What’s wrong with the left in Europe?

Progressive parties in Europe have been experiencing a decline in recent years, which has opened a path for victory for many Conservative governments across the continent. All of this at a point in time when progressive reforms are a must to solve social, economical and environmental problems. So why are these parties experiencing such a difficult time?

“Divide and you shall rule,” says the Latin motto. This strategy has been used throughout history by many leaders, like Caesar or Napoleon: dividing the enemy in order to win. The conservative forces in Europe have also employed this tactic, which consists on creating disagreements amongst leftist parties in order for them to confront against each other and lose votes. It has proven to be an effective strategy, as it has broken down many possible left governments in Europe. This situation has led to an hegemony of right and centre-right in most of Europe’s powerful countries like Spain, France, the UK, Italy or Germany.

There is one exception, however, and that is Portugal. Here, Prime Minister António Costa (of the Portuguese Socialist Party), is in power thanks to a parliamentary agreement made in 2015 with other left-side parties. The forces that gave their support to Costa were “the Left Bloc” (of Marxist ideology), the Communist Party of Portugal and the Ecologist Party. But how dis this become possible? There are two phenomenons that can explain it. First of all, these progressive parties initiated conversations before the elections took place, so as to build a common front in order to remove the conservative forces from the control of the government. And secondly, they agreed that if a hypothetical Socialist government carried out progressive and socialist politics with the purpose of increasing people’s life conditions or improving LGBT and women’s rights, they would support said party in the Portuguese parliament. It was, therefore, an agreement which became a reality because these political parties put aside their ideological differences and prioritized common objectives and interests.

But why could this not take place in other European countries? One possible reason is that Conservative forces are very dominant in their respective countries, meaning that they can win elections having to worry about the results of the progressive force. An example could be the UK, where the Tories generally have an overwhelming support amongst the traditional and adult society. In addition, the recent economic crisis had a bad effect on leftist parties, who also had to face an identity crisis. The rise of nationalist parties, possible thanks to new European problems like immigration or Islamic terrorism, has also complicated things for progressive forces. Electorally, these two issues have proven awful for the left. The ideological disagreement between socialdemocrats and new anti-capitalist forces is another cause of right forces victory in Europe. This happened in Spain, where the Socialist Party (PSOE) could not reach the power in 2016 because Podemos, the Spanish anti-capitalist party, did not support it. The origins of the disagreement were not only ideological differences but also their political objectives: while PSOE wanted to make moderate social reforms, Podemos had a radical political program. Finally, another European left issue could be the current electoral system, which doesn’t give much opportunity for left parties to obtain more parliamentary representation.

To summarize, some reasons why European left parties don’t govern nowadays could be the lack of common objectives amongst old and new leftist parties; the identity crisis of these forces as a result of the economic recession; the current electoral system, which doesn’t permit progressive alliances; and the conservative character of some countries that assures the right parties continuity. Therefore, if European progressive forces want to reclaim the power they have lost to conservative parties, they must act fast and as a unit, put their differences behind them and focus on joining together to put forward the social, environmental and economical reforms we need.

 

This article was written by Tomàs Garcia-Espot

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Military coup in Zimbabwe takes away control from Mugabe

President Mugabe has been stripped from his position as President of Zimbabwe after the military stepped in to cancel the ruler’s plans of making his wife future leader of the country.

The rule of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe seemed to be over on Wednesday after the military seized control of the country. The return of the government’s main opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai to Zimbabwe – who had been receiving cancer treatment abroad – signalled an effort to form a transitional government. A senior member of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party said a deal had been struck about a new administration after talks with military leaders and South African ministers.

There is no indication, however, that Mugabe plans to step down from power quietly after not making any public statement since the military took over. The ninety-three year old leader, who has been placed under house arrest in the country’s capital Harare, had been in control of Zimbabwe since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.

It seems that the reason behind the military’s decision to step in is due to the power struggle over who might succeed Mugabe. This question had split the governing party Zanu-PF during the last few months between those in favour of the President’s wife Grace Mugabe and her rival former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial struggle and of Zanu-PF. Last week, President Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa in order to ease his wife’s move into power, which proved too much for military leaders, who decided to act fast.

Tendai Biti, a Zimbabwean opposition leader, explained he wanted to see a transitional authority in place. “It is urgent that we go back to democracy. It is urgent that we go back to legitimacy but we need a transitional period”. However, a transitional government might not be as easy to form as it is thought, with Mugabe insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s legitimate ruler and that he should serve out his term, which finishes next year.

Several tanks and other military vehicles have been spotted at key locations around Herare, but residents have described the environment as “calm”. The streets have been said to be “quieter than usual”, but traffic levels are the same as they usually are and people have been going by their day to day life.

Earthquake in Iraq and Iran kills over 400 people

An earthquake of magnitude 7.3 which took place on the Iraq-Iran border late on Sunday left 402 people confirmed dead and 6,650 injured, according to reports from Iran’s Press TV. The quake is the deadliest of 2017 after overtaking September’s Mexico city shock in which 369 people lost their lives. It was felt as far as Turkey and Pakistan, with some 145 aftershocks being reported.

quake 2

Authorities in Iran and Iraq have initiated rescue operations. Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi tweeted on Monday that he had instructed civil defense teams and health and aid agencies to do all that they can to provide assistance to those affected by the quake. Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei sent a message of condolence and urged military and civilian help to be dispatched to quake victims.

America’s big problem

Twenty-six dead and more than twenty injured is the result of the latest armed massacre in the US, this time in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The press qualified it as the worst massacre in The Lone Star State’s history, which took place in a Baptist Church when a twenty-six year old men started shooting people gathered there. This event reminds us the terrible shooting that happened last month in Las Vegas, which caused over fifty casualties, and also reignites the debate about the use of guns in the US. Taking a look at this long list of massacres caused by firearms raises the question of whether the American administration will finally accept to change the Second Amendment  in order to avoid more tragedies.

Looking back at past experience, it is clear that the gun regulation problem will not be solved easily. Although former president Barack Obama tried to reduce the use of firearms in 2012 and 2016, these initiatives never become a reality due to the opposition of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has a strong economic influence over many members of the Congress. If we also consider the interests of the current American administration, we realise that gun regulation is not precisely one of its main priorities, despite these forementioned recent massacres. President Donald Trump has proven that his main interests have to do mostly with foreign affairs, and particularly threatening North Korea, using an aggressive and arrogant tone that could risk world peace and stability. It would therefore seem that the US Administration prefers causing fear to other countries in order to display its military force instead of trying to resolve a real issue that causes more than 13,000 deaths every year in America, according to a Gun Violence Archive study. Meanwhile, Trump dares to use the line of “mental health problem” as an excuse for this problem.

It is ironic that instead of giving example to other nations, the most powerful country in the world has a very soft firearms regulation and a disastrous health service. These are only two of a big list of American problems, and President Donald Trump has only added fuel to fire by adding to this list the wall on the Mexican border, the Racist far right increase in Southern states, the climate change denial… As film-maker Michael Moore showed in his famous documentary Bowling for Columbine about use of guns in the US, “In America it’s easier to buy a rifle than receiving a decent medical assistance”.

 

This article was written in collaboration with Tomàs Garcia-Espot

‘Paradise papers’ leak exposes tax havens of ultra-rich

A huge leak of financial documents, which have been dubbed as the ‘Paradise Papers’, has revealed that numerous powerful and ultra-wealthy worldwide personalities secretly invested vast amounts of cash in offshore tax havens. Today’s revelations are only the start of a week of disclosures that will expose the tax and financial affairs of those named in the data. Over 13.4 million files have been unveiled which affect more than 25.000 companies owned by individuals from 180 countries, from 1950 to 2016.

The documents were obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which also exposed the ‘Panama Papers’ in 2015, and later shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) so as to oversee the investigation. About a hunded of major international media partners – including The New York Times, The Guardian or the BBC – were also involved in investigating the documents.

Those affected by the scandal include politicians, companies and celebrities. Nike and Apple are amongst those multinationals to have hidden big quantities of money in offshore tax havens. The Queen of England has also been involved, with documents showing that about £10m ($13m) of the Monarch’s private money was invested elsewhere.

The leak could also prove links between Trump and Russian investors, which could again raise questions on the connections between the American President and the Kremlin. This is because Wilbur Ross, commerce secretary of the Trump Administration and a man who helped stave off bankruptcy for Donald Trump in the 1990s, has now been found to have invested in a shipping company which earns millions of dollars a year transporting oil and gas for a Russian energy firm whose shareholders include Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.

 

Catalonia: How did we get here?

Only a few days ago, the Catalan Parliament proclaimed independence from the rest of Spain. It was a very exciting moment for a lot of catalans who have followed closely the political process during these past few years. The Spanish government’s reply was almost instantanious, however, with the Spanish Senate approving a motion which allowed article 155 of the Consitution to be applied. This article – which had never been used in the Spanish democracy – allowed the shutdown of the catalan autonomy, the removal of its government and the control of regional security forces and media. Even more recently, a high court judge gave the former regional government officials prison sentences which could amount to almost half a century.

But how did we get to this situation? If we go back a few years, specifically to 2010, we can find the origin of the rise of the catalan independence movement, which helps to answer this question. On the 10th of July of that year, the Spanish Constitutional Court – the highest body with the power to determine the constitutionality of certain acts and statutes – modified many articles of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which works as a regional Magna Carta. This sentence passed by the Consitutional Court, which was requested by the Popular Party, caused indignation amongst a great deal of Catalans, with over 1 million people taking to the streets in order to express their discontent. It is from this moment when support to catalan independence has done nothing but increase.

The Popular Party, undisputed heir of the fascist dictatorship lead by Francisco Franco for almost fourty decades in Spain, took over the Spanish Government after their election victory in 2011. Since then, their strategy has been to avoid providing an answer to the worries of Catalan citizens, who only asked for their self-government system to be respected. Instead, the Mariano Rajoy Administration has tried time after time to censor the voice of those who demanded more freedom, deny their national identity and suppress the language and culture of a nation with over a thousand years of history.

Recent events, like the many pro-independence demonstrations which have taken place every year since 2012, have proven the clear will of a great part of Catalonia de break away from the rest of Spain. In addition, the greatest argument of pro-independence forces has been pacifism, as these protests have occurred without any form of violence, despite continued repression from the Spanish government like the police brutality during the referendum which took place just over a month ago.

The future is uncertain, as nobody knows what is going to happen these next few months. The Rajoy Administration seems adamant to carry on with its repression of catalan institutions and government officials so as to mantain the unity of Spain. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that if this is the case, the catalan people will carry on defending their most valuable idea: freedom.

 

This article was written in collaboration with Tomàs Garcia-Espot