Bursting the Bubble

Macron’s EUtopia of equals: Should France be pointing fingers at others while undermining the EU?

28 June 2017 | by

After the presidential and parliamentary victories of Emmanuel Macron and his party earlier this year, many in Europe expect that the EU will rise from the self-defeating lethargy of slow demise. Expectations are high among the EU establishment who have welcomed this as an opportunity to finally press ahead with more integration – expectations that have been reinforced by Brexit and the belief that the EU can finally uninterruptedly embark on initiatives previously frustrated by the government in London. Yet Macron’s presidency will not be defined by the EU alone. Instead it will be dominated by national issues such as the country’s abysmal economic performance. The EU agenda will not be pursued in parallel to the domestic one as two equals – at best the former will be entirely subjugated to the latter and at worst France will pursue its own (economic) interests to the detriment of the EU and the Single Market.

Macron’s rise to power has propelled him into the position of the EU’s poster child. The EU’s very own Barrack Obama who ran on the message of hope and whose potential failure can lead to the ultimate abandonment of the political system in France as we know it. While the domestic economic problems cannot be overemphasised – high unemployment, lacklustre economic growth, oversized and ineffective public sector and indebtedness – Macron’s mandate is built on shaky grounds. Of those who voted for him many were driven not so much by their passion for Macron himself as by their distrust for Le Pen or the establishment. For them, a vote for the former was a vote against the latter and a vote against your enemy does not always mean a vote for your own programme. It is therefore reasonable to expect that much of the necessary but painful reforms promised by Macron during the election campaign will be met with a notable reluctance from the majority of the French electorate.

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Taming the Bear: How EU Sanctions fail against Russia

2 June 2017 | by

Skepticism towards the efficacy of sanctions is wide-spread, and in fact most of the literature to be found on the topic is deeply pessimistic. Thus, three years into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and after the European Union and allies imposed sanctions on Moscow, it is hardly surprising that those measures did not lead to the targeted outcomes. The EU is particularly clear in stating that the sanctions are targeting Russia’s leading political individuals with visa bans and asset freezes, while the country’s industries relevant for Moscow’s foreign policy campaign in Ukraine, its major energy and defence companies, are targeted by limited economic sanctions. Additionally, the access to Western financing is now closed for major Russian banks. Hence, these sanctions are not aimed at Russia’s general population, and are constructed as smart sanctions which attempt to raise the costs for the political elite inside Russia, while abandoning the logics of collective punishment.

However, the smart sanctions are likely to not be that smart after all, and in fact even counterproductive. Here is why.

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EU ETS and the Circular Economy

31 May 2017 | by

The Commission’s proposal to reform the ETS aims at drastically reduce the number of sectors on the carbon leakage list, by applying a purely one-size-fits-all quantitative formula that multiplies trade intensity by emission intensity. This approach, however, ignores the potential strategic importance of these sectors in providing solutions towards the EU objectives of the circular economy.

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The Ghosts of Europe’s Past and the EU’s Struggle with Rising Populism

17 May 2017 | by

This year has marked six decades since the creation of the European integration project. However, what should have been a celebratory moment for the long effort to construct a solid European community turned out to be a more cautious affair, especially after the Brexit backlash. Less than a century ago, Edmund Husserl’s warning words about Europe were more than farsighted: ‘the gravest danger menacing Europe is its lassitude’. The EU needs now more than ever a strong and united leadership to steer the bloc towards protecting the legacy of a community of post-security against the backdrop of a number of both internal and external challenges. The most worrying fact is that there are indicative signs that the European integration project is no longer a strong enough instrument capable of shielding the EU from its own populist and traditional power-politics past.

The recent migration waves from war-torn areas have undoubtedly triggered an array of tensions and dilemmas within the EU, which in turn rekindled feelings of insecurity and have provided fuel to exclusionary and populist-oriented politics. There is an undisputable resurgence of nationalist rhetoric in major European countries, where virulent demagogues and fear-peddlers the likes of Le Pen, Wilders, Farage, Zeman, Fico, Orbán or Hofer capitalize on popular fears and threat perceptions. They skilfully link the economic hardships of the EU’s own brand of neoliberalism and the failures of late capitalism to the perils of terrorism and the insecurities caused by the migration flows. One is left baffled of how, after more than twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War, democratization efforts are disintegrating at a fast pace and the ghost of populism is still haunting Europe.

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What we celebrate with the 60th anniversary of the EU?

31 March 2017 | by

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the EU. What began with the signing of the Treaties of Rome and the European Community of Coal and Steel has developed in the biggest peace project the world has ever seen. In this year where for the first time the EU will not expand but will be smaller with the Brexit, we have to remind ourselves what the EU has brought to this continent. We have to remind ourselves that the promises of the single market are not the biggest unique selling proposition in its marketing but that we as European citizens have come together over the EU to make the European slogan true in its form. Indeed, its ‘unity in diversity’, where people, goods and services move over boundaries together with ideas that have made this Union stronger, more prosper and more stable than ever before. This is a good opportunity to look back at 60 years of European cooperation when all over Europe people come on the street to back or to be against the Union.

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