3
Jun

Spain’s King Juan Carlos to abdicate

Written on June 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, News

 

Juan Carlos coronation

After 39 years on the throne, King Juan Carlos of Spain will abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Felipe, the king said in a televised address on Monday.

Hours after the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, broke the news, the king explained his decision on Spanish television and radio. He highlighted his pride in the “transformation of Spain” and the “tremendous amount achieved by all” since the country’s transition into democracy.

“Today, when I look back, I cannot help but feel pride and gratitude towards all of you,” he said.

The decision to step down, he said, was made after his 76th birthday in January. His son Felipe, he assured Spaniards, “has the maturity, preparation, and sense of responsibility necessary to assume the title of head of state and open a new era of hope which combines the experience and momentum of a new generation.”

Once one of the world’s most popular monarchs, more recently Juan Carlos has been plagued by a series of scandals that have sent his popularity plummeting. A poll by El Mundo last year found that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the king should abdicate.

In contrast, Prince Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman, has come out relatively unscathed. Frequently photographed while taking their two daughters to school or at shopping malls, Felipe and his wife Letizia Ortiz – a former television news anchor -have cultivated an image of leading a relatively modest lifestyle.

Fluent in English, French and Catalan along with Spanish, Felipe studied for a year in Canada before undertaking three years of military training in Spain’s army, navy and air force academy. A law degree in Madrid soon followed, as well as a Masters in international relations at Georgetown University in Washington, DC

“His goal, his only goal, is to serve Spain. It has been deeply ingrained in him that he must be the country’s main servant,” his mother Queen Sofia once said.

The poll showing rising public support for Juan Carlos to abdicate was astunning reversal for a leader who in 2012, had earned the approval of almost 80% of Spaniards. Taking the throne just two days after the death of Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos won the respect of Spaniards by steering the country from dictatorship to democracy, including foiling a coup attempt in 1981.

But as Spain fell into financial crisis, the king’s standing sank. A particularly low point came when it was revealed that he had taken a luxurious trip to Botswana to hunt elephants, just weeks after telling a reporter that he was so distraught about the growing ranks of the unemployed that he was having trouble sleeping.

The royal family’s image was further tarnished by a long-runningcorruption investigation into the king’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin.

Many, particularly young Spaniards, began to see the king as part of Spain’s problems, drawing parallels between him and the economic and political powers that had driven the country into the economic crisis. While the king’s approval rating dropped steadily, that of his son Felipe remained stable at around 66%, leading many to suggest that the monarchy would be better off if the king abdicated.

In Monday’s announcement, Rajoy praised Juan Carlos, calling him a “tireless defender of our interests”. He added: “I’m convinced this is the best moment for change.”

Spain is now expected to change its constitution to make sure Felipe’s first-born daughter Leonor can succeed him.

The royal family has said its wants the change to ensure she is next in line to the throne in the event that Felipe’s wife gets pregnant again and gives birth to a boy, who would become monarch under the current constitution.

Analysts say that could open the door to political negotiations for additional proposed constitutional changes, including demands by the leading opposition Socialist Party to grant Catalonia more autonomy or special financial benefits to ease separatist feelings.

Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, declared that the king’s abdication would not derail his plans to hold the vote asking Catalans whether they want to secede from Spain. “We have a date with our future on 9 November,” Mas told reporters after the king gave his speech.

Rajoy’s government must now pass a law creating a legal mechanism for Felipe’s assumption of power, which will then allow Juan Carlos to set a date for his formal abdication.

 

Published on 2 June in http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/02/spains-king-juan-carlos-to-abdicate

2
Jun

Brazil’s World Cup Is An Expensive, Exploitative Nightmare

Written on June 2, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Op Ed

The world’s “beautiful game” is about to stage its biggest tournament in the country that is its spiritual home. The realities on the ground in Brazil, however, are far different from how its ringmasters had envisioned. Stadiums haven’t been completed; roads and airports not built. Ten thousand visiting journalists may find themselves unable to make deadlines due to poor Internet and mobile service.

More ominously, there is a rising tide of discontent that threatens to turn the streets into war zones. History may well record the World Cup in Brazil as the tipping point where the costs meant the party just wasn’t worth it anymore. Nao Vai Ter Copa has become a national rallying cry. There Will Be No World Cup. People want bread, not circuses. It’s OK to love the game, but hate the event. The governing body of the game, FIFA, is not amused.

Events like World Cup and the Olympics have become obscenely expensive, with few trickle-down rewards to the citizens who bear the brunt of the costs for the benefit of the few. The people of South America’s largest country were promised the dawn of a new age of prosperity that these mega-events heralded. In a country where corruption is insidious, all-encompassing, and a virus that suffocates all semblance of progress, it is bricks, steel, and mortar that the people see, not new hospitals, schools, or public transport. Even then, Itaquerao stadium, as an example, won’t be ready in time for the opening kickoff in São Paulo on June 12. “Is this what we get for $11 billion?” the people are asking. It is a fair question.

A new type of democracy has sprung up as a result; a unity of thought and expression that is uniquely Brazilian. Citizen collectives with names like Direitos Urbanos (Urban Rights) and the Landless Workers Movement (MTST) were formed to create avenues of options for people who have had to make way for ordem e progresso—the national motto of Brazil inscribed on the flag. Order and Progress.

U.S. journalist Dave Zirin, in his recent book Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and Brazil’s Fight for Democracy, says the three Ds—displacement, debt, and defense—are at the heart of the other Ds—such as discontent and disgust.

“The calls for protest aim to highlight the pain as well as show the world who is behind the curtain, pulling the strings,” he said. “There is a highly sophisticated plan that just as the government’s World Cup plans for Brazil are designed for international consumption, there is also an unprecedented global spotlight. The great journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote, ‘There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world. Protesters aim to drag FIFA from the shadows and into the light. If they are successful, it will leave a legacy that will last longer than the spectacle itself.’”

During a congressional hearing by Brazil’s tourism and sports commission this year, former FIFA World Player of the Year and 1994 World Cup winner Romario, now a popular politician and member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, was quoted as saying, “We can’t expect anything from FIFA, where we have a blackmailer called [General Secretary Jerome] Valcke and a corrupt thief and son-of-a-****h called [President Sepp] Blatter.” Read more…

 

Published on 30/05/2014 in http://www.thedailybeast.com

29
May

With its triumph in Sunday's European election, Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National is hoping to move from the margins to the mainstream.

Marine Le Pen shed tears of joy after her triumph in European Parliament elections on Sunday. When she arrived after midnight at a Parisian night club for the victory celebration with her fellow party members, the head of the far-right Front National (FN) embraced fans and family before letting the champagne flow. Marine’s father Jean-Marie, who was re-elected to the EU body for the seventh time, was also on hand to congratulate his daughter. “It was a historic victory,” he said.

By Monday morning, the emotional evening had already been forgotten and strategists were once again busy at work at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre. Until Sunday’s election, the Front National had occupied but three seats in European Parliament — one each for Marine, her father and his political companion Bruno Gollnisch — and had led a largely unnoticed existence on the political fringes in Brussels. Now, though, the party’s caucus will grow by 21 representatives.

After pulling in a triumphant 25 percent of the vote, the Front National will now have the largest number of seats of any French political party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen has every intention of using the party’s presence at parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and Brussels for political gain. Some within the far-right in France are already considering their political futures — all the way up to the presidential palace in Paris.

The ‘Long March’

The first step in the “long march,” as Marine Le Pen has termed it, is the creation of a party group in the European Parliament comprised of skeptics of the euro common currency, EU opponents and the far-right or right-wing populists. Doing so would provide the parties with greater access to money and key posts and would also raise their profile. To create a group, at least 25 members of parliament from seven different EU member states must join together in a bloc. Given the divergent ideologies on Europe’s right wing, that won’t be an easy task.

The only true support Le Pen can count on is from the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. Right-wing populist parties in Belgium and the Netherlands failed to deliver on Sunday, managing only disappointing results. Meanwhile, radical political forces in Denmark and Britain have said they will not join an alliance with the Front National.

Despite Le Pen’s triumph — which the front pages of France’s newspapers described as a “Big Bang,” a “repudiation” and even an “earthquake” — right-wing populists will remain a minority among the 751 members of the European Parliament. “They won’t have enough influence to determine policy direction,” FN expert Joel Gombin told French news station BFM. “On the contrary,” the sociologist said. “The relatively good showing of the euro opponents will force existing EU parties to increase their cooperation.”

That, though, is of little consequence for Le Pen and the Front National. This election cycle clearly demonstrated that the party’s anti-EU message, and its criticism of an EU that takes power away from member states, is attractive to both workers and young voters.

To be sure, the French far right’s success is also the product of French voters’ frustration with the country’s economic malaise and a growing disillusionment with established political parties. Indeed, the Socialists and the conservative UMP are increasingly perceived as being muddled, unreliable or even corrupt. To capitalize, Marine Le Pen has refashioned Front National’s ideology from the ground up, and now appears to many in France as a modern and dynamic force.

Conquering France One Step at a Time

Thus, Sunday’s success is seen as but a stage victory among Front National’s leaders. They have set their sights on more than EU institutions in Brussels; they also want power back home. “Conquer France first, then destroy Europe,” Louis Alliot, deputy head of the party as well as Marine Le Pen’s companion, said of the strategy.

With 4.5 million votes, the party didn’t fare as well on Sunday as it did during the 2012 presidential election, when it attracted 6.5 million French voters. Still, the party did manage to attract around 11 percent of all eligible voters, which has sparked hopes among FN supporters for the 2017 presidential campaign.

In order to position Marine Le Pen as a realistic alternative to the mainstream parties, the far-right is focusing on conquering the country one step at a time. Next year’s regional elections could prove decisive. Of the 21 regional administrative bodies where elections are to be held, 20 are currently led by the Socialists.If the left fares as poorly in those elections as it did on Sunday — the Socialists managed just 14 percent — the FN could profit from its continued decline. Marine Le Pen could also stand a real chance in a match-up against President François Hollande. Current polls show that, with a public approval rating of just 11 percent, Hollande is the most unpopular president of France in decades.

But is Le Pen’s shot at the presidential palace little more than wishful thinking? “In the past, the Front National has only had bastions of support in certain areas,” says political scientist Gombin. “But with this election, FN has become a national party. Next to the traditional left and right, it has now risen to become France’s third political force.”

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey

By Stefan Simons in Paris

http://www.spiegel.de, Published on May 27th. 

28
May

 

Crowfunding conference (1)

Javier Ramos, Research Associate at the University of Zurich and Complutense Institute of International Relations, addressed the MIR class on Friday 23 May in what was the last seminar of the academic year. His topic, crowdfunding, was both relevant and novel for the students.  Crowdfunding is a relatively recent phenomenon in which funds can be raised through the internet for a political, cultural, non-profit or even commercial campaign.  The three core dimensions of crowdfunding are: social networks (one can raise funds from friends and family); sector specific (the event is usually cultural); low risk (amounts donated or lent are usually quite small). This new form of financing often benefits from the “wisdom of the crowd” or the fact that, collectively, projects can become more efficient or effective. Indeed, through crowdfunding, a person may lend money to a project he/she believes in but can also give feedback on how to improve the project. This is “collective” intelligence or “efficiencracy”: efficiency through democracy.

According to Ramos, there are 4 types of crowdfunding platforms: equity based in which investors seek profits; lending based in which lenders seek interest; reward based in which one receives a reward (a book, a diploma, a gift) in exchange for a donation; and donation based in which whatever you pledge is a donation. What makes this type of financing innovative is that almost anything and everything can get financed: an end of school trip, tuition for a Phd program etc…

Of course, crowdfunding, like any new phenomenon, also presents risks and disadvantages: the risk of fraud or that you will invest your money in something uncertain, untried, untested, distant. Some critics also dislike the fact that there is no interaction or real face to face time with the person who is fundraising for a project. Perhaps, the strongest criticism is that these new internet platforms are as yet unregulated and that international law lags behind these new initiatives. In due time, laws and regulations will catch up and crowdfunding will become a transparent, efficient and democratic way to finance one’s dreams.

27
May

Chappatte cartoon: Protest vote in Europe

 

On the day the Bastille was stormed in 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary, “rien“. Few European leaders will have typed “nothing” into their iPads today, but there is a real danger that, in response to the revolutionary cry across the continent, they will in effect do nothing. Today’s rien has a face and a name. The name’s Juncker. Jean-Claude Juncker.

A disastrous “the same only more so” response from Europe’s leaders would be signalled by taking Juncker – Spitzenkandidat of the largest party grouping in the new European parliament, the centre-right European People’s party – and making him president of the European commission. The canny Luxembourgeois was the longest-serving head of an EU national government, and the chair of the Eurogroup through the worst of the eurozone crisis. Although he has considerable skills as a politician and deal-maker, he personifies everything protest voters from left to right distrust about remote European elites. He is, so to speak, the Louis XVI of the EU.

The danger also lies in what now seems likely to happen inside the European parliament. The most probable development is a kind of unspoken grand coalition of the current mainstream party groupings, centre-right, centre-left, liberal and (at least on some issues) greens, to keep all the anti-parties at bay. If another six of the more xenophobic, nationalist parties accept the lead of the Marine le Pen’s triumphant Front National, papering over their differences to form a recognised group within the parliament, that will give them funding (from European taxpayers’ pockets) and a stronger position in parliamentary procedure, but still not enough votes to overpower such a centrist grand coalition.

Surely that is a good thing? Yes, in the short term. But only if that grand coalition then supports decisive reform of the EU. It should start, symbolically, by refusing ever again to make its absurd regular commute from its spacious quarters in Brussels to its second luxurious seat in Strasbourg – the EU’s version of Versailles – at an estimated cost of €180m a year. If, however, the unspoken grand coalition does not deliver more of what so many Europeans want over the next five years, it will only strengthen the anti-EU vote next time round. Then all the mainstream parties will be held responsible for the failure.

The one silver lining to this continent-sized cloud is that, for the first time since direct elections to the parliament began in 1979, overall voter turnout has apparently not declined. Turnout varies greatly from country to country – in Slovakia it was estimated to be 13% – but in France, for example, significantly more voters showed up than last time. What pro-Europeans preached for so long has finally come to pass: European citizens actively engaging in an EU-wide democratic process. But, irony of ironies, they do so to vote against the EU.

So what were Europeans telling their leaders? The general message was perfectly summed up by the cartoonist Chappatte, who drew a group of protesters holding up a placard shouting “Unhappy” – and one of their number shouting through a megaphone into the ballot box. There are 28 member states and 28 varieties of Unhappy. Some of the successful protest parties really are on the far-right: in Hungary, for example, Jobbik got three seats and more than 14% of the vote. Most, like Britain’s victorious Ukip, draw voters from right and left, feeding on sentiments such as “we want our country back” and “too many foreigners, too few jobs”. But in Greece, the big protest vote went to the leftwing, anti-austerity Syriza.

Simon Hix, an expert on the European parliament, has identified three main schools of unhappiness: north Europeans outside the eurozone (Brits, Danes), north Europeans inside the eurozone (the kind of Germans who secured several seats for the anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland) and south Europeans inside the eurozone (Greeks, Portuguese).

That leaves the east Europeans, many of whom are unhappy in their own ways. The fact that the Unhappy come at the problem from such different angles makes it harder to address. The Syriza voter’s dream for eurozone policy is the Alternative für Deutschland voter’s nightmare.

Yet one thing they all have in common: fear for the life chances of their children. Until about 10 years ago, the general assumption was that things would be better for the next generation of Europeans. “Europe” was part of a larger story of progress. But a Eurobarometer poll earlier this year found more than half saying that the lives of children in the EU would be “more difficult” than their own.

There is already a generation of European graduates who feel they have been robbed of the better future they were led to expect. They are members of a new class: the precariat.

In such a dramatic moment for the whole European project, it is worth going back to the very origins, to the 1948 Congress of Europe, where the veteran advocate of Pan-Europa, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, admonished his fellow founders: “Let us never forget, my friends, that European union is a means and no end.” That is as true today as it was then. European union is not an end in itself. It is a means to the end of delivering better – more prosperous, free, secure – lives for its people.

So what we need now is a radical focus on delivery. Enough of those endless institutional debates. The question is not “more Europe or less Europe?” It is: more of what and less of what? For example, we need more of the single market in energy, telecoms, the internet and services, but we may need less Brussels-led policy in fisheries and culture.

Every step that produces a single job for a currently unemployed European should be taken. Every centimetre of red tape that puts someone out of work must be torn up. This is no time for Junckers. The moment demands a European commission of all the talents, led by someone of proven ability like Pascal Lamy or Christine Lagarde, entirely dedicated to the task of convincing the legions of the Unhappy that there is a better future for their children, and that it lies with Europe.

That is what should happen. But will it? I have a dreadful feeling in my bones that future historians may write of the May 2014 elections: “This was the wake-up call from which Europe failed to wake up.”

Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com. He directs the 13-language websitefreespeechdebate.com, and is writing a book about free speech

 

Published on Monday 26 May 2014 in the www.theguardian.com

 

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