Polis #UnderTheRadar: April 2016

The possible end to the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’, a “Brexit tax” and a tragic anniversary in Burundi: Polis Blog presents three news stories that slipped through the cracks of last month’s media attention.

Contributed by Christian Freudlsperger and Nina Bernarding

 

In this day and age, it seems that citizen journalism may gradually replace classic mass media. However, April provided cogent proof that professional journalism continuously has a raison d’être in fulfilling the press’s most noble function, providing stories that are in the public interest and holding those governing our societies to account. I’m talking, of course, of the Panama Papers, an enormous leak of data on offshore activities which shook the globe immediately after their disclosure on April, 3rd. The Panama Papers probably constituted the most consequential revelation in recent years, comprising 2.6 terabytes of leaked data on 214,000 offshore companies, engaging some 400 journalists from 76 countries collaborating via the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,  prompting an unprecedented loss of $ 230 billion in implied firms’ share value and shattering the credibility of dozens of politicians and public servants. Yet, when one issue seizes a month’s media agenda in such an all-encompassing fashion, other important events will unfortunately not receive the appropriate limelight. But, don’t you worry because #UnderTheRadar is here for you.

 

Polis Programme European Union: The EU’s Democratic Quandaries

With turnouts notoriously low and continuously decreasing, European elections have suffered from their image of being “second order”, confronting EU citizens with no tangible choice between political alternatives. In 2014, the European Parliament, under the impression of the Lisbon Treaty’s new wording, set out to change this and concocted the idea of the “Spitzenkandidaten” procedure. The aim was to empower EU citizens to make a difference with their vote. If the EPP became the largest political group in the Parliament, then only Jean-Claude Juncker would be elected Commission President. The same applied to the S&D and Martin Schulz. As we all know, David Cameron and Angela Merkel were not exactly amused, but the Parliament eventually had its way. Now however, EU Member States fervently aim for turning back the clock to the pre-2014 era. According to the Dutch Council presidency, the next President of the Commission shall again be designated by heads of state and government only, with the Parliament merely rubber-stamping their decision. If the Council prevails and the EU returns to the days of back-room haggling, this would deal a serious blow to efforts of rendering the Union more democratic.

Why should this be on our radar? Because, as EU citizens, our vote in European elections should make a real difference. Why would we otherwise turn out?

 

Polis Programme Migration: The “Highs and Lows” of Leaving the European Union

With the UK currently warming up for its EU referendum on the 23rd of June, various international leaders and institutions have come out in favour of a ‘Bremain’. While President Obama emphatically reminded Britons that they also share a “special relationship” with the closer of the two continents, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) went about the issue in a more analytical manner. Publishing a study on the possible economic consequences of leaving the European Union, the organization found that a Brexit will weigh heavy on ordinary citizens’ pockets, imposing a long-term “tax” burden of up to GBP 5,000 per annum per household. The OECD’s Secretary-General Angel Gurría argued that, unlike the usual levy, “instead of funding public services this tax would be a pure deadweight loss with no economic benefit“. On the other hand, the study finds that Prime Minister Cameron’s objective of reducing migration to the UK to “tens of thousands” will more likely be achieved by leaving the Union, with inward migration to fall by up to 117,000 per year down, from 2015’s 323,000.

Why should this be on our radar? Because the OECD study highlights in stark contrast the perennial question of what is more important for the UK in Europe: reaping the economic benefits of staying in or regaining the capacity to control inward migration? We will see in June 2016…

 

Polis Programme Peace & Security: The Conflict in Burundi – One Year On

On April 25, army general and security advisor to Burundi’s Vice President Athanase Kararuza and his wife were shot dead while dropping off their daughter at school in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. This event marked the tragic anniversary of a conflict that turned violent exactly one year ago. Then, the ruling party CNDD-FDD had announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza will run for a third term in office, although the country’s constitution limits the amount of presidential terms to two. Ever since, times have been uproarious for Burundi: one failed coup d’état, controversial parliamentary and presidential elections, a shutdown of nearly all independent media, at least 430 deaths and some 230,000 displaced people, dozens of killed opposition and government officials, reports of extra-judicial killings, torture and sexual violence and an increasing ethnicisation of the conflict. To this day, there seems to be no end in sight for the conflict. While the United Nations and the East African Community tried to initiate a dialogue between the opposing parties and the African as well as the European Union imposed targeted sanctions on Burundian individuals, the international community failed to speak with one voice. It proved reluctant to put too much pressure on the government that provides more than 5,000 troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Why should this be on our radar? Because this conflict in a very volatile region is already leading to increased tensions with neighboring countries such as Rwanda; and because the lack of an appropriate response to Nkurunziza’s attempt to override the constitution fails to send a unflinching signal in defense of democratic values to other long-time heads of state on the continent – from Equatorial Guinea all the way to Uganda and Zimbabwe.

 

In a (new) column edited by Polis Blog, newsworthy issues in foreign and European policy that slipped through the cracks of public attention are informally listed in a Top 3 linked to the Polis180 Programs Europe, Peace and Security and Migration. 

Image source: “teufelsberg ii”, von Büsenfeld, http://bit.ly/1RMYPlj, lizensiert unter Creative Commons license 2.0.: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

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Christian Freudlsperger hat Politikwissenschaften in München und Paris studiert und ist derzeit Doktorand an der Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies und der Hertie School of Governance. Er promoviert im Bereich der europäischen Außenhandelspolitik. Er ist Co-Präsident von Polis180, verantwortet Website und Blog und engagiert sich im Programm EU.
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