The Jean Monnet Project - EUPOLSOC
Chair holder: Professor Steven Saxonberg
Institute of European Studies and International Relations,
Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences
Comenius University, Bratislava
Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave
Fakulta Sociálnych a ekonomických vied
Ústav európskych štúdií a medzinárodných vzťahov
Mlynské Luhy 4, 821 05 Bratislava
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE:
Programs in European studies generally focus on EU institutions; however, the EU is influenced both by the political developments within each member state and by the social developments, such social movements and civil society organizations. The EU itself influences the policies of the member states. A comparative, political-sociological perspective emphasizes that the EU is not just a collection of certain institutions; it is also a collection of its member states. To understand how the EU is developing, we need to understand the political and social dynamics among the member states. This is particularly obvious now with Brexit, the emergence of populist movements, etc. A political-sociological perspective is especially unusual within Slovakia. Our department will become the center for political sociology and it is already the highest ranked program in the country for European studies according to the ministry evaluation.
All lecture are in room B122 at 13:30
Lecture 1: Thursday, October 24:
Roman Hlatky, University of Texas
"EU Funding and Euroskeptic Vote Choice"
Lecture 2: Wednesday, October 30:
prof. PhDr. Tomáš Sirovátka, Masaryk University in Brno
"Welfare State Attitudes and Support for Political Populism"
Lecture 3: Thursday, December 5
Dr. Lenka Buštíková, Arizona State University
"Extreme Reactions: How anger and resentment towards minorities is being utilized in politics"
The British Leap into the Unknown
The result of the UK election on 12 December meant that for the first time it was certain that the country really would leave the European Union. The Conservative Party under Boris Johnson gained a majority of 80 members of parliament more than all the other parties together, thereby guaranteeing Brexit legislation being passed before Christmas and the UK leaving the EU on 31 January 2020. Beyond this certainty, however, there are far more unanswered questions than usual at the beginning of a parliamentary session. These can be split into two areas: EU/foreign policy and domestic politics.
As a child, Johnson famously told his siblings that he wanted to be world king. While naked ambition and a lust for power are not uncommon among politicians, in Johnson’s case the relentless pursuit of the top office has been so marked that unclarity remains about what he actually intends to do with his new-found power. With a sound parliamentary majority and the gratitude of his party for having ended the Brexit stalemate, he has a relatively free hand in deciding policy. But what does he really want?
It is uncertain whether he even wanted Brexit as he was not a known Eurosceptic and only decided to back the Vote Leave campaign four months before the referendum. In the days immediately after the referendum victory, he was notably silent, reinforcing the common assumption that he had only backed Brexit as a means of gaining Eurosceptic support in a future party leadership contest, in the belief that he would become a noble loser. When he won he knew not what to do.
The first unknown, therefore, is what sort of Brexit policy he will pursue as a strong prime minister. Although his election slogan was ‘Get Brexit Done’, in real life formally leaving the EU is only the first step in negotiating relations with the EU and the rest of the world – a point which the opposition Labour Party was lacklustre in pointing out. Johnson’s first move was to commit himself in law to ending the transition period – where the UK acts in many areas as if it were still an EU member – on 31 December 2020, and not taking advantage of the possibility of a one or two year extension if no trade agreement has been agreed with the EU. This fulfilled a promise to the Brexit Party, which had agreed not to stand in the election in seats that had been won by the Conservatives in 2017. However, laws can be changed and trade negotiations in general will last many years.
The second unknown is what economic problems the UK will face. Brexit supporters claim that ‘project fear’ – concern that Brexit would cause economic devastation – has been proved wrong as the country is currently enjoying record high levels of employment and the pound leapt up when the Conservatives won the election. However, this ignores the fact that Brexit has not actually happened yet and unemployment – particularly outside London and the south of England – may rise dangerously as companies move out of the UK. The pound dropped again when Johnson insisted he would leave the EU at the end of 2020 even without a trade deal, and this might cause a further flurry of companies relocating from the UK.
On this will depend whether any of Johnson’s domestic policy promises can be financed.
UK domestic politics will cease to be a major concern for the EU from 2020 onwards, but it will nevertheless be interesting to discover whether, as some fear, the UK will become a neoliberal bastion leading a ‘race to the bottom’ on standards or whether, on the contrary, Johnson’s premiership is a prelude to the UK becoming a socialist beacon on the edge of Europe under a radical left Labour government.
First of all, it should be noted that although Johnson has in recent years collaborated with colleagues on the right of the Conservative Party who were hostile to the EU, his former major office was as mayor of London where, as in many capital cities, more liberal policies are necessary. Johnson himself is a cosmopolitan: he was born in New York (only renouncing US citizenship in 2016), lived in Brussels as a child and speaks several languages. His colourful love life also precludes his adopting conservative moral stances. He refuses to confirm in public how many children he has, and is the first prime minister to move his mistress into Downing Street. Furthermore, in the run-up to the election he was critical of his Conservative predecessors’ austerity policies and made a number of fairly extravagant promises in the run-up to the election, targeted mainly at seats in the north of England which were held by the Labour Party but had a majority of voters who supported ‘Leave’. This policy, coupled with the marked public distrust of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was successful. The Conservatives captured some seats that had been Labour bastions since the First World War, and on the weekend after the election Johnson gleefully visited Sedgefield, a northern constituency that had been represented by three-times Labour prime minister Tony Blair but which had switched to the Conservatives on 12 December.
Consequently, it is hard to tell where Johnson will end up politically. His domestic policies are likely to contain elements of originality and it will be interesting to track at what point his popularity begins to fade with his Conservative colleagues. It is not inconceivable that he will fall flat on his face early on in his term of office if confronted by economic crisis. Most of his pre-election spending promises were based on financing through a ‘Brexit bonus’ which is unlikely to materialize.
The second major problem Johnson will face is open conflict with the Scottish Government. When the exit poll was announced at 10pm on election night, my first reaction was ‘end of the UK’, since it indicated not only a clear Conservative victory and hence Brexit, but also a marked increase in the number of Scottish National Party members of parliament. Johnson is adamant that there should not be another independence referendum in Scotland since the one held in 2014 was supposed to be a ‘once in a generation’ decision. However, since the British government had campaigned in that referendum with the argument that independence would eject Scotland from the EU and only staying in the UK guaranteed continuous EU membership, the Scottish had clearly been betrayed by the 2016 EU referendum. Nevertheless, although 62% of Scottish voters had supported continued EU membership in 2016, the result of a future Scottish independence referendum is far from certain. The Scottish National Party first became an electoral force in the 1970s, after the UK had joined the EU, and the notion of Scottish independence has always been tacitly predicated on both England and Scotland being in the EU so that borders and customs tariffs were simply not a problem. With the UK leaving the EU, and the EU requiring new member states, like an independent Scotland, to join the Schengen Zone, independence would appear to entail a hard border between England and Scotland of the sort that has been rejected in Ireland.
It should be noted that the Irish border is less problematic than a hypothetical future Scottish border as Ireland, like the UK, has never been in the Schengen Zone: their common travel zone meant that Ireland chose to stay outside Schengen to match the UK. But new member states like an independent Scotland do not enjoy the choices that existing member states have when treaty innovations are first negotiated.
Ireland will, however, be another problem for Johnson. His agreement with the EU will create a bureaucratic nightmare in Northern Ireland, which is in any case vulnerable to a post-Brexit economic downturn, and Northern Ireland has a right in international law to hold a referendum on Irish reunification if there appears to be a majority in support of this. 2019 was the first UK election where the protestant Unionist parties gained less than half the province’s 18 Westminster seats, and although the distortions of the British electoral system mean that this does not indicate a republican majority, it is part of a broader long-term shift in opinion about Ireland’s destiny.
But would the disintegration of the UK hurt Johnson? Although the Conservatives claim to be the party of the Union, some opinion polls indicated that the English as a whole are not so concerned with remaining in a United Kingdom with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Brexiteers were far more worried about getting Brexit done.
Finally, the good news for the Johnson government relates to the opposition Labour Party. Having allowed the membership to elect Jeremy Corbyn – a token far left candidate on the leadership election ballot paper – in 2015, the party had doomed itself to electoral failure. It also doomed the UK to Brexit as Corbyn’s almost farcically indecisive leadership on the issue allowed the Conservatives to dominate political discourse on the matter while civil society, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats and anti-Corbyn dissenters in the Labour Party put up the most effective resistance they could in the absence of a Leader of the Opposition who knew how to do his job. Corbyn’s devoted fan following mistook their fairly narrow loss in the 2017 election, where they were saved by despairing anti-Brexit voters deciding the Labour Party was the only machine big enough to attack the Conservatives, as an indication that the public liked his left-wing policies (which to some extent they did). After the disastrous failure in 2019, which left them with fewer seats than in any election since 1935, the party might correct course. Early indications suggest, however, that the members will again put their own left-wing dreams above the views of their voters and replace Corbyn with some of the young women members of parliament that Corbyn had brought into his shadow cabinet. So as in the entire Brexit period, Johnson could in this respect have an easier ride than he might have expected or deserved. But he may not. A Labour leader on the left of the party who has sharper political instincts and ambition than Corbyn might just manage to turn a post-Brexit economic collapse to their political advantage and create a socialist flagship on the EU’s western border.
Looking to the future
Political mistakes, both by Johnson, the Labour Party, and politicians in Scotland and Northern Ireland, matter. But what matters most of all in determining the future of the UK is the economic fate of the country once it leaves the UK. Governments are never helped by economic recession, and in a case where the recession is so clearly of the government’s own making, the reaction may be more intense. However, older people are less likely to protest. They have got used to the idea that there will be economic problems after Brexit and after the dire scenarios predicted for the case that the UK had left the EU without any withdrawal agreement at all, the reality may not seem so bad to them.
The young, however, are a different matter. Surveys at the time of the referendum indicated that over 70% of 18 – 24-year-olds had voted to remain in the EU, while over 60% of those 65 years old or above had voted to leave. More crucially, however, this fault line is also visible in election voting. Britain is no longer divided by class or occupation, or between rural and urban voters or north and south. It is divided by age. A post-election survey found that 56% of 18 – 24-year-olds voted Labour and just 21% Conservative, while among 60 – 69-year-olds some 57% voted Conservative and only 22% Labour.
Should Brexit cause economic hardship and unemployment it will be the young who suffer. They already have numerous grievances against the older generation – the unaffordability of house purchase, high university fees and the prospect of lower pensions - apart from the looming threat of climate change catastrophe. A further deterioration of their life chances caused purely by the folly of their elders may well pose the risk of serious unrest.
Today is the day that it became rather clear that Brexit will likely become a reality, as the Tories under the leadership of their populist leader Boris Johnson won a victory in the British elections. Thus, for many people this Friday the thirteenth really does signify bad luck! The entire Brexit debate has been very divisive for the UK and Europe and has led to a lot of resentment.
Thus, today is a good day for me to write a brief blog about Dr. Lenka Buštíková’s excellent presentation on the politics of resentment which she gave as part of our Jean Monnet lecture series on Thursday, December 5. She came to promote her new book Extreme Reactions: Radical Right Mobilization in Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press). She argues that far right parties mobilize against politically ascendant minorities based on the politics of resentment. That is, people do not vote for far right parties necessarily because they are racist, anti-Gay, anti-immigrant, etc,, but rather because they feel resentment toward these groups, which they feel have benefitted from recent changes in policies in their society.
Our research project on emotions and populism has been highly influenced by Buštíková’s work. While she uses macro-level data, we decided that we wanted to test her ideas about resentment at the micro level, so we included questions about resentment in our resent questionnaire that we carried out in Slovakia. In addition, hearing her lecture about why support for far-right parties increases when “outgroups” appear to be gaining in benefits, I wondered why only SOME people vote for these far-right parties. Why doesn’t everyone vote for them? In other words, she offers an intriguing explanation as to why support for these parties increases under certain circumstances, but without micro-level data we cannot ascertain why some people still refuse to vote for these parties – in fact the vast majority in the post-communist countries does not vote for such parties. Consequently, her lecture gave me further food for thought for the analysis of our survey data that will begin in January.
I am very thrilled and honored to have received a Jean Monnet Chair for our project on the EU from a political sociological perspective. It seems to me that most European Studies programs focus on the EU as an institution. However, I think it is also important to look at the countries that comprise the European Union.
To take an obvious example, the wave of populism that has spread throughout Europe obviously influences the EU. The clearest example is the Brexit issue, but that is not the only case where populism has influenced the EU. In Central Europe rightwing populist parties have come to power in both Poland and Hungary and are both moving in the direction of “illiberal democracies,” where elections are no longer fair, the mass media is no longer free and the legal system is no longer independent. Hungary has gone farther in this direction that Poland, but the mere existence of an illiberal, populist party in power in Poland makes it difficult for the EU to sanction the Orban regime in Hungary, since Poland will usually block such moves, which require unanimous approval. In addition, the ruling ANO party in the Czech Republic could be considered a centrist-populist party and the president Zeman a leftwing populist. Meanwhile the ruling party in Slovakia – Smer – is clearly a populist party, which in common with rightwing populist parties runs anti-Roma and anti-immigrant campaigns; yet the party labels itself “social democratic” and belongs to the socialist group in the EU parliament. In a situation in which much of Central Europe is being ruled by populist parties of various shades, it is not surprising that these governments refused to accept the EU quotas for taking in refugees from Syria, which in turn prevented the EU from developing a cohesive strategy for dealing with the refugee situation.
But if the EU is influenced by changes in the policies of the member states, it is necessary to investigate why some of the member states are changing their policies. In order to conduct such an analysis, it is necessary to look at the relationship between state and society in these countries, hence the need for a political-sociological approach. A political-sociological approach allows us to inquire as to why different kinds of movements (such as populist ones) arise, why people support such policies and how the policies of these movements when in power influence society.
Luckily, we also have a research project on populism and emotions, so now were are investigating many of these themes, which allows us to link our research project to the Jean Monnet Chair, as the Chair is mostly for teaching innovations rather than research. In addition, part of teh Jean Monnet project is to invite guest lecturers and to show films in our EUROCINE film series. Thus, we are combining research and teaching with outreach events such as public lectures and films with panel discussions after the films.
All films are in the Auditorium of the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at 5:30 pm on Tuesdays
October 8, 2019 bude EUROCINE premietať dokumentárnu novinku "Skutok sa stal", režisérky Barbory Bereznakovej. Po filme bude diskusia s režisérkou a novinárkou Ľubou Lesnou, moderuje Andrej Findor. Možno ste v Denníku N zachytili rozhovor s režisérkou a aj reakciu Ľuby Lesnej, to všetko je prísľubom zaujímavého eventu.
November 19, 2019: "SPÝTAJ SA VAŠICH 89"
premietanie dokumentárneho filmu a diskusia s režisérkou Barborou Berezňákovou a výskumníčkou Zuzanou Maďarovou (ÚEŠMV), autorkou knihy Ako odvrávať novembru 1989: rodové aspekty pamäte.
Screening of the documentary film "Ask at Home 89" with English subtitles.
December 12, 2019 at 16:30: "MEČIAR". Screening of documentaryfilm
Lust for Power (with English subtitles). Premietanie dokumentárnehe filmu Mečiar a diskusia s publicistom a analytikom Mariánom LEŠKOM reprezentantmi Dokumentu nakolesách Matejom SOTNÍKOM a Adamom STRAKOM. Možno príde aj režisérka Tereza NVOTOVÁ