Does honesty matter? The example of Nigel Farage

Also posted on Labour International Paris’s blog, here.

“Cheeky chappy”.

“You’d have a pint with him.”

“The others ones are such odd twats.”

Every single reasonably aware British voter has heard these phrases – or similar versions thereof – with regards to Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, that seemingly unstoppable political juggernaut currently on 20-30% in most national polls for the upcoming European election in May, closely behind Labour. This improbable party leader, this Eurosceptic husband of a German wife, this former commodities trader now seen as a “man of the people” figure by many Britons, is such a Teflon politician that he even experienced a bump in popularity when it was revealed that he may well have been conducting an affair with his longstanding spokeswoman Annabelle Fuller (an affair that was an open secret for many UKIP members).

This comes despite much talk of expenses scandals, a lack of commitment to parliamentary duties, and the regular nomination of what more than one Tory has called “swivel eyed loons” as candidates for office at a European, national and local level. One look at current and recent Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is enough to see that apart from Mr. Farage himself, UKIP’s elected representatives in Brussels have made sexist comments and been accused of sexual assault, been convicted and jailed for expenses fraud, and in the case of Ashley Mote held onto an MEP position despite actually serving prison time while still in office.

One might think any mainstream political movement would have long disappeared if it had UKIP’s record and elected officials. Yet even in polling for the upcoming general election in 2015 – national elections being notoriously bad for third, fourth and fifth parties – UKIP is polling at 10-15%, often ahead of the Liberal Democrats, and certainly high enough that it is now systematically counted as a “big” national party and not a fringe movement. How is this possible?

Well, let’s call it the “Berlusconi factor” – or perhaps the “Rob Ford factor”, after the crack cocaine-smoking drunkard who is currently mayor of Toronto. This factor is one that I remember all too well from my teenage years (in the early 2000s) in Dublin, when the obviously corrupt and incompetent Bertie Ahern (who once, as I remember, declared that drink driving rules shouldn’t apply to him as he ‘could drive just fine after ten pints’) was Prime Minister (or Taoiseach, as the Irish would say). The general populace had little to no trust in Ahern, yet he was elected in 1997 and re-elected twice thererafter. One might also call it the “George W Bush factor”, after that famous teetotaler who was voted into office as the candidate that the electorate would like to have a beer with.

That factor decreases with time, as voters actually see what such obvious populists can and will do once they actually get into power. However, it’s a slow process – Berlusconi is only now being gradually pushed to the sidelines – and the damage in terms of the destruction of public trust in their elected officials as obviously bonkers politicians exercise public office in the meantime is potentially awful. Little to nothing suggests that UKIP’s popularity is waning even as light is shed on the inner workings of the party. When and where their progression will be stopped is not clear.

Putin’s ploy in Ukraine should be resisted at the ballot box

Also posted in EurActiv here. Co-written with Anna Garmash and Anna Jaillard Chesanovska.

Vladimir Putin’s ploy to show that he is not in control of the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine is working well. The world now wonders if the Russian president is truly in control of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, write authors from the EuroMaidan France Collective, calling for Ukrainians to vote massively at the 25 May Presidential election.

The day after the pseudo-referendum organised by the pro-Russian separatists and characterised by massive fraud, Russia unsurprisingly called on all parties to “respect the will of the people of Eastern Ukraine”.

Last week, Vladimir Putin surprised the West by asking the separatists to push back the referendum and promised to withdraw his troops from the Ukrainian border, as well as expressing cautious approval of the 25 May presidential vote.

Vladimir Putin’s ploy to show that he is not in control of the pro-Russian insurgents is working well. The world now wonders if the Russian president is truly in control of the situation in Eastern Ukraine.

A week after his declaration that gave us some hope of an end to the crisis, we are now just as bitterly disappointed as ever: the Russian troops are still amassed at the border and the referendum – that Russia now demands be respected – did indeed take place on 11 May. Moreover, Ukrainian security services recently intercepted a significant money transfer from Moscow destined for the separatists who were preparing their “referendum” in Eastern Ukraine.

What motivates Vladimir Putin? The Russian president is one of the richest individuals in the world, has an unhealthily tight grasp on power and strongly disapproves of the creation of a free and democratic state on the other side of the Russian border. A united Ukraine free of the corruption that has kept it from developing for so many years is a direct threat not only for his power, but also his imperialistic ambitions – building a new Russian empire for which a strong Europe would be an obstacle.

In this worrying context, the 25 May is a decisive date for all of Europe. Presidential elections in Ukraine and European Parliament elections across the EU have only two possible outcomes: either contributing to building a stronger Europe or exposing us all to economic and geopolitical threats that will weaken Europe still further.

It is, therefore, our duty as Ukrainian and European citizens alike to go out, vote, and say no to the conservative, authoritarian Europe influenced by the Kremlin’s ideas and defended by Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Heinz-Christian Strache, Nigel Farage and so many other populists. We must support a strong, united and democratic Europe. We must support Ukraine.

Ukraine, Europe: le 25 mai, stoppons Poutine dans les urnes

Egalement publié dans EurActiv ici. Co-rédigé avec Anna Garmash et Anna Jaillard Chesanovska.

La tactique de Vladimir Poutine qui vise à démontrer son absence de contrôle sur les insurgés pro-russes semble bien fonctionner. Il appartient maintenant aux citoyens Ukrainiens et européens de stopper l’Europe de Poutine et des populistes lors des élections du 25 mai.

Le lendemain du pseudo-référendum organisé par les séparatistes pro-russes et entaché de fraudes massives, la Russie, sans grande surprise, appelle à « respecter la volonté des Ukrainiens de l’Est qui se sont exprimés ».

La semaine dernière Vladimir Poutine a surpris l’Occident en demandant aux séparatistes de reporter le référendum et en promettant de retirer ses troupes des frontières ukrainiennes, tout en approuvant à demi mot les élections présidentielles du 25 mai.

La tactique de Vladimir Poutine qui vise à démontrer son absence de contrôle sur les insurgés pro-russes semble bien fonctionner. Le monde s’interroge : le Président russe maîtrise-il vraiment la situation dans l’est de l’Ukraine ?

Une semaine après sa déclaration qui avait donné un semblant d’espoir pour une sortie de crise, le constat est amer : les troupes russes sont toujours massées aux frontières et le référendum – que la Russie demande désormais de respecter – a bien eu lieu le 11 mai dernier. Pire encore, les services ukrainiens ont intercepté le virement d’une importante somme d’argent provenant de Moscou pour le compte des séparatistes en plein préparatifs du « référendum » dans l’est de l’Ukraine.

Mais quel est le but de Vladimir Poutine ? Le Président russe est l’une des plus grosses fortunes du monde, il s’accroche frénétiquement au pouvoir  et voit d’un très mauvais œil la création d’un Etat libre et démocratique  à ses frontières. Une Ukraine unie et débarrassée de la corruption qui la ronge depuis tant d’années est une menace directe non seulement pour son pouvoir, mais aussi pour son projet aux ambitions impérialistes, celui de la construction d’un nouvel empire russe et pour lequel une Europe forte serait un obstacle.

Dans ce contexte tendu, la date du 25 mai est décisive pour l’avenir de l’Europe entière. Ce jour des élections présidentielles en Ukraine et des élections européennes aura deux issues possibles : ou bien il posera les nouvelles bases d’une Europe forte, ou  bien l’exposera à tous les dangers économiques et  géopolitiques qui l’affaibliront encore plus.

Il est par conséquent de notre devoir, à nous tous citoyens ukrainiens et européens, de dire “non” à l’Europe conservatrice, autoritaire et influencée par les idées du Kremlin que défendent Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Heinz-Christian Strache, Nigel Farage et bien d’autres populistes. Soutenons une Europe forte, unie et démocratique. Soutenons l’Ukraine.

Climate change and food security: The world is watching

Also posted in EurActiv here.

The European Union and its member states must act to provide its scientists with the tools they need to ensure and enhance food security at a time of massive global changes. This needs to happen today – not tomorrow – as the world is watching.

“The whole world is watching”. That was the cry of anti-war demonstrators in Chicago in 1968, imploring their leaders to act. Today, Europe’s leaders are at the same crossroads when it comes to climate change and food security. The Commission, national governments and policy-makers across the continent know all too well that they must act – and that their failure to do so could be fatal. Yet too many EU Member States still do not support vital research infrastructures like AnaEE (Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems) that provide the experimental tools, data, predictive models and mitigation and management strategies that will help us respond to climate change in a sustainable way, with a proper understanding of the impact of our actions on food production, health and biodiversity.

Climate change has already had a sizeable impact on crop growth and yields, as well as natural ecosystems. Coupled with continued population growth that will bring the world’s population to 9.6 billion people by 2050, as well as improvements in living standards in many emerging countries, this means that we must do far more to ensure we find and maintain that delicate balance between feeding the planet and reducing our environmental impact thereupon. The future is uncertain – and we do not currently have all the tools and models we need to anticipate what these changes will mean for food production and supply, as well as biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

Many believed until recently, despite climate change and increasing global population, that we had several decades of surplus ahead of us. However, it is clear that pressures on the food supply are growing. The sustainability of agricultural, forested and freshwater ecosystems is under threat due to climate change, loss of biodiversity, land use changes, and disturbance of biogeochemical cycles.

The problem is so acute that it is estimated that a third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming. (1) This particularly impacts the poorest regions of the world. Regions such as Southern Europe are particularly at risk of water shortages. (2) More extreme variations in temperature and precipitation are playing havoc with agricultural production and growth trends of yields of major crops – especially wheat – have declined over the past two decades. (3)

But the answer is not merely intensification. Land use change resulting from expansion of agricultural land is one of the main contributors to the growth of CO2 emissions (4) while also putting an ever greater strain on the water supply. Add to that the impact of the increasing frequency of extreme climatic events, like the summer heat wave of 2003 which led to €36 billion of economic losses for the agriculture sector in the EU and to large carbon losses from ecosystems, and it is clear that we need to find smarter and more sustainable ways to produce more food with fewer resources. This includes a complete understanding of the impact of the inputs used in farming and the impact of the outputs of human activity, such as pesticides, herbicides, NPK fertilisers, run-off and the like.

Our understanding of how precisely climatic changes and the impact of human activity affect ecosystems is still incomplete, however. That is why we must do more to support research initiatives in the area of agriculture, food and climate that will allow us to test and validate models showing how fluctuations in temperature, CO2, soil acidity, nutrients and other factors affect food production, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

International research programmes like the CGIAR research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) have been initiated to address such questions for the developing world. Within Europe, 21 EU Member States came together in 2010 to launch the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI), which aims to foster collaboration among national agencies and ministries to work toward alignment of research programming at the intersection of the areas of agriculture, food security and climate change.

However, while Europe’s research community knows that at a time of financial uncertainty it must try to do more with less, the sophisticated research infrastructures that will provide answers to these burning questions must be adequately funded and supported. One key example of this is AnaEE (Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems) – currently bringing together 13 research bodies from 10 countries.

Launched in November 2012, AnaEE aims to provide Europe’s researchers in agriculture and environmental science with a distributed, integrated network of platforms and central hubs that will help them find experimental solutions to key global challenges.

Aiming both to bring Europe’s scientists together under one roof and foster cooperation with other parts of the world, AnaEE has already built cooperation with similar networks in the USA (NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network) and Australia (TERN, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network), with a Memorandum of Understanding in process. As AnaEE realises that it cannot respond to climate change alone, it is also building links with existing European research infrastructures such as ICOS (carbon observation) and LifeWatch (e-infrastructure for biodiversity), including common sites and tools.

Yet while AnaEE has received initial funding for its preparatory phase, as well as funding from a handful of national governments, much more needs to be done: while support from governments like France, Italy, Belgium and the UK is strong, most others have yet to invest in this vital research infrastructure that will allow Europe’s scientists to conduct high-tech experiments that will provide real solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

We also believe that private sector companies big and small, from sectors including food and drink, mining, paper and steel, as well as the pesticide and fertiliser industries who have a vested interest in understanding the impact of their products, have a role to play in helping scientists develop the kind of environmental management and mitigation strategies – as well as impact assessment – that will help them be more sustainable in future.

Europe must act to provide its scientists with the tools they need to ensure and enhance food security at a time of massive global changes. This needs to happen today – not tomorrow. We cannot afford to wait. The whole world is watching.

(1) Nkonya E, Gerber N, Baumgartner P et al. (2011) The Economics of Land Degradation Toward an Integrated Global Assessment. Development Economics and Policy. Volume 66, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien.

(2) Fereres E, Orgaz F, Gonzalez-Dugo V (2011) Reflections on food security under water scarcity. Journal of Experimental Botany, 62, 4079–4086.

(3) Olesen JE, Trnka M, Kersebaum KC et al. (2011) Impacts and adaptation of European crop production systems to climate change. European Journal of Agronomym, 34, 96–112.

(4) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) Climate change: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. In: Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York.

Europe, Labour and the next general election: Labour International Paris debates

Cross-posted from LIP’s website (original blog post here)

Our latest general meeting (5 February 2014) saw our first ever formal debate, which will take place bi-monthly. The purpose of the debates is to explore key issues to the movement while encouraging members to explore alternative perspectives and ideas. Two volunteers spoke on alternative sides, tasked not necessarily to express their own opinion but rather to present a coherent argument for or against the motion. This then facilitated the debate amongst the group so that all members (including the original speakers) could discuss their own perspectives and as a group we could decide how this would guide our future policy.   Writing for the first time for Labour International Paris, Evan O’Connell sums up the debate and gives his thoughts on the conclusions drawn.

The ability to live, work and travel without constraints anywhere in Europe is a freedom that most Britons are only technically aware of, but that ex-pats live with every day. It is not a surprise, therefore, that being mostly ex-pats or friends and colleagues of ex-pats, most members of Labour International Paris (LIP) are reasonably pro-European.

Yet Parisian Labourites are but a small fraction of the Party and the movement as a whole – and not necessarily representative of where the country is on European integration. With that in mind, LIP recently organised its latest debate on how Labour should position itself on the EU in the upcoming European elections in 2014 and the subsequent general election in 2015.

Arguing for the motion “The Labour Party should promote greater engagement with Europe”, Ben Rickey focused on changing the narrative around Europe. He described a successful experiment that brought a peace and prosperity continent once divided by war and that continues to provide benefits to its citizens even today, whether in terms of environmental legislation, harmonised rules on telecoms or workers’ rights.

At the same time, in acknowledging that Europe faces significant challenges today, Rickey pleaded for a strong Britain in a strong Europe, underlining that “Europe needs reform, and reform can only be achieved by effective engagement.” Economic reforms that would bring growth and dynamism back to the EU’s economy could only come to pass if the UK fully participated in the decisions that would shape Europe’s future.

Furthermore, Rickey argued that Labour’s often timid line on Europe has allowed eurosceptics to define the terms of the debate and allow misconceptions and falsehoods to become commonly accepted by the British population. It was Labour’s duty to counter these lies and mistruths. In so doing, and in turning the tables on Europe, Labour could usher in a new era of pro-European politics in the UK.

Dave Parry, meanwhile, shifted the focus of the question from what was right for Britain in the long term to what Labour should do in 2015. Citing Gaitskell and Callaghan, Parry underlined that there was a long-standing Labour Eurosceptic movement and that expressing doubts about the benefits of European integration was certainly not new territory for Labour.

Underlining that “the debate this evening is not about the merits of the EU: it’s about how Labour wins the next election”, Parry pointed out that the Conservatives would undoubtedly focus on Europe and the referendum pledge: “If Ed wants to show how he is different by promoting his own judgment, he should not promote greater engagement with Europe. He needs to stand up to the perceived view that a Labour leader is a ‘blind follower of the EU gravy train’.”

Reminding attendees of Tony Blair’s ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ speech, Parry pleaded for a ‘tough love’ discourse acknowledging the criticisms by many that “[T]he EU is too expensive, bureaucratic, and not fit for purpose in its present state” and arguing that Britain needs to have greater control on access to its labour market. Suggesting openness to a referendum on EU membership, he argued, would help win support with non-Labour voters and help Ed into no. 10.

While attendees generally agreed more with the sentiments expressed by Ben Rickey in favour of a pro-EU line, there was sympathy for Dave Parry’s argument that an EU-critical position might be more electorally sound. While some suggested that Labour would in any case be perceived as pro-EU and should be proud of its position, others felt that there was little upside in being perceived as out of touch with the views of a majority of Britons who seem to support loosening ties with the continent.

A hope for a change in UK political discourse in the long term was generally shared by most, however – and as suggested by both Ben Rickey and Flora Bolter, LIP activists and sympathisers committed themselves to knocking on doors as part of the PES grassroots “#KnockTheVote” initiative. All agreed that LIP should continue building ties with the PES Paris CityGroup (FacebookTwitter) and with the local Paris “Fédération” of the French Socialist Party.

Evan O’Connell

The EU should lead by example on interns’ rights

This open letter to EU officials – drafted by myself and Philippe Perchoc (postdoctoral researcher, Université catholique de Louvain) – was published in EurActiv on 17 September 2013. It was signed by 240 students, graduates, young professionals and sympathisers from in and around Europe. You can find the original link here.

A far-flung delegation of the EU’s External Action Service that will remain unnamed recently published an advertisement for an internship. It called for:

“a dynamic and highly motivated trainee […] for a period of four to six months” with “university studies in political science, international relations, economics or law at master level […] very good Russian (with the ability to follow news, conferences and seminars held in Russian) [… and] previous experience/knowledge of Central Asia and the CIS region”.

For such specific qualifications, halfway across the world, one would surely expect some kind of remuneration, or at least free room and board. Yet the delegation head helpfully specified that “the internship is unpaid and there is no allowance for transport and living costs”. Shocking, from an EU body? Yes – but it’s also unfortunately frightfully common in the realm of EU affairs, both in the public and the private sector.

A recent resolution from the European Parliament drafted by Polish centre-right MEP Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska, approved on Wednesday, called for quality standards for pay, working conditions and health and safety in traineeships. Nevertheless, even the EU’s institutions often offer unpaid or underpaid internships. Employers in the private sector – lobbying firms, trade associations and the like – are even worse offenders. This is unacceptable, and the European institutions should lead by example and end this practice.

We are professors, lecturers, communicators, parliamentary assistants, young professionals, recent graduates and students. We are from all four corners of Europe. We are all university graduates, from schools ranging from the College of Europe, SciencesPo Paris, LSE and many others. Many of us have already done one or more unpaid internships. We are talented, multi-lingual and committed to making the world a better place.

We understand that Europe’s failure to handle the crisis means jobs are hard to go by. But young people also need to pay their rents. Europe is full of young adults who have dreams – and in some cases, families – and who would love to work for the European Union and other noble institutions and further the cause of European integration. But not for free. They should not have to pay for the crisis by allowing unscrupulous employers to exploit Europe’s youth – often illegally.

Unpaid internships increase social inequalities by excluding many Europeans who cannot afford to live in Brussels or other cities without a salary: only the offspring of the wealthy can enjoy the benefits that such traineeships provide on a CV. That, combined with the societal impact of millions of Europeans in their late 20s without stable incomes, is surely a strong enough argument to support a fair wage for interns.

We call for employment law to be applied across the board, and for internships to cover a reasonable (if often small!) portion of living costs in line with national and European legislation. This is already the case in many European countries – notably in France, where all internships must now be paid – but it is not generally the case in Brussels, where thousands of young graduates compete for unpaid traineeships in EU affairs.

We do not believe that it is unreasonable to expect that employers should provide a basic minimum remuneration for what young people bring to the table. We welcome the Parliament’s resolution and hope that this is just the beginning – and that this can be a wake-up call to public and private employers across Europe to treat their interns with respect.

Signed,

Young professionals of Europe

RIP Richard Descoings (1958-2012)

Image

“Descoings was a great public servant who dedicated his entire life to the cause he’d chosen: education.. He was a pioneer in opening up internationally and in seeking new financing, a tireless and passionate worker.” — Nicolas Sarkozy

Enough has perhaps already been said about the death of Richard Descoings, but as a recent (2010) Sciences Po graduate, I wanted to weigh in on the passing of a man who profoundly transformed my alma mater and contributed so much to changing how education and social mobility is seen in France.

Descoings was, as Le Monde so aptly put it, a “revolutionary in a frozen educational world”. A graduate of both Sciences Po and France’s National School of Administration (ENA), Descoings – “Ritchie” to his students and friends – was a career civil servant and former adviser to then-Education Minister Jack Lang before taking over as Director of Sciences Po (the Paris Institute of Political Studies, France’s most prestigious school of social studies and the alma mater of countless government ministers and several presidents) in 1996.

Seen as a safe choice, a product of France’s political and civil service elite, Descoings did not take long to profoundly shake things up at what was once a rather staid establishment. Labelled an “iconoclast” by Le Point, he grew the school from 4000 to 10000, increased the percentage of foreign students from near nothing to 40%, opened satellite undergraduate campuses in provincial French cities, and, most importantly, reformed the admissions system to open up a new track for poor youths from disadvantaged backgrounds – a move that attracted much criticism at the time as “American-style affirmative action” but which has produced impressive results.

In addition, he also grew the stature of the university abroad. Signing countless partnership agreements with foreign universities and setting up a vast range of double degree programmes, he turned what was once an extremely inward-facing “Franco-French” establishment into one of the few French universities to be consistently ranked among the world’s best.

He also made somewhat more questionable choices – notably increasing fees dramatically (though also substantially growing scholarship programmes for poorer families), and increasing bonuses for senior management. Yet despite this, he was loved by his students – a father figure, a friend, constantly interacting with the Sciences Po community in the halls of the institution and online. He was also a close advisor to countless ministers and government officials on the left and the right, moving the national discussion on education from one stuck in old dogmas to a gradual realisation that more needs to be done for youths from poor and immigrant backgrounds, and that results at school are not the only measurement of intelligence and ability. Indeed, one only needs to look at the tributes pouring in from politicians and public figures from across the political spectrum – from Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé on the right to François Hollande on the left, as well as figures like Ban Ki-Moon abroad – to see just how much of an impact he has had on education and beyond both in France and overseas.

He remains an inspiration even after his passing, and he will be sorely, sorely missed within the Sciences Po community and beyond. RIP.