No other ancient artifact has been the subject of more intense, decades-long international debate than the Elgin Marbles. Since the 1980s the Greek government has in a spirit of nationalism argued for the repatriation of these classical masterpieces from the British Museum in London. But an old debate now gains a new dimension: Brexit.

The marbles, built for the Athenian Parthenon in 5th century BCE, have resided in the British Museum since the early 19th century, when Ottoman authorities granted permission to Lord Elgin for the removal of about half of the surviving marbles. That portion is currently in the ownership of the Trustees of the British Museum. Much of the debate on their repatriation has remained unchanged since the 80s. The Greeks argue that the marbles, as relics of their national cultural heritage, rightfully belong to them. The British Museum, on the other hand, contends that the marbles transcend national boundaries as part of a global cultural heritage.

Certain activists and Greek politicians have recently come to see the UK’s Brexit vote as an opportunity to shake up this debate. Since all 27 remaining states in the European Union can veto the exit deal, Greece could attempt to muscle into the final accord the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles. By refusing to comply with the political and economic terms of the agreement until the United Kingdom should agree to the repatriation, Greece could hold the U.K hostage for the marbles.

Though the general issue of the Elgin marbles is multidimensional, the employment of Brexit in it is misguided. This strategy wrongly conflates the political with the cultural; it hinges the consequences of a democratic political decision on a dispute over art, and it holds the British people responsible for a question that they never voted to answer.

Geoffrey Robertson, a proponent of a Brexit deal with the Elgin marbles, writes in the Guardian that articles 3 and 167 of the Treaty of the European Union legitimize the use of the marbles in the negotiation; article 3 “ensures that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.” Stelios Koulogou, a member of the European Parliament and an investigative journalist, furthers this argument by the assertion that, “The Parthenon Marbles are considered as the greatest symbol of European culture. Therefore, reuniting the marbles would be both a sign of respect and civilized relationship between Great Britain and the EU, and much more [than] a legal necessity.”

Though the general issue of the Elgin marbles is multidimensional, the employment of Brexit in it is misguided. This strategy wrongly conflates the political with the cultural; it hinges the consequences of a democratic political decision on a dispute over art, and it holds the British people responsible for a question that they never voted to answer.

The problem is that the legal arguments for the return of the Elgin marbles are void. For years they hinged on some alleged historical uncertainty in Lord Elgin’s purchase from the Ottoman authorities. Many, however, including the British government, hold that the marbles were acquired in accordance with the law of the time. But the legality of the purchase, whatever it was, is anyway now irrelevant. In 2016 non-governmental campaigners brought the first ever legal suit on the issue to the European Court of Human Rights. The court dismissed it on the basis that the acquisition happened “too long ago,” well before any human rights agreement. The Greek Government itself, moreover, in 2015 ceased its attempt at a legal claim to the sculptures, and has officially committed to handle the issue by diplomacy alone.

The point is that there is no legal claim to the marbles; all arguments must therefore be cultural rather than legal. Yet the invocation of the articles of the Treaty of the European Union is a legal argument, for it employs law to justify the return of the marbles. Even the European Commission itself does not interpret those articles as pertaining to the controversy over the Elgin marble.

The British people, furthermore, in voting for Brexit, voted on their own political and economic future. They did not vote to sever all ties to the cultural heritage of the West. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union does not in any way imply that it wants nothing to do with art that originated in Europe. But if the advocates like Koulogou had their way, this cultural dispute, which was entirely irrelevant to the democratic decision of the people at the time of the referendum, would exert undue influence on their political and economic future. Dame Janet Suzman, chairwoman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, aptly put it: “great art was as far from the question posed to the people as anything I can think of. This is entirely another question, a question of aesthetics, honesty, and colonial morality. It would be like putting apples and pears together.”

To leverage so consequential a democratic decision as Brexit, simply to acquire the upper hand in an ongoing dispute over art, borders on unethical. Issues of cultural heritage are important, and are often political. We must nonetheless be careful to distinguish where cultural disputes are politically relevant and ethically justified, and where they are not.



When former British Prime Minister David Cameron urged his countrymen not to vote to leave the EU and raised the specter of war in a divided Europe, he was on to something. However, it is not disunity on the continent he should have been worrying about, but rather the disunity in Northern Ireland, where Brexit has the potential to reopen the wounds of a murderous conflict.

Cameron’s warnings against Brexit went unheeded, and the Leave camp, which promised voters that exiting the EU would win back national sovereignty and control over immigration, emerged victorious in the June 2016 referendum. Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, has been left with the bureaucratic challenge of extricating her country from the EU’s dense and decades-old network of political, legal, and regulatory ties without causing a major shock to the UK’s economy. Her government has about 18 months to craft a deal with EU leaders in Brussels on the terms of Brexit before it takes effect in March 2019.

One of the sites of this challenge is the all-but-invisible border between Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign state. The return of a conventional border between the two sides—previously obsolete as both were part of the EU—could spell trouble in a region shaped by simmering questions of national identity and belonging. While Brexit is unlikely to bring violent conflict back to the island, British and European leaders must be careful not to imperil the progress made in recent decades towards overcoming the conflict.

For much of the late 20th century, Northern Ireland was one of the bloodiest, most conflict-ridden places in Europe. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, a long-standing conflict over land and national identity pitted Protestant Unionists, who wished to remain a part of the UK against Catholic Irish Republicans, who sought independence from the UK and freedom from discriminatory British policies through unification with the Republic of Ireland. During the period known as the Troubles, violence perpetrated by paramilitary organizations such as the nationalist Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the loyalist Ulster Defense Association (UDA), as well as by British security forces, claimed the lives of over 3,600 people, almost two-thirds of whom were civilians. A hard-won peace was reached in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which stipulated that Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK unless a majority of its residents supported a change of status. At the same time, the agreement increased Northern Ireland’s regional autonomy and instituted power-sharing mechanisms between unionist and nationalist camps in the regional government. Residents of Northern Ireland were given the right to hold either Irish or British citizenship, or both.

The agreement is widely credited with restoring normalcy to the region. Despite sporadic riots and clashes, particularly during regular public marches, the three-figure annual death tolls, militarized English “anti-insurgent” border control units, and bombings have ended.

This is not to say that coexistence is entirely without friction. In the Northern Irish cities of Belfast and Derry (officially Londonderry), murals commemorating the Troubles—some celebrating paramilitary violence—pockmark the city landscape as solemn reminders of the violent past. In Belfast, so-called “peace walls” continue to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, although the city is attempting to remove them.

Public opinion remains divided, too. In 2015, 27 percent of Catholics hoped to see a united Ireland in the short term, while only 3 percent of Protestants felt the same way, according to a BBC poll. While a majority of Northern Irish voted against Brexit during the 2016 referendum, views diverged on this topic, too, with 80 percent of Catholics voting to remain and only 40 percent of Protestants doing the same. Brexit will also have a direct financial effect on the ongoing peace process. It is uncertain whether the EU, which has spent around 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) since the Good Friday Agreement to solidify peace in the region, will continue this support, with no guarantees that Britain will pick up the tab.

Meanwhile, in the regional government, power-sharing has remained a strenuous affair. Northern Ireland has had no functioning executive since a coalition government between the nationalist Sinn Fein and the unionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) collapsed in January. The ensuing deadlock has led the British government to warn Northern Ireland that it might impose a temporary return to so-called direct rule from London. Sinn Fein has blamed the gridlock on disagreements over the legacy of the Troubles and DUP opposition to an Irish Language Act, according to the Guardian. The prospect of Brexit has added to the turmoil: Sinn Fein considers Brexit an opportunity to use voters’ concerns about leaving the EU to strengthen support for reunification with the Republic of Ireland, which remains a part of the EU. The party reiterated its call for a referendum on the matter in early 2017.

Against this background of stable but tenuous peace, many observers are worried about what a change in the status of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border would mean for stability and reconciliation in the region.  

The experience of harassment at the checkpoints left its mark on locals, highlighting the North’s separation from the Republic of Ireland and exacerbating perceptions of foreign rule.

For much of the Troubles, the border was marked by British military checkpoints manned by soldiers. “My father…experienced the process as a challenge to his sense of identity. There he was, half an hour from home, having to explain himself to an Englishman with a gun,” Irish author Garrett Carr wrote in the New York Times, describing cross-border trips from his childhood.

Since the end of violent strife, the situation has changed radically. Today, the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is virtually invisible. There are no checkpoints and no guards, and travelers often have a hard time telling whether or not they have already crossed the border. In some places, the only observable change is the unit of measure on road markers and speed signs, which switches from kilometers in Ireland to miles in Northern Ireland. As a result, the 30,000 people who are estimated to cross the border for work each day barely notice that they are crossing an international boundary.

Today’s open border is seen as one of the central achievements of the peace process, but it has also been made possible by the interaction of several regulatory regimes. For one, the so-called Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland has made travel for Irish and British citizens less burdensome. More important still are the European Union’s twin mechanisms of the single market and the customs union. The former allows for the free cross-border movement of goods and people. The latter allows EU members to eliminate tariffs inside the EU and apply standardized tariffs on economies outside the bloc.

However, as negotiators meet in Brussels to debate the terms of Brexit, the Irish border poses a unique conundrum. With the UK’s exit from the EU, the border will still lie within the Common Travel Area. However, it will also form the boundary of the European Union and its single market and customs union, with the Republic of Ireland inside the bloc and Northern Ireland outside. This could mean the return to a ‘hard border,’ where passports are checked and goods crossing from the UK into Ireland are subject to customs checks and tariffs.

A hard border would make travel more onerous and disrupt trade worth 3 billion Euros

A hard border would make travel more onerous and disrupt trade worth 3 billion Euros ($3.5 billion)—bad news especially for farmers, who export and import everything from dairy to pigs across the border.

Beyond this significant economic impact, the return of a hard border would likely make tempers flare among those who perceive the presence of any border as an injustice, serving as a constant physical reminder of partition. “What I want to hear is that there’ll be no return to any border, not even psychologically, because there’s no such thing as a soft border” one Northern Irish borderlander told the New York Times, showing that any type of border raises questions about national identity that many in the area do not want to revisit. Accordingly, opposition to Brexit was particularly strong among those living close to the border.

British Prime Minister Theresa May seems to understand this, vowing to ensure a “seamless and frictionless” border. A formal statement published by the UK government in August rejected the idea of “any physical border infrastructure,” such as cameras and checkpoints. But maintaining such a soft border brings its own troubles: Absent immigration control at the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, the UK government won’t be able to make good on its promise to use Brexit to regain full control over who enters the country—a major rallying cry for the pro-Brexit camp during last year’s campaign.

An alternative to passport checks along the Ireland-Northern Ireland border is to introduce stricter control elsewhere, such as between the Irish isle and Great Britain. However, such a proposal is likely to be rejected by the DUP, who would view the arrangement as discriminatory against Northern Ireland’s citizens, and who holds leverage in the negotiations as a supporter of Theresa May’s minority government in the British parliament.

The cross-border movement of goods presents another thorny issue. Brexiteers cherished the fact that exiting the EU would transfer authority over international trade back to London, promising that any economic losses associated with leaving the bloc would be compensated by more favorable trade deals with outside countries. Moving away from the trade standards of the EU’s single market and customs union, however, would entail some form of customs controls at any UK-EU border. The UK could likely maintain a soft border by adopting standards and tariffs that either closely or exactly mirror those defined by the EU’s single market and customs union. Yet such a move would undermine the point of Brexit in the first place, since it would strip the UK of much of the sovereignty over trade decisions so important to the Leave campaign.

London has suggested solving this dilemma through the innovative but logistically taxing approach of tracking and tracing goods. Under this model, the UK would keep tabs on all incoming products, applying different tariffs based on whether goods are destined for consumption in the UK or for further travel to the EU. The upside of the approach would be to avoid any customs border whatsoever between the UK and the EU—including between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. However, the model has not been tested, and some observers are skeptical about the feasibility of enforcement.

It remains to be seen if London’s proposals are actionable, and it is hard to predict what border arrangement, if any, will come out of its tug of war with Brussels by the end of negotiations in 2019. But there will come a point when Theresa May and her government must make some hard choices. They should acknowledge that making good on the promises of Brexit and maximizing the UK‘s independence from the EU, including on trade, must not be done at the expense of stability in Northern Ireland. The peace of the Northern Irish border today is a central achievement in the region. Any ill-considered border arrangement risks undermining those achievements by bringing questions of identity back to the forefront with renewed urgency. As former US Senator and Northern Ireland peace mediator George Mitchell put it, “demonization has declined as people move freely across the borders and get to realize they have more in common than that which divides them.” Negotiators in London and Brussels must work to protect this legacy.

In the 25 years since war engulfed the Balkans, the region has reached a peaceful, if somewhat tense, equilibrium. War criminals have been prosecuted and cities have been rebuilt. Balkan states have developed post-war economies, and Croatia joined the EU in 2013. Serbia is expected to be the next Balkan state to join, but the EU has insisted that it first reject the ethnic chauvinism that fueled conflict in the 1990s. In 2013, Serbia took an important step toward doing so when it signed the Brussels Agreement, which normalized relations between Serbia and Kosovo. However, in the aftermath of Brexit, the Greek debt crisis, and the influx of refugees into Europe, joining the EU is appearing less and less attractive to the Serbs. As Serbia’s interest in EU membership declines, so has its incentive to improve its interethnic and international relations. If the EU fails to incentivize accession to Serbia, ultranationalism could reemerge and further escalate ethnic tensions in the Balkan states.

With political and economic crises chipping away at the EU’s prestige and power, there is far less incentive for Serbia to listen to Brussels.

When countries in the western Balkans first became eligible for EU membership in 2003, there was widespread support for joining the organization. Polls show that 73 percent of Serbs backed membership in early 2003. Since then, however, Euroscepticism has grown dramatically. In February 2016, similar polls showed that only 48 percent of Serbs wanted in, and there is reason to be wary of a continued campaign for membership. Unless it can negotiate a special exemption, Serbia, like every EU member state, is required to join the Eurozone once its economy meets certain criteria – a concerning prospect to many Serbs.

Serbian diplomacy is a balancing act between Western Europe and the country’s historic ally, Russia. As such, the EU would likely not grant Serbia a British-style opt-out of the Euro. Joining the Eurozone would inherently link the country more closely with the EU, precluding a Serbian alliance with Russia that would outweigh its relationship with Western Europe. But the flaw in this grand strategy is that the Serbian economy may not be healthy enough to withstand transitioning to the Euro. While Serbia falls short of a few of the criteria required to join the Eurozone – its debt as a portion of GDP has risen beyond the 60 percent Eurozone standard – some analysis suggests that Serbia could quickly reach target measures and be ready to join the common currency. Moreover, the EU has been flexible in admitting countries to the Eurozone in the past when it believed accession was politically beneficial, and it would be reasonable to suppose that the EU might bend again here.

But the consequences of bringing an unstable economy into the Eurozone would negate the political benefits. As could possibly be the case with Serbia, Greece was admitted to the EU for political reasons despite its struggling economy. Brussels believed it was symbolically important to include the ancient seat of European civilization in the currency of the new millennium. But moving to the Euro can be harmful because it deprives countries like Greece and Serbia of a crucial policy instrument: the power to inflate or deflate their currency in response to economic stress. In turn, Greece had to accept punitive austerity measures in 2015 in exchange for debt relief while also remaining unable to use individualized monetary policy to stabilize their economy. While government-induced inflation certainly can’t stop a country’s financial decline, countries with large debts, like Serbia, are nonetheless disadvantaged by the inability to regulate their own currency.

If the EU fails to bring Serbia into its ambit, ultranationalism will continue to enjoy a frightening resurgence, and may lead to renewed ethnic conflict in the Balkans.

While a Eurozone-related debt crisis is still a hypothetical for Serbia, a refugee crisis is already a reality. The Balkans have been a common route for refugees trying to reach Western Europe, with estimates on the number of refugees in Serbia ranging from 2,000 to over 8,000. While these numbers are modest in comparison to other EU states such as Germany or countries closer to the conflict, such as Lebanon, the smaller Serbian government is stretched thin. EU membership would probably do nothing to alleviate this crisis and could make it worse. While the Dublin Regulation stipulates that refugees are to be relocated so that hard-hit countries are not overextended, few transfers have taken place out of countries like Greece, despite the obvious strain the high numbers of refugees has placed on the country.

With political and economic crises chipping away at the EU’s prestige and power, there is far less incentive for Serbia to bend to demands made in Brussels in the name of accession or even to follow through on previous promises. After Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been rocky. However, in 2013, Serbia signed the Brussels Agreement, which warmed relations with Kosovo and was effectively a condition of potential EU membership. Now, as interest in membership has waned, politicians in Serbia, including some in the ruling coalition, are calling to scrap the agreement.

In early January, Serbia sent a train into northern Kosovo with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” emblazoned on the side in 21 languages. Kosovo is officially recognized by 113 countries, but not by Serbia. And while the assistant director of the train company insisted that the design was meant to be benign, many Kosovans understandably took it as an ultranationalist provocation. Over 90 percent of Kosovans are ethnically Albanian, but the 1.5 percent of the Kosovan population that consists of border-dwelling Serbs largely believe that their territory is rightfully part of Serbia. In a trope that sounds all too familiar, Serbs in a Kosovan town even began constructing a wall to divide the town’s Serbian and Albanian neighborhoods.

This dangerous Serbian ultranationalism has also been sweeping across the highest levels of government. Reacting to the Serbian train being stopped, President Tomislav Nikolic announced in January that if the need should arise for him to fight in a war against Kosovo, he would resign from office and head into battle, adding that the Serbian-majority regions of Kosovo were part of his country. While the incentive of membership formerly deterred such aggressive behavior, it seems as though the promise of accession doesn’t hold the weight it once did.

In response to this aggression, Kosovar President Hashim Thaci announced in early March that he would transform the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a national army over the objections of Belgrade and the concerns of NATO and the United States. Currently, NATO forces protect Kosovo and train the KSF, which numbers about 4,000 active-duty troops and 2,500 reserve soldiers. Thaci’s plan would increase the former number to 5,000 and the latter to 3,000. This pales in comparison to Serbia’s 50,000-man standing army, but nonetheless enraged Serbian officials and ultranationalists. This escalation in Serbian-Kosovar tensions is incompatible with the conditions the EU has placed on Serbia’s accession.

This disinterest in the EU coincides with a pivot toward Russia. Serbia is one of a few countries in Europe that refused to adopt EU sanctions against Russia. In December 2016, it finalized a major arms deal with Russia despite intense opposition from the EU and neighboring countries. In particular, Croatia spoke out against the arms deal, to which the Serbian foreign minister responded, “If Croatia is the one to decide Serbia’s EU accession, then I must say, my interest in the EU [has] suddenly dropped.” This type of flippancy underscores Serbia’s increasing contempt for both the EU and its neighbors.

The whole point of admitting Serbia would be to tightly intertwine the Balkan state with Western Europe, precluding a Serbian alliance with Russia.

Alarmingly, if Serbia were to fully abandon its bid to join the EU and turn to Russia as its primary ally, not only would it lose the economic incentive to repress ultranationalism, but the Russian government would most likely encourage it. Euroscepticism weakens Russia’s closest and most powerful opponents, allowing the country to gain allies in small neighbors like Serbia and rise to historic levels of power with far less resistance. One member of the European Parliament explicitly accused the Russian government of organizing the spread of anti-EU and ultranationalist propaganda. Of course, the Kremlin’s support for Serbian ultranationalism is hardly new. Its recognition of an independent Serbia and support for ultra-nationalists in the early 20th century led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and triggered World War I. Without significant work on the part of the EU, Russia’s attempt to exploit divisions to weaken Europe may once again provoke conflict.

As relations between Serbia and Kosovo deteriorate and Serbia’s Russian ties grow stronger, the European Union must persuade Serbia to continue working toward accession. Indeed, Serbia’s recidivism may mean that it is abandoning its bid for EU membership in favor of fully aligning with Russia. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggested that without careful strategizing on the part of the organization, the Balkans could “easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played.” The EU’s best course of action is clear. It must reaffirm its commitment to Serbia and once again make membership a desirable incentive to commit to peace – potentially exploring options from diplomatic posturing to even offering an opt-out from the Euro. International organizations have infamously failed to make peace in the Balkans time and again. Serbian forces carried out a massacre of Bosniaks in the UN Safe Zone of Srebrenica in 1995, and NATO led a controversial air campaign during the Kosovo War that contributed to the mass flight of Serbs out of Albanian-controlled parts of Kosovo. When Serbia and its neighbors became eligible for accession in 2003, it seemed like the allure of EU prosperity would finally compel Balkan countries to put aside their historical ethnic aggression. But with the EU showing signs of fracturing and the Russian government encouraging ultranationalism, it appears that the EU may just be the latest organization to fail to make peace in the Balkans.



After the UK’s decision to leave the European Union last June, it became clear that London risked losing its status as Europe’s major financial centre. Several major firms that are headquartered in the City of London, in fact, depend on having a foothold in the European common market. EasyJet, a low-cost airline, famously declared it was going to move only days after the referendum. Being inside the EU gives several advantages, both from a fiscal and a regulatory point of view. Given the circumstances, Europe will need to designate a new financial capital, but what city will it be?

The continent’s three major financial centers – Paris, Frankfurt, and Milan – are lined up to reap the benefits of the post-Brexit exodus. Italy has already moved to start the process of reform to create incentives for firms to come to Milan. If the country continues on that path, there could be conspicuous benefits to its economy and to that of the European Union as a whole.

First, it is worth understanding why it is convenient for firms to move away from London in the wake of Brexit. The City of London has been one of the world’s foremost financial centers for centuries, yet its position was strengthened considerably by being part of the EU. In fact, access to the common market is an immense fiscal incentive. With the UK’s departure from the EU, such an incentive would no longer exist.

The example of EasyJet is particularly telling. As an airliner, its revenues come from several different countries. A plane from London to Madrid, for instance, would include a good portion of residents of Spain and the UK, as well as a number of other countries. Given that EasyJet is based in the UK, EU residents do not need to pay import tariffs on the tickets, thus giving the company access to a large pool of customers at a reduced price. This is because the most basic feature of the EU’s common market is that there are no import tariffs between members. When the UK officially leaves the EU, however, EasyJet will face higher barriers and thus impose higher prices on its customers, which would make demand for their tickets fall. It would be more reasonable for them to resettle within the EU, facing only the UK’s tariffs and not those of the much larger EU market. Furthermore, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the replacement of the EU preferential trade agreements for the UK’s non-EU trade, yet another incentive to move to mainland Europe. Indeed, these uncertainties have been clearly picked up by investors, leading to a fairly negative stock performance for the company in recent times.

Yet airlines are just one of the many types of firms that may seek to move. Financial services are probably the biggest industry in question, since they face the same incentives to leave as airlines since their market is global. In fact, according to a City of London report, the UK is the largest exporter of financial services in the world, amounting to more than £47 billion. Indeed, the industry as a whole represents 14.5 percent of the country’s GDP.

Italy is too large of an economy to lose; without it, the continuation of the EU experiment would make little sense. Choosing Milan may therefore well be in everyone’s best interest.

Given the impending flight of firms from the UK, it is now up to other EU countries to enact reforms to position themselves as the best possible replacement. Italy has already commenced its plan for Milan. The Select Milano committee, formed by several important political and financial services leaders, has already fleshed out a plan of action. Surprisingly, for a country that is often beaten by inertia when it comes to economic opportunities, there seems to be considerable motivation for this particular project.

The most basic and important aspect of Milan’s plan is to create a financial district with ad-hoc conditions for the operation of a financial system. Indeed, this was one of the very reasons why the City was able to thrive. The City of London Corporation is a separate entity from the many other neighborhoods of London and was thus able to create specific business-friendly conditions in a clearly defined space. Milan’s plan is based on the same idea. By isolating a financial district, it will be easier to enact the many reforms that are needed, rather than applying them on a city-wide or even national scale.

After these changes, several tax incentives can be put into place. Businesses will be far more inclined to come to Milan if they are offered a more convenient deal. Recently, for example, the Italian parliament produced a resolution asking the government to repeal the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), which had been in place since 2013. At the time, the European Commission had embarked on an initiative to introduce a common tax on financial transactions for all EU members. Such a tax serves to selectively discourage speculation on certain sorts of transactions and promote price and currency stability by reducing excessive activity. The EC’s proposal was supposed to centralize such regulation for the EU. However, only one country has actually implemented the FTT: Italy. The decision to adopt it came at a time of dire economic crisis when the technocratic PM Mario Monti passed a law to ensure Italy’s economic stability within the EU. As things stand, the country’s financial system is penalized by the increased costs of transactions. A study by scholars at the University of Bologna showed that the intermediary costs of financial transactions are almost doubled by the Italian FTT, which is especially harmful given that investors can easily shift to other EU countries that do not impose the tax. Repealing this tax would therefore be an essential first step for Milan’s bid to become Europe’s foremost financial center, unless in the unlikely chance that the other members suddenly adopt it too.

A second central issue is creating a separate judiciary branch for the financial district. Italy’s courts are known to be overcrowded with cases and remarkably slow at handing out verdicts. Indeed, one of the most significant causes of the current Italian banking crisis has been the fact that, on average, it takes more than six years to resolve a bankruptcy suit. This, in turn, puts a strain on banks’ balance sheets. A specialized arbitration court could be set up to ensure an efficient judiciary option, building on the already-existing Chamber of Arbitration of Milan. This would be very similar to the London Court of International Arbitration, a world leader in the field. By establishing a clear and easy system to resolve legal disputes, Italy could effectively mitigate its country-related risk. This is certainly an area lawmakers will need to concentrate if Milan is to have a real shot.

Another important step is to ensure the presence and quality of specialized human capital. The presence of Bocconi University, a top-ranked economics and business school, certainly helps Milan’s cause. Yet, retaining young brains can be as hard as producing them in the first place. Equally difficult is attracting high-skilled individuals from abroad. To this end, an interesting proposal that has already been articulated as a parliamentary resolution calls for the creation of tax incentives for those who wish to return to Italy from abroad. The idea underpinning this policy is that Italy has very high income taxes, which would create a disincentive for high earners in particular. People in high wage brackets are more likely to settle where a smaller portion of his wage is being absorbed by taxation. Some incentives have already been put into place: the Minister of Economy and Finances Pier Carlo Padoan recently announced the implementation of a flat tax of €100,000 for high net-worth individuals on income from abroad, which experts consider a very good deal.

Reforms are likely to be the cornerstone of any decision with regards to the new financial capital of Europe, and rightly so. Yet the unique circumstances in which the EU finds itself offer a very valid rationale for choosing Milan. With Britain’s farewell, Italy becomes the union’s third-largest economy and amongst its most troublesome. Plagued by almost two decades of sluggish economic growth and a national debt that is amongst the largest in the world, it is a serious threat to the economic stability of the EU. The European Union survived Brexit; it could probably also withstand the downfall of one of its smaller members, Greece or Portugal, for example. Yet, Exita would be the last nail in the coffin. Italy is too large of an economy to lose; without it, the continuation of the EU experiment would make little sense. Choosing Milan may therefore well be in everyone’s best interest.

Some claim that Italy’s unhealthy economy makes Milan an unwise investment decision for the European financial services industry. This is not in itself a problem. What firms may be concerned with, more than economic growth in general, are the causes of such stagnation, many of which are dealt with by the reforms discussed above. Indeed, the central idea of the project is to create a context in which the country-related risk for incoming firms is mitigated by airtight legislation. This does not mean, however, that Italy could not reap the benefits of increased economic activity brought about by an influx of new business. It would be a substantial economic stimulus that could help kick-start the Italian economy. Indeed, one of the most substantial issues for the country since the start of the Great Recession has been weak investment, which is still failing to pick up. An influx of foreign firms would certainly be a significant boost to an economy in need of help.

Perhaps even more importantly, the reforms that Italy could enact to attract foreign firms may also have a structural impact. Indeed, the economic issues it is facing are not merely the result of contingency; there are severe structural issues with the country’s economy, including a byzantine bureaucracy and a crippling system of taxation. The reforms discussed above aim at fixing these issues and may well become a blueprint for national legislation. Milan could be an experiment-city for Italy’s future economic reforms, since starting on a small scale would be advisable from both a cost and practicality perspective. The economic stimulus that would result would in turn help expand the scope of the legislation. Thus, as well as making sense from a European perspective, Milan’s reforms could have considerable positive trickle-down effects for the Italian economy. It is now up to Italian lawmakers to seize this opportunity.




Prior to the Brexit referendum, the Remain camp was led by Britain’s foremost politicians. Now, it is a ship without a captain. The Conservative Party has coalesced around Theresa May, a former Remainer who has since become the champion of a hard Brexit. Other Tories, members or supporters of the Conservative Party, who supported the losing side have drowned in an abyss of silence or conveniently jumped ship. Yet what is most striking is the Labour Party’s teetering stance on Brexit. Given that 69 percent of those who voted Labour in 2015’s general election are estimated to have voted Remain in the referendum, one would have expected the Labour Party to become the champion of a soft Brexit, or perhaps even oppose the UK’s departure from the EU altogether. Some Labour leaders have indeed opposed Brexit altogether by arguing that, in a parliamentary democracy, a Member of Parliament has a duty to his or her constituency over the outcome of a referendum. Nevertheless, the party’s official line has been to support Brexit, albeit on somewhat complicated terms.

The Labour Party’s reserved rationale is not hard to follow: How can politicians deliberately oppose the will of the people? Opposing the result of a popular referendum is tantamount to political suicide. For Labour, however, the opposite stance is proving just as fatal. Tony Blair, Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, was the man who reformed and led the Labour Party to unprecedented victories in the 1990s. On the February 17, Blair gave a speech that articulated exactly what Labour’s stance should be: opposite both the government’s management of Brexit and Brexit itself. He proposed holding a second referendum once the terms of Brexit have been negotiated. A new Blairite revolution is exactly what Labour, and those who are still in favor of staying in the European Union, need.

The current state of the Labour party is dismal. A recent study conducted by YouGov and The Times estimated that Labour would obtain 24 percent of the votes if a general election were to be held soon, a 7 percent drop from 2015’s already meagre outcome. Only 16 percent believed that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, was the best choice for Prime Minister. The cause of the lackluster support, the study implies, is to do with Brexit and the Labour Party’s response to the referendum. When participants were asked about the most important issue facing their country, the most common answer was Brexit. Concurrently, only 10 percent of the sample population believed the Labour Party would best handle the Brexit negotiations. Thus, of Britain’s most pressing issues was the belief that the Labour Party’s platform is failing. In addition, British opinion is generally dissatisfied with their current leadership. More people believed Theresa May’s government has been doing badly with regards to Brexit negotiations (43 percent) than well (36 percent).

So, what do these numbers tell us? Brexit-related issues are where the Labour Party could reap votes, as a significant number of people are displeased with the Conservative Party’s work so far. However, most people also seem unhappy with the Labour Party’s leadership. This is a huge missed opportunity, especially given that the last study conducted by YouGov and The Times prior to the Brexit vote showed that Labour had the numbers to win a general election. This shift demonstrates that the way Corbyn and his Labour Party are dealing with Brexit is tarnishing their electoral potential. Either a change of leader or platform is in order. Or, perhaps, the Labour Party needs both.

A new Blairite revolution is exactly what Labour, and those who are still in favor of staying in the EU, need.

Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1977 in a landslide election, running as a Labour Party leader concentrating on centrist themes and abandoning the party’s traditional embrace of nationalisation. Blair espoused a more liberal economic approach, which widened Labour’s electoral base. He then went on to win two more elections in 2001 and 2005 but resigned in 2007 after a power struggle with his Chancellor of the Exchequer and former ally, Gordon Brown. Subsequently, Brown lost the 2010 general election and the party steered back towards a more classical socialist platform. In the last few years, Blair’s leadership has been heavily criticised. In retrospect, many accused him of not preparing the UK for the economic crisis and actively supporting the Iraq war. The latter quagmire was outlined in 2016 by the Chilcot Report, which, owning up, Blair described as, “real and material criticisms of preparation, planning, process and of the relationship with the United States”.

No one can deny that Brexit is a game changer. And perhaps it can be for a former PM with a tarnished legacy. This may have been exactly what Tony Blair had in mind when he walked on stage at Bloomberg’s London headquarters in February of this year. 

At first glance, his speech is nothing more than a presentation of some of Blair’s ideas on Brexit, the most interesting of which is a proposal for a second referendum. While he did not mention a second referendum explicitly in the speech, he made several allusions to the idea, and has been fairly vocal about it on previous occasions. His own analogy is very helpful to understand his argument: Brexit is like a house swap. Say you were looking to move and were considering the purchase of a certain property. One group of friends tells you the place is amazing and that you should definitely buy it, and another tells you it is awful and you should remain where they are. Would it be reasonable for you to make a decision before actually seeing the house? Surely you would want to see the property with your own eyes before committing.

Similarly, the British people, who, by a majority, opted to leave the European Union, knew little more than the opinions of two groups of politicians. They did not know the exact shape the settlement would take or the details of the terms. An important distinction is necessary here: Blair was not arguing that the British people did not know because they were led to believe a false truth, or that they are “too stupid to get it,” as one political commentator complained. Blair was instead stating a fact; one cannot know the terms of an agreement before they have been negotiated.

The UK government and the EU are about to start those negotiations and nobody knows where they may finish. Certainly, Britain will incur some costs, both direct and indirect. For instance, it is now understood that the EU expects the UK to pay a good chunk of previous obligations, which the Financial Times has estimated to be around €20 billion. Some predict the cost may rise to €60 billion, as the UK has liabilities and pledges in many sectors of the EU budget, like pension contributions. Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, has already warned that Britain will face a “very hefty bill.”

Another burning issue includes defining trade terms with EU countries and replacing more than 50 preferential trade agreements, which account for two-thirds of total British trade. The biggest fear is that if the negotiations fail, the UK will need to trade by WTO rules and thus face higher tariffs and quotas on trade than it currently does. Of course, these considerations are taking place amid growing secessionist sentiments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, which could become independent from the UK in order to rejoin the EU.

These concerns were not commonly discussed in the time leading up to the referendum, yet they may become a reality once the negotiations are over in 2019. If this becomes the case, can Britons change their mind? Tony Blair thinks they both can and should. The British people did not provide a mandate for “Brexit at any cost.” Instead, in 2019, when the terms have been defined clearly and Britons are able to ascertain what Brexit actually means, there should be a second referendum asking whether they support Brexit at the given cost.

Most expect Blair to take an informal advocacy role on this issue within the political scene. Yet, one should not exclude the possibility that he is eyeing official power. A large section of his speech was dedicated to pugnacious criticism of Theresa May and her government. He explained how much of what the Prime Minister has said in the last months is contradictory. The Prime Minister wants Britain to be a “great, global trading nation,” yet seeks to achieve that goal by leaving the largest trading union in the world. Moreover, he accused the government of neglecting many of the burning problems the country faces, such as the NHS crisis. Blair’s assessment of the Tory leaders is clear: they are not driving the bus, they are being driven.

Blair had similar criticism for his own Labour Party, announcing that “the debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit.” Blair’s diagnosis is nothing more than what millions of Britons think. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has no chance of winning an election, not even against the Brexit-frenzied Conservatives. Labour should be the force that stands up to Brexiteers, but it can only achieve so much if its leader alienates the electorate and refuses a change of platform. Blair’s veiled attacks may suggest that he is simply hostile to the Prime Minister and Corbyn because they oppose his beliefs, or he is starting to fire shots at his future opponents.

Blair’s ideas have already begun to gain some traction. In the recent debate in the House of Lords on the Brexit Bill, several peers echoed some of Blair’s message. Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer, Blair’s life peer, was amongst them. Labour’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Darling stated that the referendum did not give the government a “blank cheque.” Another Labour peer quoted Blair, saying that the “debilitation of the Labour Party” contributed to Brexit. This debate demonstrates two primary consequences. First, Blair still has an ideological footing in Parliament. Second, many in the Labour Party think Corbyn cannot lead through these troubled times.
Blair offers the two elements Labour needs most: a strong anti-Brexit stance and a pristine electoral record. The only thing that may hold him back is his controversial reputation. The magnitude and intensity of the negative sentiments Blair invokes may be enough to stall any effort to regain power. A more realistic hope is that someone else in the party, perhaps someone new and undamaged, takes on the challenge. However, it may take someone who has nothing to lose to take the job nobody seems to want. Which bring us right back to Blair.


On October 30, as the leaders of the European Union and Canada met to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), protestors stormed the European Council headquarters in Brussels and threw red paint at security guards. Adamantly opposed to the passage of a free trade agreement, the protesters were making a last-ditch attempt to halt the tenuous deal, a product of years of negotiation.

Why was the opposition so intransigent? Protestors were spurred on by the growing populist sentiment that blames free trade agreements for job losses in industrialized sectors. As the world has become more globalized, trade connections between nations have become more controversial. Populist movements have found momentum in appealing to nationalist sentiments that oppose expanding global markets. While pockets of passionate opposition have succeeded in vocalizing their concerns, the governments involved in the CETA negotiations have continued to advocate for its overwhelming benefits. By lowering trade restrictions and setting a major precedent for future trade deals, the passage of CETA and subsequent expansion of international trade can stimulate economic growth for all parties despite growing antitrade rhetoric.

After more than seven years of negotiation, the CETA trade agreement between Canada and the European Union has won provisional approval from all involved parties. The passage of CETA will eliminate 98 percent of tariffs between Canada and the EU and remove other trade restrictions. The agreement will most likely benefit multinational corporations and boost economic growth for Canada and the EU. By allowing jobs to move freely through national markets, the treaty grants corporations the ability to expand and contribute to GDP. At the same time, the growth of multinational corporations poses risks to the strict food and environmental regulations in effect in certain European countries such as Belgium and France, as it is difficult for imports to meet these stringent standards. The treaty must now be approved by 38 member states and regional parliaments, including the United Kingdom’s, in order to be enacted in full force.

A drastic increase in trade between the European Union and Canada will foster economic growth for both countries by allowing jobs, companies, and products to move easily between Canada and the European continent. Trade between Canada and the EU will increase by about 20 percent, which should boost the EU economy by about 12 billion euros and Canadian economy by 12 billion Canadian dollars. For Canada, the deal cuts tariffs on industrial, farm, and food items and could drive additional exports of Canadian agri-food products worth up to about $1.5 billion Canadian dollars. The Canadian agri-food market is export focused, as 90 percent of farmers depend on world markets rather than on the domestic economy. The passage of the agreement will grant the export-dependent farmers access to a previously restricted multibillion dollar market.

In return for increased Canadian exports, European companies should save 500 million euros per year from cheaper and simpler methods of exporting wine, cheese, and other specialty European products.  Additionally, the Canadian government plans to open the process of public procurement by allowing the EU to bid on Canadian government contracts. This plan will reduce asymmetry in the market, as the EU’s public procurement process was previously accessible to the Canadian market. The Canadian services sectors in cargo shipping, maritime services, and finance will be opened to European firms – a change that will allow job movement and growth between the two parties.

Populist objections to the CETA trade deal reflect the growing opinion that globalization is at fault for increasing income inequality.

In the days before the signing of CETA, Wallonia, a French-speaking province in Belgium with a population of 3.2 million people, objected fiercely to the agreement. With the bargaining power of a populist movement, Wallonia forced the Belgian Parliament not to approve the treaty. According to EU policy, the treaty cannot be signed without the approval of all member states, so this move threatened the future of a trade deal seven years in the making with the power to affect more than 500 million Europeans and 35 million Canadians.

But why did Wallonia force the hand of the Belgian Parliament? Deindustrialization in the region has led to fears of agricultural competition. As Wallonia’s economy stagnates, its steel mills have begun to close, and the region has lost ground to Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders. Wallonia and Flanders are traditional cultural and economic rivals, as Belgium is divided into a wealthier Dutch-speaking region that is frequently in conflict with the French-speaking Wallonia. In response to Wallonia’s economic decline, the D19-20 coalition, an antifree trade group created by small-scale milk producers in Belgium, united more than 90 member organizations in opposition to CETA. The effort culminated in persuading the Belgian Parliament to reject the deal based on the argument that milk prices had dropped from increasing globalization and threatened small milk farmers’ ability to remain in the market. The D19-20 coalition’s fierce opposition to CETA showcases how regional insecurities and economic turmoil can lead to the growth of populism and antiglobalization sentiment. The desire to protect individual jobs and regional power makes it simple to attribute economic struggles to globalization and to the resulting loss of regional identity. Other factors at fault, including the inability of the region to adapt to an evolving world, are much more difficult for provincial players to acknowledge. Globalization introduces cultural and economic influences that can irrevocably alter the composition of a region; as identity evolves, those who witness the shift find it challenging to accept the loss of singularity and influence.

While lower prices can hurt small producers, they also help the consumer and alleviate poverty, as illustrated in the Sustainability Impact Assessment. Rather than allowing Wallonia to halt the deal for the entirety of the EU and Canada, the Belgian Parliament argued for a compromise and created a four-page addendum to address regional concerns. The addendum primarily protects certain food products in Wallonia from competition. The Belgian Parliament also pledged to have the Court of Justice of the EU review the arbitration system established under the deal in order to determine its legality, as small farmers in Wallonia are concerned with losing disputes in arbitration to multinational corporations.

Populist objections to the CETA trade deal reflect the growing opinion that globalization is at fault for increasing income inequality. The reactions to CETA also set probable precedent for backlash against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The TTIP is a trade deal currently under discussion between the EU and the United States, and it will likely be worth 545 euros per year per European citizen. In spite of this fact, more than three million Europeans have signed an anti-TTIP petition. Many Europeans view CETA as a practice for the potential TTIP, and the power of Wallonia to nearly halt the deal illustrates just how strong antitrade sentiment has become. Though CETA indisputably provides economic benefit to both parties, overwhelming populism, as demonstrated in Wallonia, has made it clear that the chances for TTIP are slim. Wallonia could also highlight the ability of other regional powers to derail trade agreements, such as Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in the UK. While previous trade deals have promoted economic growth and lowered consumer prices, job loss in the industrial sector is undeniable, with previous deals doing little to nothing to cushion economies from this effect.

However, CETA is a new form of trade deal that aims to preserve existing regulatory policies as well as address concerns about job loss and health and food safety standards. Europeans are generally suspicious of trans-Atlantic health and environmental safety standards, and provisions within the deal alleviate those concerns. One such provision protects 145 European geographical indications in the Canadian market that illustrate the source, quality, and value of European exports. The deal creates a template for future trade deals between countries with advanced economies, as it is simpler for regulators to recognize the rules of other countries and create protections for workers and the environment. For example, beef farmers in Belgium mistakenly believe the Belgian market will be consumed by large Canadian beef consumers, but in reality the CETA deal limits imports from Canada to 0.6 percent of the EU’s total beef consumption in order to prevent that very problem. Because the Sustainability Impact Assessment models prove that the negative impacts of trade liberalization would surround sensitive agricultural products, the agreement does not remove all tariffs around these products, including beef.

CETA is a broad protection-based trade deal that sets the standards for globalization. Unlike traditional deals between poor and wealthy countries, the agreement should escape the usual concerns over lack of regulation and transparency. CETA also provides trade neutrality and diplomatic neutrality to the EU and Canada, as it reduces European and Canadian dependence on the United States without increasing dependence on eastern countries. A major trade deal already exists between the US and Canada (NAFTA), while the US and the EU have long been key trading partners. Before the passage of CETA, both countries were largely dependent on the US economy for economically-essential trade. By lowering barriers between two economies previously reliant on the US, the EU and Canada grant themselves autonomy in making major economic and trade decisions. While the deal provides tremendous benefit to both countries, populist antitrade sentiment continues to thrive in the face of CETA’s success thus far. The sense of individual subjugation to a multinational agenda has propelled the growth of far-right and far-left populist movements in a number of European countries, including Finland, Latvia, Hungary, and Austria. These parties hold enough sway to take control in a number of upcoming elections, in which they, unlike the Belgians, will most likely succeed.

We’re out.”

With this laconic declaration, the Daily Mail delivered Friday’s simple, momentous truth to a polarized Britain; the torrent of patriotism and triumph on one side was matched only by the apocalyptic lamentations of the other.

The United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union.

While much of the county’s political establishment was left to reflect on why the unique, albeit tepid, pro- “Remain” alliance of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Tory Prime Minister David Cameron failed, the international system watched in apprehensive shock. The Brexit (“Leave”) campaign, orchestrated chiefly by the UK Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage with the Conservative Party support of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, prevailed by capitalizing on festering nativist sentiments and the growing global disillusion with mainstream liberal politics.

Much has already been written about the factors that encouraged Britain’s decision; these include Labour’s weak endorsement of “Remain,” anti-immigration paranoia kindled by the refugee crisis, David Cameron’s low approval rating, the perception of the EU as undemocratic, and years of British austerity. And yet, what was perhaps most immediately baffling was the Prime Minister’s initial, catalytic choice to call for a referendum.

In doing so, Cameron imparted a vital international decision into the hands of an often capricious, uninformed, and misled public, gambling away the fate of the international system and transforming an internal Tory schism into a case study in the perils of ‘tyranny of the majority.’ For this, the once youthful and optimistic representative of Witney will justifiably be regarded as one of the 21st century’s most reckless Western leaders.

While the concept of “tyranny of the majority”—a phrase used to describe the consequence of majority-rule democratic systems – was first used by John Adams, the broader concept can be traced back to Plato’s Republic. This fear of “tyranny of the majority” also served as a kind of ideological basis for the United States political system; Thomas Jefferson famously stated “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.”

And in the EU Referendum, Jefferson’s famous proclamation was less than a percentage point off.

In a vote that exemplifies this notion of “tyranny of the majority”, 52% of eligible British voters were granted the prerogative to dramatically influence the future of an entire continent (or world, if you have a palate for the dramatic).

By calling for a referendum, Cameron left an extremely complicated international dilemma in the hands of a public that patently did not – and could not be expected to – uniformly understand the consequences of its decision. He let the under-educated, populist, and often fluctuant votes of a mere 52% of eligible voters make a presumably irrevocable decision on behalf of the other 48% as well as unrepresented adolescents and non-British EU workers.

Cameron imparted a vital international decision into the hands of an often capricious, uninformed, and misled public, gambling away the fate of the international system and transforming an internal Tory schism into a case study in the perils of ‘tyranny of the majority.’

Many political theorists and movements have recognized the deficiencies of absolute democracy by positing that minority groups would cease to have any meaningful political power against a collective majority. It’s easy to see why such a system would result in vast abjection in the United States. Imagine if Arizona – a state that is 84% white – used a system of absolute democracy. Needless to say that, in the absence of a representative system, Arizona’s infamous 2010 anti-immigration law would be a minor offense within a system that no longer veiled its antagonism towards minority groups.

While the UK is not as ethnically diverse as the US, the EU Referendum has revealed similar demographic divisions. For instance, although approximately 75% of young people voted to remain, around 60% of voters aged 65 and older chose the converse. This is to say that older citizens were allowed to seriously influence the result of a decision that would most dramatically affect the younger populations they generally voted against.

Beyond this, London and Scotland voted to remain while the more homogenous and rural parts of England opted to leave. To many “Remain” voters, ‘rural, racist, old England’ swayed the results of an international decision, driving the pound to its lowest value in 30 years while increasing the possibility of greater austerity measures and cuts to the National Health Services (NHS) as well as long term damage to the British economy.

However, the effects of Brexit will not be limited to British voters; the UK’s decision will almost certainly have serious consequences for the international community, especially EU member states. Non-British EU workers in Britain are now in a precarious position as are European businesses that have formal dependencies on the UK.

By holding a referendum, Cameron errantly assumed that British membership was a question only for the British people; that is, one that excludes the roughly quarter-million of non-British EU workers. Given the severe ramifications and uncertainty that such groups can expect to see in the coming months, the failure to provide a representative force in the decision of whether or not to leave the EU is shameful.

Moreover, the victorious “Leave” campaign led by the patently, repeatedly racist Nigel Farage has provided a precedent for far right groups in other European countries to call for similar referendums (e.g. France’s right wing party has called for a ‘Frexit’).While the EU is certainly a flawed institution and there may indeed have been justified reasons for choosing to considerably slacken the UK’s relationship with it, the EU Referendum was a gift to the far right and the anti-immigrant beliefs that have increasingly begun to suppurate through emboldened xenophobes.

Beyond all of this, only days after the referendum results were compiled and released, citizens and major publications that supported the “Leave” campaign expressed remorse for their decision. Over one million UK citizens who voted in favor of Brexit have already expressed their desire to change their casting while a “Leave” voter started a petition calling for a second referendum that received around two million signatures in 48 hours. It now seems almost doubtless that if a second referendum were cast today, it would have resulted in a decisive “Remain” victory.

This caprice contradicts Cameron’s claim that “the British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path.” Instead, the aftermath of the referendum has revealed significant numbers of British voters to be dangerously misled and uncertain, swayed by sensationalized anti-immigration rhetoric and dedicated to fulfilling the fleeting wish to puncture the political establishment in any way possible.

As some British public figures have explained, it’s a stupefying display of optimism (or worse, naivety) to believe that the public can fully understand the economic entanglement between the UK and the EU and the consequences of its rupture. This is to say nothing of the indirect ramifications of Brexit, including the possibility of a Scottish exit from the UK, the subsequent inability of Britain to maintain its nuclear weapons, and the broader damage to post-World War II liberal idealism.

The prolific presence of misinformation also considerably affected the debate over the referendum. This is made clear in “Leave’s” infamous ‘bus of misinformation’: the red vehicle that broadcasted criminally misleading promises to spend money on the NHS instead of the EU, appealing to populist sentiments and making assurances the “Leave” campaign had no intention of keeping.

Beyond this, Boris Johnson was very swift to laud the possibility of recreating British trade agreements with the EU, on – and here’s the important part – British terms. However, if the UK does strike a new trade deal with the EU, it will almost certainly be expected to abide by the previously enforced EU regulations that Johnson had so fiercely lambasted. Of course, Brussels now has an even greater incentive to impose these restrictions in any future deal as they hope to deter future “Leave” campaigns.

But why weren’t Cameron’s warnings of economic catastrophe heeded? While his weak approval rating certainly did not help turn favorable ears towards him, Cameron adopted the Sisyphean task of presenting the nuanced and complex economic consequences of leaving the EU in a way that would provoke a passionate, if not fearful response on par with Nigel Farage’s anti-immigration rhetoric.

However, Farage’s campaign, which was aided by a broader fear of Islamic extremism, presented British citizens with simpler and more sensationalistic terms upon which to vote. Put simply, the fear of an immigrant taking your job or ISIL bombing your town is one that is far more prevalent than concerns over growth, investment, interest rates, or international cooperation. Neither the nearly universal allegiance of economists against the “Leave” campaign, nor the exhortations of most British Members of Parliament and international leaders were enough to deter the effects of Farage’s fear-capitalizing rhetoric.

So when David Cameron asserts that the British people made a ‘clear’ decision to leave the EU, he asks us to disregard the influence of the misinformation, unpreparedness, and sensationalistic rhetoric that helped provoke the vote’s outcome.

Hours after the vote results were counted, searches in the UK asking ‘what is Brexit’ and ‘what is the EU referendum’ flooded Google. Evidently, like a hangover after an inebriated evening, a large number of British voters were left to question the consequences of their decision and – for a particularly confounded group – what it was that they had helped induce.

Britain did not voice a clear answer to the referendum. Instead it gave a polarized, vastly uninformed, often misguided, and unconfident majority vote. If the Brexit Referendum proves one thing, I think it’s this: politics ought to abandon the fantastical, delusional expectation that the public develop an informed consensus on major political issues. It’s not just unrealistic; it is an overtly unjust betrayal of political responsibility to leave a question of Brexit’s magnitude exclusively to the public.

In his criticisms of popular votes and absolute democracy, Plato conjured up the “Allegory of the Sailors and Captain” in which he characterizes the relationship between sailors (representative of the masses) and their captain (representative of ‘philosopher-kings). Here, the former is convinced that “he ought to be the captain, despite the fact that he’s never learnt how… they all maintain that it isn’t something that can be taught”. Yet, they don’t understand the extreme intricacies of sailing (such as navigation), as a captain would, or even that a need for such knowledge exists. As Socrates puts it, “they completely fail to understand that any genuine sea-captain has to study the yearly cycle, the seasons, the heavens, the stars and winds, and everything relevant to their job, if he’s to be properly equipped to hold a position of authority in a ship.”

While the sailors ought to have a say in what goals their captain sets and what destinations are ultimately desirable—the maintenance of a properly functioning ship requires this—the captain is the only member fit to determine how to get there. By not recognizing this, the sailors risk the destruction of the ship, the failure of their voyage, and the descent into tyranny.


In the wake of the March terrorist attacks on Brussels, which killed 32 civilians and injured more than 300 at the city’s airport and at a subway station, Belgium has found itself at the center of a global outpouring of prayers and support. As the country began three days of national mourning on March 22, monuments across the world were emblazoned with yellow, black, and red, flags were raised at half-mast, and the leaders of many countries vowed to aid Belgium in its search for those responsible.

However, this sentiment of solidarity has been marred by a deeply polemical debate over who bears the blame for the attacks. To be sure, the burden of responsibility lies first and foremost with the perpetrators of the bombings. But evidence has emerged indicating that these attacks required over a year of careful planning, which the attackers were able to conduct while hiding in plain sight: in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek and traveling freely across Europe as authorities failed to act on concrete warnings. With this revelation, public outrage at the lack of coordination, communication, and intelligence sharing has finally caught up to both the local Belgian and the international European policing community.

Due to the intense chemical smells in the terrorists’ apartment in Schaerbeek, an agent du quartier policeman had visited the building twice,  but for some undisclosed reason he never actually entered the premises. During raids meant to capture suspects who presented a definite threat after the Paris attacks, many of whom were later involved in the Brussels attacks, Belgian police failed to apprehend key figures including Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the November attack on Paris. After the attacks themselves had taken place, police scrambled to cordon off the affected areas and the zone around the apartment, while at least one attacker was caught on video as he calmly retreated from the airport. He was only apprehended weeks later in early April.

Perhaps even more disturbing than these local failures, however, is the utter lack of coherent interaction between different policing and intelligence organizations across Europe. Because of this cooperation failure, the terrorists operated largely undetected. One of the terrorists, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, had been flagged by Turkey as a terrorist fighter upon his return from Syria — a fact that Turkey had attempted to communicate to Belgium and the Netherlands. Indeed, El Bakraoui was deported to the Netherlands, but due to a mishandling of information, he was not kept under surveillance after reentering Belgium. Due in part to these communications breakdowns, the suspects were able to avoid capture during raids in Brussels a week before the attack.

The problematic nature of intelligence communications in Europe can be traced to the traditionally decentralized nature of its policing and intelligence operations.

This is not the first time the consequences of lackluster international coordination have loomed over European intelligence agencies. Indeed, the perpetrators of the November 2015 attacks on Paris had been based in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, which is widely feared to be an incubator for extremist terrorists; Salah Abdeslam was actually able to return to Molenbeek after escaping French police and remained hidden there for months under the nose of international authorities until his arrest in early March. Salah’s brother Ibrahim (who acted as a suicide bomber in Paris) had been detained by Belgian police after a failed attempt to travel to Syria, was suspected of having ties to ISIL, and had a criminal record within Belgium. However, the threat posed by the two brothers was not communicated to other countries, and Dutch police had no idea who they were dealing with when they fined the brothers for drug possession last year. Despite his status as a potential terrorist in Belgium, Salah was able to purchase detonators in France using his driver’s license. Moreover, the mastermind of the Paris attacks was able to slip unnoticed between Syria, Greece, France, and Belgium multiple times. Throughout this complicated web of actions, the Abdeslam brothers left a long paper trail, and yet authorities were unable to communicate effectively enough to follow it.

The problematic nature of intelligence communications in Europe can be traced to the traditionally decentralized nature of its policing and intelligence operations. All member nations of the EU operate their own intelligence services, and communication between each agency is minimal. One of the few formal mechanisms which exist to facilitate transnational intelligence exchange is Europol, an organization that remains largely unknown to the public. Tasked with compiling information on terrorists and ensuring that all nations are kept in the loop, Europol has failed to acquire adequate funding or anything more than tacit and empty words of support. Most EU nations display a continued reluctance to share intelligence, fearing a loss of sovereignty over their internal affairs, even though Europol has no mandate to make arrests or deploy any forces. Despite many nations reluctance to participate, Europol has proved itself at least somewhat useful: In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Europol sent Parisian police a substantial amount of information that aided the search for suspects. Intelligence leaders have also expressed the concern that keeping sources and information in one place will make this data more vulnerable to cyberattacks. This information, however, can be made secure through proper encryption systems, and its protection cannot come at the expense of protecting Europeans themselves.

The fragmented nature of the current system is hardly compatible with the open nature of Europe’s internal borders.  The Schengen Agreement, which instituted diminished border controls between certain EU member nations, allows individuals to move from country to country with relative freedom and ease. While this affords numerous economic benefits, particularly in terms of rapid transportation of commodities and the tourism industry, it comes with great caveats in the realm of security. Terrorists can travel between European countries — say, from Belgium to France and beyond—with as much ease as any tourist or businessman and without passport controls. The problem is that information does not travel as easily. As a result, the Schengen Agreement itself has become increasingly controversial, as certain politicians favor its abolition for the sake of increased security. However, as long it remains in place and movement remains relatively easy, existing European models of restricted information sharing are simply unsustainable, especially if more attacks are expected to be on the horizon.

Going forward, the EU must make a concerted effort to coordinate the dissemination of information about terrorism across its fluid internal borders. The simplest and most promising approach could be to strengthen Europol, which would require greater funding and information contributions from all EU member nations. The system would need to be kept up-to-date and in constant communication with authorities across the EU. In order to ensure that the information itself is secure, cyber defense mechanisms should be instituted. It seems that European nations are already beginning to reevaluate and reform their current security systems, implementing new programs that alter data collection patterns specifically to combat terrorism. However, these systems have proven controversial, and much more discussion is needed to establish systems which can balance fairness and safety. Crucially, all member nations must play a role in the creation of these new systems and their maintenance. The question of accountability should no longer be answered by shifting the blame to individual nations — if EU countries are unified in their desire to maintain open internal borders, they all have a responsibility to ensure that information is circulated to keep all EU citizens safe from a threat that has not discriminated between different individuals, cities, and nations.

In many ways, the political landscape in Eastern Europe is still getting its bearings after the fall of Warsaw-pact regimes in 1989-91. Though many Eastern European political parties and movements have been integrated into regional political structures such as EU political parties and parliamentary groupings (both of which operate as EU-wide bodies to which domestic parties chose to affiliate themselves), Eastern European politics often fits imperfectly into this framework of integration largely created by the likes of France, Spain, Belgium, and the United Kingdom — Western European nations that underwent integration much earlier than their Eastern counterparts. Currently, nowhere is this more apparent than in Slovakia.

On March 5, Slovak voters re-elected their firebrand prime minister, Robert Fico. Fico is a social democrat, and the party he leads, Smer-SD (“Direction-Social Democracy”), is a social-democratic party — in label, anyway. They use the social-democratic red rose as their symbol, and, as one would expect, affiliate with the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) parliamentary group in Brussels. In reality, however, Fico and his party continually violate the basic ideological tenets of Western European social democracy, and end up as more of a headache than an asset to their counterparts in Brussels.

While PES and S&D generally take moderate lines on the refugee crisis, Fico’s appeal, and that of Smer, is mostly predicated upon his vitriolic anti-refugee (and, indeed, anti-immigrant) rhetoric, leading to alignment with the similarly anti-migrant heads of government Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. He’s labelled multiculturalism “a fiction”, pronounced that Slovakia was “built for Slovaks, not for minorities,” called for state surveillance of every Muslim in Slovakia, and launched a legal challenge to European agreements requiring that Slovakia, like every EU country, take a certain number of refugees. Though Slovakia is neither a popular destination for migrants, nor located on commonly used transit routes to destination countries like Germany, Fico purposefully made such issues the main focus of his re-election campaign, making bombastic statements such as a pledge to take no more than 200 refugees in total, and only Christians.

Moreover, immigration is not the only issue on which Smer differs from archetypal social-democrats: More generally, there is a wide gulf between Smer and most other European social democrats on social and cultural issues. In the modern political landscape, few positions are more widely held among European social-democrats than support for some level of LGBTQ rights, and in particular the legalization of gay marriage. Despite this relatively widespread consensus, Smer led the successful charge for the constitutional codification of marriage as strictly heterosexual in Slovakia. Additionally, while most European social-democrats adopt, to some extent, rhetoric of social inclusion when it comes to minority groups, Fico has continually blamed Slovakia’s economic problems on its already marginalized Roma population.  While most European social-democrats have historically favored state spending on a social-safety net, Smer, in single-party government since 2012, have presided over government spending which represents the fifth smallest percentage of GDP in Europe. The list of differences on social issues goes on.

There is one factor which sometimes links Fico to the typical members of PES and S&D: Smer’s reliance on economically populist measures which in some sense mirror those of traditionally social-democratic platforms — investment in subsidized public transportation, for example. Despite such minor similarities, Smer is hardly a natural fit for PES/S&D, and this ideological divergence proves continually trying. In fact, PES and S&D suspended Smer’s membership once before, from 2006 to 2009, when Fico formed a coalition government with the openly chauvinistic right-wing nationalist party Slovak National Party (SNS).

PES and S&D don’t have meaningful ideological standards, and their elites find themselves unable to remove parties for ideological reasons whatsoever, so Smer, despite its flagrant xenophobia, will in all likelihood stay.

This year, Fico has once again embraced SNS. Though Smer won a plurality, with only 28.3 percent of the vote and 49 seats in the 150-strong parliament, Fico found himself unable to govern alone and negotiated a four-party coalition including Smer, a neoliberal party called “network” (newly formed by an American-educated lawyer and styling itself #Siet’, or #Network), a neoliberal party centered around the protection of Hungarian minority interests in Slovakia, Most-Híd, and his erstwhile ally, SNS.

Understandably, after conducting an election based almost exclusively upon anti-migrant rhetoric, and once again leaping into bed with a right-wing nationalist party, Fico was summoned to Strasbourg to be chastised by the leadership of PES and S&D. It appears, however, that nothing will actually be done about Smer this time; it will continue to be allowed to affiliate with these groups, using their branding and resources, while in flagrant violation of any principles they theoretically hold. Why can’t PES/S&D actually suspend Smer?

Some have argued that PES/S&D should not de-stabilize Slovakian politics in light of another new entry into Slovakia’s parliament this March — the ominously named “People’s Party — Our Slovakia”, which received 8 percent of overall votes and 23 percent of votes cast by those who had never voted before. This new party makes Robert Fico look like a downright flower child. Its leader, Marian Kotleba, has spoken of his admiration for Jozef Tiso, the clerical leader of the Nazi puppet-state set up in Slovakia during World War II, a man complicit in the Holocaust. Before setting up his current party, Kotleba led a since-outlawed organization known as the “Slovak Brotherhood”, devoted to, in the words of the American Embassy in Slovakia, “commemorate[ing] the wartime fascist state,” and was fond of wearing uniforms reminiscent of those worn by the Hlinka Guard, the paramilitary organization of Tiso’s Slovakia, which held responsibilities including suppressing internal opposition and deporting the country’s Jewish population, many of them to Auschwitz. Indeed, Kotleba once faced inconclusive criminal charges for ending a speech with the phrase “Na stráž”, or “on guard”, commonly used in the Hlinka Guard. He’s organized marches against the Roma, affiliates his party with the same international alliance as Golden Dawn, a Greek Neo-Nazi party, and is considered by academics, and even by Smer politicians, to be a Fascist or Neo-Nazi. By this way of thinking, then, some have argued that for PES/S&D to withdraw their tacit endorsement of Smer would weaken Smer and thereby strengthen its political opponents – including the Neo-Nazis.

The problem with this way of thinking is that many academics, journalists, and observers of Slovakian politics posit that Kotleba benefitted more than anything else from Fico’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. By making xenophobic ideas mainstream, Fico polarized much of public discourse in Slovakia on the subject, and pushed anti-establishment voters to consider even more dramatic alternatives. If PES and S&D withdrew support from Smer and instead supported some other (possibly new) social-democratic faction in Slovakia, Fico would undoubtedly lose some of his electoral influence, and his dangerous xenophobic rhetoric would thus be somewhat less powerful. Thus, PES and S&D may actually be helping the Neo-Nazis by refusing to expel Fico.

More broadly, some have argued that PES/S&D are reluctant to drop Smer simply because Smer is politically successful at a time when social-democratic parties in much of the continent are on the rocks. The fact that Smer’s popularity is on the wane, however, and quite possibly will collapse without the charismatic figure of Fico at the helm, belies this argument as well.

A more convincing explanation for why PES/S&D have not acted lies in the modern nature of these organizations themselves, specifically in their lack of ideological frameworks. In ideological terms, Smer is less social-democratic than it ever was – not only is it as anti-immigration and socially-conservative as ever, but the governmental program presented by its current coalition government draws heavily on the economic policies of Siet’ and Most-Híd, and is hence essentially conservative and neoliberal. Thus, if PES/S&D had any ideological standards to which member parties owed fidelity, expelling Smer would probably be a necessary choice.

The problem is that, for the most part, PES and S&D lack these standards. Ever since the advent of Blairism in the Labour Party of the UK, many social-democratic parties have been on an unprecedented march towards neoliberalism. For example, Helle-Thorning Schmidt, who recently failed to be re-elected as Prime Minister of Denmark, privatized large portions of a state energy company, DONG, transferring some of its ownership to Goldman-Sachs, while still claiming the moniker of social democrat. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose role in creating and advocating for the Macron Law (a package of economic measures including de-regulation, sale of state assets, and public-sector liberalization) places him firmly to the right of traditional social-democracy. And in many other parts of Europe, social-safety net cuts are being advocated for (and implemented) by social-democratic politicians.

These recent actions by politicians and political entities purporting to be social democrats highlight the tricky situation in which PES and S&D find themselves. If they had meaningful ideological standards, violation of which would result in the removal of a particular party, they would probably be pushed to remove Smer. However, they would also be pushed to remove many of their most prominent member parties, engaged as they are on a separate ideological shift which shows no sign of ending. The elite of PES and S&D don’t have any interest in expelling such parties — rather, they generally support their rightward shift. Hence, PES and S&D don’t have meaningful ideological standards, and their elites find themselves unable to remove parties for ideological reasons whatsoever, so Smer, despite its flagrant xenophobia, will in all likelihood stay — even though by continuing to prop up Robert Fico as Slovakian PM, European Social-Democrats act directly against their supposed ideology, and perhaps even strengthen their greatest opponents.

The ultimate lesson here is one for Europe, rather than simply for Slovakia. Social-democracy on the EU level has, for the most part, become nothing more than a brand, a color, a commonly-used logo. It lacks an ideological center and for this reason must tolerate extreme deviations from its supposed legacy and purpose. If moderate progressives of the European center-left, in Slovakia and elsewhere, then, want to have any hope of solvency in their political choices and activism, they need to abandon and actively organize outside the confines of PES, S&D, and other vacuous organs of a bygone time.


In a protest about the Eastern Bloc’s future, the public station Polskie Radio wasn’t just handing out tote bags. The station played the Polish national anthem and the EU anthem on an alternating schedule. These patriotic medleys were a symbolic protest against a series of controversial laws passed by the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or PiS, following its victory in Poland’s fall 2015 elections. Already, in its first months in power, the PiS — an ultranationalist, conservative party — has enacted a series of changes that pose a threat to the democratic fabric of the nation. Chief among these are a new set of laws governing public television and radio broadcasters, replacing the old executives with party loyalists who say nary a negative word about the government.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland has stood as the archetype of formerly communist countries smoothly transitioning to democracy. The largest Eastern Bloc state, Poland is also one of the more recent additions to the club of global democracies. But the actions of the PiS have threatened the nation’s two decades of strong, institutional democracy. Given Poland’s vital leadership in the region, the EU must address the grave and present threat of a democratic backslide — or risk a huge potentially damning setback in a decades-long effort to liberate Eastern Europe.

Like many radical parties, the PiS cloaked itself in moderate garb during its electoral rise, tapping into a sense of economic hopelessness among young people and those living in rural areas. This sense of hopelessness, exacerbated by a ruling party beset by scandal and overindulgence, made the PiS’s message a perfect fit for the political climate. Earlier in 2015, the party’s Andrzej Duda won the presidency by running on an economically populist message that appealed to ordinary Poles’ frustrations. The newly-elected Prime Minister Szydlo employed these same techniques in the fall, leading the party to success by promising a monthly child allowance, free prescription medications for the elderly, a lowering of the retirement age, and tax write-offs for small businesses. Szydlo focused primarily on economic issues, clearly staying away from the nationalist foreign policies and conservative social policies that the PiS normally emphasizes. It was a clever strategy: The PiS portrayed itself as both the party of change and as a changed party.

However, as soon as it came into office, the PiS reverted to its old self. Although Szydlo and Duda are technically the heads of government — and therefore heads of the party — they don’t seem to be calling the shots. Instead, at the helm of political decision-making is former prime minister and party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who still serves as chairman of the party. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, a former prime minister, who served under Kaczyński in the mid-2000s, said, “[Kaczyński] has built himself into this head of state without any real position, and this is very comfortable for him. He has no direct responsibility and is free to change the pawns on the chess board.” Although Szydlo and Duda seem to represent a new era for the PiS, Kaczyński still adheres to much of the ultra-conservative, nationalist ideology of the party’s past. His role in pushing his agenda seems evident in several recent actions by the government. On November 25, just days into the PiS reign, the government nullified the appointment of five judges to the 15-member Constitutional Tribunal made by the outgoing Civic Platform government. Duda refused to inaugurate three of the judges, and the PiS quickly appointed five new judges to fill the vacancies. The court responded by finding three of the five appointments illegal. Not to be outdone, the PiS later raised the requirements for the court to declare a law unconstitutional, undermining the democratic system of checks and balances in the country and neutering the court. With a higher bar to overturn legislation, most legislation passed by the PiS going forward will likely stand as long as the party is in power.

To help craft that legislation, Kaczyński has planted government loyalists in key positions around the country. On its second day in power, the PiS appointed Kaczyński’s close personal friend to lead the intelligence service – a friend who had to be pardoned by Duda before the appointment because he was previously found guilty of abuse of power. The PiS has also replaced the heads of the Warsaw stock exchange, several state corporations, and many other civil servants. It has even gone so far as to pass legislation to make it easier to sack civil servants in all parts of Warsaw’s bureaucracy.

However, the most publicly-vilified reforms were those regarding public broadcasters. Silencing government criticism on the airwaves has become a symbol of Kaczyński and his party’s authoritarian overreach, and it has sparked widespread protests and an active investigation from the EU, along with comparisons to Viktor Orbán, the illiberal leader of nearby Hungary. Ironically, Kaczyński has shown admiration for Orbán: The two men met privately in January, talking for six hours. Taken together, the actions of the PiS represent an intentional move to centralize power in the hands of the ruling party — and, specifically, in the hands of Kaczyński.

The PiS’s threat to democratic institutions doesn’t only have ramifications domestically; it’s also a blow to the immense progress Poland has made toward becoming a democracy. When the Soviet Union started to collapse, Poland quickly escaped the USSR’s orbit and sprinted toward democracy, becoming the first Eastern Bloc state to approve a non-Communist government in 1989. A decade later, Poland, along with the Czech Republic and Hungary, became the first Warsaw Pact state to join NATO; in 2004 it was in the first class of Eastern Bloc states to join the European Union. Quickly, Poland became a sterling example of what a former communist state could look like. As the largest of the former communist states to enter the EU, both by population and size of the economy, Poland’s impressive democratic record has served as tangible evidence that the eastern and central European countries can successfully hold onto democracy and rule of law. The country even ranks ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom on the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. In short, what’s happening in Poland shouldn’t be happening. But as troubling as the PiS’s actions are for the Polish people, the current state of affairs displays the ever-present risk for young democracies: A slide back into authoritarianism is always just an election away.

To be perfectly clear, the PiS’s actions have not represented the will of the Polish people. A poll by the Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) Institute in January showed that the PiS has approval ratings of only 27 percent, down from 42 percent at the beginning of December. While this may seem odd in light of its electoral victory just months before, it’s important to note that the PiS won less than 40 percent of the vote and just over 50 percent of registered voters turned out. That equates to less than one-fifth of all registered voters actually expressing support for the party. Nor have Poles been quiet about their discontent with the PiS’s illiberal actions. After almost every major legislative move, thousands of Poles have gathered to protest, with about 20,000 gathering for the third time in Warsaw, Lodz, Berlin, London, and Prague on January 27. These protests are drawing citizens across age, class, and regional divides, as many fear that democratic backslide will impinge on their way of life.

International institutions need to play a larger role in steering Poland away from authoritarianism. To its credit, the European Union has not been silent about the actions taken by the PiS. In a letter addressed to the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, the First Vice President of the European Commission, invoked the “rule of law” mechanism. Adopted by the EU in 2014 to address threats to democracy in any EU country, it states that the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, can initiate dialogue with the violating country in an attempt to prevent any further threat, but its power stops there. And indeed, Timmerman’s letter was an attempt to begin this dialogue, although the Polish government has been unresponsive to date.

If the PiS continues to refuse engagement, the EU will need to act boldly — and, luckily, it has the authority to do so. The European Council, a body composed of the heads of state of all EU members, in addition to the president of the Commission and the elected European Council President (a position coincidentally held by former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk), have more leeway to act in this case. First, the council can begin a “preventative mechanism,” which is effectively a warning before a “serious breach” has occurred. If a serious breach has been in place for some time, the Council can begin a “sanctioning mechanism,” which would allow it to suspend certain EU rights, including voting rights for the harshest offenders. Neither mechanism has ever been used, and it seems unlikely that they will be, since each requires the unanimous consent of the remaining EU countries. However, the council should consider threatening to use them.

Additionally, the EU may have leverage with Poland through foreign policy, like Poland’s request for further defense support against Russia. More immediately, the EU can also coerce the PiS by threatening to end subsidies during its yearly financial framework review. While these methods may seem to only further enrage the largely Eurosceptic PiS, a Pew survey shows that 72 percent of Poles have a favorable view of the EU. With the growing protests and opposition within the country, an EU effort to use its leverage over Poland and apply strong pressure on the PiS would likely halt the move toward illiberal democracy.

Regardless of which option the EU chooses, the fact still remains that the PiS is instituting a dangerous, illiberal program, one that will likely reverberate beyond its borders. Poland plays a key role in demonstrating the success of democratization in eastern and central Europe, meaning that if any modicum of success Poland has seen to date were to be erased, it could be a warning that democratization was only a Band-Aid on a larger wound. In any case, the decline of a once democratic nation would not be a positive force for democratization elsewhere. Because of this, the European Union must pressure the PiS to act according to democratic principles both internally and externally. Hopefully then, Polskie Radio will be able to return to its regularly-scheduled programming.

Art by Roland High

On October 29, the European Parliament voted on a resolution encouraging member states to offer asylum to Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked classified information about the United States’  NSA surveillance program two years ago. The resolution also officially recognized Snowden as a “human rights defender.” The decision is nonbinding, but it stands as a forceful encouragement for European countries to offer Snowden asylum and protection.

Although the resolution is mostly symbolic, it reflects a massive shift in how government surveillance programs are evaluated by the European public and illuminates the changing face of relations between the United States and Europe. As a greater amount information on these programs has been made accessible, public opposition to the programs has grown. The EU parliament’s vote mirrors this collective change in view.

The altered public opinion shows the radical difference between the current political environment and that which gave rise to the development of these government surveillance programs. In the months following the September 11 attacks, governments around the world revised their conception of national security and constructed far-reaching surveillance programs in response to the pressing fears of future terrorist attacks.

In the United States, efforts to prevent terrorism became the country’s primary foreign policy priority, one that arguably took precedent over the nation’s long commitment to civil liberties. Leaders struggled to devise a response to the attacks and to act in the best interest of protecting the country.

In the past 14 years, although the face of terrorism has evolved, the threat of attacks remains present. The development of international terrorist organizations like ISIL continues to make national security a subject of primary concern for the United States and for countries around the world. Never is this fear more present than it is now, as France is still reeling from the terror attacks that took place within its borders on November 14.

Accordingly, the United States and its European allies continue to grapple with how to best devise an effective framework for protecting their national interests. The American NSA finds its counterparts in Germany’s Bundestag surveillance unit, France’s alleged Frenchelon, and the UK’s GCHQ surveillance unit. What’s more, Snowden’s leaked information exposed that these surveillance organizations have largely worked in tandem with the NSA. Coordination frees governments from domestic limits to surveillance in their own countries by spying on each other and then exchanging information. The NSA in particular is given more extensive leeway regarding intelligence-gathering on other countries and international organizations.

A Pew Research Center survey from 2014 shows that citizens in countries around the globe overwhelmingly find government surveillance of personal communications “unacceptable.”

Furthermore, it seems that in recent years, spying and surveillance conducted by Western governments has become more widespread. In October, Germany passed a new data retention law, expanding the ability of Internet and cellular providers to retain data. This past summer, France adopted a hugely controversial law that further enabled the government to pursue invasive surveillance methods, while Austria is in the process of evaluating new surveillance-related policy changes.  And the Obama administration – although committed to an overhaul – has recently restarted surveillance initiatives, still navigating its way to a new stance on the issue in the post-Snowden era.

So how does Snowden’s pardon by the EU parliament fit into this international landscape, one in which countries are as committed as ever to pursuing the very programs that Snowden sought to undermine?

First, the decision is undeniably legitimized by the fact that public opinion has been shifting away from support for these types of programs. In the wake of 9/11, national security might have provided enough grounds for the public to support these invasive measures; for many, however, government claims of national security no longer provide a tenable claim.

A Pew Research Center survey from 2014 shows that citizens in countries around the globe overwhelmingly find government surveillance of personal communications “unacceptable,” with 97 percent of Greek respondents, 88 percent of French respondents, 87 percent of German and Spanish respondents, and 70 percent of UK citizens polled holding this view. This  public context forms an environment in which the EU parliament has revised its stance to a more forgiving and even appraising position on Snowden and whistleblowers in general.

But discussing the merits or drawbacks of the parliament’s action does not present the full picture; EU members were motivated by more than just public support. There is a strong case to be made that the EU parliament’s pardoning  represented a diplomatic rebuke of the United States. By naming him a human rights activist, the EU has decisively challenged the United States and the Obama administration.

There has been no official statement from Obama on the decision, but in a response this summer to an online petition asking to pardon Snowden, the White House made its stance clear, stating  “He should come home to the United States and be judged by his peers – not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime.” It is evident that the administration’s position is in direct conflict with the EU parliament’s standing; this conflict suggests that the decision was intentionally defiant.

Why challenge the United States? One potential answer is that the EU wants to confront US hegemony, and this decision is part of a larger effort of resisting American power abroad. The chairman of the Workshop of Eurasian Ideas, Grigory Trofimchuk, has supported this interpretation. He argued in an interview with Radio Sputnik, “I think that Europe’s decision – is not simply a formal document, but the intentional act of defiance to Washington that goes against US policy on the Snowden issue…[Europe] gladly seized the opportunity to demonstrate its independence.”

In other words, perhaps more than a statement on surveillance, the EU parliament’s decision was largely an effort to capitalize on an opportunity to “demonstrate its independence.” Siding with Snowden allowed the EU to collectively cement its authority as distinctly separate from the United States’ influence. This interpretation would explain the apparent inconsistency of backing Snowden at a time when they are implementing policies that bolster their own surveillance programs.

Moreover, this challenge comes at a time when the United States has noticeably trailed behind European countries in its efforts to support the flow of refugees from Syria. Given that the United States often takes a prominent and leading role in the mitigation of international crises, it is significant that its presence has been weak in aiding the accommodation of Syrian refugees. Perhaps the EU parliament’s political move is a symbolic provocation, then, a signal to the United States. If the United States won’t step up, then the EU will act independently — its pardon of Snowden a symbolic gesture of that intention.

Ultimately, how this action by the EU parliament will influence US policy remains to be seen. With respect to Snowden, for the immediate future, not much will change practically. According to an interview with his attorney, Snowden will continue to live in Russia on his three-year residency permit and can only hope that the parliament’s decision will provide the impetus needed for European countries to take concrete action and offer him asylum.

We will also observe how the United States responds to this challenge to its authority in the international sphere. It remains to be seen whether the White House will directly confront the EU on this question of surveillance or whether it will act to reassert American authority on another front. In the wake of the major ISIL terror attacks worldwide, there is abundant opportunity for the United States to make moves on the world stage; Obama’s choices on policy and action will demonstrate to what extent the White House chooses to demonstrate its leadership.

Photo: Mike Mozart

Since January, an estimated 710,000 migrants and refugees have entered the European Union. This number is about two and a half times the total count of migrants and refugees that entered in 2014. This staggering increase shows the magnitude of the current situation. As Walter Mead explains in an essay in the Wall Street Journal, the crisis is “one of the worst humanitarian disasters since the 1940s.”

In the short term, the situation has been provoked by the “breakdown of order in Syria and Libya.” However, it appears that these problems stem from more fundamental issues. Mead argues, “What we are witnessing today is a crisis of two civilizations: The Middle East and Europe are both facing deep cultural and political problems that they cannot solve.” Namely, poverty and political instability in the Middle East and Africa have contributed to this breakdown of order, and we have begun to see the spillover effects of these issues in Europe. Accordingly, given that this issue cannot be addressed in a matter of a few weeks or months, it is clear that the migrant crisis is a catastrophe that European countries have no choice but to confront and work to remedy, and the United States should lend a helping hand.

Notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has steered her country to a leading position in Europe; under Merkel’s leadership, Germany has adopted the most accommodating stance towards incoming refugees. The German government has set aside 6 billion euros for the settlement of refugees, a position more generous than that of any other country in the EU. Some estimates show that the cost of care in Germany for these refugees could reach around 10 billion euros in 2015.

The European Union as a whole is mobilizing to step up its political and financial contributions and to cooperate with countries like Turkey, who have already been enormously impacted by the crisis, in order to accommodate the “flood of refugees.” Each country has devised a number of measures to aid incoming refugees, with varying levels of scope and commitment. Given that Germany has one of the largest economies in the EU, it is not surprising that its aid program is relatively large. Nonetheless, the country stands out in its willingness to accept and accommodate migrants.

When asked if there was a limit on the number of refugees her country would accept, Merkel responded, “The fundamental right to asylum for the politically persecuted knows no upper limit; that also goes for refugees who come to us from the hell of a civil war.” This radical statement of acceptance marked Germany as a willing recipient of the displaced people. It is no surprise that Germany’s open door approach has resulted in a massive influx of refugees to the country. Germany is now expecting to take in about 800,000 refugees by the end of December, and a report by the UN High Commission on Refugees showed that Germany was “by far the country that received the most asylum applications with 188,486.”

Accordingly, Merkel’s approach has provoked considerable national controversy; many fear that the country will be overwhelmed, and many politicians—including some in Merkel’s own party—have spoken out and advocated for more caution. Their line of reasoning echoes sentiments from other skeptical European leaders. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, for example, has been staunchly opposed to even allowing refugees to cross the country on their way westward. He believes that the refugees threaten Europe’s Christian identity and has called for tougher measures to block their arrival.

Merkel’s approach has provoked considerable national controversy; many fear that the country will be overwhelmed, and many politicians—including some in Merkel’s own party—have spoken out and advocated for more caution.

As a result, relations between the governments in the region have grown increasingly strained, triggering an emergency summit in mid-October to develop a more coordinated response. The leaders agreed on a “17-point plan” to collectively manage the flow of migrants. Merkel was a strong advocate for developing a more welcoming approach to accommodating these refugees, speaking out, “This is one of the greatest litmus tests that Europe has ever faced.”

Many of those who are not criticizing Merkel for taking in too many refugees are criticizing her for the manner in which she is receiving them. Although Merkel’s approach is more accommodating than those of her European counterparts, new German immigration policies suggest that the country’s stance is not as open-armed as it appears at first glance. Behind Germany’s welcoming impression “is a get-tough policy on people who don’t qualify for asylum.” Notably, this fall, Germany set up the first “one-stop reception and deportation center” in Bavaria. The center is a temporary holding place for incoming migrants, set up “expressly for turning back Balkan migrants quickly.”

It is clear that to continue to accept incoming refugees, the country has had to compromise on the comprehensiveness of its hospitality. That the country has begun moving refugees through deportation centers in a rapid and often chaotic manner suggests that the rate of incoming foreigners has begun to chip away at the country’s ability to uphold its promised generosity.

The country’s policies on the issue are intended to make the turnaround time for rejected asylum-seekers staying in the country faster and make up part of a “more assertive effort to discourage and deport migrants leaving home.” Understandably, to some degree, the policies are necessary measures to allow Germany to keep up with the influx of foreign refugees. Put simply, more refugees mean stricter policies. At the same time, the policies seem to undermine the credibility of the welcoming image Merkel has been cultivating.

While Merkel’s initiatives in response to the crisis have drawn sharp criticism from some of her country’s citizens and her fellow European leaders, across the pond, President Obama has spoken out publicly in support of Merkel’s attempts at greater hospitality, calling her over the summer to praise her efforts to mitigate the crisis at a time when Merkel was being confronted by all sides.

His bid of support stands out among criticisms and raises questions about the role of the US in this crisis. Currently, the United States has made plans to accept around 10,000 Syrian refugees in the upcoming year – a significant increase from the 1,500 who have been accepted since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. Despite these promises, the US has done very little up until this point. Refugees are admitted into the United States annually, based on factors like the degree of risk they face, family ties in the United States, and whether they are in a group of “special interest” to the United States; however, since 9/11, the number of refugees admitted has “fallen drastically.”

As the director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, Alexander Betts commented, “Historically, the US has the best record on resettlement, bar no other country on the planet,” so it is unusual that the United States has accepted such a small number of immigrants in this time of particular calamity and need.

In addition, a change in the US approach would require an overhaul of current policies. The 1,500 immigrants who have been accepted from Syria are people who have already entered into the US immigration system and are waiting to be let into the United States, “not the thousands working their way through Eastern Europe and landing in Greece.” In order to significantly benefit the aid efforts, therefore, the United States would not only need to increase the number of immigrants it accepts but would also need to begin accepting immigrants primarily from the pool of those currently making their way across the European continent.

Arguably, the reason Washington’s efforts toward Syrian refugees have been lackluster is because of the overwhelming concern about national security that dominates foreign and domestic policy discussions. For a country in which many are still distrustful of Muslims because of their supposed ties to terrorism, the fact that the Syrian refugees come from a country partly controlled by ISIL has stoked opposition to taking many of them in, especially among members of the Republican-controlled Congress.

Should Obama decide to put his money where his mouth is and follow Merkel’s suit with tangible policy changes, he will have to overcome domestic opposition – both from politicians and from the public – that is largely shaped by such security concerns. Like Merkel, he will also have to grapple with the logistical and economic burdens that accompany any influx of refugees. But while Merkel has faced domestic opposition in Germany, just as Obama would have in the United States, the anxiety about “national security” in the United States is a heavy ankle weight for Obama with which Merkel does not have to contend to the same extent.

Over the next few months, as the US government develops better strategies for containing and combating ISIL and as concerns over national security abate, Barack Obama may be able to do more than commend Merkel for her actions; with luck, he will be able to join her leadership and help establish a better life for the thousands of refugees fleeing Syria.