French President François Hollande has unveiled a new front bench team—a new “government of combat”. Manuel Valls, popular former Minister of Interior and considered a centrist, has been appointed Prime Minister, while Ségolène Royal, former French presidential candidate and President Hollande’s ex-partner, has been given a key cabinet position as Minister of Environment.
In 2014, Europe will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the “Great War”, remembering the tens of millions of lives lost during that conflict. Also, this year more than 300 million Europeans will go to the polls to elect representatives to the European Parliament (EP)—the European Union’s (EU) only directly elected institution. Is there a link between one event and the other, you may ask? As John Feffer, co-director of ‘Foreign Policy In Focus’ recently wrote, “In place of jostling empires, there is [today] the European Union, a modern family beset by the usual bickering but nothing that a smothering bureaucracy can't handle.” The elections this May could actually be a watershed event, with potentially immense consequences for the continent and beyond. Institutional changes introduced since the last EP elections, as well as strong external factors—Europe’s current economic situation, disaffection for the ideal of European integration, or international tensions—will most likely result in a very different composition to the EP than in the past.
Spain, in the first decade of the new millennium, was the land of opportunity for many Latin Americans. At one point during the early 2000s, Spain was considered one of the top ten largest economies of the world, thus it became a logical and hopeful alternative for Spanish-speaking workers throughout the Americas. Droves of people immigrated from Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. For many, the dream did become a reality, and Spain was basking in its novel place of economic stability and might. But the construction boom in Spain popped in 2008 to 2009, bringing Spanish banks to their knees and spurring a deep recession that is to this date still dragging the Spanish economy to subzero growth.
The sudden change of mind on the European Association by Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in late November had unexpected and devastating impacts on his administration. Instead of the usual rallies in the thousands, which the government expected, the protests against his decision grew to hundreds of thousands of people—in some cases, over a million people attended. The government took an arrogant stand of ignoring and trying to suppress the protests, but this made things even worse for Yanukovych. The festive celebration of the European future of the country turned into politically charged movement after police brutality against the small pro-European student's camp at the center of Kyiv 4 AM on November 30th. Similarly brutal suppression of the fairly meaningless protest in Belarus in December 2010 made the country freeze in fear, and the following Western sanctions forced Lukashenko into a close alliance with Russia. It was different in Ukraine.
Many of us have heard that the United States is “ahead of Europe” when it comes to digital campaigning in the political sphere. Certainly there are examples from the United States that come quickly to mind, such as Barack Obama’s 2012 and 2008 Presidential campaigns and the populist support he gained. There are others which may be lesser known, such as Ron Paul’s powerful fundraising ‘moneybomb’ in 2007, the viral impact of a hidden video of Mitt Romney seemingly writing off 47 percent of the U.S. electorate, and even further back Howard Dean’s courtship of the blogging community in the 2004 elections. Undoubtedly, grand sums of money are spent on pumping the U.S. digital politics machine, but with staggering results. The first presidential debate set a record on Twitter, with more than 10 million tweets during the 90-minute debate. But it was not just volume. Research from ORI and the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management on the 2012 U.S. election showed that 29 percent of Americans said social media was moderately to extremely influential in their opinions of the candidates and issues, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said the quality of information about the candidates and issues on social media was the same or better than that from traditional media, 40 percent participated in a political discussion with others in their social networks, and 28 percent displayed their political affiliation on their networks.
The negotiations of the Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union started in 2007, was re-defined as the Association Agreement in September 2008, and was practically ready for signing by the end of 2009. Following the election of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, the process slowed down, and since 2011 the issue has gradually become a hot contest between Russia and the West. Finally, in a dramatic eleventh hour move, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov suspended the preparation for signing of the Agreement on November 22nd, demanding outrageous financial aid from the European Union.
There are just six months to go until the European Parliament elections. Imagine the buzz that you would hear six months before a U.S. presidential election, and indeed consider a typical national election anywhere across Europe. You would know the parties and candidates; you would see daily gossip in the press on policies and personalities; and you would read regular polling updates. European elections are a little different.
With the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the European Parliament was granted significant law-making powers, making it the EU’s co-legislator along with the Council of Ministers for almost all areas of EU competence. Whereas the European Commission remains the EU’s agenda setter and the Council has to give its consent on all pieces of binding legislation, the European Parliament now has the ability to amend, accept, reject, or at least advise on legislative initiatives ranging from energy policy and information technology to international trade agreements and the EU’s budget. The significance of the European Parliament has undoubtedly been increased in legislative terms, but whether the drafters of the Lisbon treaty have successfully reduced the ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU it is still unclear. Now with European elections approaching, a high voter turnout rate would be a good indicator to assess this.
Only eight weeks will separate the municipal elections (March 23rd and 30th) and the European elections (May 25th) next spring in France—two key milestones that could accelerate the path towards a redefined political landscape. As President Hollande’s popularity plummets in recent polls and the defiance towards traditional parties continues to grow, many pundits consider that the 2014 EU elections in France will once again be a “referendum” on the government’s popularity and a reflection of the current trend towards the radicalisation of French politics. The next European elections in France are likely to be once more plagued by abstention, and the shift from a bipartisan to a tri-partisan political landscape further accelerated.
“Today, one main question: How to restore Europe's online leadership. Lives have gone digital—so the single market must go truly digital too”. President Herman Van Rompuy’s summit opening in October is unlikely to rival other European Council defining catch-phrases (such as the Iron Lady’s “I want my money back”) but could have far more significant impact in Europe and beyond.
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