German and Greek Citizens Talking Politics: The Eurocrisis and Political Participation
Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands, The
The financial crisis affected European countries to a diverging extent. Southern European countries were hit hard and had to resort to economic assistance from the EU and the IMF on the condition that they apply harsh austerity to their constituents. Northern European countries appear to have survived the crisis, yet citizens were obliged to provide credit to crisis-hit countries and receive increased immigration flows. Citizens’ political responses to the crisis differ as well. Social movement formation and voting for the left was the response of southern Europeans, while northern Europeans voted increasingly for the (populist) right. Why is this the case? The present paper attempts to answer the question by focusing on the protagonists of the crisis, i.e. Greek and German citizens, examining their experience of the crisis and their consequent political strategies. Eighteen focus group discussions were conducted in Germany and Greece with lower and higher educated citizens of various age groups as part of the ERC-funded research programme POLPART (http://www.polpart.org/project/). Grounded theory analysis of the discussions indicates that the financial crisis politicized different issues in the public agenda in these two countries. The economy and generalized political disenchantment at the national and European level were the fundamental issues in the Greek discussions, whereas immigration and European integration monopolized the discussion in Germany. With Greece facing a simultaneous crisis of democratic representation, citizens turned their backs to the political system, by participating in the Indignant movement and by punishing the centrist parties that mishandled the crisis. They voted instead for the left, which mobilized around anti-austerity demands. In Germany citizens primarily rewarded the (responsible) governing coalition that kept them out of the crisis, expressing though their discontent by voting for the populist right, which voices demands for control over immigration. The European question was politicized as well. Even though the European ideal remains strong, citizens in both countries were critical of the EU perceiving it as a distant technocratic institution. Yet Greek citizens were more disapproving addressing what they perceive as a structural inequality between powerful and weak countries in the EU, with the former calling the shots and the latter mere accepting what was decided for them. Thus the financial crisis contributed to a politicization of the European question and led to a radicalization of political strategies, but was articulated differently in the two countries based on their democratic experience, the severity of the crisis, citizens demands and the supply of political organizations.
Direct democracy in Europe - empowerment of citizens or instrument of populist elites?
University of Graz, Austria
The European crisis is also a crisis of democracy: Turnout at elections is decreasing, the established parties are losing ground, populist and right-wing parties and leaders are winning elections, new social media blur the distinction between information, defamation and propaganda, business corporations influence politics through tax evasion and lobbyism (Barber 1994; Crouch 2008; Preiss/Brunner 2013; Merkel 2015). In this situation, direct democracy seems to offer a new way to strengthen citizens’ political participation. Yet, many recent referenda about the process of European integration have shown that referenda can also be used by the elites as an instrument to advance their ambitions for power and influence and to legitimate specific (often problematic) political aims and measures. An outstanding example was the Brexit which led to a deep split between the peoples and regions of the United Kingdom and which was and is used by rising populist and right-wing parties all over the European Union to gain more support for their positions. Already in 2005, the rejection of the Constitution for Europe by the French and Dutch shocked many in the EU (Haller 2008). How can we interpret the outcomes of these far-reaching votings? Were they a true expression of citizens fears and wishes, or have they been used as instrumental, even demagogic tools by the elites?
In my presentation, which touches issues of SP06, SP07 and SP08, I first investigate citizens’ attitudes toward direct democracy, distinguishing three theoretical models: new politics, political disaffection and egalitarian theory of democracy (Wirnsberger/ Haller 2015). I will show that only the third is able to explain the high approval of direct democracy among the population. Second, I will investigate elites’ stances toward direct democracy. Three strategies will be distinguished: avoidance, instrumental strategies, and abuse by populist and authoritarian regimes; examples for all of them are given from European history of the 20th century and recent European integration and politics. Third, I will discuss institutional rerequisites which can ensure that all citizens will become interested in and able to participate in an informed way in referenda. I will also discuss arguments which say that many political issues are improper for referenda, either because they are too complex, or because they overrule minorities or concern fundamental human rights (see, e.g., Dalton 2001; Donovan/ Karp 2006; Bowler et al. 2007; Bengtsson/ Mattila 2009). Here, experiences from Switzerland which are most instructive will be used to show how direct democracy can be applied in a way to ensure a balanced political process of European integration, that is, a process which empowers people and keeps in check economic elites (banks, capital interests etc.) and populist political leaders and elites.
M. Haller (2008), European Integration as an Elite Process? Routledge; S. Wirnsberger/ M. Haller (2015), Attitudes toward direct democracy in Austria (in German in Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 44).
(Un)Making Turkey’s Way to Europe: Democracy, Solidarity and Refugees
Sakarya University, Turkey
Turkey’s relation with European Union is longer than a half century. Since the country had the potential candidate status in 1999, the links between EU and Turkey has been hanged on by a hair. Although it won’t be fair to ignore the developments rooted in this weakening relation; the political culture in the country, the nationalist approaches, the vulnerable democratic structure and the issues regarding the refugees caused by the inhumane war along the borders seem to make the long process to have an “unhappy end”.
Despite all problems in the country and the ups and downs in diplomatic relations, those who are aware of the positive influence of the EU accession process in Turkish democratic process want the accession process to be kept alive as the sensitive political culture seems to take this as a driving power through a better democracy and rule of law. However, the controversial issues which look like the bleeding wound and has stayed unsolved for decades, such as the Kurdish Issue, press freedoms, human rights, freedom of expression and taught and the recent refugee crisis make those positive perspectives to turn into a hopeless case.
Therefore, based on theoretical literature and political perspective, this paper aims to look at (a) history of EU and Turkey relations, (b) why this relation has that many ups and downs, (c) the current democratic situation in the country, (d) how so-called “refugee crisis” and the conflict around the Turkish borders influenced the EU and Turkey relations, (e) and how and why these relations need to be developed for a more peaceful and democratic common future.