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A Common Populism: Trump, Le Pen and Putin: Do they Portent the Beginning of the End for the EU?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“The Brussels wall will have come down just like the Berlin wall came down. The EU, this oppressive model, will have disappeared. But the Europe of free nations will have been born… The EU should not last more than two minutes longer.” –Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front, seems poised to become the next President of France in 2018. Political pundits are predicting her victory following Donald Trump’s victory in the US. They aver that Trump’s populism has paved the way for a veritable political revolution in Europe which portends to reshape the existing world order.

How so? Well, for one thing, Le Pen wants the EU to withdraw from NATO, alleging that it would end American dominance in Europe. She repeats Trump’s assertion that NATO is now obsolete, and has in fact declared publicly that Trump’s victory makes such a feat quite possible now. To her way of thinking, NATO is a “tool for making sure countries that are part of it comply with the will of the United States.” She finds this unbearable. What would she substitute it with? She has some interesting proposals in this regard. She has called for “cooperation agreements” with Russia with close cooperation between European capitals and Moscow. In other words, Washington gets substituted with Moscow. She claims that there is “absolutely no reason we should turn systematically to the United States.”

This may sound a bit incoherent. She sees Trump’s victory as an additional stone in the building of a new world order but at the same time wants the EU to take its distance from the US. How does Le Pen square this circle? Thus: “Obviously we have to compare this victory [Trump’s] with the rejection of the European constitution by the French people, of course, with the Brexit vote, but also with the emergence of movements devoted to the nation—patriotic movements in Europe. All these elections are essentially referendums against the unfettered globalization that has been imposed upon us, that has been imposed upon people, and today has been clearly shown to have its limits.” That is to say, she sees Trump’s victory as a “victory of the people against the elite.” This of course is populism at its best, or perhaps its worst.

What is most intriguing about the above glaring statements is that they seem to reveal a mind-set quite similar to that displayed by Trump and Putin. All three seems to have quite a few affinities and seem to like each other. The major affinity seems to be this: they see the political struggles currently going on as struggles of civilizations against each other. Le Pen is on record as saying that next year’s presidential election in France would “establish some real choices of civilization.” She made such a statement in the context of a lashing out against the EU and its immigrant policies based on open borders. She added: “Do we want a multicultural society, following the model of the English-speaking world, where fundamentalist Islam is progressing…or do we want an independent nation, with people able to control their own destiny, or do we accept to be a region, managed by the technocrats of the European Union?”

She has gone as far as comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union: “I don’t see why we should recreate, virtually, this wall between European countries and Russia, unless to obey the orders of the United States, which up until now, have found an interest in this.” She has moreover blamed the EU and the US for destabilizing Europe’s relations with Russia, and has claimed that there is not “a hair’s breath” between her party and the UKIP regarding immigration and the European Union. Keep well in mind that Russia is currently footing the bill for her campaign expenses.

What can one conclude from the above analysis? It could prove useful in answering this crucial question: is this the beginning of the end of the world order established after World War II with its culmination the formation of the European Union and the NATO Alliance? To put it another way: is this the beginning of the breakdown of European stability? Let’s attempt an answer beginning with some historical background in a rather personal mode.

Back in the 50s, when I was a teen-ager, still living in Italy, when the EU institutions were still fragile, I remember writing an essay launched by the lyceum I was attending at the time, where I opined that I was rather skeptcal that the Western Alliance and the European Union would ever take off. In the 70s I was living and studying in the US (where my father was born) and lived through the Vietnam War and read the news about the Red Brigades, and began having doubts again about the survival of the West. I was then in college and was reading books like “The Decline of the West” by Oswald Spengler. That might have influenced me. But in all my adult life I am hard pressed to remember a dramatic moment such as the one we are now witnessing. All we need now is for good men to do nothing and the decline and possible destruction of the West is pretty much assured.

I hope I am wrong, but, following Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, with a President, so called, totally uninterested in “shared values” with our allies (“not worth American lives” as he puts it), seeming to prefer the company of dictators such as Putin with whom he can make deals, to that of democratic allies, deeming the geo-political world as a huge transactional stage to be exploited on which to negotiate deals, incapable of conceiving the greater good, it would appear that we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union, and possibly the end of the liberal world order. The almost inevitable consequence will be the return of nefarious ultra-nationalism and fascism in Europe and the loss of democracy in America. Putin and his Trojan horses all over Europe are waiting in the wing. Their strategy is simple: divide and conquer.

To repeat the urgent question: are the lights going out; is it the end of the West as we presently know it?

What I call “the Caligua Presidency” constituted by political entertainment and double talk, has begun, people unfortunately end up getting the government they deserve and the monsters they have created. The omens are bad, but let’s not forget Le Pen. She is now the front runner in next year’s French presidential elections and she also finds alliances burdensome. Some of her campaign commitments are that she will withdraw from both NATO and the EU, will nationalize French companies, will restrict foreign investors, will promote a special relationship with Russia, the same Russia whose banks are funding her election campaign.

The question persists: is Le Pen at least partially right in considering what is going on a civilizational breakdown? More specifically: once France is out of the EU too (after Brexit), possibly followed by other copycats, can Europe’s economic single market survive in any shape or form? Will NATO and the Atlantic Alliance crumble? Trump of course will not be sorry for that, as his misguidedly appealing rhetoric to his misguided followers has made clear; indeed, the short term cost of alliances is easier to see and assess than the longer-term benefits. Let’s not forget that his span of attention is that of the time needed to write a tweet.

There is little doubt that shared economic space, nuclear deterrence via the NATO alliance, and standing armies, while being costly short term, produced more than half a century of political stability and prosperity in Europe and North America. We all take those benefits for granted now, until they are gone for good.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

Will there be another referendum over Brexit?

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Brexit continues to be an implicit term in the Britain’s political equations. Complicating the process of the British withdrawal from the European Union is a joint measure taken by the British government and European authorities.

At the same time, the British government, with its widespread negative propaganda against the Brexit, is seeking to re-arrange a referendum. In other words, the European authorities are trying to direct the public opinion about the Brexit.

Recently, some western news sources are speaking of an issue called “repeating the Brexit referendum”, and name it as a possible option! An option that had been previously denied by British authorities, including Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the country. According to the France news agency, regarding the increasing doubt about the British Prime Minister’s efforts to conclude an agreement with the United Europe, the possibility of holding a second referendum on Brexit has multiplied.

This source has also announced that there are major obstacles on the way of confirming this agreement between Theresa May and European leaders, which has, in turn, intensified this trend. The existence of legal complexities in this agreement made its implementation difficult for both sides.  Meanwhile, it is possible that the members of the parliament will vote in favor of Theresa May’s decision.

Although it seems that Theresa May is trying to convince legislators to give a positive vote to this agreement, not only members of the Labor Party, but also some members of the Conservative Party are opposing it. The MPs argue that the Brexit is basically contrary to the interests of the UK.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “People’s Vote” campaign, who are now very active in England, believe that the parliament’s negative vote will pave the way for a new referendum on the Brexit. This issue is no way contrary to the demands of Theresa May and the Conservative Party, but it’s secretly supported by them. The negative propaganda of the Theresa May’s government against the Brexit since 2016 is known to everyone. After the British citizens voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the two Labor and Conservative parties (as UK’s two traditional parties) tried their best to change the general vote on this issue. The active role played by people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair can well indicate the dissatisfaction among British authorities over the Brexit.

Supporters of the People’s Vote campaign are currently trying to convince the public for holding a new referendum on Brexit. “The People’s Vote campaign seeks to ensure that the government’s Brexit deal is put before the country in a public vote so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off. Good deal or bad deal, it’s definitely a big deal – and that’s why it should be put to a People’s Vote”, that’s how the campaign’s supporters define their goal.

Proponents of this campaign believe that the parliament’s negative vote to May’s plan is the best opportunity to hold another referendum. On the other hand, Theresa May doesn’t intend to violate the people’s vote in the 2016 referendum explicitly, so she tries to appear to be opposed to a new referendum, but she set the game in a way that it will eventually lead to the UK’s remain as part of the European Union.

Labor Party officials led by Jeremy Corbin have also agreed to vote again on the Brexit, and have officially backed this issue. The fact that Britain’s two rival parties have come to an agreement on holding a new referendum has provided the ground for its ultimate realization.

First published in our partner MNA

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West return to 2007: Europe’s anger over incompetent politicians

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The anger and discontent of European citizens over European politicians is increasing day by day. While more than ten years have passed since the economic crisis in Europe, we are still witnessing austerity plans in this block.

France’s recent round of demonstrations isn’t limited to this country anymore, and we’re now witnessing demonstrations in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Many European citizens spent the years between 2007 and 2012 with the hope that the austerity policies would affect the devastated economy of United Europe and the Eurozone. That’s why they tried to cooperate with their own governments (which were mainly the far-right and social-democratic administrations). However, after 2012, we witnessed the end of European citizens’ patience towards politicians like Merkel.

Part of this dissatisfaction revealed itself in cases such as the European Parliamentary Elections in 2014, where more than 100 right extremists managed to enter the European Parliament. Now, in 2018, we are witnessing the continuation of the economic crisis in Europe in the security, social and political spheres.

It’s not without a reason that the number of nationalist groups’ supporters has increased in the mentioned areas. The security crisis is strongly felt in today’s Europe. Common policies which were adopted by European authorities couldn’t improve the security crisis within the Schengen borders and other European borders.

During 2015 and 2016 (and somehow in 2017), the Immigration and security crises in Europe caused other issues such as the economic crisis to become marginalized. But now it’s shadowed over the whole of Europe. Under such circumstances, the main question of European citizens is that what was the impact of austerity policies adopted for ten years inside the EU borders?

They can clearly see that the adoption of such policies has had no effects on improving their economic conditions. The existing economic crisis continues to be felt in everyday life of European citizens. The rise of the signs of the financial crisis in Europe, and the decline in credit ratings, and the growth of unemployment in countries that continue to be affected by the financial crisis have created many social crises in Europe.

The protests that are taking place today in France and other European countries are not merely an objection to rising fuel prices or tax increases for low-income groups. It is a protest against the unstable economic structure of the European Union and the Eurozone.

Emmanuel Macron, the young French president, as an economist, promised to redefine the existing economic structure in the Eurozone, with regard to the current economic crisis. However, Macron himself has now become the symbol of crisis in Europe!

The economic crisis in European countries doesn’t limit to austerity policies! The external debt crisis in the European countries should also be added to the economic and credit crises in the West. The crisis is heavily extended in countries like Italy, causing a lot of trouble for other member states of the Eurozone. The economic cohesion of the Eurozone member states has fueled this trend.

In any case, it seems that the patience of European citizens has come to an end. As noted, according to the predictions, these crises were to be resolved before 2012, and economic growth symbols was to be replaced by austerity symbols. But at the moment, there is little indication of economic growth in European countries, and austerity policies remain strong.

Finally, it should be concluded that the European countries, especially the EU member states, have no choice but to “self-destruct” their economic foundations and replace them with new patterns. If European officials continue to insist on existing methods and economic models, they will be doomed to failure in the near future. In this case, nationalist groups and far-right extremists will dominate Europe’s political, economic, social and security equations, and this would definitely be a terrible nightmare for those like Merkel and Macron.

First published in our partner MNA

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EU steps up action against disinformation

MD Staff

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To protect its democratic systems and public debates and in view of the 2019 European elections as well as a number of national and local elections that will be held in Member States by 2020, the EU is presenting today an Action Plan to step up efforts to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond.

Taking stock of the progress made so far and following up on the call made by European leaders in June 2018 to protect the Union’s democratic systems, the European Commission and the High Representative are setting out concrete measures to tackle disinformation, including the creation of a Rapid Alert System and close monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Practice signed by the online platforms. The Action Plan also foresees an increase of resources devoted to the issue.

High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Healthy democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate. It’s our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust in democracy. As the European Union, we’ve decided to act together and reinforce our response, to promote our principles, to support the resilience of our societies, within our borders and in the neighbourhood. It’s the European way to respond to one of the main challenges of our times.” 

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President responsible for the Digital Single Market, said: “We need to be united and join our forces to protect our democracies against disinformation. We have seen attempts to interfere in elections and referenda, with evidence pointing to Russia as a primary source of these campaigns. To address these threats, we propose to improve coordination with Member States through a Rapid Alert System, reinforce our teams exposing disinformation, increase support for media and researchers, and ask online platforms to deliver on their commitments. Fighting disinformation requires a collective effort.”

Stepping up detection, response and awareness

The Action Plan – prepared in close cooperation also with Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová; Commissioner for Security Union Julian King and Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel – focuses on four areas key to effectively build up the EU’s capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States and the EU:

Improved detection: Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service (EEAS), as well as the EU delegations in the neighbourhood countries will be reinforced with significant additional specialised staff and data analysis tools. The EEAS’ strategic communication budget to address disinformation and raise awareness about its adverse impact is expected to more than double, from €1.9 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. EU Member States should complement these measures by reinforcing their own means to deal with disinformation.  

Coordinated response: A dedicated Rapid Alert System will be set up among the EU institutions and Member States to facilitate the sharing of data and assessments of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on disinformation threats in real time. The EU institutions and Member States will also focus on proactive and objective communication on Union values and policies.

Online platforms and industry:The signatories of the Code of Practice should swiftly and effectively implement the commitments made under the Code of Practice, focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections in 2019. This includes in particular ensuring transparency of political advertising, stepping up efforts to close active fake accounts, labelling non-human interactions (messages spread automatically by ‘bots’) and cooperating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread. The Commission, with the help of the European group of regulators in charge of audio-visual media services, will ensure a close and continuous monitoring of the implementation of the commitments.

Raising awareness and empowering citizens: In addition to targeted awareness campaigns, the EU institutions and Member States will promote media literacy through dedicated programmes. Support will be provided to national multidisciplinary teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation campaigns across social networks.

Finally, the Commission is today also reporting on the progress made in tackling online disinformation since the presentation of its Communication in April 2018.

Next steps

The European Commission and the High Representative will develop and implement the measures set out in the Action Plan, in close cooperation with Member States and the European Parliament.

With a view to the European elections, the Rapid Alert System will be set up by March 2019. This will be complemented by further strengthening relevant resources.

The signatories of the Code of Practice will have to provide the first implementation update to the Commission by the end of 2018, which the Commission will then publish in January 2019. Between January and May, the online platforms will have to report to the Commission on a monthly basis. The Commission will also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice in its first 12 months. Should the implementation and the impact of the Code of Practice prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further measures, including of a regulatory nature.

Background

The European Union has been actively tackling disinformation since 2015. Followinga decision of the European Council in March 2015, in order to “challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns“, the East StratCom Task Forcein the European External Action Service (EEAS) was set up. The Task Force, together with the relevant Commission services, focuses on effectively communicating the EU’s policies towards its eastern neighbourhood; strengthening the overall media environment in the eastern neighbourhood, including providing support for media freedom and strengthening independent media; and improving the EU’s capacity to forecast, address and raise awareness of pro-Kremlin disinformation activities.

In 2016, the Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats was adopted, followed by the Joint Communication on increasing resilience and bolstering capabilities to address hybrid threats in 2018.

In April 2018, the Commission outlined a European approach and self-regulatory tools to tackle disinformation online, including an EU-wide Code of Practice against Disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and tools to stimulate quality journal­ism. On 16 October, the Code of Practice was signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla as well as the trade association representing online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising industry and advertisers.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address, President Juncker also put forward a set of concrete measures to make sure that next year’s European Parliament elections are organised in a free, fair and secure manner. The measures include greater transparency in online political advertisements and the possibility to impose sanctions for the illegal use of personal data in order to deliberately influence the outcome of the European elections.

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