European progressive politics podcast from Brussels
When Conservatives Endanger Democracy — Revisited
News from Spain where a far-right political party called Vox lost seats in the recent general election. Vox are culture warriors in the mould of the US MAGA movement: anti-migrant, anti-LGBT+, anti-Islam, anti-feminist and with a predilection for blocking action on EU climate goals. The response in Brussels to Vox's poor showing was triumphalism. But the uncomfortable truth is that Vox could well have been headed into power as the preferred coalition partner for Alberto Feijóo, the leader of the Spanish conservatives. As it turned out, the July 23 election was a stalemate. A coalition with Vox looks less likely, for now. But Vox could yet form part of a conservative-led government in future. And the prospect of conservatives relying on the far-right mirrors a similar dynamic across Europe. Conservatives already partner with the far-right in Italy, Sweden and Finland and at the regional level in Spain and Austria. Even the leader of Germany's conservative CDU has been eyeing such an arrangement. So how to make sense of this courtship of far-right parties? Can conservatives defang those to their right by co-opting them? Or does co-option merely give bigotry a bigger platform and move politics in a more radical direction? Whatever the case, conservatives bear a special responsibility when making alliances to their right. That special responsibility was the topic of our episode with Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt a couple of years ago. We're re-running an abridged version of that conversation in response to what's happening in Spain — and because we're in the run up to EU election season. The European People’s Party, which groups together centre-right national parties, is flirting more openly than ever with potential allies who represent a new era of blood and soil politics, and who balk at modern progressive democracy — including the need to address climate change. Conservative parties "have to deal with and think about and worry about what happens on their right edges," says Dan. They must "figure out a strategy to distance themselves from these groups, but at the same time not allow these groups to get out of control, and shape politics."
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Polish State Media Gone Rogue
Polish state media still is treated as a legitimate public service by European authorities. Yet many Poles refer to it as a factory of hate. They say Polish state TV and radio first and foremost serve to advance the agenda of the ruling Law and Justice party in Warsaw. And while Silvio Berlusconi of Italy was a pioneer in bullying media, and Viktor Orbán of Hungary took state control to new extremes, the Polish hard right has been quick to catch up. Since Law and Justice came to power eight years ago, Polish state media has become an outlet for demonising judges, LGBT people, and opposition politicians — and the deleterious effects are even felt beyond Poland. In the case of Dorota Bawołek, a respected Polish TV correspondent in Brussels, the abuse appears to follow a pattern. First her words and actions are misrepresented; next those misrepresentations are turned into lurid stories broadcast by Polish state media; and finally Dorota is confronted by an avalanche of online trolling. The attacks on Dorota are part of wider concerns about press freedom that have prompted EU plans for a Media Freedom Act. Among the Act's priorities is stopping governments turning public service media into their mouthpieces — although few observers expect any immediate impact. For its part, the European Broadcasting Union has warned about the undue influence of "political masters" and it says it wants independent oversight of public media. Yet Polish state radio and television remain full EBU members. The latest attack on Dorota came in October after she interviewed Polish politician and former president of the European Council Donald Tusk. Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform is the only real viable challenger to Law and Justice in Poland's upcoming elections. But there are worries the elections will prove neither free nor fair, especially in a media environment largely controlled by Law and Justice. "The game is not fair, for sure," says Dorota. The "media are the fourth power" but "we are being killed and the EU is watching." Listen (in Polish) to Dorota's podcast Stacja Bruksela.
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The Man Bringing Beyond Growth to Brussels
Philippe Lamberts is advancing one of the most progressive agendas ever to reach the upper echelons of the EU power structure. This month the co-head of the Greens at the European Parliament will convene a conference that seeks to change, well, just about everything. The conference is called Beyond Growth — an umbrella term for thinking about how growth in a materially finite world is reaching its limits. All 1,500 seats have been snapped up and thousands of people are expected to watch via the Internet. But what's more remarkable is how Philippe got some of the EU's heaviest hitters to come along too. Among those expected to address the conference: Ursula von der Leyen, the conservative president of the European Commission. Her presence shows the growth debate is no longer "for loonies," says Philippe. But Philippe may also be cover for von der Leyen: she may want to be remembered as someone who at least tried to seek alternatives to growth models and metrics like GDP before the climate crisis worsens. For now, most policymakers are stuck on the idea that we'll be able to find a source of nearly unlimited high efficiency low carbon energy, and that we'll do so in time to avoid sharp declines in standards of living. The resulting inertia infuriates activists like those who disrupted the Brussels Economic Forum this month. They are demanding that the EU jettison an "ideology of infinite economic growth" without delay. But such demands sit awkwardly with winning steady and sustained buy-in from lobbies and voters. So how to face the future with the odds stacked so heavily against a satisfactory outcome? Philippe starts this episode with thoughts on how his Christianity informs his thinking on Beyond Growth — and on how his faith helps him deal with the existential questions we all must now live with.
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The Assault on NGOs
Conveniently at the heart of the EU Qatargate corruption scandal is a rogue NGO. Conveniently, that is, for EU officials and lawmakers who dislike non-governmental organisations. NGOs frequently end up in an awkward relationship with states and international organisations, says Thomas Davies at City University, and that awkwardness increasingly seems to include the EU too. The trigger for the current tensions is an NGO ("Fight Impunity") that allegedly worked with Morocco and Qatar to channel cash to socialist members of the European Parliament. Conservatives, ultraliberals and the far right now are calling for NGOs to pass a kind of EU loyalty test and to classify some NGOs as foreign agents. Carlotta Besozzi, the head of Civil Society Europe, is among those who detect an increasingly hostile environment for NGOs. Among organisations under assault is Femyso, the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations. EU support for Femyso irks MEPs who dislike its fight against Islamophobia and who suggest it has links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Femyso says such allegations are false and malicious and designed to undermine an organisation with no ties to political parties or political movements. Femyso's former president Youssef Himmat was smeared in similar ways by the United Arab Emirates — and his story now forms part of a must-read article in a recent edition of The New Yorker. With thanks to the Open Society Foundations for partnering with EU Scream on this episode.
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Corruption in the Family
Families can go wrong. And unless you've been under a rock these last weeks, you'll know that a number of members of the Socialist family at the European Parliament went very wrong. They allegedly took sack loads of Qatari cash on top of their already generous salaries and benefits in return, it seems, for trying to block their own Socialist colleagues from criticising Qatar's record on human rights. In this episode, Lara Wolters, a Socialist member, gives a first-hand account of being obstructed and misled by two of the prime suspects in the scandal. She also shares her feelings of vindication now that the truth is coming out. Yet Lara shows compassion for Eva Kaili, a young mother like herself, who has been implicated in the so-called Qatargate scandal and separated from her daughter. Also in this episode, a lawmaker from outside the Socialist family: co-president of the Left group Manon Aubry. Manon was convinced she saw the heavy hand of Qatar on lawmakers weeks before news about the scandal broke. So she blew the whistle on social media, where her video on the topic has racked up nearly 70,000 views. Manon, who has emerged as one of the firmest advocates for an EU ethics overhaul, reserves some of her most acid criticism for the conservative EPP group, which she says perpetuated a culture of opacity that has helped breed corruption.
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Putin's barbarism is somehow felt by us all even though it can be hard to get to grips with the magnitude of what's at stake. One reason may be what writer and academic Tom Nichols calls normalcy bias, an inherent resistance to accepting that large changes can upend our lives. Another may be what Lithuanian arts curator Raimundas Malasauskas calls unlearned lessons from history about Russia's imperialist and colonialist drives. Political scientist David Rowe is a Fulbright NATO Security Studies scholar and a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, and he has been looking into why so much of Europe wasn't ready for Putin. David, who's on sabbatical from Kenyon College in the US, gives his personal views about how the EU needs to rethink the role of war and peace in building and maintaining liberal democracy. Among points he addresses in this podcast are the consequences for the Western allies of not spilling their own blood in Ukraine, and the resentment Ukrainians will surely feel if the door to the EU club isn't really open after all. David starts with a description of the philosophical roots — laid some two centuries ago — of the EU's approach to international politics. It's an approach that's helped much of Europe keep the peace over recent decades. But it may also have left Europe flat-footed in the face of abhorrent aggression. "The problem," says David, "is that peace seems so evidently good, that it is very easy to overlook the deep structures that give rise to it."
Poem 11/22 by Ariana Reines.
Video from Mars Returns in Kaunas.
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Keeping up with the EU
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This podcast is dynamite. It is so smart and well presented. It’s about Europe and values. It does not hesitate to be critical of the EU institutions. This is what we need to gather resistance against the far right threat. If you care about the European project listen to EU Scream!