Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why a Greek citizen is not eligible to vote in Greece?

The list of the outrageous and peculiar political decisions that European leaders are taking is growing, as the European elections are approaching.

The Greek PM, Mr. Samaras and his government have revoked the voting rights of Greek citizens living abroad and the Greek citizens (in my opinion), which are second generation immigrants that were born in Greece, by legal migrant parents.

(Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy-led government said it will not allow Greeks living abroad, nor second-generation immigrants living legally in Greece, to vote or stand as candidates, revoking a 2010 law without debate The National Herald).

It seems to me that the Greek government is afraid that the more voices and opinions will be heard during the European and local elections, the more the result will be out of their predictions.

The 2010 law that would allow these individuals to vote has been revoked without a debate. As a Greek of the diaspora, I feel that such decision is outrageous and shows the true colors of Mr. Samaras' government.

I understand that just like the British MP, Mr. David Cameron, that has to deal with the challenging popularity of the euro-skeptic party UKIP, Mr. Samaras has to deal with the rise of Golden Dawn. Both Prime Ministers are so forced to implement right-wing laws, in order to satisfy the rising nationalist sentiments among their country's populations and keep their party's votes.

But revoking the right of citizens to vote is down right undemocratic. I will not be able to vote for a Greek MEP to represent me in the European Parliament for the next 5 years, because my country won't allow me to.

And by European law I won't be able to vote for an Irish or any other European candidate that I chose. Because there is no legislation to allow such thing, or it is as complicated as one could imagine to do so for and Irish MEP. So my voting rights as a European citizen are limited.

The Greek government is obviously afraid of the voting power of the Greek diaspora, that are informed about the economic crisis that troubles the country from another point of view. They follow the developments in Greece through European media, while living in various other political systems and so their judgement is not blurred by the Greek media.

The Greek citizens that still live in Greece, have been subjected to years of misinformation, propaganda and lies from the Greek political elite, in order to maintain or change the current balance of power in the country.

So if the Greek state gave power to its diaspora, the outcome of the elections would potentially be unpredictable for them and obviously that is something they can not risk.

The other infuriating issue is that the children of Greece's legal immigrants, won't yet again be able to vote in the Greek elections and practice their democratic rights. Being born in Greece by non-nationals that legally migrated in the country, should logically make them Greek citizens, eligible to vote. Not in Greece.

And before I continue I would like to make a distinction between the meaning of a Greek national and Greek citizen. Many Greeks and if fact many Europeans are confused about these two and I do not blame them.

Their governments have never bothered to explained the difference to them, so they can always have a card to play their divide and rule game. Poor against rich, public against private sector, native against immigrant, in order to divide public opinion and manipulate it.

A Greek national is somebody that is "of Greek blood", an ethnic Greek whose one or two of his parents is of Greek origin. A Greek citizen on the other hand, is somebody who stayed in Greece for a significant amount of time or was born in it, paid taxes, contributed to the community and was of course a legal immigrant into the country.

As long as these individuals are legally residing in the state for a period of time that the Greek law defines, that makes them Greek citizens and they are entitled to their voting and other full rights, that any Greek citizen must have. I do not understand why certain people think that by allowing a foreigner that has been living in Greece for a decade or so to vote, makes them less Greek and it erodes their "Greekness."

Of course that is an issue that does not exist just in Greece but in many European countries and it must be explained to the people. People who live legally in a country for so long, should be entitled to citizenship and equal rights like every Greek citizen or national.

Both the Greek state and the EU in general must create a pan-European common and clear immigration policy, that will protect the rights of both EU nationals and EU citizens. It will allow only the number of immigrants and with the qualifications we need in Europe, but it will grant them with rights and protect them as citizens, workers and of course human beings.

So far we had irresponsible immigration policies that served nobody but the capitalist elites and their need for a cheap working force with no rights. Illegal immigrants, or seasonal migrants in Europe play this role and these policies should be tightened or revisited. Combined with an economic crisis, they are becoming a dangerous mix that pushes Europeans to the arms of the far-right and euro-skeptic parties. 

What is happening right now in Greece is disgraceful. The Greek government is fearing the change in the well predictable Greek public opinion, that new voters would bring.  If the new Greek citizens have a different opinion or political affiliations than the ordinary Greek national, they can have an impact in the elections.

I personally welcome new voices in the Greek political life to be heard, as Greece needs it desperately. The Greeks, as most other Europeans are voting along family traditions, political ideologies, or personal interests and acquaintances to help them achieve personal and petty financial or material ambitions.

New voters means new ideas and voices that could break this vicious circle and alter the political scene of a country, for the better. If of course these new votes are not linked to naturalization promises, in order to vote for a certain political party.

Rumors have emerged in the past in Greece, of bribed Greek naturalization processes in exchange for loyalty to a certain political party that represented the establishment. These practices alter the result of the election and of course undermine the democratic process, that exists in Greece only by name as it seems. 

Either Mr. Samaras and his government, are fearing the rise of Golden Dawn in the upcoming elections or the influence of new voters, the outcome of their decisions are down right unacceptable and wrong. No government or politician that respects the very word "democracy" and the people who they are supposed to serve, should proceed with the implementation of such laws.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How "European" of you!

The past week I have been reading some very infuriating news stories from across Europe. It proves that sadly nationalism and euro-skepticism are here to stay.

If the European leaders want seriously to maintain the European institutions and project, they will have to show leadership and skillful decision making at last.

The first story comes from a non-EU state, Switzerland. We are very used to the Swiss conservatism and xenophobia, but this time the decisions that this country made, will have an impact in the free movement of people policies in Europe.

In a referendum today, the Swiss decided to put a cap on the number of people entering their country, in an effort to stop "mass immigration." The proposal for the referendum was proposed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party.

About 50.3% of the population voted in favor for the proposed legislation, which will mean that the country will have to abandon its free movement of people treaty with the EU, potentially putting at risk other deals with the organization on trade.

The issue here is if the EU do the same for the Swiss. If EU citizens are not able anymore to move freely in Switzerland, why should after all the Swiss be able to move freely to other European countries? Hopefully the EU will not allow this discriminatory policy towards some of its citizens to be implemented, without applying the same rules on Swiss citizens.

The Swiss are happy to allow capita and money from other nations flowing freely in their country, but when it comes to people, they become a bit choosy! I wonder if they will proceed with free movement limitations for the rich tax evaders that want to settle in their country, or such limitations exist only for the poor EU nationals.

If they were not a tax haven, they wouldn't be as rich and so migrants from poorer countries would not want to go to Switzerland. Now that the visa limitations have expired for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, we are witnessing Britain having a difficulty dealing with it and Switzerland treating us with their good old xenophobic self, by wanting to limit the free movement of EU citizens.

The problem here is that while they are priding themselves about their democracy, sometimes when the decisions they are making are based on populism and their worse self, then their democracy become a "mobocracy". And that is a deviant form of democracy.

The real problem here is migration from the newest EU states, or the crisis hit nations of the euro-zone. And that aspect makes this development even more infuriating, as it is simply racist. When it suits some countries to implement certain laws and legislation they are happy to do so, until populism sets in. Such attitudes are of course not only a Swiss phenomenon.

Most EU nations battle with immigration and populist, right-wing or left-wing parties are mushrooming across Europe. Their growing power is fueled by the economic crisis. Even the country that is considered to be the "heart of Europe," has this week been the ground of a similar story.

Belgium decided to send "burden" EU citizens mainly from Romania, Bulgaria,Italy and Spain, a letter asking them to leave the country. The reason being that they are an "unreasonable burden in the country's welfare system".

The issue that I find peculiar here, is the fact that Belgium has some of the most generous welfare systems in Europe. While in Greece and other countries welfare payments are not being given to job seekers indefinitely, in Belgium they enjoy the benefit of long term social security.

This generosity of the Belgian social welfare system, is what attracts people from other EU and non-EU countries. The real solution to their immigration problem would be to reform their social security policies, making less attractive to "burden" migrants.

But this would also mean that the Belgian "burden" citizens would not enjoy the very generous pay-outs and which Belgian would support such reforms? Where would the Belgian social welfare recipients go, to avail of the very generous support, especially now that Switzerland is closing its doors too? Alternatively Belgium will have to break EU law and apply different legislation for Belgians and another for other EU nationals.

The problem here is that Belgium is what the capital regions are in every country. The capital cities are always enjoying  more affluent social services and infrastructure, than the peripheral regions of a country. Belgium does not produce as much as it did in the past and in fact it is one of the net recipients from the EU budget, because it hosts the majority of the EU institutions and the European "capital," Brussels.

In other words, the wealth of the country is not just "Belgian" to keep it just for the Belgian citizens. And let's not even talk about the fact that a lot of that wealth comes from their ex colonies, during the era of the country's colonial expansion.

I do not disapprove the right that every country has to protect its interests, democratically decide on its laws and practice what it thinks it is best for its citizens. But either it is Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, France, Greece, Germany or many other European nations, we observe a lack of real solidarity between them.

Each nation pursues only its interests and they succumb to the rising populism and pressure of extremist political parties. Instead of helping the countries of origin of these immigrants, or reforming their own social security policies to make them less attractive, they decided to go for the easiest option to deport-even if they ask politely- the migrants.

If Europe actually helped countries such Romania, Bulgaria or even Greece, Italy and Spain by encouraging job creating and investing in them, then their citizens would not be forced to migrate. The example of Italy itself is something that Europe must avoid at all costs.

During the unification process of Italy, the northern part of the continent invited the rest of the country to unite with them. But instead of practicing solidarity, they have exploited them politically and economically, forcing them eventually to migrate to the northern part of the country and all over the world. And while it was Northern Italy that predominantly wanted to unite the country, they are now the ones who want to secede from the South.

That is exactly what is happening in Europe too. Even though the Belgians claim that what they are doing is within the laws of the EU and they are right of course, they are missing the point. People will stop coming to Belgium and become a "burden," only if they have jobs in their countries.

Of course I could not leave out from the list of recent euro-skeptic incidents, the developments in perhaps the most euro-skeptic countries of all: Britain.

British Conservative MEPs have cried foul over a proposal to create a permanent European Parliament sub-committee to deal with the single currency, saying it would have “major implications for the UK to regulate its financial services sector” and represented an attempt to “curtail” the influence of British MEPs.

Syed Kamall, the leading British Tory MEP in the European Parliament, said such a development would be divisive and dangerous. "To create a separate committee that only euro-zone MEPs may belong to sets a dangerous precedent. It is a case of divide and rule,” he said. (EurActiv.com)

I guess the British understand better the practice of diving and rule, since it is a policy that they have been applying for a long time. The funniest thing in this story is that the conservative MEPs, who would be excluded from the proposed sub-group, fear that important decisions could be taken behind their back.

Then why Britain is having a referendum to leave the EU, since if they do, that is what exactly going to happen. The British wish to stay in the single market, without being a full member of the union. But if they want to stay in the free trade zone, they will have to comply with policies that will be decided by the EU Commission, Parliament and Council in which they will not have any delegates, as they will have left the union!

In other words the rest of Europe will decide policies that the UK will have no say on, but it will have to comply with. It is laughable and ridiculous! One would start to believe that the British leadership does not know what it wants anymore. Here he have the British PM Mr. David Cameron pleading the Scottish people not to leave the UK, because together they are stronger (or because England has access to the Northern Sea oil reserves).

But they reject the exact same argument for the case of themselves leaving the EU altogether.The union is stronger if all states stay together and cooperate. The British conservatives not only do not want the EU to proceed with further integration, they threaten to leave the club unless they get what they want, yet they still wish to have a say on what the EU should do or not, with or without them. I guess De Gaul was right after all!

Friday, February 7, 2014

A excellent example of US foreign policy towards Europe!

The latest development in the Ukrainian crisis, offers us a glimpse of what is really going on behind closed doors on a diplomatic and geopolitical level, while people in the streets of Kiev are fighting for their country's future.

In an alleged "leaked" telephone conversation of the new American top diplomat for Europe, Mrs. Victoria Nuland with the US Ambassador in Kiev Mr. Geoff Pyatt, Mrs Nuland suggested that it must be the UN who should "glue" the developments in Ukraine and "F*ck the EU!"

This incident throws a light in many issues that are taking place in Europe and the world. It is clear that no development, being in Ukraine, Syria, Brazil, Greece or elsewhere, is meddling free from the great powers of the globe.

Either it is the USA, Russia or Europe, all are trying to serve their interests in the region by pushing an agenda, while opportunistically grabbing any chance or social upheaval in key nations like Ukraine to achieve their goals. The Americans want to push the country into the arms of the West, while the Russians understandably oppose the expansion of American and European influence into what they believe it is their sphere.

In other words the protests now are not just about what the Ukrainian people want, but also about what the big powers and players in the region are after. This will mean that whatever the initial protests back in November were about or wanted to achieve, it will be now much more difficult to accomplish since America and Russia are actively engaging.

The Ukrainian people are not fighting just to overthrow their leaders, but from now on-if not from the beginning- they will be fighting to help establish a new status quo in the region. This can have potentially very dangerous or disastrous consequences for the country and the EU-Russia relations.

Sadly for the Ukraine, it lies in a very strategic location and is a country with vast resources, both natural and human. Those important assets are the main reason of the country's suffering and why the Russians, Europeans and the Americans are so engaged in the protests and developments in the country.

The most obvious threat is of course that Ukraine might split up, or even worse that this split won't be a peaceful one. Secondly if Europe takes the side of America, though it will be stupid to do so after what was said by Mrs Nuland and the recent NSA scandal, it risks a serious blow with its already strained relations with Russia.

We must not forget that Europe still relies heavily on Russia for its gas and besides, the more the EU expands the more shared borders it has with Russia. It is not wise to be always on each others' throats. If Europe starts speaking with one united voice in the global political  scene, it can be a serious contestant and player in the world.

The Russians will respect Europe only if we show unity and solidarity among us and do not be afraid to stand up for our interests, either we do so towards Russia, USA, China or any other global power that may arise in the future. The EU and Russia ought to come closer and in the same time Europe should distance itself from America a bit.

Our continent should start actively pursue its own interests, while having its voice heard in the world and its region. It is clear from this new scandal and from the Snowden revelations on the NSA activities in Europe, that America is not always in the same boat with EU, nor that our interests are always best served by being so closely attached to them.

America has its own agenda that is not always in-sync with Europe's. In other words it is time for the EU to affirm itself both as global player, but also against Russia and America and stop them from imposing their will over our territories.

The Americans obviously wanted Europeans to impose sanctions against Ukraine and because of Europe's slow response, the US diplomats get frustrated. They do not understand that the EU has 28 member states, each with a different view and it is hard to come to a decision quickly.

Besides any sanctions against Ukraine could push the country further away from the EU. If these proposed sanctions are targeting Ukraine as a country or the Ukrainian people, in a time that they need our help the most, they could have the opposite result than the desired.

If we target the country's political and diplomatic leadership and place sanctions against them, this could also cement their ties with Russia. Since Europe is punishing them for something they did not really have a choice over, since Russia has still a great economic and political influence over the country, then we give them no choice but to run to "mother" Russia for protection.

The Ukrainian leadership rejected the EU-Ukraine free trade deal, because it had no choice. The Russians basically have blackmailed them to achieve their goal. The Ukrainian people are right to protest and their dedication is admirable and inspiring for the rest of Europe. But if things happen too hastily, the result could be a greater violence escalation.

What Europe could do perhaps, is not trying offer a "carrot" to the Ukrainian leadership in order to lure it into its sphere of influence, rather offer this carrot to the Russians so that they let Ukraine go, or at least ease on them. In other words, good EU-Russia relations are key in solving the conflict and America is not helping by being hasty and acting like a bully.

Finally Europe must stand for human rights, either it is within the EU or in its neighboring countries like Ukraine. If the EU stands for its own citizens, it will always remain a beacon that will attract the citizens of all European nations, including Ukraine. In other words Europe is right to wait before it intervenes, but it should engage with the Ukrainian and the Russian leadership immediately as a mediator though not as America's envoy.

Rather as a friend, neighbor and collaborator of both sides and with the best interests of the Ukrainian people in mind.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ireland and the EU.

The economic crisis has had an impact on how European voters, including the Irish, view the EU right now. 

In an interview with Neale Richmond, the policy and projects manager of the European Movement of Ireland (EMI),we discussed about the various misconceptions that the Irish or the European voters in general have about the EU. 

We also talked about the various mistakes that took place on national and European level, that had an impact in shaping the European and Irish public opinion. Neale immediately spotted a problem when we are referring to the EU. A mistake that a lot of people make, is that they see the organization as something foreign and distant based in Brussels. 

“Ireland is the EU; it is an equal member of the group of 28 countries. So when we are questioning if the EU treated Ireland right during the crisis for example, it is a two way thing. Ireland got into a difficulty and they got bailed out by a Troika of the EU Commission, the IMF and the ECB. We would not get this assistance if we were not in the EU,” Neale explains.

“The measures that were implemented by the Troika through the program were extremely tough, but ultimately they have worked. We are the first country to leave the program in the EU and we are doing so in a fairly buoyant climate. Growth is expected to go up next year, consumer confidence is back, the property prices are rising and there are job announcements,” he continues. 

The crash was partly caused by international factors, but there were also huge domestic issues which the EU raised with the then government. The EU is not responsible for the crash although they are not blame free. “Equally so the EU is not solely responsible for our bail-out program: we are an equal partner, we agreed to that program and we got one of the best terms there were available to us,” Neale says.

The EU is an easy punching bag according to him, when people are facing tough decisions and start paying property tax, water rates, they are seeing services cut and a huge amount of money going out of the public sector pay. “We have to take personal responsibility. The EU did not force people in 2004 to buy a second apartment, or five apartments in Bulgaria as an investment opportunity,” he explains. 

“It is understandable there is animosity towards the EU because they are the face of the bail-out. But ultimately they did not decide the recovery program for Ireland, our government did in partnership with them,” he continues.

Ireland often comes under criticism from other European leaders, over its tax regime. One of the challenges of Europe as an entity and as a place to do business and trade, is that there are 28 different tax regimes. Ireland’s corporate tax rate is 12.5 % while in France the effective corporate rate for certain departments is 4%. 

So Neale believes that it is a bit unfair for these leaders to pick on Ireland. It is very much the Irish government’s consistent policy, supported by all parties across the political spectrum that Ireland's taxation system is not to be changed. The EU has absolutely no power to change the country's corporate tax rate and no intention to do so.

"Certain people can talk about this issue because they are losing business to Ireland. We are a very attractive place to do business, but not just because of our corporate tax rate. Ireland has an English speaking and well educated population, it is a member of the EU and it has established links with the USA, Canada and Australia already. It is a number of collective points that give us an advantage,” explains Neale. 

Ireland’s income tax rate is much higher than a lot of mainland European countries. The Baltic States have a flat tax and the Nordic countries a much higher income tax rate, so it is not accurate to say that Ireland is a completely low tax entity. 

Ireland may be one of the smallest countries in the EU, but that does not mean it is not equal. “We would very much like to see our role as it traditionally has been, showing leadership at times when an honest broker is needed in the continent. But also to keep developing Ireland’s role within Europe, to make sure that Ireland is proactive in the EU," states Neale.

The country's international reputation got absolutely destroyed in 2008, due to the economic crisis. It is slowly being rectified and the key to the Irish recovery is through its role in the EU, but also by embracing the opportunities that the EU presents. 

If Ireland is to keep its influence in Europe it must be proactive. “Our ministers need to remain attentive and vocal in the EU Council meetings and be positive. Our MEPs need to continue working hard in the EP to show Ireland in a good light. We can’t go back to auction politics and be negative towards the EU or ignore its directorates. We need to continue being on a sensible path to recovery with whichever government is in charge, we can not risk tarnishing our reputation again,” says Neale. 

The year of 2013 has been really busy for the EMI and they are doing a lot of reflection at the moment. Not just because Ireland had the Presidency for the first half of the year, but because as organization they sought to spread their work load and to develop. "The EMI is linked to Ireland’s role in the EU. When Ireland is really engaging with the EU, we are quite big and active organization. When both Ireland and the EU are more distant we do shrink as an organization as people are not as interested," explains Neale.

"We look forward to 2014. It is the European Year of the Citizens again and also there are the European elections, so we will be doing a lot of work on increasing people’s knowledge and interest in the European Parliament, its role in Ireland and the importance of these elections," he continues. 

Voting turnout is not too bad in the elections in Ireland, but the challenge is to make sure that people take the European and local elections as seriously as the general elections. It is understandable that people aren’t taking them as seriously, because they do not see the impact and they do not get much coverage. 

The challenge to the politicians is to keep the narrative European and to show people how important this is. There isn’t a distinction between local and European issues during the elections. "When it comes to European elections, far too many candidates will make it about local issues, or about an issue that there isn’t a European line to play. I am sure we are going to have campaigners who are against the water and property charges running in the European elections, when really they are not European issues," says Neale.

The Irish constitution requires a referendum and approval by the citizens, each time there must be changes to it. Both Nice and Lisbon Treaties were subjects to referendum and in both cases the referendum was run for a second time, after there have been changes to the Treaties. 

"The government that run the first Lisbon Treaty was ridiculously unpopular at the time and that followed through in the elections that came after it. There is always a kick against the government and as all the established parties were in favor, it was a bit of an anti-establishment thing to vote No," explains Neale.

During the Lisbon and with Nice referendums, a number of issues were raised. In Lisbon there were definitely concerns over loosing the Permanent Commissioner, so that was rectified and changed. There were also misplaced concerns about abortion, conscription, about defense and various other things. However there were amends made to the Treaty, to make sure that Ireland was exempt from all that. "That is what happens in treaties," Neale adds. 

The biggest shortcoming that the EU has is lack of communication. Communications skills in the EU don’t necessary translate out and beyond Brussels. "We need to see the EU being far clearer and working with organizations like ourselves," states Neale.

"The Commission representation offices in Ireland and across the EU do a lot of very good work, but there is still more that can be done. We must make sure that people are educated and aware about the EU, because then they are going to be more positive about it," he explains. 

Ireland as a member of the EU does very well for its size that needs to be acknowledged. "One shortcoming that we still have is that we are heavily relying on the UK and that is going to be a massive challenge, if in 2017 the UK opts to leave the EU. That’s when Ireland is going to be faced with real difficulty and it is a huge concern. We should try and maintain the British interest in the EU," Neale concludes.