present trends continue, at which time the population of the developing countries will be 6 times larger than that of the developed countries due to higher fertility rates. The increase in the world’s population will be identical to the number of people on the entire planet back in 1950.

In Africa, some countries will see their population triple, requiring the building, each week, of a town of a million inhabitants.

On the other hand, in East Asia, the birth rate is collapsing. China and Japan have among the world’s lowest birth rates – Hong Kong’s is below 1 – and in Japan 14% of the population is over 65 years old. At the present fertility rate of 1.25 child per woman, the country’s population will be of only 60 million in 2100.

China’s population is also forecast to decrease to less than 20% of the world’s population but the country will have 25% of the world’s senior citizens.

A sustained fertility rate of 1.3 means that, over a century, a country would lose 75% of its population.

Europe’s declining birth rates

Over the past three centuries, Europe’s population multiplied fivefold and if you include the population of European origin that immigrated worldwide, we are led into a sevenfold increase.

The main reason for this increase was due to a reduction of mortality. At the beginning, this decline was gradual and ascribed to a more productive agriculture, trade that enriched European nations, the industrial revolution, advances in medical knowledge, better nutrition, a more relaxed lifestyle and better public order. Starting in the nineteenth century, a drastic reduction of mortality of infectious and contagious disease to nearly zero increased life expectancy at birth from 35 years to 70 years.

Other contributing factors for this increase were the decline in female fertility as women entered the professional world in ever larger numbers. They also had easy access to birth control methods.

The number of working-age adults increases and the economy grows as not only the economic contribution of the population increases, but also the social contributions decrease. This is called the ‘demographic dividend’. It is, however, at this stage that the state must undertake productive investments such as in education and health infrastructure in particular to support old age.

Birth rates increased in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, but remained below that of other parts of the world. European population was always constrained by the use of traditional birth control methods, a low number of extra-marital births, a late marriage age and a fairly large percentage of unmarried persons.

Low birth rates are a worldwide trend, and if every woman will only have a single child, the world’s population in 2075 will be of 1.6 billion. Europe, in particular, is suffering, and is forecast to continue to suffer of depopulation. Its present population of 740 million is expected to drop to 707 million by 2050 and of 646 million by 2100.

For a population to remain stable, the total fertility rate – the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime should be of 2.1. In eastern and southern Europe, the figure is presently of 1.3, and in some areas has dwindled to 1. In Germany, nearly 30% of the women born in 1960 have not had any children. Russia is losing half its population every 40 years and its underpopulated large land mass could be seen as an invitation by China.

When birth rates eventually decreased, they brought about a new vision of the family, with women succeeding in roles other than that of wives and mothers and with reduced coital rates. Fertility was increasingly controlled by females rather than males.

Urbanization played a leading role in the drop in birth rates. The smaller family became the reference in Europe first, and then spread to many other countries. Urban couples did not have the social pressure that rural families had, of having children rapidly becoming economic contributors.

In an urban environment, individual success is important and family ties lose their primary role as education, health and employment is ensured by institutions other than the family. Children become a cost rather than an asset.

This led to a demographic transition of low birth rates and long life expectancy which helped the population of Europe and of the world grow.

The transition normally starts with low child mortality; children being the first beneficiaries of increased survival. In Europe, today, nearly all births occur in a hospital environment with a large number of precautions taken including for premature children.

In Europe, the countries that were rich at the end of the Second World War, such as in Scandinavia and North-West Europe, saw the number of traditional families decline as women had satisfying employment opportunities and individualism was on the rise. Everything was postponed, from leaving school to dying. Postponing births eventually results in women being too old to be pregnant.

Professional women tend to cheat more, divorce more often, have fewer children, and more often than non-professional women feel sorry of having married and having had children.

Women concentrating on their careers find the stress of caring for children – which, in today’s society takes an increasing amount of parents’ time as well as a change in the relationship between parents – a burden, particularly if the household work – usually considered as a low-level type of work – is not shared with the male parent. Women have a major decision to make as to whether they pursue a career, marry or build a family. They will select cohabitation as against marriage if they believe that being married will hinder their possibilities of career advancement. Investments in child care infrastructure and a balance between life and work lead to increased birth rates. Women must have the possibility of returning to their jobs after a pregnancy and maternal leave.

Women pursuing careers may study for long periods of time and therefore they will have their first child at an advanced age, thus limiting the number of children they will have. Mothers having their children at a more mature age translates into older grandmothers, if they would still be alive, who may not be able to assist their daughters or grand-daughters. The non-availability of this care may reduce even further the propensity of women to have children.

Increasingly they may not want to mate, preferring to enrich their lives financially and intellectually, or will select low-fertility partners. They may find there is a lack of desirable partners. Pressure put on by media as the looks of women, slim and a canon of beauty, may also lead women to opt for a slimmer look to the detriment of family formation or even partnership and sex with a man.

In the Mediterranean countries where family values were supported by culture and governments, the transition took place later. In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.’

In Central and Eastern Europe where communism collapsed and with it went the allowances and a large number of free services, families hesitate to assume the burden of a child.

As societal pressure is determinant in defining the number of children a couple will have, a smaller family became the social norm. It fulfilled in a minimalistic manner the social pressure to have children.

One of the most important elements in social pressure is religion and all religions encourage a strong birth rate. Hence, in industrial societies, as religiousness wanes, so does the size of families.

A theory suggests that as children survive, there is no need for families to have ‘replacement’ children in case of death and the child become the child-king. Another theory proposes that since children no longer look after their parents, they do not need to bear the cost of bearing them. A third theory proposes than in resource allocation, families today prefer spending their funds on matters other than raising children which they will have only if the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits are essentially emotional and a response to societal demands including that of creating new networks such as with other school parents and later in time with the in-laws. The costs have their origin in education, the purchase of food and other products, and possible tensions between the parents as the fathers concentrate on their professional activity to create wealth for their family, which often translates in absences from the family.

Job instability has also had a negative impact on the willingness of couples to start a family.

Women’s libido appears to be on the wane and men’s sperm count is decreasing and the spermatozoids are less active probably due to the chemicals absorbed in the diet. Obesity in both men and women also affects their fertility.

The large number of leisure activities easily available and the ideas that freedom and personal development are essential to a happy, productive life are major distractors and inhibitors to starting a family. The ubiquitous nature of erotic and pornographic images leads men to view their companions as exclusively a sex image and not a partner with whom to establish a family. At the other end of the scale an ever increasing number of men have opted out of sex altogether.

Education, in turn, impacts fertility in a number of ways. It allows reaching a better status and material conditions, it improves the ability of women to select the right partner who has the same level of education and may also be reluctant to have a large family, and it leads to better informed women and therefore larger use of contraceptives, and increases the opportunity costs of childbearing.

Financial issues are also a hindrance to starting or expanding a family. Educated couples may also prefer to concentrate their wealth, during their lifetime or through inheritance, on a single child.

Increasingly, in an unstable world, would-be parents, particularly younger couples, are afraid of conceiving children in what could be a very different and dangerous world.

The availability of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion have also been contributing factors. They not only enabled women to postpone pregnancies but also sharply reduced unwanted pregnancies.

In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.

The one population segment that is growing in Europe is the Muslim population that, even though it averages only 5% of the population, with the notable exception of Russia where it reaches 15% and France with 10%, may eventually bring about major changes in society as their culture is essentially very difficult from the permissive and liberal European culture. if Muslims maintain a high fertility rate, we could witness a repeat of what is believed to have taken place with the Christians in the early days of the church in Rome, with a small group rapidly gaining in importance and leading the emperor himself to convert.

However, the fertility of Moslems in Europe is declining rapidly, adjusting itself to that of the native European population, and thus showing that immigration is not a viable alternative to stop population decline. Migration does, however, contribute to replace an ageing workforce.

Nearly 50 million migrants will have to be admitted to the European Union by 2050 for the population to remain stable. For the retirement benefits to be maintained at their present level of 4 active persons per pensioner, the figure for migrants is even higher, reaching 13 million a year. Presently there are 11 million migrants in Europe and an unknown number of illegals.

There are other ways through which this decline could be halted. One of them is through the entrance of candidate countries which, like Turkey, have a growing demography.

As birth rates decline, due to personal choices, both the number of children and the population, over time, shrinks. The working age population decreases and fertility declines even further. Eventually there is the third transition period with all age segments of the population declining.

An ageing society

In the world today, for the first time in human history, old people outnumber the young. In developed countries, 20% of the population is older than 60. Worldwide, 1% of the population is over 80 and, being the fastest growing age group, is due to reach 4% by 2050.

Since the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy has increased by 3 months every year, leading to the forecast that by 2060, it will have reached 100 years and possibly even higher if life-extension drugs or technologies are developed.

Europe has the world’s oldest population, with 22% being over 60, and 1% being older than 80, this last figure is expected to reach 4% by 2050.

Women still have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference is narrowing and may not be sustainable over the long term. Smoking by women, together with the adoption of social habits that used to be reserved to men, is believed to be the major culprit in allowing this difference to narrow.

While the average sex ratio at birth favors males by approximately 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio reverses itself with age as women have a longer life expectancy than men. For the population over 60, the figures are of 82 men for 100 women and decreases to 55 men for 100 women at age 80. The ratio at these older ages is even lower in Europe with 69 men per 100 women at the age of 60, and 42 men per 100 women at the age of 80. One of the reasons for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world is the large number of young men who died during the Second World War.

Explanations for the longer life expectancy abound. One of them is that the present generation that is retiring is the first to have known both antibiotics and vaccines. They also received a better nutrition as food prices decreased.

Economic and political issues

All the models indicate that economic growth can only take place if there is demographic growth.

Several countries have introduced pro-natal policies such as the financing of day-care centers, fiscal advantages, payments at birth, etc. Research has shown that these policies incite families to have children earlier, but not to have more children.

Older persons are conservative and risk-averse. Therefore it is more than likely that entrepreneurial actions will decrease. Savings will also be on the decrease and lead to higher interest rates increasing the cost of investments. Inheritances, except for the wealthy, will be paltry, leading the younger generations to have reduced wealth.

Pensions and health care costs will soar as the number of people gainfully employed shrinks compared to the number of elderly retired. The increase in the pension and health care budget for France, for instance, is set to increase by 13% and reach five times what the country spends on defense.

Health care for older people is an expensive undertaking, particularly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as the setting of implants and cancer, both of which are a common occurrence on people over 65. A solution to curb these rising costs is to reduce reimbursements or increase insurance premiums or taxes but there is a limit to the acceptance by the tax payer of new increases. Another option is a strict limit set by the government on prices of medications and hospital equipment as is the case in Japan.

As the workforce will decrease, employment of older people may be encouraged by governments through the removal of social contributions and other social payments from corporations, through investments in lifelong learning and by applying penalties on corporations discriminating on the basis of age.

On the positive side, however, new opportunities for employment and for entrepreneurs will be created by the so-called silver economy. These relate to new products and employment in areas as diverse as health care, assisted domestic living, education, travel, spas, etc.

However, even if a number of these urgent measures are applied, the relative importance of Europe in the world will no doubt diminish.

Another action European governments could take to help slow population decline, is to reduce the number of preventable deaths due to alcoholism, car accidents, suicide and smoking for persons under 65 years of age.

Forecasts

Forecasting not being an exact science, there are several forecasts as to the future population of the world and of Europe.

One suggests that future fertility rates will vary, depending on the country, between 1.35 to 2.35 children per woman, leading to a world population in 2030 of between 7.7 and 10.6 billion.

By 2050, Asia’s population will be of over 5 billion and that of Africa nearly 2 billion. India will be the most populated country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.

The world’s population of over 60 will double to 22% of the total population by 2050 and will be larger than the number of children and in the developed countries will be twice the number of children.

Europe’s population is expected to drop by 7 million between now and 2050 and it will only represent 7% of the world’s population in spite of the fact that the populations of France and Great Britain are expected to continue to grow. The countries with the sharpest growth will be Romania and Croatia.

The European continent appears to be moving to an empty land populated mainly by older persons who will sink into poverty as the number of working people decreases. Should large waves of immigrants or the introduction into the EU of Turkey be allowed replace the existing population, European culture will disappear.

Goodbye Europeans, Farewell.

Europe

Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country

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The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.

Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government

Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.

Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.

In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.

Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy

The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.

The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.

At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.

In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.

Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum

Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.

Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.

The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.

In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.

Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.

The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy

Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.

First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.

Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.

In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.

Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid

In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.

Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.

At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.

Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.

Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.

Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power

The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.

P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.

Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.

From our partner RIAC

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Is British Democracy in Danger?

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On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.

Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.

To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.

While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.

Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.

One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.

Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.

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The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security

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2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.

In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.

On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.

Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.

Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.

In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.

The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.

A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?

As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.

Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.

The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.

Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.

From our partner RIAC

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