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Brexit and Pandora’s Box @DCU_Brexit_Inst


Boris returns at Number 10. Number 10 via a BY-NC-ND licence

Boris returns at Number 10. Number 10 via a BY-NC-ND licence

“Get Brexit Done” , the highly successful Conservative slogan, can be interpreted in two rather different ways. It is a commitment made by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It is also a mandate given to him by the British voters. Johnson has received a resounding mandate and will have to work hard too fulfill his commitment in the next few months. Hopefully, he will duly be held accountable by the voters.

The British “Constitution” (I refer to the famous book by Walter Bagehot, 1867) has performed admirably. After having unsuccessfully tried to manipulate the rules of the game, among other minor violations, shutting Parliament, Johnson has been rewarded by several factors that pertain to the British political system. First, to a large extent the incumbent has the power to dissolve Parliament and call new elections at the time that is most convenient for him. In this instance he was decisively  helped by Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn. Second, in many, if not most, constituencies, Conservative candidates were blessed by tactical voting deliberately made possible by Nigel Farage. The leader of UKIP  has sacrificed his, in any case difficult, access to Westminster to the uppermost goal of obtaining Brexit. Third, tactical voting has not worked for the parties (and candidates) opposing Brexit. Finally, in contrast with Johnson’ clear stand, Corbyn’s statements and campaign were often confused and appeared shaped by expediency.

The Labour leader practically did not offer any alternative to what Johnson was advocating. In a way, one could say that the old English expression “better the devil we know” influenced the behavior of many voters who chose Johnson also because quite a number of them were unable to make sense of Corbyn’s stands and Labour policies. No wonder that what was known of the Labour “devil” has appealed to the smallest number of British voters in the last thirty years. The incumbent prevailed and the (Labour) opposition is in shambles. Even though  the mandate that Johnson has received does not come from an absolute majority of voters, one cannot nourish any hope for a second referendum.

The December 12 elections also were a referendum and the pro-European Union activists have to accept its outcome and the sad fact that British public opinion does not lend its support to an option other than Brexit. Perhaps, the pro-Europeans could start immediately to monitor what the Prime Minister does, does not, does poorly in his (re)negotiations with EU authorities. From the beginning, they should try vigorously to enforce political accountability at the same time constructing an alternative narrative of what the European Union really is and what the kind of exit desired by the Prime Minister will mean for Britain. Leaving aside, but not underestimating, all the complex elements having to do with trade negotiations and freedom of movement. I will only stress that along the road away from Bruxelles there are two major problems to be solved: the Northern-Ireland backstop and the preference for Remain repeatedly and massively expressed by Scotland. Neither will be easily solved and I tend to believe that quite a number of Europeans would be very supportive of a Scottish independence referendum that may lead to membership in the European Union. One should not be worried by the not so farfetched outcome, but by the tensions and conflicts that will inevitabile accompany the process from its start.

Perhaps, the most fundamental lesson coming from the British elections was already known, though not fully learned. To leave the European Union is not easy. It requires time and energy. It is very costly. Now we may add that leaving the European Union may open a Pandora’s box from where other up to then relatively muted problems and ills will spring. What has taken place in the mother of all parliamentary political systems and the beacon of majoritarian democracies is something that the European “sovereignists” (those who would like to  recover their supposedly lost sovereignty by withdrawing from the European Union) are already seriously pondering.

December 18, 2019

The Italian political crisis: a new government or snap elections?

Governmental instability in Italy has never meant democratic instability. Governments have come and gone, on average every 15-17 months within a democratic framework rarely challenged except in a minority of cases. The Italian Constitution has always been successful in guiding old and new actors to play by the rules. Even the most recent and most unusual government made by the anti-establishment Five Stars and the largely populist League remained within clear boundaries. With regard to the duration of the term of office, Conte’s government has performed satisfactorily by Italian standards and occupies the 20th position (out of 65 governments) since 1946.

What is most certainly wrong with the Italian political system depends on two elements: on the one hand, the party system and its components and, on the other hand, Italian society. Following the fully deserved collapse between 1992 and 1994 and the disappearance of all Italian parties, new parties at different points in time have not reconstituted a decent framework for party competition. Fragmented, not especially endowed with civic virtues, somewhat corrupted, always inclined to look for privileges, still imbued with amoral familism, Italian society has, of course, been unwilling and unable to engage in a major effort to (re)construct decent party “vehicles”. Personalist parties have made their appearance, transformed themselves, died, merged without being able to offer something acceptable to the voters. The volatility rate, that is the percentage of Italian voters changing their vote, between 1994 and 2018 has been as high as 40%. It was 27% in 2018. Throughout this period Berlusconi’s Forza Italia went from almost 40% to about 8%. In 2018 the Democratic Party (PD) led by Matteo Renzi plummeted to its worst result ever: 18.7%.

The winners of the 2018 elections, the Five Stars Movement (32,6%) and the League (17,3%) (quadrupling its 2013 votes), succeeded to form a minimum winning coalition in spite of some major political and platform differences. The exchange of agreed-upon policies seemed to work with limited conflicts and tensions until the European elections when Matteo Salvini’s League doubled the amount of votes received by the Five Stars Movement and his flamboyant leadership pushed into a marginal position Luigi Di Maio, the political leader of the Five Stars Movement. At that point, Matteo Salvini decided that it was time to translate its European loot into Italian votes as well and put an end to Conte’s government.

The decision regarding if and when to dissolve the Parliament and to hold new elections constitutionally belongs to the President of the Republic who must first ascertain whether the incumbent Parliament is unable to give birth to and sustain another government. The ongoing negotiations between the Five Stars Movement and the Democratic Party are meant to find out if they are able to create not just a numerical coalition, but a viable and performing government. If not, snap elections will follow. The negotiations between the Five Star Movement and the PD, marked by reciprocal distrust, are difficult because none of the protagonists is in full control of the rank-and-file. The Five Stars Movement is a composite aggregation of anti-establishment feelings and quasi populist inclinations, divided between those who want to stick to their original principles remaining pure and those who want to translate those principles into policies. More mundanely, the PD is divided between those supporting the new secretary, Nicola Zingaretti, and those following the former secretary, Matteo Renzi, who is responsible for the election to Parliament of a large majority of them.

While the PD has no other way to go, the Five Stars Movement may revert to a coalition with the Lega. Left out in the cold and by now almost desperate, Matteo Salvini has repeatedly declared his willingness to accept all the programmatic priorities of the Five Stars, among them a sharp reduction in the number of the member of the Parliament, and has even offered the role of Prime Minister to Luigi Di Maio. New elections still loom large on the complex Italian political landscape while all the polls are predicting a victory of the center-right. In the meantime, nobody seems to care about the choice of the Italian nominee to become European Commissioner. Time and again Italy proves to be just a passive member of the European Union.

August 26, 2019 DCUBrexitInstitute.eu 

Italy Transformed Politics, Society and Institutions at the End of the Great Recession, 1st Edition

The decade commencing with the great crash of 2008 was a watershed period for Italian politics, involving fundamental and dramatic changes, many of which had not been anticipated and which are charted in this book. This comprehensive volume covers the impact of the Eurozone crisis on the Italian economy and its relationship with the European Union, the dramatic changes in the political parties (and particularly the rise of a new political force, the Five Star Movement, which became the largest political party in 2013), the changing role of the Trade Unions in the lives of Italian citizens, the Italian migration crisis, electoral reforms and their impact on the Italian party system (where trends towards bipolarisation appear to be exhausted), the rise of new forms of social protest, changes to political culture and social capital and, finally, amidst the crisis, reforms to the welfare state.

Overall, the authors reveal a country, which many had assumed was in quiet transition towards a more stable democracy, that suffers an immense shock from the Eurozone crisis and bringing to the fore deep-rooted structural problems which have changed the dynamics of its politics, as confirmed in the outcome to the 2018 National Elections.

This book was originally published as a special issue of South European Society and Politics.

Politics, Society and Institutions at the End of the Great Recession, 1st Edition
Edited by Martin Bull, Gianfranco Pasquino
202 pages

Table of Contents

1. Introduction:Italian Politics in an Era of Recession: The End of Bipolarism? Martin J. Bull and Gianfranco Pasquino

2. In the Eye of the Storm: The Italian Economy and the Eurozone Crisis Martin J. Bull

3. The Italian Welfare State in the Crisis: Learning to Adjust? Stefano Sacchi

4. After and Beyond Amoral Familism: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Social Capital Italian-style Raimondo Catanzaro

5. Trade Unions and Employment Relations in Italy during the Economic Crisis Ida Regalia and Marino Regini

6. Electoral Reform as an Engine of Party System Change in Italy Marta Regalia

7. Protest in Italy in Times of Crisis: A Cross-Government Comparison Massimiliano Andretta

8. Italian Migration Policies in Times of Crisis: The Policy Gap Reconsidered Tiziana Caponio and Teresa M. Cappiali

9. The Disappearance of Political Cultures in Italy Gianfranco Pasquino

10. Voters without a Party: The ‘Long Decade’ of the Italian Centre-Right and its Uncertain Future Marco Tarchi

11. The Italian Five Star Movement during the Crisis: Towards Normalisation? Filippo Tronconi

12. The Italian Democratic Party from Merger to Personalism Sofia Ventura

Martin Bull is Professor of Politics at the University of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK and Director of the European Consortium of Political Research, Colchester, UK.
Gianfranco Pasquino is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Bologna, Italy.

“Against populism, participation helps” #28september #Maastricht

« Thinking Europe Forward »
Event on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the
Treaty of Maastricht
28 September 2017
Government Building Province of Limburg, Maastricht, Netherlands
Federica Mogherini
Hans-Gert Pöttering


5.00 pm
‘Against populism, participation helps’
Speaker: Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
University of Bologna
Chair: Dr. Patrick Bijsmans


Italy Needs Russian Oil, Gas – and Courts Russians to Buy Its Luxury Goods


Gone are the times when the Italian Communist Party preserved its political and strategic autonomy when competing in domestic politics, but always supported the Soviet Union in international politics. Firmly in the Western camp, all Italian governments were happy enough to be members of the two most important organizations: NATO and the European Union. Traditionally, however, no Italian government and no Italian minister of Foreign Affairs played an especially active role. Membership in any international organization means, for most Italians, to be part of that organization, not necessarily to constantly take part in any of the activities of those organizations. Loyalty was the name of the game played by the Italians, not voice, that is, advocacy and/or dissent. Without questioning any choice, all subsequent (and there were many) Italian governments accepted and shared the decisions made within those two organizations.

More autonomy appeared only when dealing with oil producing countries of the Middle-East. As to Russia, Italy has quickly accepted the fact that it is not a democracy and that it is going to be ruled in an authoritarian manner by Vladimir Putin for some time to come. In this case, realism is the name of the game. But there is more to it. Poor in terms of energy sources, Italy significantly relies on gas produced and exported by Russia and it has been unable to reduce its dependence on this source of energy. While, of course, Italy understands that the conflict going in the Ukraine cannot be easily solved, if forced to choose, it will side with those Ukrainians who stress their national independence and want to keep Russia away from their domestic politics. Nevertheless, one thing are popular sympathies, a different thing is to formulate a specific policy. Fortunately for the Italian government this task may be left to NATO and the European Union. Italy may have not shared the idea of enlarging NATO to the East thus challenging the geo-political security of Russia, but its opposition was neither loud nor unremitting. A slightly different story may be told with reference to European sanctions against Russia.

Generally speaking, Italian governments have never considered sanctions as an instrument capable of producing major changes in the politics of the “sanctioned” country. Sanctions may become and be inevitable, but their rate of success is highly debatable, in any case, substantially limited. In the case of sanctions against Russia, there is no doubt that among the member-States of the European Union, Italy was (and remains) the country that has more to lose. It is not just a matter of gas, though very important. It is a matter of trade of many goods, often high quality and highly priced goods and materials that, for a country whose economy is largely export-oriented, significantly contribute to the Gross National Product. This may explain why, though never renouncing her role to express the official politics of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has always tried to formulate a less rigid position vis-à-vis Russia. Still, it would be wrong to believe that Italy is soft on Russia and condones the behavior of its autocrat Vladimir Putin. However, Putin is aware that Italy needs to have thriving commercial relations with Russia. He also knows that there are supporters of Russia in Italy. For a long time he has had a more than amicable personal (but political as well) relationship with Silvio Berlusconi when he was the Italian Prime Minister (2001-2006; 2006-2011).

Recently, out of his newly acquired “sovereignist” perspective and of his adamant opposition to the European Union, the leader of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini has expressed appreciation for many a Russian activities. Though largely deprived of domestic political power, Berlusconi wants to be and remains Russia’s and, above all, Putin’s best friend in Italy. However, the Russian leader is shrewd enough to know that he cannot just play the “Berlusconi card” in order to put pressure on Italian politicians and governmental office holders. Some propaganda helps, but what counts more for the Italians is trade. It is the possibility to maintain and to enlarge all economic relations with the Russian government and its industrial and financial operators. Once stressed this point, one should by no means come to the unwarranted conclusion that Italy is a sort of soft belly in Southern European countries, available to any kind of Russian penetration, even less so to military penetration. No Italian government will ever renounce or even reduce its role and participation in the two pillars of Italian military security and economic prosperity: NATO and the European Union.


Elections in Europe 2017 and their impact on the EU and its role in international politics 9June #Lisbon


“Profiling the European Union in Times of Change”
How to safeguard and strengthen the EU’s values, principles and institutions?

7 – 9 June 2017
Lisbon, Portugal

The conference is hosted and organised by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Office for Spain and Portugal


Friday, June 9
09.00 Fourth session:

Elections in Europe 2017 and their impact on the EU
and its role in international politics

Diogo Belford
International Director, Instituto Amaro da Costa (IDL), Portugal


Elmar Brok
Member of the European Parliament, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Germany

Jean-Dominique Giuliani
President, Robert Schuman Foundation, France

Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino
Professor of Political Science, SAIS Bologna Center, John Hopkins University, Italy

Marek Ženíšek
Member of Parliament, Member of the Committee on European Affairs and the Committee on Defence, Czech Republic

Ioannis Kefalogiannis
Member of Parliament, Parliamentary Spokesperson of Nea Demokratia, Member of the Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs, Greece

Francisco de Borja Lasheras
Head of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Madrid Office

General Debate among Participants

Democracy in the European Union. Which deficit? Accountability

S&D live

Intervento alla S&D Conference “School of Democracy” organizzata da Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament.
Reggio Emilia, 23 aprile 2015

The European Parliament elected by the voters in all member- States does not have any democratic deficit. By definition, the Council made by the heads of governments of all member States is democratically legitimate. The heads of all European governments retain their office as long as they have the confidence of their respective elective Parliaments. Hence, they do represent at least a majority of their citizens. The European Commission, appointed by the heads of governments and “confirmed” by the European Parliament, enjoys an indirect, but not less important, form of democratic legitimacy. Moreover, all Commissioners are supposed and, probably, are also bent to work for the future of a better Europe, thus acquiring additional legitimacy through performance. Of course, the legitimacy circuit is subject to many challenges and its feedback loop may not work to our satisfaction. There are many improvements to be made not only by European political parties, but also by European civil societies.

My contentions is that what is really missing in all European institutions is accountability. Too many EuroMPs, though less so than in the recent past, do not believe that a European political career can be/is more important than a national career. Hence, they behave in a way that eschews electoral and political accountability. Rarely do the heads of government run their campaign in a positive way on their achievements within and for the European Union. They avoid any accountability for what is done, not done, poorly done in and by the European Union. All of them put the blame on the “others” (in the last few years on Germany and Chancellor Merkel). Even if they wanted to, no European Commissioner is in the position to claim and obtain to be considered accountable for his/her performance.

My presentation aims at explaining how Europarliamentarians, political parties and heads of government could establish a strong, precious and productive circuit of political accountability and improve the institutions and the destiny of the European Union.