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Modern Migration as a Challenge to European Identity

Elena Kubantseva

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Simultaneously an issue about European identity has aroused along with European Union formation. It is said in the preamble “European Identity Declaration” 1973 that members of the Community decided to elaborate this document in order to reach more precise determination of their relations with other countries and further interaction on formation of unitary Europe.

Appreciation of that is like European identity is concentrated around ideal concept of unitary Europe formation basing on a certain “imagined community”. Identity of the type “we are Europeans” puts in a basis of existence of “European values”: human rights, human freedom, liberal economic, democracy, multiculturalism, Eurocentrism. Cultural space of Europe is represented by a diversity of nationalities, languages, religions. The concept of Christianity may not serve as a measure of European identity, as far as EU is less considered as “Christian area” even in those countries like Germany and France. However, new all-European identity acts as an integral factor of legality attribution to governmental institutes. Authority growth of European Union governmental bodies is supported at the international arena due to common identity as well as serving in the capacity of the representative and guarantor of its citizens’ interests before the interests of other nations.

Traditional views about the Europe’s borders from the moment of EU formation have an impact upon consciousness of European identity. There are different levels of identity: supranational, national and regional – they exist concurrently supplementing each other. Highest-level leaders tend to raise “European identity” over national identity. Historical borders of some regions in Europe do not coincide with ones of the national states, similar division makes difficulties in national state functioning and European nationality formation.

Over recent years Europe has become a centre of international cosmopolitanism. Identity under the terms of globalization experiences transformation, both national and supranational as well. There is a destruction of community’s social borders in the base of transformation process by means of integration and informational exchange. Integration processes in Europe lead to impact strengthening of regional identity and as a consequence to smearing EU interior borders and reinforcement of exterior ones. Several processes proceed in European integration directed upon strengthening of European self-consciousness and thinking. Under such circumstances it is rather complicated to identify differences between the countries of Europe as to their belonging to true European countries. All countries will characterized by certain cultural-social distinctions, like language and culture, however, territorial location of these countries will be a unifier.

Geographical borders of the influencing territory of European civilization are to be an essential element in creation of common space. European civilization is often characterized as Western civilization possessing nowadays more political shade. This civilization has more extended geography than physical border of Europe as continent and part of Eurasia. Certain aspects of western civilization as elements of soft power actively disseminated during the Cold War as a counterbalance to the communist Soviet Union, EU expansion to the East in 2004, apart from political and economic contradictions, emerged discussions about ideological backbones of European integration. EU expansion at the official level was performed under the slogan “return to Europe”, in this context Europe spiting during bipolar world looked like a short period in long-term history of Europe defacing actual position of the western European countries. Grave differences cause possibility of Turkey entry to the European Union. Geographically, only 3% of Turkish territory is in Europe. The leaders of EU member states vacillate in association with the countries from former USSR located in Transcaucasia. Along with the accession to the EU former USSR Republics took a hard anti-Russian stand, thus Europa turned out to be before the choice of its concern in Russia.

By EU extension a revival process is observes as to national self-consciousness, understanding regional languages and cultures significance. It is a defence reaction to the processes of integration globalization, and ethnic diversity of Europe is already the established fact influencing upon internal and social policy of the Union.

European multicultural society is a multicoloured palette of nations, ethoses and small nations residing within the EU territory. Local topos of multiculturalism is a designated area populated individually in a foreign for it social-political and communal environment, diaspora, small ethnic group united by commonality of language, mental, cultural, ethnic and faith traditions. Special feature of multiculturalism is a compromise reaching between traditional and alien migration cultural communities possessing its cultural patterns. However, another question arises regarding exactly what kind of values – cultural-historical, Christian-religious or liberal – shall become basic in formation of European identity and how to combine with their cultural and religious diversity of Europe.

In 2003 investigation was conducted “Solidarity and Religion in European Union: comparative sociological perspective”, where Europe is shown in the section of valuable settings of population. While inhabitants of Northern and eastern Europe are inclined to individualism and post-materialism having their civil rights in priority, and in the countries of Southern and Western Europe religion possesses the first place, however, concurrently, they rather highly appreciate material values. When evaluating population it is essential to consider not only geographical and material state and also history and confession. Low level of religiosity in the countries of Northern Europe, Germany and France is explained by the level of economic development and national policy.

In spite of the in people’s consciousness religion continues to play an important role in the Europeans’ life. Official representatives of Catholic Church strongly pushed for the issues on search and approval of European identity. During the period of discussion and drawing up European Constitution and Lisbon Treaty the church strongly pushed for provision inclusion about Christianity recognition as one of the sources of European integrity under support of the government of some European countries, especially Germany. However, the official edition of Lisbon Treaty included statements about the sources of democratic values, namely freedom, democracy, human rights, equality as well as cultural, religious and humanistic ancestry of Europe were admitted. However, the provision on Christianity was not included into the Treaty, but it was exactly clear what religion under concern. The subject of religion in the issues of European identity remains a relevant topic for discussion. On the part of more religious countries of Europe opinions are declared that Europe shall more precisely define its religious identity in order to uphold its interests in migration issues against the backdrop of globalization.

Many conservative parties state their position in recognition Christianity as a unified religion for EU, the radical parties are also committed for Christianity recognition but from more “Eurocynical” positions considering it to be an element of national identity. Dispute around religion role in Europe arises not only in the issues of European identity and also in the problems of migration and acceptance of new members by EU, for example Turkey. The majority of politicians are sure that general cultural heritage being inextricably connected with Christianity lies in the EU base, upon which Union’s borders shall pass. If not considering all economic and social differences of Turkey and EU, entry of Muslim Turkey to EU is able to introduce imbalance into the attempts to form European identity and reinforce social and cultural-religious diversities.

Outstanding speech of Pontiff Benedict XVI addressed on September 12, 2006 in the Regensburg University called Europe to respect and appreciate its European roots and traditions in order to oppose challenges of the outside world, to which he added Islam as well. This appearance of the Catholic church’s head caused a mass of protests on the part of Muslim people worldwide.

Nationalistic and “Eurocynical” tendencies are growing in strength as to a series of different reasons, where culture, religion, economy and policy are interlinked. Problem of migration and smearing of long-standing identity elements serve as a catalytic agent in creation of more active solutions and actions to maintain European identity. Since 2010 leaders of Great Britain, Germany and France suggested in public about collapse of multiculturalism policy, these statements got a multitude of expert assessments and opions about Europe’s failure to cope with perform actions of “melting pot”, however, these statement did not mean a final reject from the policy of multiculturalism.

After the Second World War the Europeans attempted to weaken the growth of nationalism and gradually to make up general European nationality by means of creating non-governmental institutes. Western-European countries are under a great pressure, they also have to deal with the migration flows from less developed European countries and at the same time to seek refugees assimilation, which arrive from all corners of the world. They have to face with a growth of anti-migration parties within the country (from “National Front” in France to British “United Kingdom Independence Party”) in terms of increased terrorist danger. Some provisions of Schengen Agreement are discredited on different levels of state and regional government with regard to the border control between EU countries; agreement is criticised for insufficient control over the borders inside the Union which facilitates the movement not only the illegal migrants, and increases terrorist hazard.

Issues of migration interaction between the countries are on the agenda with envious regularity. Border control introduction is left in doubt by putting one of European Union’ pillar, however, the facts itself as to this idea emergence points out a publication of questions on national European identity at the opening pages. In 2009 debates broke out in France regarding the national consciousness, however, all turned towards the situation with Muslims in the country. A series of European countries also face speeches of nationalist parties. Certainly, there is a general European tendency, but it includes regional peculiarities. The countries of central and northern Europe are mostly subjected to the nationalist insistences, it is a little bit aside in the Mediterranean world. As to political weight Italian “League of France” and Greek “Chrisi Auge” (“Golden Sunrise”) – they do not pale in comparison with Austrian “Party of Freedom” or French “National Front”.

Accession of ultra-rightists to power at the election campaign in Austria in 2016 fits into common interest of ultra-right ideas throughout Europe. Anti-Islamic dispositions prevailing before only in ultra-right political alliances take a form of popular discontent, which promotes popularity of nationalists organizations throughout EU as well as level criticism on open door policy. Anti-migrants moods are propelled by the movement “Pegida” in Germany. French «National Front» headed by Marine Le Pen in December 2015 won at the regional elections in the north of France and in departments located along the Cote d’-Azur. But now, Marine Le Pen and her party are optimistically disposed to presidential elections.

Apart from attempts to regulate several levels of identity within the frames of European Union, the questions on migrants’ identity arise. Migrants in EU may be divided into two main categories: internal and external. Internal migrants are persons committing movement inside EU borders. Exterior migrants are persons arriving from the third countries in the search of improvement of their material states or seeking out asylum. The biggest threat is represented by the migrants arriving from the countries differencing much from Europe on the type of culture. Their presence poses a threat not only for European identity and also to senses of national consciousness. This threat is displayed in the acts of vandalism, developing crime situations in the countries visited, appearance of illegal networks and groupings.

The questions arise regarding interests representation of people contributing to economic, social and cultural spheres of the country, which do not have in-country citizenship. It may be more likely reported that the image of world, environment apprehension, religion and traditions of migrants differ from generally accepted European rules. Sweden with its Muslim population may be exemplified, where government encourages the work of neo-political communities and unions by consensual discontent of ethnic Swedes. The supporters of integration policy consider that namely negative attitude to creation of political base of interaction with Muslim minorities is to be a main reason of the crisis in the process of integration. Migrants voice protests, including by means of messes as they do not see any legitimate possibility to change something. However, Swedish government attempting to protect ultra-modern secularizing democratic-individualistic Sweden as much as possible against the capture by outdated and inhumane fundamentalists, has chosen its, not much democratic, but plain way: it tries not to admit Islam to political field of its country at all.

On the other part Germany continues accepting migrants involving non-government organizations to this issue. In 2012 “National Plan of Actions” was adopted at the Fifth National Summit, in which tasks and goals were formed and set considering immigrants’ integration, program of arrangement and participants were defined, responsible for conduct, including NGO. About 400 various events were realized (specially-oriented for the youth and other age groups of immigrants) with the participation of funds, public associations of Germans, immigrant organizations, land and municipal authorities. The expenditures of the government for all events performance comprised more than 20 mln Euro. More attention is paid to Muslim communities among different groups of migrants, which German government endeavours to bring under control. The Foundation “Mercator” initiated the opening of graduate schools on Islam theology in the universities in order to solve problems on imams’ lack in Germany. The objective of this program is to train academic staff of high qualification on Islam theology to develop Islam higher education in the country. This program will allow to train its imams being loyal to Germany and German society, who had arrived before mainly from Turkey bringing its traditions being not corresponding to German culture.

European Union demonstrates its ability to integration as a new philosophy of international relations, where Europe’s unity and simultaneously its diversity of national peculiarities interlink. The President of the European Commission Romano Prodi in his address to the European Parliament made the following statement – “Process of European integration and contemporary history serve as recognition of factors converging us as well as those separating us. Extension will be characterised by the first attempt to form a new type of citizenship within the continent. It will bring along unprecedented extension of citizens’ rights and strengthening of the state. The heads of governments constantly seek the ways to reach the greatest solidarity in issues of unity build up with cultural and religious diversity of population.

Agreement on EU establishment is a contract between independent countries agreeing to donate the part of their sovereignty for peace, security, democracy, freedom, human rights and justice. Union’s institutes develop in accordance with needs of society and new goals. EU itself may be considered as an unprecedented pattern on building piece and level of integration, thus, it is vitally important to form a general European nationality. EU government provides state support of symbols creation on European belonging in order to maintain and develop ideas of general identity: passport of European patter, anthem, flag, driver’s licence, introduction of general currency. Due to Schengen Agreement and cancellation of passport control, the citizens of Europe feel their belonging to an integrated geographical space. Political integration of the European countries increases confidence level and mutual understanding between all participants of integration process guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of EU citizen in all Union member-states.

Thus, listed aspects influencing upon the European identity formation as well as close cooperation in the field of policy and economy between EU countries have created a special system, where the states maintained its identity being paid great attention, retaining strong relations and mutual respect. Apart from national identity, the citizens feel belonging to a huge unification – European Union. This kind of identity is a base for integration process strengthening and relations development within the Union.

Integrated Europe has become an attraction object for many migrants, nowadays a problem on the agenda is to build up a new identity in terms of smearing of all-European cultural-religious values due to a great migration flow, and modern European Union – it is 28 independent states having its own identity and which are engaged in one direction to develop general European identity.

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Drawing battle lines: Centre-right parties take on civilisationalism

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Centrist Democrat International (CDI), in an attempt to counter the rise of civilizationalist states and leaders, has called for the creation of an alliance of nations, political parties and faith groups, that would seek to ensure that politics and international relations remain grounded in humanitarian values at a time of increasingly unimpeded violations of international law and human rights abuse.

CDI’s call carries weight given that it is the world’s largest coalition of almost 100 political parties from across the globe, including ruling parties in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union to Fidesz, the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, a professed illiberal who envisions his country as a Christian nation.

The call takes on added significance because it was issued by a group that traces its roots to European and Latin American Christian democracy at a meeting in Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy and its most populous majority Muslim country, hosted by the largest Indonesian Islamic political party, the National Awakening Party (PKB).

PKB, founded by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organization, joined CDI little over a year ago as part of the International’s effort to expand its reach beyond Christian democracy and NU’s advocacy of a humanitarian interpretation of Islam that encourages cooperation across political, ethnic and religious divides on the basis of a shared respect for human rights and international law.

The resolution adopted at this week’s CDI executive committee meeting in Yogyakarta, comes at a moment that Fidesz’s membership in the European People’s Party (EPP), a CDI affiliate, hangs in the balance.

Fidesz was suspended from the EPP political family last March over rule-of-law concerns, though the party’s 13 deputies remain part of the EPP group within the European parliament.

Mr. Orban and Fidesz stand accused of undermining pluralism in Hungary and removing the country’s checks and balances by stacking the Constitutional Court with loyalists; reshaping the electoral system to favour the party; placing dozens of watchdog institutions, including the judiciary and prosecution service, under the leadership of their allies; and effectively eroding independent media.

Although a divorce with EPP is likely, Fidesz is expected to remain a member of CDI, prompting questions what the group means with its warning about civilizationalist leaders and states.

Mr. Orban was among prominent figures, including former heads of state and government, who attended the CDI meeting in Yogyakarta and voted unanimously in favour of the resolution.

Yet, at a news conference immediately after the meeting, Mr. Orban insisted that Hungary was “a Christian nation” and that Christianity had to inform all aspects of Hungarian society. He spoke of living “side by side” rather than with Muslims.

The CDI resolution came in response to what it described as the “emergence of authoritarian, civilizationalist states that do not accept the rules-based post-WWII (World War Two) order, whether in terms of human rights, rule of law, democracy or respect for international borders and the sovereignty of other nations.”

The resolution was designed to counter “authoritarian regimes’ blatant disregard for the fundamental rights articulated in UDHR” (United Declaration of Human Rights) and re-introduce “moral and ethical values” into public policy, economics and politics.

The resolution puts flesh on a skeleton that has fallen by the wayside in the battle to shape a new world order.

Its significance lies in the fact that it re-introduces the battle of ideas into a global power struggle that has largely been reduced to geopolitics, geo-economics, big and regional power rivalry and replacement of adherence to international law with the principle of might is right.

Equally importantly, it offers an antidote to the rise of civilisationalism and the civilizational state that seeks its legitimacy in a distinct civilization rather than the nation state’s concept of territorial integrity, language and citizenry.

The trend towards civilisationalism feeds off the politicization of history. It benefits from the fact that 21st century autocracy and authoritarianism vests survival not only in repression of dissent and the limiting or denial of freedom of expression.

It creates the basis for an unspoken consensus on values and principles of governance that are illiberal at best and that would underwrite a new world order on which men like Mr. Orban, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, India’s Narendra Modi, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and US president Donald Trump find a degree of common ground.

Civilisationalism is frequently based on myths erected on a falsification and rewriting of history to serve the autocrat or authoritarian’s purpose. Men like Messrs. Trump, Orban, and Erdogan project themselves as nationalist heroes who protect the nation from some invading horde.

In the final analysis, the CDI resolution constitutes a call for a continuous and robust discussion of what the principle of moral and ethical values means and how they are translated into law and policy.

For CDI and Mr. Orban, the litmus test will be how they move from fudging definitions to determining whether they can find common ground on translating words into deeds.

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What Europe Can Do to Avoid WW III?: Say ‘No!’ Now, to Its Start

Eric Zuesse

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The U.S. Government, which had lied its way into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 (with a little help from UK and Europeans), wants Europeans to pitch-in for more U.S.-run invasions. Europeans find this disturbing, but not repulsive enough to say, flat-out, “No!” to it. However, only that “No!” can stop the onrush toward a massive U.S. war against both Iran and Iraq, which would spread ultimately into a global nuclear war between U.S. and Russia.

On January 6th, Barbara Wessel, a columnist for Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), headlined a common European sentiment: “Trump has Europeans caught in a trap: Europe is suffering under the way Donald Trump makes political decisions on the fly. The only option left is to appeal to Iran’s interest in self-preservation”. But Iranians can’t stop the sanctions against itself, and can’t stop Trump’s other outrageous aggressions. Wessel’s false underlying assumption was that Europe must lecture Iranians. That’s like lecturing to Jews during WW II: “The only option left is to appeal to Jews’ interest in self-preservation.” Victims already do everything they can to stop their being victimized; they cannot stop the victimizer from victimizing them. They don’t cause it. Europe must, at last, say “No!” to U.S., the tyrant over the entire world — Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more. Wessel, however, understood, at least, that the dangerousness actually comes far more from the U.S., than it does from Iran. So, she recognized that her thinking on this whole matter was confused. She stated:

Any illusions about the possibility of an even partially rational cooperation on foreign policy with the government in Washington have long been shattered. Cynical remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accuses the Europeans of not giving enough support in the Middle East, underline their helplessness. … Even experienced observers of US Middle East policy have been unable to explain how this [Trump’s “bring American soldiers home”] fits in with the strike against Soleimani. … Europeans find themselves in the trap of a kind of US foreign policy that is marked by the emotional eruptions of an unpredictable president and his power-drunk neocon supporters. … Basically, their [the U.S. Government’s] only explanation for killing Soleimani is: “Because we can.” … Granted, Europe looks weak and helpless when, in joint statements, Europeans call for de-escalation after their presumed partner, the US, has just done everything it can to escalate the situation. … The new year will quickly show how strong the current tendency to suicide is among all those involved. …

The presumption on which such sentiments are based is that things must go on as before, and EU must continue to be allied with U.S., instead of with the rest of the EurAsian Continent — but this presumption (EU with U.S. instead of with all the rest of EurAsia) has been false ever since the U.S. Government went wild in its response to the mainly Saudi Arabian 9/11 assault against the U.S. and Israel cheered that event, and Iran got blamed by the U.S. government for 9/11 as being “The top state sponsor of terrorism” (which was yet another lie), and Obama perpetrated a coup replacing Ukraine’s democratically elected Government with a U.S.-imposed fascist and rabidly anti-Russian government such as Obama wanted to be next-door to Russia. He even was intending to replace Russia’s largest naval base, which is in Crimea, by yet another U.S. naval base, to be installed there. None of this is in Europe’s interest. Nor is it even discussed in Europe or in any other vassal-region of the U.S. empire. It’s censored-out there.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain and all the rest of Europe, actually belong with all the rest of the EurAsian Continent, rather than with the formerly democratic but now fascist United States across the Atlantic Ocean. A federal EurAsia, composed of free and independent states within a wider United States of EurAsia, would have 4.618 billion population, almost half of the entire world, and wealth to match that, and economic growth which far exceeds that of what will then be left of the U.S.-and-its-allied-countries: UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. All other nations would ally either with EurAsia or with that U.S. group — American and those three core allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, and UK). NATO is America’s aggressive alliance, which routinely invades countries that pose no threat to either U.S. or Europe (such as Iraq). America’s plan for NATO is to expand it worldwide, so that the U.S. will automatically have European allies for invasions in places such as Latin America. NATO needs to be replaced by a united EurAsian defense force, which will be able to counterbalance, within its sphere, the world’s largest military. The U.S. has around 1,000 military bases, of which around 300 are inside U.S. Though officially the U.S. spends 37% of the global military budget, it actually spends around half of all global military expenditures, but hides around one-third of its annual military spending by listing those costs in other federal Departments, such as the U.S. Treasury Department, so as not to seem as militaristic as the U.S. Government actually is. It’s actually a global empire — the largest that the world has ever known. Europe is, and can only be, vassals in that empire. The alternative requires new thinking, and is not to spend more money on the military, but to recognize that when Russia ended the Cold War in 1991, the war secretly continued, and still does continue, on the U.S. side — and Russia and China recognize that this is America’s intention. Europe must stop the Cold War, because only Europe can do that.  

Barbara Wessel’s commentary presumes, instead, that Europe’s leaders have no ability to say no to the U.S. That presumed passivity is only bad habit, inherited from a Europe which was wrecked by WW II. That’s no longer the reality today. Instead, Europe, joined with Asia, will be the global superpower that can finally end America’s endless wars —simply by not joining them. EurAsia will be the world’s dominant power, if Europeans want a future that is better than the past, instead of catastrophic. Either way, the future won’t be much like the past. Europe needs to wake up now, from its vassalage since WW II ended. Simply continuing that would produce a horrible future.

Another DW columnist on January 6th, Konstantin Eggert, headlined “Opinion: Putin’s power games may get out of hand”, and he was even more supportive of Germany’s vassalage to the U.S. regime. He presented a strong case that by murdering Soleimani, Trump had pulled the trump card in the U.S.-v.-Russia game by eliminating the key person upon whom Putin had been relying in order to transfer dominance in the Middle East away from U.S. and toward, instead, Russia. Soleimani was that key individual for Putin’s success in this. “According to sources in Moscow, Putin knew Soleimani very well: He played a key role in creating the Russian-Iranian alliance that saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria from what seemed in 2015 an imminent demise.” With Soleimani now gone, Eggert predicted that regardless of what Iraq’s Government might want, the U.S. would refuse to terminate its occupation of that country, and Iran would be in a much weaker position than before. He said that “Putin has every reason to wish the Iranians backed off from confrontation with the United States,” so as for Russia to avoid being drawn into World War III. “Putin’s best chance to avoid this drama is to play peacemaker — not alone but in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Erdogan, who are rushing to meet him in the coming two days. Berlin and Ankara do not want to see the Middle East explode and will be asking Putin to use his close ties in Tehran to hatch a deal and fend off confrontation.” In this sense, the missile that hit Soleimani on January 3rd hit not only Iraq and Iran but EU and Turkey. Eggert therefore advises America’s vassals to remain America’s vassals because Russia now is trapped and Putin might not fold his hand and might not simply let Iran become ultimately swallowed-up — Merkel etc. should urge Putin to fold his hand, is the implication here. Eggert’s implication is that, in the final analysis, might makes right, and that therefore any resistance against it (for example, if Putin continues to resist) would only be harmful. Or, as he puts it: “With the Iranian regime massively undermined or destroyed, Moscow’s position in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin’s personal prestige as the world’s topmost authority on stopping ‘regime change’ and someone who never leaves allies in the lurch, will be badly hit and revealed as much weaker than it seems.” Eggert sees Trump’s assassination of Soleimani as, in effect, a master-stroke, which has severely weakened Putin. Of course, if Europe’s leaders will act this way, then Eggert’s might-makes-right view will be vindicated, by them.

Europe is the U.S. regime’s indispensable ally. If EU breaks away from U.S. and joins with the rest of the EurAsian continent instead, at least the possibility will exist for avoiding a hellish future of continued and accelerating vassalage to the U.S. regime for the entire world. Passivity and might-makes-right slants such as “Putin’s power games may get out of hand” (instead of “America’s assassination of Soleimani places entire world in danger”) are choicesnot inevitable — and Europeans will ultimately be the individuals who will be making the choices here. Europeans will decide whether the U.S. is the world’s enemy; or, instead, whether Russia, China, Iran, and, really, all the rest of Asia, will be treated as if they were that (like the U.S. regime wants). Ganging-up against the victims — if that is to be the European response — would be a choice, not an inevitability (such as DW implies). It will be up to Europeans whether to order all U.S. troops to leave, and to tariff all imports from America, and to sanction and boycott U.S. brands and increasingly replace them with EurAsian ones instead. Trump can be trumped, but only Europe has the clout to do it. The future will be decided by Europeans. The voices of passivity, such as DW, are doing the bidding of Europeans’ enemy — not of the entire world’s future: a EurAsian-led world.

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The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty

Dunja Mijatovic

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Increasingly making the headlines, the scarcity of affordable housing in Europe is a serious and growing problem that pushes an ever-larger number of people into housing insecurity and homelessness. Unless governments in Europe step in to take decisive measures to turn back the tide, this crisis will continue to intensify and increase existing inequalities, exclusion, and segregation.

Housing is in short supply in Europe today, in spite of increasing demand. In many countries, the overall level of housing construction is lower now than in previous decades, contributing to structural shortages which are especially acute in large cities. This scarcity of housing is pushing up rents as well as prices, which in most European countries surpass the increase in wages. These trends cause many people to gradually be “priced out” of certain neighbourhoods and force them to accept homes of substandard quality or to move to areas where they face poorer prospects of finding work within a reasonable distance, decent education, quality healthcare, and other basic social needs.

Affordable housing: whose problem?

According to the European Committee of Social Rights, housing is affordable if the household can afford to pay initial costs, rent and other related costs, like utility bills and charges, on a long-term basis, while still being able to maintain a minimum standard of living. Meeting this challenge is an uphill struggle for many Europeans today as the cost of housing consumes the lion’s share of their household budgets. Frequently, this results in the so-called housing cost overburden, which arises when more than 40% of one’s disposable income is spent on housing. For instance, this affects around two out of five people in Greece, one in five in Bulgaria, and one in six in Denmark and Germany.

Although the problem concerns many people across Europe, high housing costs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including the “working poor”. The numbers are telling. A report on housing inequality, published by the Council of Europe Development Bank in 2017, showed that the housing cost was an excessive burden for nearly a third of the lowest earners in the EU/EEA area.

Between 2007 and 2017, the average housing cost overburden rate among poor households increased in the majority of European Union countries. The highest figures in 2017 stood at 90% in Greece, 75% in Denmark and 50% in Bulgaria. Among the EU’s youngest citizens living below the poverty line in 2017, 42% on average were overburdened by the cost of housing; this ratio reached 63% in the Netherlands, 84% in Denmark and 91% in Greece. A similarly discouraging picture appears outside the EU: a 2017 UN study found the cost of housing in Armenia to be unaffordable for most citizens. In the same year, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was ranked second least affordable in Bloomberg’s Global City Housing Cost Index.

The availability and quality of housing is a closely related problem. In Armenia, according to UNECE, the 2011 census reported 16,000 people (2% of all households) to live in structures unfit for housing, like metal shipping containers. Also according to UNECE, in Ukraine in 2011 more than one million households were in need of housing while the average waiting time for social housing was estimated to exceed 100 years, and 20 years in Russia. Eighty thousand households have been reported to lack long-term housing solutions in North Macedonia.

Social housing: outsourced and underfinanced

As a result of the shortage of affordable housing, the social housing sector in Europe is coming under pressure. While there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, state responses to rising demand have so far been to withdraw and to shift the burden to the local government, private sector, housing associations and non-profit organisations. In 2017, overall spending by governments on social housing represented only 0.66% of the European GDP and continued to fall. In many countries, the emphasis has been placed on increasing housing allowances. We need fresh ideas in this area. A new toolkit published by the European Housing Solutions Platform outlines 50 out-of-the-box solutions making use of social housing, the private rental sector, and integrated approaches to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems.

Rising homelessness and forced evictions

As observed by my predecessor in the 2013 Issue Paper on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, the 2008 crisis and growing unemployment led to a sharp increase in evictions and rising homelessness in many European countries. While tenant protection laws often serve as a safety net, overall they do not seem to effectively tackle the problem. The 2017 and 2018 annual overviews, published by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Fondation Abbé Pierre, found evidence of rising homelessnessin all the EU/EEA countries surveyed except Finland and Norway. The decline in homelessness experienced in these two countries was attributed to the implementation of long-term strategies of successful cooperation between the state, local authorities and local stakeholders, and approaching homelessness from the perspective of a human rights violation.

Increasing homelessness has been observed to particularly affect migrants, young people, women, families, and children.The 2018 FEANTSA report noted that children are becoming the largest group of people in emergency shelters. In 2015, children accounted for one-third of Ireland’s entire homeless population; from 2014 to 2017, their number rose by 276%. In the UK, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation reportedly rose by 40% in the same period. In Russia, although the available figures appear to vary greatly, one rough estimate put the number of homeless children in 2010 at hundreds of thousands, while other reports hint that this number might be even higher. During her 2015 visit to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing touched upon the risk of homelessness and exclusion that weak protections for renters and no access to social housing meant for certain vulnerable groups, including young people.

State responses to rising homelessness have often been characterised by a short-sighted, punitive approach, in a misguided attempt to move the problem out of public sight. My predecessor’s visit to Hungary in 2014 shed light on the national and local government bans on “sleeping rough” on pain of fines, which were imposed on more than a thousand people, and in some cases led to the imprisonment of those unable to pay. Similar bans were observed during his 2015 visit to Norway. More recently, in the UK, press reports found that as overall numbers of rough sleepers continued to rise, in some localities homeless people were banned from town centres and fined.

European institutions have intervened in some cases related to forced evictions. The European Court of Human Rights has notably balanced interests of landlords against the need to secure accommodation for the less well-off, and on some occasions has acted as a last resort for families threatened with imminent eviction. The European Committee of Social Rights has in several decisions identified the safeguards that must apply when evictions do take place: respecting the dignity of persons; no evictions at night or during the winter; taking measures to re-house or financially assist the persons concerned. The case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for its part, has empowered domestic judges to suspend or annul evictions if the rights of occupants have not been respected, for instance in the context of abusive mortgages. While these interventions offer helpful guarantees, states should prevent such emergencies affecting families and children, among others, from occurring in the first place.

The way forward

In a poignant introduction to her January 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted that “[w]e are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions are fraught. Homelessness is on the rise, including in affluent countries; forced evictions continue unabated; (…) and housing in many cities is simply unaffordable even for the middle class”.

We should pay close attention to her call. We need to fully grasp the extent and urgency of the problem in Europe with regard to housing, one of the most basic human needs. As demonstrated above, this is an issue which affects the population at large and contributes to a growing sense of uncertainty and precariousness. Leaving it unaddressed leaves our societies vulnerable to increased social tensions.

States’ obligations towards the full realisation of the right to housing must go beyond providing emergency and individual solutions. There is an urgent need for genuine political commitment to adopting sustainable, long-term and inclusive solutions, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing adequate, secure and affordable housing to all by 2030. Housing is not simply a commodity, but a human right. It should move to the top of the political agenda in Europe.

First, member States which have not yet done so should promptly accept to be bound by Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter (RESC) dealing withthe right to housing. Of the 34 member States which ratified the Charter, so far only 10 have accepted its Article 31 while 4 more have accepted to be bound only by some parts of that provision.

Second, States should adopt and implement sustainable national housing strategies with clear targets to end homelessness, harnessing to the maximum extent the available resources, establishing credible and independent mechanisms for monitoring progress, and paying close attention to their impact.

Third, States should step up investing in social and affordable housing in view of eradicating the housing cost overburden, particularly among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Fourth, States should urgently adopt long-term measures to prevent and eradicate homelessness, in particular among children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. In adopting and implementing such measures, states should involve all stakeholders and be guided by respect for the human dignity of homeless persons and the realisation that homelessness is a violation of human rights.

Council of Europe

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