From the Green Wave to Eco-hegemony

Despite its relative youth, the Green movement has had a profound impact on society. Today, many of the concepts and problems first identified by Greens have become part of the political mainstream, with parties of all stripes proclaiming their green credentials. Yet, across much of Europe, the real power needed to implement lasting solutions remains a distant prospect. Marc Martorell Escofet looks at how a growing public consciousness around issues such as the climate crisis could be a way to change this.

Back in 2019, in the now seemingly distant pre-Covid-19 era, the “Green Wave” seemed unstoppable. Historic electoral results for Green parties in countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Ireland seemed to indicate a growing trend across Europe, that also reached the European level at the May 2019 European elections. The European Green Party was the rising star in a new European Parliament that seemed to be entering a new phase, leaving behind Brexit, far-right populism, and Grand Coalitions, and looking towards new challenges – with the climate crisis foremost among them. At last, it seemed that those in power could no longer simply maintain their business as usual, and even European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen had begun to talk about the European Green Deal. Election results and political developments across Europe, such as those in France and Spain, along with the widespread mobilisation of young people protesting in the streets, signalled that for European citizens increasingly viewed the climate crisis as a top priority, with local councils and regions declaring the climate emergency all over the continent.

Then, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Was it the perfect storm for Green aspirations of institutional conquest?

A growing call for change

Thus far, political ecology’s strategy of choice could be described as one of “evangelisation”: Greens have tried to convince society, with varying degrees of success depending on national realities, that their proposals were common sense, especially in relation to the climate crisis, and that implementing them would not only be beneficial for humans, but also for the planet. In other words, Greens aimed at winning the battle of ideas, both on climate and more broadly, and at building up what Antonio Gramsci called cultural hegemony.[1] We should, however, see it as a Pyrrhic victory. Yes, Green proposals regarding climate alleviation are now at the centre of the political debate, thanks to effective campaigning and an improved understanding about the reality of climate change across society; yet, in most cases, it is not Greens who are leading and implementing these ideas. The worrying trend is that such policies are seen as technocratic initiatives. With climate change being evident to most people, Ministries, institutes, and companies are the ones taking the lead. Ecological proposals are adapted to suit all kinds of ideological preferences, and the political forces in favour of preserving the status quo seem to be championing them — as they still hold the balance of power in institutions throughout the world.

Climate actors in civil society are adapting to this apparent consensus by scrutinising political action and proposals and calling out empty rhetoric and gestures. As a result, denouncing greenwashing is now commonplace in most environmentalist organisations. However, the immediate actions that need to be taken are asked of the same institutions that led us here — that is, to the current climate crisis. As Ernstson and Swyngedouw argue, there has been a depoliticisation of the climate, as the issue seems to have been taken on by political actors across the board[2]. The climate has become a terrain of mainstream political competition where Greens face the challenge of distinguishing themselves.

Ecological proposals are adapted to suit all kinds of ideological preferences, and the political forces in favour of preserving the status quo seem to be championing them.

Through their efforts, Greens, climate movements, and NGOs that have long campaigned for climate change mitigation measures, have made these ideas more acceptable to the broad majority. At the same time, Greens run the risk of becoming redundant —in the sense that almost any political force or party can now put forward a proposal for an ecological transition, or at least can claim to be in support of such a transition even if this commitment amounts to little more than greenwashing. It seems, therefore, that the Green Wave, which emerged from the social consensus about the existence of the climate crisis, now finds itself up against an electoral ceiling which it is unlikely to be able to expand beyond, as long as Greens continue to base their proposals and strategies on the need for an ecological transition. At least, in a post-pandemic world.

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This is why the development of a “climate citizenry” – a cohort of climate-conscious citizens who have been converted by the messages from Greens and the broader climate movement about the urgency of this issue – is so significant for Green demands to gain ground. For these citizens, not only has the climate crisis become a top priority, but they are also eager to mobilise in order to demand that climate change mitigation policies be put into practice. Yet for some, this does not translate into direct political action and support for those who are willing to put in place the sweeping changes and broad reforms that are needed. In order to convince these citizens about the need for a re-politicisation of the climate, it is insightful to draw on systemic analysis such as that of Andreas Malm or the “tell the truth” demand from Extinction Rebellion. Both concepts force political ecology to be honest if it is to take over the institutions: the former refers to the need for a total systemic change, meaning that ambitious policies that push the line forward for climate policy must be applied. The latter refers to acknowledging how we arrived at the climate crisis, and specifically identifying who is to be held accountable for that. Combining both, it becomes clear that, in order for political ecology to be fully in line with the challenges the climate crisis poses, it needs to demand regime change, and not only argue for more effective reforms to be implemented.

Green visions must be firmly rooted in reality

What are the implications of this realisation, in the system we live in? Our current democracy is ultimately a political system where elite change takes place by peaceful means. If we aim for the Green Wave to maintain its potential strength, we should ensure our objectives are clear. In her work Reform or Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg argued that what differentiates a revolutionary from a reformist is the will of the former to change the system, whereas the latter only aims at aesthetic reforms that don’t involve real, substantive change. In the 21st century, such a dilemma — whether to continue with climate reforms or push for a paradigm shift — is one that Green movements must confront.

It is important to acknowledge that the changes society needs to implement are highly radical, and to be understood as drastically changing our way of life — or, at least, the Western model. To work towards these, the Green Wave must expand its institutional takeover, as only from holding the political power can ambitious Green proposals be fully rolled out. However, this push for change should not be conceptualised as a single revolutionising event, act, or moment in time, as the scope of Green policies and ambitions go well beyond this. In the world we live in, aiming at creating a tabula rasa, simply ignoring that Green policies are built within the neoliberal order, is naive. An effective strategy, therefore, is one aiming not only at reaching power, but maintaining it for long enough that the changes and solutions put in place are no longer reversible. Greens need to appeal to the climate citizenry — and thus use the widespread concern for the climate as a stable electoral base from which to grow.

Eco-hegemony as a counterforce to populism

In Europe, we generally understand populism as a strategy identified with the far right; we associate it with fear-mongering speech and the scapegoating of marginalised and under-privileged groups. However, the Latin American emancipatory tradition sees it as a tool aimed at supporting progressive policies. As Ernesto Laclau argued, building a “people” through politicising the multiple sovereignties that make up the state is a necessary step to maintain the climate of opinion that sustains a progressive government.[3]

Politicising the climate, making it a platform from which we can build actual governments, requires the creation of political subjects, or “peoples”.

Álvaro García Linera, Vice-President of Bolivia between 2006 and 2019, provides an example of this. He argues that, in order to obtain the power, the dominated segments of the population need to organise to sustain the political struggle against those who hold the power. Following the experiences in Bolivia, he argues that only through broadening the alliances between those who began the political struggle, and those who joined the cause later, can political change be fully implemented. In other words, the Bolivian experience shows how, in order for a progressive government to obtain and remain in power, it must not only convince its support base, but also broaden it so the political support becomes hegemonic across the whole of society.

Politicising the climate, making it a platform from which we can build actual governments, requires the creation of political subjects, or “peoples”. In fact, these subjects already exist: we can see them in the climate movements and in the broad, undefined category of the climate citizenry. So, while populism is a strategy that aims at recovering an illusory national sovereignty that could rule the world as it supposedly once did, eco-hegemony, conversely, should aim to build a democratic base of peoples, or of citizens, that pushes those in power to deliver the necessary measures to tackle the eco-social crisis. This image of “peoples” would not be based on imbuing spaces of belonging with mythical significance by reclaiming sovereignty, but rather on trying to empower citizens for them to lead the way towards a Green institutional revolution.

The power of alliances to deliver change

For a full discussion of eco-hegemony in practice, it would be necessary to look at cases where Greens have been in power for a sufficient length of time to need to seek continued electoral support for their policies. Such cases are extremely limited, however some insights can be gained from the Catalan experience – specifically that of Barcelona.

After the hard, first lockdown in Spain from March to May 2020, people rediscovered the importance of having a city where life is actually possible. Climate movements organised to even go even further beyond traditional demands: the Recuperem la Ciutat (Reclaim the City) platform demanded spaces within the city dedicated to community life, while the Revolta Escolar (School Revolt) movement gathered several schools, parents’ organisations, and climate activists demanding safe and clean school environments, free from cars and pollution.

Such movements could not be understood without the local council initiatives that put the city at the centre of climate change mitigation measures, with superblocks or car-free areas around schools. However, both these movements surpass institutional dynamics, as they aim to reach their objectives in a more immediate timeframe than that in which public policy generally operates, and push for more extensive action than was originally foreseen. Indeed, they demand that the City Council take immediate action in most schools in Barcelona, while the institutional timing is subject to each project’s planning and implementation.

These highly demanding movements represent, of course, a possible danger for a rising political ecology, in that they clearly show the limits for delivering public policy. At the same time, such a dynamic is its greatest asset: social mobilisation creates a climate of opinion that allows the incumbent government to be more ambitious in its institutional work. In terms of creating the cultural hegemony that all progressive policies need in order to be maintained, this process can be compared to populism, but it pushes political ecology to go beyond its own limits – clashing with the systemic ceiling our market democracies impose on all political parties.

In a post-pandemic context, with rising social inequalities, building a political ecology adapted to the current age cannot be based only on climate change mitigation.

Connecting climate and quality of life

The cases mentioned clearly involve policies that could be described as “Green”. Both are related to improving the environment, even if they have a more direct relation with society – they are, after all, within our comfort zone. How could eco-hegemony be expanded beyond those boundaries?

In a post-pandemic context, with rising social inequalities, building a political ecology adapted to the current age cannot be based only on climate change mitigation. These experiences demonstrate the potential for people – those who are concerned about climate change – to be mobilised and involved in the process of change Greens are calling for, when their priorities align. Would parents’ organisations occupy city streets if they were not motivated by a sense of concern for their own children’s health? Perhaps those who are dedicated activists, but it is doubtful whether the majority would.

One of the basic tenets of political ecology is to defend life on Earth, for humans and non-humans. A strategy based around eco-hegemony should consider life not as the mere state of existence, but as the capacity for living with dignity. Such an approach would see material needs – housing, food, health, etc. – and post-material ones – clean environment, comfort, energy, etc. – as inseparably intertwined. The defence of life, both as a political platform and a political strategy, could pave the way towards eco-hegemony, allowing Greens to provide the radical change we all need.


[1] Gramsci, Antonio (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. International Publishers.

[2] Ernstson, H., & Swyngedouw, E. (2019). Politicizing the Environment in the Urban Century. In H. Ernstson, & E. Swyngedouw, Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities. (Questioning Cities). Routledge.

[3] Laclau, E. (2005). On Populist Reason. Verso.

Germany: Towards a Socio-Ecological Market Society?

The political choices Germany faces in the coming years – on issues such as the environment, the economy, and the significance of freedom – will be of great consequence. Will the next chancellor be up to the task? And what kind of coalition agreements are likely to be on table? In the second of a two-part series, Reinhard Olschanski looks at the contenders and potential scenarios, and sets out what is at stake.

The Greens in Germany are fighting to become a leading force in the federal election for the first time. But the 2021 Bundestag election campaign is not just about winning the chancellorship, but also establishing hegemony in the centre-left. The question is whether social democracy can reclaim its ancestral place as leader of the centre-left, or whether the Greens will establish themselves permanently. After so many years in power, are the Social Democrats (SPD) temporarily weakened or permanently damaged? Since 1998, they have governed in coalitions for a total of 19 years; seven as the party of the chancellor (Gerhard Schröder) and 12 under Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Is the rise of the Greens a sign of a major turning point – in the Federal Republic and perhaps even beyond?

Ecology and hegemony on the centre-left

There is some evidence that the rise of the Greens, within Germany and elsewhere, represents a trend away from a culturally more homogeneous, social democratic, and labourist left and towards a more culturally plural and ecological centre-left orientation. Ecology, the first core brand of the Greens, has morphed into a political paradigm of its own over the past 50 years. It has set itself alongside the older paradigms of liberalism, socialism, and conservatism, becoming associated with issues such as the fight against nuclear power, climate and biodiversity, sustainable development, mobility, and food and nutrition, and has successfully reformulated many of the issues of the older paradigms as well. Given the current centrality of ecology, it is surprising it has taken 200 years for the ecological question to join the social question as a fundamental issue of industrial modernity.

After so many years in power, are the Social Democrats temporarily weakened or permanently damaged?

In retrospect, socialism, liberalism, and conservatism, despite their familiar differences, were always united by a common meta-ideology: industrialism. Nature appeared as the arbitrarily exploitable Other, as dead clod. Romanticism and the life reform movement had already pointed out the blind spots of this industrialist worldview. But they were always considered only as marginal currents, whereas today global warming and species extinction fundamentally call into question human living conditions and require fundamental social and economic changes to be made.

The Fridays for Future movement provided an additional impetus to ecology’s rise to prominence. The movement demanded that the self-declared “climate chancellor” Merkel honour the commitment to effective climate protection she had made at the beginning of her term and when she signed the Paris Climate Agreement. The students’ criticism that the government was gambling away the future of the young generation made a great impact upon the political system. The CDU/CSU and SPD quickly negotiated a new climate law and, at the insistence of the Greens, went even further than their original plans.

The Federal Constitutional Court took the same line as the activists. In a landmark ruling, it partially overturned the new climate law, and thus backed up the activists’ political and moral claims with a legally binding interpretation of the constitution. The court put the onus on policymakers to demonstrably deliver the German share pledged in the Paris Agreement. For the court, putting this problem on the back burner meant placing an excessive burden on future generations and restricting their freedom. Through this legal mechanism, climate protection is now also explicitly referred to as the protection of freedom in German jurisprudence. The ruling is a mandate for greatly strengthened climate protection and goes beyond the matter at hand to provide a legal basis for the new, expanded logic of the Federal Republic. It sets a course whereby politicians need to commit to bringing the new basic ecological consensus, that has long been emerging in society, to bear.

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A new understanding of freedom

The ruling is also important for a contemporary understanding of freedom, a concept central to the German Constitution, and thus provides clues to the definition of what a liberal society can be today. The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel fought all his life against views that equated freedom with arbitrariness and impulses. He was referring not least to representatives of contemporary Romanticism. But today’s populists and market radicals, those who identify prohibition and tyranny in every rule, from social and environmental legislation to face masks, also fit in the same category.

In Germany, the main representative of such a narrow conception of freedom is the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). But even the market-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) has formulated a watered-down variant of this rhetoric. Without calling the liberal constitution into question, its communication stirs up opposition and taps into the population’s fatigue with the pandemic. In the longer term, the focus is on aversion to state regulation, particularly widespread among the FDP’s clientele of the liberal professions and small and medium-sized businesses. If the CDU/CSU were one day to suffer the historic decline that has hit other Christian Democrat parties in Europe, not only the AfD but also the FDP would be likely to benefit.

The FDP abandoned the social liberal path to the present a good 40 years ago, during the Reagan and Thatcher eras, when it marginalised its left wing. By doing so, the Greens were able to take the left-liberal field largely without a fight, and the Greens subsequently developed it into their second core brand, alongside ecology. Today, after a long phase of cultural change and despite all the authoritarian countertendencies, social liberalism is deeply attractive to a large section of society. It therefore further increases the Greens’ chances of becoming the hegemonic force on the centre-left.

Meanwhile, market-radical liberalism appears tarnished but, as seen in the Trump administration or parts of the AfD, it can succeed in a dangerous mix with populism. The basic political opposition of the future may be between ecological-left-liberal and populist-market-radical positions.

Distortions on the Right and the Left

The pluralisation of the party system is leading to increasingly colourful coalitions at the state level in Germany. Only the AfD remains largely on the sidelines. However, the election of an FDP politician as prime minister of Thuringia with votes from the CDU and the AfD showed that there are also forces in the CDU/CSU and FDP that are willing to cooperate with the far right. Although the episode in Thuringia ended with the swift resignation of the incumbent after nationwide protests, it is a dangerous development for the post-Merkel era. The opening of the CDU/CSU to right-wing populism as seen among the American Republicans is not an imminent threat in Germany, but it remains conceivable in the medium and longer term. One recent positive sign is that Reiner Haseloff, the CDU prime minister of Saxony-Anhalt, an eastern and more rural state, convincingly won his state election by distancing himself from the AfD.

After its populist adventure with the AfD, the CDU in Thuringia cooperated in the re-election of the popular, pragmatic Die Linke (The Left Party) politician Bodo Ramelow as prime minister. Nevertheless, the left wing of Die Linke, especially in western Germany, persists in radical positions that isolate the party. This wing still calls for Germany’s withdrawal from NATO and an opening towards Putin’s Russia. These stances currently rule out a government majority with the Greens and SPD – even if it were numerically possible. Some previously left-wing voters have now turned to the AfD, and left-wing figures such as former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine and his wife Sahra Wagenknecht want to win back these votes with a mixture of socialist and nationalist rhetoric. The debate has further split the party and, against this backdrop, Die Linke may fail to clear the 5 per cent threshold in September.

Colour games

As things stand, only the CDU/CSU, the Greens, the SPD, and the FDP remain as potential coalition partners. A new grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD is rather unlikely because of the deep fatigue within social democracy but also because it may not have the numbers. Speculation about a “German” coalition, a black-red-yellow coalition of the CDU/CSU, SPD, and FDP, is more of a thought experiment entertained for tactical reasons. Such a constellation would look like a posthumous extension of the grand coalition.

It is unlikely that the Greens will push ahead of the CDU/CSU and lead a green-black government.

A two-party coalition of the CDU/CSU supported by the FDP would be straightforward but the parties will struggle to win a joint majority. A new edition of the failed Jamaica coalition (black-yellow-green) attempt of 2017 is more likely. But equally likely is a two-party black-green coalition, which looks numerically achievable. For the Greens, taking the chancellorship for the first time is of course tempting and does not seem out of the question in a Green “traffic light” coalition with the SPD and FDP. The SPD naturally dreams of a traffic light under its leadership in the event of the party overtaking the Greens.

With poll numbers around 30 per cent, which are very weak for the CDU/CSU, the party is still well ahead of the Greens. So it is unlikely that the Greens will push ahead of the CDU/CSU and lead a green-black government. Moreover, it would be a serious challenge to the ego of the old conservative People’s Party. In Baden-Württemberg, the Greens have just entered into a coalition with the CDU for the second time after winning 33 per cent in the state elections in spring, proving that in principle this option can work. But in the federal government the weights are distributed differently, so that even a result of around 20 per cent would be a success for the Greens – after a rather meagre 8.9 per cent in 2017. For many observers, therefore, black-green is the most likely combination.

The socio-ecological market economy: A new social compromise?  

Regardless of the colours involved, in terms of content, an ecological turnaround in politics is likely to prevail. The 2020s will see an ambitious push for reform around ecology and sustainability, involving a comprehensive decarbonisation of the economy and everyday life, a rapid expansion of renewables, a reinvention of mobility, and a turn toward more sustainable agriculture. These are the widely shared aspirations for the next government. In the best case, steps for reform will get underway that will lead to a new and expanded social compromise for the republic.

The 2020s will see an ambitious push for reform around ecology and sustainability.

The old social compromise, the “Rhineland” model, was that of a social market economy combining the dynamism of the market with solidarity-based protection against its risks. Such thinking is part of the DNA of Christian democracy as seen in the Christian socialist influences found in the party’s early programmes. Today, the task is to broaden the foundation in the direction of a socio-ecological market economy. Ultimately, the ecological question must be addressed alongside the social question, and treated as fundamental for the republic, and the dynamism of markets must be aligned with both social and ecological requirements.

A socio-ecological market economy could become the new consensus and the politico-institutional orientation of the Berlin Republic, which still lingers. If the Berlin Republic wants to come to terms with itself, it should develop a socio-ecological market economy as its guiding principle for the 21st century. A timely and highly urgent alternative to a declining market radicalism, the socio-ecological market economy is also a programme for the future of liberal democracy.

Chancellorship in the 2020s

Even Armin Laschet, the candidate viewed as the current favourite to become chancellor, should recognise that such a refoundation is the great task of German chancellorship in the 2020s. The main competitor, Markus Söder, had recognised the prize and was very obviously reaching out for it. It is surprising how half-hearted Laschet’s attempts have proved so far. The Rhenish Christian Democrats were always very aware of how much they had shaped Bonn’s Rhenish Republic. But they have barely begun to understand that what is at stake today is the far-reaching rewriting of a Berlin Republic.

Without being an economist himself, Laschet is strongly influenced by the old industrial roots of his home region of North Rhine-Westphalia where, until recently, energy giants dreamed simply of stalling the energy transition. With Laschet’s assistance, a 40-billion-euro coal phase-out by 2038 was agreed. In effect, it amounts to extending the damaging and increasingly unprofitable use of coal. With his patronage-oriented coal policy, Laschet shows that he has not yet recognised what is expected of Angela Merkel’s successor.

Laschet also plays ecology off against social issues while opposing many proposals that approach the ecological and social questions in a sustainable way. He does not advocate an increase in the minimum wage, which could mitigate possible additional burdens from climate policy for people on lower incomes. He does not want deeper cuts in climate-damaging subsidies, and he is also stonewalling on a citizens’ energy subsidy to compensate for higher carbon prices, as proposed by the Greens.

Instead, Laschet is planning a feel-good election campaign. After the pandemic has subsided, German citizens are to be bothered as little as possible with politics and campaigns: Everything will be fine! No green scaremongering! Knight Armin will drive away all worries, just like Mother Merkel did in the old days. It is not clear whether this strategy will work. Smiling away the great need for change might not cut it. Faced with a young and impatient generation, this tried-and-tested Christian Democrat strategy could go very wrong. July’s disastrous floods, in which Laschet’s home region was particularly affected, demonstrate that the issues of climate and flood protection cannot simply be pushed into the background. Moreover, video footage of a candidate laughing heartily while visiting the disaster region has lost him many sympathies.

However, Laschet is not a dogged fighter for the old. It is therefore not inconceivable that he will also come to terms with a black-green coalition in the federal government. On the other hand, even if the Greens do not succeed this time in gaining the chancellorship, such a constellation could nevertheless pave the way for a Green-led government in the medium term, as was the case with the emerging SPD. Social Democrats governed in the Federal Republic’s first grand coalition as junior partners to the CDU/CSU from as early as 1966, before Willy Brandt took over the chancellorship for them in 1969. At that time, the junior partner role benefited the SPD as much as it harms it today.

A new phase of the Berlin Republic seems possible, a decade in which it finally comes into its own as a socio-ecological market society.

Mature pluralism

A positive aspect of Germany’s pluralistic situation is that the representatives of the front-running parties are dealing with the situation relatively pragmatically. People have become accustomed to coalitions as have the politicians involved. For the time being, the increasing pluralism of culture and politics in the Federal Republic has not been leading to kind of tribalisation seen in the United States under Trump.

Germany will have a new chancellor after the election and probably also a new combination of parties in government. The chances are strong that it will be a stable government that will not plunge the country into any adventures but instead will tackle issues of ecology and sustainability more decisively than before. A new phase of the Berlin Republic seems possible, a decade in which it finally comes into its own as a socio-ecological market society that takes on the major issues of globalisation and digitalisation. If this turns out to be the case, and Germany acts as a player firmly anchored in Europe that faces up to geopolitical challenges, this is far from the worst signal the country could send.

Trapped in a Populist Imagination: Slovenia under Janša

On July 1st, Slovenia took over the rotating presidency of the EU. However, the country’s relations with the EU are currently strained, as Prime Minister Janez Janša and his party continue to pursue a course of populist tactics and rhetoric, undermining democracy and curtailing freedoms and fundamental rights. Political scientist Alem Maksuti provides some insight into Janša’s regime and its rise, and where it might be headed.

Green European Journal: Since Slovenia is rarely the focus of international news, how would you sum up the situation in the country to those living outside it?

Alem Maksuti: In Slovenia, a minority government is in power: The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) is currently in coalition with two conservative parties and supported by a far-right Eurosceptic party. The fourth coalition member (Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia) left the coalition in December in protest at the “Orbanisation” of Slovenia. SDS is led by the autocrat Janez Janša. His policy is a dead-end from which there is no return. It is a delusion that is poisoning foreign relations, impoverishing society, and slowly but surely pushing Slovenia towards the periphery of Europe. Janša bases his political strategy on what he calls “anti-communism”; he speaks of an unfinished transition (from communist, multinational Yugoslavia to an independent Slovenia) and advocates for a “second republic”, constantly emphasising the shortcomings of the former Yugoslav regime.

Over the past year, in the self-righteous manner of his role model, Donald Trump, Janša has been seeking to usurp practically all the branches of the state, from the media to the courts. In addition, the measures implemented by the Slovenian government in the fight against Covid-19 are simply not working. Janša has lost the trust of citizens. People are frustrated, and the government does not have majority support among the public (only about 30 percent). Thus, the only solution would be early elections, which Janša is avoiding any way he can. He is aware that there will be no willing coalition partners with which to form a new government in the next parliament. He went too far. His policy has no future.

The next elections are due in 2022. Talking to The New York Times, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that it is too early to write off Janša, in part due to the ”impotence of the Left”. Could he yet make a comeback, or is he too isolated and weak?

A victory for Janša at the next elections would only be a Pyrrhic victory because he will not have a majority in parliament to form a coalition. That is the first problem.

Žižek’s assessment of the impotence of the Left seems abstract to me. I understand that the Left has many problems, but the results of the next elections in Slovenia will be determined by anti-Janša sentiments. We have four opposition parties that will most likely form the next coalition. Janša will be relegated to the right corner of parliament where he’ll remain as a destructive opposition. Of course, the strength of Janša’s party depends on the relations within the party system. In this sense, it is not possible to write him off completely. There is always the possibility of him coming back but it is still too early to speculate about that.

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Authoritarian populist leaders usually start their takeover of democratic institutions with the courts, the media, and civil society. Are all these institutions under attack?

Janša, like Trump, denies reality and continuously labels those who confront him with the consequences of his actions as his greatest opponents. In this sense, his biggest opponents are the political opposition, the media, the courts, and, of course, the people. A good example of Janša’s attitude towards the independent media, is his treatment of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA). The government threatened to withhold the funding of the STA, even though it is obliged by law to guarantee its operations, and despite the European Commission’s warnings.  

Practically every month, the Constitutional Court points to the unconstitutional nature of laws sent to parliament by Janša’s government. Janša and his ministers react by calling this a conspiracy by the Constitutional Court, whose nine-member senate includes Dr. Rok Čeferin, the brother of Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA president. So the conspiracy is supposedly led by forces of the deep state, of which the Čeferin family is alleged to be one of the fundamental pillars.

All Janša has is anti-communism. His party’s political essence was cemented in 1991, from which it has never moved on.

What were the reasons for Janša’s electoral victory? The refugee crisis is often mentioned, but do economic challenges and the country’s Yugoslav or post-Yugoslav history play a role?

It is characteristic of all European countries for there to be between 5 and 10 per cent support for right-wing nationalists. As the average turnout is around 50 per cent, and this group is more likely to vote, this 5-10 percent support will turn into a 10 to 20 per cent vote share for parties with nationalist rhetoric. The same goes for Janša’s SDS party. Regardless of what is on the political agenda, his party in Slovenia gets around 20 per cent.

All Janša has is anti-communism. His party’s political essence was cemented in 1991, from which it has never moved on. If you watch or read the SDS’s own media, you have the feeling that they are still in the 1990s, with Janša taking on the role of the main character, a role which he enjoys and to which his constituents agree in exchange for treating their own frustrations. In this way, the circle between the leader and his supporters is closed.

Janša does not respect democratic standards, but has he overseen their deterioration to the point of compromising the integrity of elections and ending the level playing field for other political actors?

Yes. Of course. In the past, Janša only recognised elections in which he was the winner, and this will go on in the future. In the 2014 elections, for example, he claimed that the election was stolen from him just because he was in prison at the time, being convicted in the Patria affair (a political controversy surrounding claims of bribery of Slovenian officials by the Finnish defence industry company Patria).

He claimed that the 2018 elections were illegitimate because his SDS party received the most votes (close to 25 per cent) but still did not manage to form a coalition. This is, of course, pure nonsense in a multi-party democracy. Janša, like Trump, only acknowledges elections in which he is the winner. He wants the media to report according to his truth. Everything else is superfluous to him; and he would rather abolish the mechanisms of democracy. He is a classic autocrat, just as Viktor Orbán is.

Janša is seen as a close ally of the Hungarian prime minister. Hungarian investors (close to the governing Fidesz party) have in recent years invested in media outlets supportive of Janša’s party. This gives the impression that Hungary is attempting to create another “illiberal democracy” in its neighbourhood. What role does Hungary play in Slovenia?

Janša is fascinated by Orbán’s political style. But Slovenia is not Hungary, and the SDS is not Fidesz. In a proportional multi-party system, the SDS will never get an absolute majority. However, Hungarian influence in Slovenia has been growing over the years.

Janša, like Trump, only acknowledges elections in which he is the winner.

First of all, this influence is especially evident when we look at the media outlets close to the SDS party. They run a propaganda machine of one party (SDS) and one man (Janez Janša), following the example of Orbán and the media in Hungary. (In some cases with the involvement of Hungarian investors.) The problem is that these “media” are promoting all kinds of racists, homophobes, and other lunatics. They attack opposition politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and even ordinary citizens, who dare to be critical of the government and the cult of “Janšism”. In Slovenia, these media are referred to as “the factory of evil” by the majority of the public.

The second aspect is the political influence of Hungary. The ruling coalition wants the Hungarian state and companies to invest in Slovenian infrastructure projects (such as the second track of the Divača-Koper railway line). As these are projects financed from the state budget, the government makes direct decisions. Janša wants to make the most of this political power.

The third area of influence is private investment. At the forefront, of course, are financial funds and banks. The most recent example is the Hungarian OTP bank, which bought a stake in the Slovenian NKBM, making it a larger banking group than NLB (once the largest state-owned bank). Although these are the operations of independent companies, the circle of people around Janša and his party have been implicated in numerous corruption scandals, which means that we have to monitor developments in this area very carefully.

What exactly does Janša’s party stand for ideologically?

Janša’s political capital rests on the ideological basis of nationalism, which substantiates national sovereignty by the principle of ethnicity. This is contrary to the idea of liberal democracy, based on ​​the sovereignty of citizens, and opposed to the nation as the organic category.

Democracy presupposes freedom of choice between different interests by different social groups; nationalist ideology is based on the link between nation and territory. Janša has used the nominal transformation of the old Yugoslav one-party system into a quasi-plural society, characterised as a multi-party system, to hide his intention to create a new form of authoritarian state organisation. Janša’s policies confirm this with each passing day.

You argue that a possible early election would be likely to put an end to Janša’s reign. But would a new government be capable of cleaning up after the SDS and rebuilding democratic institutions?

The next government will face several challenges as a legacy of Janša’s regime. The first problem will be the rehabilitation of public debt, as the Janša administration dug a multibillion-euro hole in the budget. Restoring trust in state institutions will also be a difficult task.

Slowly but surely, we are sinking into the living mud, from which it will be increasingly difficult to escape. The opposition, such as it is, should therefore get serious. Now is not the time to debate post-material values, ecology and the fate of the planet. The most successful opposition party will position itself among loosely allied parties as the leader and agent of change in the next parliamentary elections.

As of July, Slovenia holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council. This will be the second time it has done so, since the country joined the EU in 2004. The first presidency in 2008 took place during Janša’s first term as prime minister, at a time when his politics were far more moderate. Will this presidency be marked by conflict?

The first thing to remember is that the EU Presidency is a matter of protocol that would be carried out regardless of the political party and prime minster in power (although Janša, of course, believes that he alone is capable of it).

Janša’s politics are determined by ideological positions and permanent conflict. For example, the war with the media is the essence of his individuality, which means he will never stop with the politics of conflict. Throughout his career, Janša has been addressing the most paranoid elements of the Slovenian society with simplified conspiracy theories with the aim of creating general mistrust and paranoia, which will develop an environment for action and increase his own privileges. He communicates by selectively choosing the arguments he uses to form his own truth. Regardless of Slovenia’s EU presidency, he will continue to do this.

What can the EU do to help Slovenia’s democracy?

First, the EU should have zero tolerance for Janša’s policies that encroach upon the field of independent media and the judiciary, or that undermine other state institutions. Secondly, the EU should categorically defend the rule of law and democracy in Slovenia. Janšism builds on the actions of an individual or organised groups that, without objective criteria and legal basis, take matters into their own hands. Whenever they try to do so, the EU should clearly condemn it.

It would also be useful for the Slovenian people for Janša and his actions to be closely scrutinised during the Slovenian presidency. It is necessary to finally reveal who he is and what his policy is.

The governing SDS is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. Is this a source of conflict in Brussels, or does it rather provide shelter for SDS?

I am convinced that important changes will take place in this area in the future. The EPP’s policy is becoming too narrow a framework for Janša and his SDS. For example, while preparations for the presidency of the Council of the EU were in full swing, Janša and his party were preparing a congress resolution entitled “For the defence of the constitutional foundations of the Slovenian State” – a cheap populist pamphlet in which Janša and his party colleagues deal with an imaginary opponent: “cultural Marxism, Leninism, Kardeljism (roughly: Yugoslavism), and the deep state, which is connected with foreign networks and movements (Antifa, Black Lives Matter and Woke ideology)”.

The memory of World War Two is still a more useful mobilising tool than the protection of the environment and the planet.

All of this is the ideological underpinning of Orbán, Matteo Salvini, and other people who believe the world is one big conspiracy. Janša actually believes that Slovenia is ruled by a deep state; that the world is led by George Soros through non-governmental organisations; that Hitler and the Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito are equal criminals; that in Antifa the fascists are disguised as communists. All this is the basis for a new group of parties in Europe that are turning the political space and history upside down.

How do you see the role of progressive parties such as the Greens (both on the European and the national level) in fostering change or protecting democratic institutions in the country?

The result of the election in Slovenia (or in other democracies) is influenced by more than just party programmes, depending on the political context in which elections take place. Of course, a wide variety of ideological options are welcome in a democracy, as they enrich the democratic process. I am not convinced that in the abundance of parties in Slovenia (the current Parliament is made up of nine parties, five of them in opposition), the Green parties will succeed in addressing their voters. The integration of Green parties with the EU level is definitely a good starting point for success. It should be noted that national issues prevail in the national political arena, which are often related to ideological topics for domestic voters. In this sense, the memory of World War Two is still a more useful mobilising tool than environmental protection and the protection of the planet. It is sad, but that is our reality.

Occasional meetings of the opposition bloc are not enough. Debates on a green and digital future will also not help. The conciliatory discourse of the President of Slovenia Borut Pahor is also not the right path. It is necessary to set up a political platform for the categorical rejection of everything that comes from the SDS party and its satellites. We need a clear political platform that will condemn Janšism and all the practices of this ideology and will change the structure of the Slovenian state and society day by day. We need anti-Janšism as a political platform.

Europe’s Foreign Policy: A Catalogue of Errors

From diplomatic mishaps to national leaders undermining the bloc’s position, the EU’s foreign relations have been rocky for some time. Instead of being led by its principles and taking up opportunities to reinforce its alliances, the EU’s tendency to trip itself up and hinder its own efforts has become increasingly apparent. It’s now time for the EU to reassert its credibility on the global stage, Reinhard Bütikofer argues, by not only speaking the language of power but also acting on it.

Winston Churchill is reported to have said about Unites States foreign policy that, “Americans will always do the right thing – after exhausting all the alternatives.” In other words, in foreign policy the US always finds a way out, but only after it has thoroughly investigated all blind alleys and faux pas. If only it were possible to speak of the EU’s foreign policy with such optimistic sarcasm. Instead, only cynical remarks come to mind: “EU foreign policy is always able to come up with a brilliant strategy while making sure that nobody takes it the least bit seriously;” “EU foreign policy has invented the perfect perpetual motion machine, gaining energy from every defeat for future failures;” “The louder the EU calls for a unified foreign policy, the more certain it is that nothing of the sort will happen.”

The EU’s habit of getting in its own way

An example from this year is the humiliation served up to EU Foreign Policy Commissioner and EU Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell during his February 2021 visit to Moscow. Borrell had, contrary to advice from various quarters, travelled to the Russian capital ill prepared and from a position of weakness, only to be scolded like a schoolboy. Adding insult to injury, the Russian government subsequently declared that it no longer had political relations with the European Union. This move signalled starkly that Russia perceives the EU as weak. More followed in April: Moscow placed sanctions on European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová and European Parliament President David Sassoli in retaliation for European sanctions over the poisoning of opposition activist Alexei Navalny. Almost without exception, you would have needed a magnifying glass to see any reaction from the European capitals. Only Jourová showed any emotion, while the rest remained impassive as ever.

By imposing mild EU sanctions on China for serious human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang in March 2021, Brussels at least initially appeared willing to take symbolic action. Faced with the harsh reaction of the Xi Jinping regime, it was able to agree on a unified position. In the European Parliament, only the left-wing GUE/NGL group, which includes Germany’s Die Linke, stuck to the argument that economic interests, no matter how short-sighted, must take precedence. However, even here the German government – and above all the chancellor herself – proved to be a massive obstacle to much needed European unity. Merkel seemed intent on apologising to China’s dictator for the fact that the EU, against Xi’s and Merkel’s will, had found the human rights violations in Xinjiang sufficiently atrocious to merit sanctions against several of the individuals responsible. In passing, the chancellor’s office said that the oft-invoked “common values” were of no operational significance for German foreign policy.

April brought further stumbles when Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel indulged in their own special piece of theatre with “Sofagate” during an official visit to Turkey. The background to this inglorious drama, which will go down in the annals of EU history, was the bad-natured competition between two presidents who begrudge each other their rank. This rivalry had already been demonstrated in the very first year of their respective terms of office, during a veritable race to the African Union in Addis Ababa, which briefly gave the impression that the EU might actually be interested in strengthening ties to the African Union. But that wasn’t the point; it was about presidential bingo: who could shake more hands with the heads of which delegations? In Turkey, the two presidents were obliged to operate as a pair because, while overflowing with confidence individually, they didn’t trust each other an inch. Charles Michel who, unlike von der Leyen, had a protocol officer, used this occasion to place her on a side sofa instead of an equally powerful armchair, and to humiliate her in the seating arrangement at the lunch table and elsewhere as well. Von der Leyen could have turned this faux pas to her advantage had she focused on the reason behind the visit – the EU’s policy towards Turkey – rather than on her own bruised feelings. She then miscalculated by blaming the incident on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, certainly responsible for his fair share of blunders but here simply a gloating observer.

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The list of recent failures is so extensive that many of the missteps have faded from memory. The cancellation of an important August invitation to Ukraine by President von der Leyen’s chef de cabinet, in breach of protocol and on the implausible grounds that they would be too busy during the Brussels holiday month to send a signal of solidarity with Ukraine, nearly sank without trace. The fact that von der Leyen’s commission – who exactly was responsible remains unclear – poured oil on the flames of the long smouldering Northern Ireland conflict in a misguided attempt at a show of strength vis-à-vis Boris Johnson in the turmoil of Brexit back in January 2021 has been largely forgotten. The fact that the EU was a helpless observer of the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in the summer of 2020 and was unable to dampen the conflict was again forgotten – after Presidents Putin and Erdoğan had exploited the situation for their own benefit.

Merkel and Macron have both wasted too much time talking about autonomy without proving their own ability to act.

Jump-starting a stalled transatlantic partnership

Throughout this period of geopolitical error and absence, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron had largely turned a cold shoulder to US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the transatlantic relationship; Europe must not remain indifferent to this. Tremendous distrust of the US reigns in Merkel’s chancellery, while Macron is clearly intoxicated by his own concept of European strategic autonomy but has not ultimately identified to whom this is addressed: the EU as a whole, “core Europe”, or simply “la France éternelle”? Unfortunately, the fact is that Merkel and Macron have both wasted too much time talking about autonomy without proving their own ability to act.

Moreover, they seem unaware that Biden needs to work quickly if he wants to avoid becoming a lame duck president after the 2022 midterm elections, and he won’t wait for Europe forever. He is already actively engaged. The three recent summits – G7, NATO, and the EU-US summit – highlight his determination to bridge divides and bring like-minded partners together in solving the challenges of the 21st century.

A new beginning in the transatlantic relationship is emerging. The EU-US summit has made some progress. The fact that the wretched Airbus-Boeing dispute is finally to be buried after 17 years is satisfying, even if it triggers some head shaking about how the US and the EU have been able to deal with this strategic stupidity for so long. There is also an agreement on the EU’s proposed Trade and Technology Council (TTC), which is a step in the right direction. Progress has been made, but a lot of work remains ahead of us. Other trade disputes, such as US tariffs on European steel and aluminium, have unfortunately not been resolved. And in spite of all the summitry that took place, there was a glaring lack of progress when it comes to climate change. This is not a time for complacency. The transatlantic partnership is moving forward again, but it mustn’t lose momentum in tackling the pressing issues of our times.

Biden has understood that we cannot simply return to the status quo ante Trump, ante Obama. Too much has shifted in the world and the transatlantic relationship to simply recycle old formulas. US “leadership” must be redefined as “partnership in leadership”. Europe need to spell out the path to forming a common camp of democracies against authoritarianism with the US and other partners without merely subordinating itself to the hegemonic struggle between the US and China. It will not be at all easy to bring the bilateral relations between individual European nations and the US, woven of varying strengths, down to a common EU denominator. But if the EU’s two strongest countries, France and Germany, refuse to take on integrative leadership responsibilities in the EU in the process, all that will remain in the end is frustration and fragmentation.

Even when the EU has the instruments it needs for new approaches, it seems no one is willing to use them.

Speaking power, wielding power

Relations with China will be a litmus test of all parties’ abilities to hold their own on the global stage. Unfortunately, it often seems as if a self-deceiving fatalism prevails in the face of this challenge, as it does with climate change. Some still ignore or deny the magnitude of what must be done, while others have fallen prey to resignation, believing that they cannot effectively influence the direction of developments anyway. This position is not suicide out of fear of death but infirmity out of fear that a cure might not work. In the face of massive upheavals, only consciously designed change can create stability and yesterday’s failures cannot simply become justifications for continued apathy. Borrell rightly said that the EU must learn the language of power. There is hardly anyone who hasn’t quoted this true phrase. But even when the EU has the instruments it needs for new approaches, for instance the Connectivity Strategy, it seems no one is willing to use them.

Biden, on the other hand, is moving ahead and has used the G7 summit to push forward his proposal of an international infrastructure initiative – “Build Back Better World” – in response to the Chinese Silk Road. Still, so far it is little more than a strategic idea agreed upon by like-minded partners. It must be filled with action, but apparently the EU still can’t get its act together to use its Connectivity Strategy and move from conceptual work to a more concrete contribution to international governance.

The EU is not currently meeting the full potential of its foreign policy capabilities, nor has its power been sapped to the extent that recent events suggest. It would be a positive development if parliaments, often more sensitive to current challenges than entrenched executives, could play a more important role in foreign policy. Moreover, Germany also has an important role to play in a renewal that has been a long time coming. I hope that “where the danger lies, also grows the saving power”. The expectations currently projected onto the Greens reflect the aspirations of many to do better than the miserable status quo.

Everyone’s Problem: Tackling Air Pollution in Europe’s Cities

Air pollution is estimated to lead to about 400,000 premature deaths across Europe every year and awareness is growing about its nefarious effects on people’s health. Thanks to the work of campaigners and high-profile cases such as the tragic death of a young girl in the UK – public authorities across Europe seem to be taking action at last. But exactly how are these commitments being converted into real action in cities around Europe? And are the measures being taken sufficiently tough to protect those most at risk?

In December 2020, air pollution was ruled to have played a part in the death of a nine-year-old asthma sufferer, Ella Kissi-Debrah, in February 2013. The inquest into Ella’s death found levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) near her home in London exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) and European Union guidelines. The coroner concluded Ella had been exposed to “excessive” levels of pollution, the main source of which was traffic emissions.

This ruling marked a watershed moment in the fight against air pollution in the UK. Following her daughter’s death, Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, launched a campaign to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies, raising awareness of the dangerous impact and risks of air pollution for health and calling for a clean air act in the wake of the landmark ruling.

In a report dated 21 April 2021, the coroner, Philip Barlow, wrote that during Ella’s illness between 2010 and 2013, “there was a recognised failure to reduce the level of nitrogen dioxide to within the limits set by EU and domestic law which possibly contributed to her death. Ella’s mother was not given information by health professionals about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate asthma. If she had been given this information, she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella’s death.” Barlow called on the UK government for a law to prevent future deaths. “The national limits for particulate matter are set at a level far higher than the WHO guidelines. The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements. Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” he wrote.

Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, launched a campaign to prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies.

Responding to the coroner’s recommendations, the government announced on Clean Air Day 2021 that it would take action, aiming to have new legal air pollution limits in place by October 2022. Kissi-Debrah welcomed the move but said the new legal limits should come into force sooner and criticised the lack of urgency in the government’s actions.

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EU law to reduce national emissions

Beyond the UK, air pollution is also moving up the agenda in other countries and at the European level. Data from the European Environment Agency shows that almost all Europeans still suffer from air pollution, leading to about 400,000 premature deaths across the continent.

Before Britain left the European Union, it was part of a major piece of EU legislation called the National Emissions Reduction Commitments Directive. Under the EU Directive, EU member states have made commitments to reduce their emissions of pollutants by 2030. The EU’s expectation is that, when fully implemented, it will reduce the negative health impacts of air pollution by almost 50 per cent by 2030.

However, a European Commission report in June 2020 has sounded the alarm bells about failings in its implementation, pointing out that “most Member States are at risk of not complying with their 2020 or 2030 emission reduction commitments.” In its press release, the Commission adds that “effective implementation of clean air legislation forms an essential contribution to ‘a zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment’ announced by the Commission in the European Green Deal and related initiatives.”

By adopting the EU Directive, EU member states agreed to reduce their emissions of five pollutants (nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)) by 2020 and 2030. EU legislation requires them to prepare a national air pollution control programme outlining how they will meet their emissions reduction targets in all sectors, including domestic heating and agriculture.

Only Belgium and Slovakia on track to meet their commitments

In a report released in December 2020, the European Environment Bureau (EEB), a network of environmental citizens’ groups with 160 members in more than 35 countries, paints a bleak picture of the situation. The EEB’s analysis shows that only two member states (Belgium and Slovakia) are on track to meet the targets for the decade between 2020 and 2029, while only Belgium is on course to satisfy its 2030 commitments. The EEB therefore wants the European Commission to exert maximum pressure to rectify this situation.

“With our health and our environment at stake, it is a scandal that all but two member states have fallen so short of their commitments to reduce air pollution over this critical decade,” said the EEB’s Senior Policy Officer for Air and Noise Margherita Tolotto. “We call on the European Commission to start infringement procedures against all the member states which have failed to submit a lawful programme.”

With regard to infringement procedures, Stefan Šipka a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, explained that, where EU member states do not meet mandatory EU rules, the European Commission can take the case to the European Court of Justice, where national governments could face fixed fines or daily penalties if they were to be found in breach of the rules.

This is very important for many reasons. Firstly, driving up standards of air quality helps ensure that people are healthier, which is good for them as individuals but also good for the economy as they will be less likely to be off sick. Secondly, national governments across the EU need to comply with an EU law that they signed up to or they risk losing credibility vis-à-vis citizens.

On the plus side, there have been improvements in air quality in Europe, as noted by the European Environment Agency (EEA). In its 2020 Air Quality in Europe report, the EEA writes that: “Thanks to better air quality, around 60,000 fewer people died prematurely due to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018, compared with 2009. For nitrogen dioxide, the reduction is even greater as premature deaths have declined by about 54 per cent over the last decade. The continuing implementation of environmental and climate policies across Europe is a key factor behind the improvements.” The EEA adds that, “since 2000, emissions of key air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), from transport have declined significantly, despite growing mobility demand and associated increase in the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Brussels: NGOs push for more ambitious targets

Belgium, as we saw earlier, is on track to meet its emissions reduction targets. According to EU law, the annual average concentration of NO2 must not exceed a specific measurement, i.e. 40 µg/m³. A Belgian NGO called Les Chercheurs d’Air [literally the “air seekers”] says that, in 2020, it was the first time the limit hasn’t been breached in any of the official monitoring stations, mainly because of the lockdown and teleworking measures taken due to COVID. Yet, as the only safe level of air pollution is 0, the NGO argues that this limit should be brought down to 20 µg/m³.

Generally speaking, the reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) in Europe is clearly a positive development given that, as noted by Les Chercheurs d’Air, the pollutant, which comes from road traffic, has particularly damaging effects on health such as weakening lung functions, risks related to asthma and chronic bronchitis and an increase in the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Les Chercheurs d’Air is campaigning hard for better air quality along with organisations such as Greenpeace Belgium and Client Earth. Pierre Dornier, the founder of the NGO, explained that his organisation works hard to ensure that air pollution issues stay on the agenda of politicians and in the public eye, helps people understand the issues and follow the latest political discussions. The NGO works with other organisations to mobilise citizens and does things like lobby for the creation of a zero-emission zone, more cycle lanes and lobby for car parking spaces to be removed.

He said that under the current plan in Brussels, which will be reviewed soon, vehicles powered by diesel will be banned from 2030 and vehicles powered by petrol will be banned from 2035, which is not at all ambitious in his opinion (in Paris diesel vehicles won’t be allowed anymore from 2024 and petrol ones from 2030). He also said that discussions were ongoing, including with Wallonia and Flanders authorities and other stakeholders such as car lobbies, for the Brussels Region to introduce a “distance tax” (based on a vehicle’s emissions, with the principle being that the further you drive, the more you pay) via a so-called “Smart move” programme.

Les Chercheurs d’Air itself is running a public awareness project where it gives “citizen scientists” equipment to measure air quality in various parts of Brussels (e.g. near schools). The project began in October 2020 and will end in October 2021. It is not yet known when and how the results will be released.

London: Voters signal tackling pollution a priority

The British government has put the EU’s National Emissions Ceilings Directive into UK law. However, now that Britain is outside the European Union, the crucial enforcement part of the EU law will no longer apply, says Ian Wingrove, press spokesperson for Jenny Jones, a Green member of the second chamber of the UK’s Parliament, the House of Lords, where she has introduced a Clean Air Bill. That clearly removes one avenue for legal redress where the UK does not meet its commitments.

Now that Britain is outside the European Union, the crucial enforcement part of the EU law will no longer apply.

As Wingrove explained, in the early 2000s, air pollution was not much of an issue in London politics. “It was in the 2012 London mayoral elections that air pollution started registering as a very important issue in London,” he said. “For years, the Green party were the only politicians campaigning strongly on this issue. Air pollution was a key issue in the London elections, with the results showing the clear desire of the voters for action.”

Among the major achievements of air pollution campaigners so far has been Transport for London’s “ultra-low emission zone”, which currently covers central London. The principle is that vehicles not meeting the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) standards must pay a daily fee to drive in the zone. Sadiq Khan, the recently re-elected mayor of London, has recommitted to expanding the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in October this year to reduce toxic air pollution and protect public health. However, Khan is still determined to push ahead with massive road projects for the capital, such as the Silvertown Tunnel – which Green members of London’s local assembly strongly oppose.

A key player in what London has achieved in improving its air quality is Simon Birkett, Founder and Director of Clean Air in London. Birkett has also represented air pollution stakeholders on the steering group for the United Nations Environment Programme’s sixth global environment outlook.

“In the past, London’s Clean Air Act [of 1956] was about getting rid of the ‘great smog’ caused by domestic coal burning and factories in London. In the period up until now, the evidence about the negative effects of pollutants such as particulate matter and NOx [from diesel] has built up. The “dieselgate” scandal [where Volkswagen was caught faking emissions data] has increased the appetite for action and has been effective in making people upgrade their vehicles,” says Birkett. He explained that the key for success in campaigning has been to build up public understanding via articles and blogs plus legal pressure from organisations such as Client Earth.

London’s May 2021 mayoral elections were, as local, regional, national, and European elections will be in the future, key moments for voters to move the air pollution agenda forwards. In a video ahead of the elections, Birkett called on mayoral candidates to commit to new World Health Organisation guidelines (due out in July), build public understanding of air pollution and climate change, ban diesel and promote walking and cycling, support a new Clean Air Act that takes account of modern fuels and technologies and show leadership on air pollution at the next UN climate change talks, the COP 26, later this year. That seems to be a good blueprint for other campaigners looking to have an influence on future elections.

Post-Covid?

Looking to the future, solutions relating to cycling and taxing cars are not the only ones. Governments and municipal authorities can and should also invest in public transport (e.g. buses running on renewable energy), green spaces or heating and insulation.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which have both been identified as risk factors for death in Covid-19 patients.

In terms of the links between the coronavirus pandemic and air quality, the European Environment Agency 2020 report notes “60 per cent reductions of certain air pollutants in many European countries where lockdown measures were implemented in the spring of 2020”. Whilst the report states that more research is needed on the link between air pollution and the severity of Covid-19 infections, it notes that long-term exposure to air pollutants causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which have both been identified as risk factors for death in Covid-19 patients.

Stefan Šipka noted that the cleaner air may be linked to people changing their transport habits but added: “When we go back to ‘normality’, will this be an old [pre-Covid] normality or a new normality where the air we breathe is clean. That’s an issue for municipalities, as well as the EU and national governments.” He also drew attention to the potential link between higher pollution levels and lower immunity/more exposure to disease.

And, without going into specific details of specific pollutants, he argued that the EU needs to move its air quality standards, which are currently less stringent than World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, closer to the latest WHO standards.

As can be seen, whilst there have been improvements in air quality across Europe, there is still much to be done. The European Commission is pushing for more to be done. In May, the Commission adopted an EU Action Plan entitled Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil. Its sets out a vision for 2050 for a world where pollution is reduced to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems, as well as the steps to get there.

Improving air quality to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55 per cent is one of the EU Action Plan’s key 2030 targets in the context of reducing pollution. And one of the Action Plan’s flagship initiatives is to align air quality standards more closely to the latest recommendations of the World Health Organization. Making the transition towards environmentally sustainable energy and mobility solutions will of course need considerable financial investment but the potential benefits are huge. This is a golden opportunity to make cities healthier and safer.

Why Europe is at the Heart of Scotland’s Independence Debate

Despite the UK’s departure from the European Union, the question of membership seems far from settled in Scotland, amid ongoing debates around independence. The relationship with Europe is currently viewed exclusively through the prism of Scotland’s constitutional future, preventing a full understanding of, and engagement with, the EU and Scotland’s potential place within it. Yet these are questions the new Scottish government must address.

The Scottish parliamentary (Holyrood) election held on May 6th was a significant moment for the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future. The Scottish National Party (SNP) secured 64 seats, one seat short of a majority, and the SNP and Scottish Greens together won sufficient seats to constitute a larger “pro-independence majority” in the new Scottish Parliament. Yet, beyond the political calculus, the contest also represented a notable anniversary. Ten years ago, the May 2011 Holyrood election paved the way for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Scotland has now been discussing independence intensely for a decade.

Throughout that period, Scotland’s relationship with the European Union has remained a consistent and defining theme. Maintaining EU membership, including the feasibility of “internal enlargement” of the EU, was one of the principal issues in the 2014 referendum campaign. Brexit has since ended the UK’s EU membership and reshaped politics in Scotland. The UK Government’s zealous approach to Brexit has undermined Scottish institutions, and public support for independence has increased compared to 2014. Now, Scotland’s future relationship with the EU is a core aspect of arguments around a new independence referendum.

Political positions on Scotland’s current and future relationship with the EU – as an independent state, but even as part of the UK – are largely governed by opinions on independence.

Mainstream Scottish politics is defined by a pro-European consensus, distinguishing it from English politics and more resembling those in other European countries, like Ireland. The Scottish electorate’s rejection of Brexit in the UK’s 2016 EU membership referendum is by now widely known. At the time of the referendum, all five parties in the Scottish Parliament (the same five parties returned in the May 2021 election) supported the UK remaining in the EU. Although the Scottish Conservatives later embraced Brexit, parties opposed to leaving the EU won the large majority of seats in every subsequent election in Scotland. However, now that Brexit has regrettably been realised, European relations are viewed predominantly through the filter of the constitution. Political positions on Scotland’s current and future relationship with the EU – as an independent state, but even as part of the UK – are largely governed by opinions on independence.

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The state of the debate

Despite the fact that relations with the EU have been so salient, the state of Scotland’s Europe debate is notably deficient. A general lack of Europeanisation of Scottish politics and media limits awareness and hinders debate on the topical issues driving Brussels and national capitals. In Scotland’s case, pro-EU sentiment does not equate to substance on Europe. Attention is focused almost exclusively on either Brexit and its legacy or independence and EU membership. In most respects, Scottish political debate is disconnected from the major conversations taking place in the EU – whether on the Next Generation EU recovery plan, Europe-US relations, global tax reform, or the rule of law in Europe.

In such an environment, perhaps it is not surprising that no meaningful consensus exists on Scotland’s ongoing engagement with the EU as part of the UK. It is well known that many sub-state polities, from inside and outside the Union, interact with the EU institutions, state governments and wider actors to pursue their distinct policy objectives. This engagement can focus on areas of direct competence (such as education, health, or justice) or on wider areas (such as economic affairs and foreign policy). However, in Scotland, EU relations are framed – unnecessarily and unhelpfully – by the independence debate. Before the pandemic, if senior Scottish ministers undertook political visits or trade missions within Europe (or beyond), they were regularly accused by opposition politicians of neglecting domestic affairs. The Scottish Government (run by the pro-independence SNP) and the opposition excluding the Greens (comprised of pro-UK parties) have seemingly been unable to find any discernible common ground on Scotland’s European relations.

At the same time, the government could take steps to foster consensus. Ministers could reduce the recurring references to independence which they often make during such visits in the rest of Europe. The government could involve opposition parties in some of its European trips, potentially resulting in multiparty Scottish delegations. Political disagreements between the pro-independence and pro-UK sides do not negate the fact that Scotland has European interests and positions. Some of them align with those of UK, and others do not. The twin features that currently define Scotland’s Europe debate – lack of Europeanisation and lack of consensus – are both significant obstacles to sustaining its connections with the EU in the years ahead. At present, the SNP and Scottish Greens are negotiating a potential cooperation agreement, which would not result in a coalition but would establish a kind of formal partnership. If concluded, such an agreement would likely not have a significant impact on Scotland’s European policy.

In Scotland’s case, pro-EU sentiment does not equate to substance on Europe.

Even as a cardinal theme of Scottish politics, the discourse on prospective EU membership under independence is also poor. For the most part, public conversation is stuck at the most basic level of whether an independent Scotland should be in the EU or not. Maximalist positions are prevalent: for instance, competing assertions that either Scotland would join the EU remarkably quickly or it would never be able to join. Neither is correct, of course. A favourable Scottish EU accession process could reasonably take four to five years. Recycled arguments on a select number of specific issues are regularly repeated – especially on the implications of Scotland’s national budget deficit for accession and the potential of a ‘Spanish veto’ on Scottish EU membership. Little consideration is given to much else on EU accession.

In the absence of a wider horizon, Scotland’s EU membership debate will remain incomplete. A fuller conversation would be predicated upon purposeful consideration of what kind of EU member state Scotland could be: its possible preferences and positions on all the central aspects of the EU, and the defining questions shaping the direction of the Union. Scotland could aspire to be at the core of the EU or decide to pursue a more distant membership. Thought must be given to how Scotland would undertake its EU accession journey; how it would evolve along that journey; and the relationships between its path to EU membership and the building of the Scottish state. Fundamentally, requisite appreciation must be given to the reality that Scotland would enter the EU as a (small) piece of the wider European puzzle. It would have to navigate the EU’s ongoing political and ideological battles, with which its political system has minimal prior experience or socialisation. Scottish EU membership after independence would be feasible, but it would require Scotland to evolve.

Europe in the election campaign

Scotland’s relationship with the EU did prove a recurring theme in the campaign for the May Holyrood election, but mostly in a superficial fashion. In their election manifestos, the SNP and Scottish Greens restated their support for independence and EU membership. Each also set out a collection of proposals on EU and foreign policy measures for the upcoming parliamentary term. By contrast, the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour, and Scottish Liberal Democrats largely avoided mentioning Brexit and offered very few or no proposals on Scotland’s EU relationship as part of the UK. Their references to the EU were mainly about using the prospect of Scottish EU membership in the post-Brexit context to argue that Scotland should remain in the UK.

Beyond independence, the election campaign generated no meaningful discussion of European affairs or Scotland’s European policy separate from its constitutional future. That eventuality is not particularly surprising. Scottish electoral politics rarely, if ever, featured European issues on their own merits throughout the 20 years of the reconvened Scottish Parliament during which Scotland was part of the EU. Such a development might hardly be expected now that Scotland is not in the EU. Some issues with a European dimension – such as the UK’s non-participation in Erasmus+ – were raised during the election campaign, but only narrowly in the context of the conjoined Brexit-and-independence debate.

Months ahead of the campaign, it was evident that independence would be the central issue, competing with management of the pandemic and future recovery. However, the intensity of focus on EU membership certainly surprised some. Questions on the accession timetable, national budget deficit, currency, border with the UK, and membership referendum were all raised – and directed at the SNP. These questions were amplified by interventions from English think tanks, universities and other organisations delivered during the campaign. For its part, the SNP generally deferred giving detailed answers until a later date. However, these questions will persist and they would feature prominently in a future independence referendum campaign.

Prospects for a new independence referendum

With the new Scottish Parliament now in place, the principal focus of the independence debate will be on whether the Scottish and UK Governments eventually reach an agreement on holding a new referendum. For now, the timetable and sequencing of those efforts are unclear. It is however certain that, unlike in 2011, the UK Government will not immediately endorse a referendum in response to the election result. At some point, Edinburgh will take a step and await London’s answer. The emphasis will be on the process of a referendum rather than the substance of independence. Nevertheless, discussion on issues – including prospective EU membership – will undoubtedly continue and may yet intensify in the medium term.

Separate from the arguments on a new referendum taking place, the Scottish public would benefit from a more substantive and detailed debate on EU membership. At its heart, such an improved debate would necessitate the rejection of the prevailing tendency in Scottish politics to assess the EU in overly simplistic terms – as something to be idolised or rejected. In reality, we know that the EU is a multifaceted Union with deep complexities and faces both challenges and opportunities. Greater substance will provide the nuance which is missing from Scotland’s Europe debate. Should Scotland become independent in the future and seek to join the EU, its prospects for success as a new member state would depend on a coherent vision and an internalisation of EU affairs. The centrality of Europe in Scottish politics will persist for, whatever their opinions on independence, most Scots recognise the importance to Scotland of its relationship with the EU.

Cultivating Meat: A Food Revolution?

Despite concerns around health, climate change, and animal welfare – global meat consumption continues to rise. However, the limits of intensive animal farming already seem to have been reached. Researchers around the world are hard at work on an alternative: meat that is cultivated in a laboratory. But does it really live up to its promise of a sustainable, cruelty-free alternative? And will the technology be capable of making it affordable and accessible in time?

It was just six years ago that an artificial meat burger cost a whopping 250,000 euros. Since then, companies, start-ups, and universities have launched numerous significant and expensive trials in the race to produce meat products from animal cells. Soon, finding this so-called in vitro meat in the supermarket will no longer be science fiction.

The process of growing meat in a laboratory involves muscle stem cells from animals which develop into muscle cells. They multiply rapidly in a bioreactor and grow into muscle fibres in a nutrient solution. Sugar, amino acids, oxygen, and plant additives are needed to grow muscle fibres, fat, and animal tissue in the cell culture medium. The result of the cultivation process is a thin layer of muscle fibres that are then processed into meat products such as sausages or minced meat.

Animal rights organisations view these developments as promising – potentially signalling an end to cruelty towards, and mass killings of, animals. As demand for meat continues to grow, a solution that provides an end to intensive livestock farming seems like a win-win. But not all environmentalists are as enthusiastic: within the ecological movement some are concerned about the implications for our view of the value of animal life, as well as for protecting the planet. Many questions remain: how sustainable will cultivated meat be? And is its production truly a pain-free process for animals? What will it mean for the farming industry? And will people be willing to eat it?

A growing appetite for meat

Global demand for meat is growing. Over the past 50 years, meat production has more than tripled, and this is set to increase sharply in the years ahead. Intensive farming accounts for a large part of production, with pork and poultry the most widely consumed meats globally. Together these species account for about two thirds of the 360 million tonnes produced in 2018, followed by beef at about 70 million tonnes.

In recent years, in line with nutritional guidance to cut down on meat consumption, alternatives such as plant-based meat substitutes have been generating increasing interest among the populations of countries with high levels of meat consumption. Tofu, wheat gluten, tempeh, soya meat – these plant-based products have been on the market for years now. Almost like meat but remaining fundamentally an imitation. “Cultured meat, unlike plant-based substitutes, is actually meat genetically,” says Kurt Schmidinger, an Austrian food scientist who works with experts from business, science, and animal welfare as part of the Future Food initiative, which aims for meat production without livestock farming.

Scientists agree that our current meat-eating habits cannot be reconciled with either ecological or industrial livestock farming in the coming decades.

Politicians have begun to take notice of the potential of cultivated meat and encourage development of the sector. The Spanish government recently provided 5.2 million euros to the start-up BioTech Foods in San Sebastian, a company which has also received funding from Brussels. In October, the EU granted almost 3 million euros to the consortium project Meat4All, which BioTech Foods is leading.

Many meat-processing companies have also responded largely positively to the development of in vitro meat, which may seem surprising at first. The German market leader Wiesenhof has already invested in the start-up Supermeat, for example, and other companies who view these developments as significant for the future of their industry are also getting behind these initiatives early.

But who finances the development of in vitro meat, which is still very costly today? Some Silicon Valley billionaires, including Bill Gates, are supporting young start-ups, motivated by animal rights concerns. Via foundations such as the Open Philanthropy Project, they invest millions in the research. Already in 2015, the foundation complained that in vitro meat “receives little attention from governments and philanthropy.” According to investigative research by France Info, the foundation has invested over 100 million euros in animal welfare organisations.

From a marketing strategy point of view, this is a clever chess move: the channelling of lobbying interests of the companies developing cultured meat through animal welfare organisations, which in public perception stand for their clean, green image, is likely to help generate a favourable attitude towards cultured meat among the public.

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A global race

Many start-ups worldwide are currently working on the production of complicated three-dimensional meat structures. Worldwide, about 60 companies are researching this area. The USA, Israel, Japan, Canada, and some European countries are home to most of them. Singapore was the first country to approve cultured meat.

The structure of a steak or fillet is complex and requires plant-based materials. Another option is chemical production. Research is currently ready to ”make sausages, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets,” says Nick Lin-Hi, professor of economics and ethics at the University of Vechta, who has been working on sustainable consumption for a decade and a half. “This product tastes exactly like the meat from the animal, it looks the same, it smells the same. This step is a milestone. It is the biggest promise of sustainable development we have.”

Camilla Björkbom of the animal advocacy organisation EuroGroup for Animals expects mass production to start within this decade: “The companies aim for 2030. By then it will be commercially available. For now, it is rather testing and trying.”

Derin Alemli, the operations manager of US-based company New Age Meats sees a competitive advantage in the US: “Europe is much less on board with any genetic modifications, whereas we think it would be very difficult to scale this technology without that.”

Scepticism in the EU

In Europe, the Netherlands has been the pioneer since the beginning of research into artificial meat, almost 30 years ago. The first success was announced by the Mosa Meat research team in 2013, who presented the first artificially grown meat burger. The big sticking point at that time was the production cost. As soon as a company could start a low-cost, market-ready production, it would apply for approval in the EU. The European Food Safety Authority EFSA could then grant approval within one to two years: “The application could be under the Novel Food Regulation. Production can start if all safety regulations are met,” says food scientist Kurt Schmidinger.

So far, EU support – whether financial or through pan-European research projects – has been limited. “So far the European Union is quite hesitant,” explains Camilla Björkbom, “This is also a source of frustration for companies starting to develop cultivated meat. There could be more discussion in the EU about the potential of it.” Besides the Netherlands, the French company Gourmet is currently developing foie gras based on cell propagation.

A sustainable alternative?

Global factory farming is a real problem for the climate and the environment on our planet. Almost one sixth of greenhouse gases can be traced back to livestock farming. Huge areas of rainforest have given way to monocultures, especially maize and soy plantations to feed cattle, pigs, and other farm animals. A United Nations study attributes 8 percent of global water consumption to meat production. And factory farming can promote the development of epidemics; zoonosis becomes more likely when many animals are kept in a small space, as viruses spread and come into contact with humans.

In vitro meat promises to solve these problems: less agricultural land for livestock and the cultivation of feed products. In a bid to convince EU politicians, the Eurogroup for Animals has commissioned a paper (written by animal welfare consultant Hermes Sanctorum) summarising the state of research and perspectives on in vitro meat.

A study by the University of Oxford, now 10 years old, predicts that water consumption for cultivated meat could be reduced by 96 per cent. And already nine years ago, a study commissioned by the EU discovered the far-reaching contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases and intensive water and land use through the use of cultured meat. The results showed that if all meat produced in the EU-27 was replaced by cultured meat, the emissions, land use and water use would be reduced by two orders of magnitude compared to current meat production practices.

For food researcher Kurt Schmidinger, the current food cycle has no future: “We feed our own food to animals that need it for their own metabolism. This is very wasteful for our metabolism, because we do this with over 70 billion animals a year. Currently we are clearing rainforests for the feed of the farm animals that we eat.”

“Under the pretext of not wanting to kill a cow, they prefer to let the cow disappear altogether.”

– J. Porcher

As far as greenhouse gases are concerned, cultured meat scores highly in terms of lower methane emissions. However, a study by the University of Oxford warns of the potential impact of CO2 emissions: “Under continuous high global consumption, cultured meat results in less warming than cattle initially, but this gap narrows in the long term and in some cases cattle production causes far less warming, as CH4 [methane] emissions do not accumulate, unlike CO2.” The study showed that although cattle systems generally resulted in greater peak warming than cultured meat, this warming effect tended to decline and stabilise over time, while the CO2-based warming from cultured meat persisted and accumulated even under reduced consumption. It therefore concluded that: “cultured meat is not prima facie climatically superior to cattle.”

There are signs of a split between supporters and sceptics in green circles on the issue of cultured meat. While animal welfare organisations are very much open to the new technology, advocates of ecological animal farming are more sceptical. German Green MEP Martin Häusling points out that comprehensive data is still lacking, and thus it is not yet possible to predict what the climate footprint will ultimately look like in the mass production of cultured meat. “Even for the production of laboratory meat, certain amounts of energy are needed. The meat is not simply grown in the sun. The climate footprint of the bioreactors will not be very good either. It will be very energy intensive. But to know it exactly, you would need data. But that doesn’t exist,” says Häusling.

But the Green parties in Europe are anything but united in their attitude toward the climate potential of cultivated meat. The split is along the lines of the classic internal conflicts between fundamentalist Greens and eco-modernist practitioners. While green parties have long strictly rejected genetically engineered products in the food industry, that position is increasingly a matter for debate. The question of coalition possibilities with conservative parties plays a role in determining this outlook. In Austria, such a conservative-green coalition has been a reality since last year, in Germany it could dominate Berlin from September onwards.

However, the criticism of traditionalists is more noticeable because pragmatic voices that see opportunities for achieving climate goals in cultured meat are seldom heard. This is due to the almost total absence of public debate on this issue, and the question of connected opportunities and risks, both at the national and European level, among politicians as well as towards the public.

New ethical dilemmas

Today’s predominantly large-scale livestock farming has come with capitalism and industrialisation. French sociologist Jocelyne Porcher has been studying the relationship between humans and animals for many years. She says that industrial livestock farming labels animals as products and treats them like machines. The industrial animal life of pigs and chickens no longer has anything in common with natural animal life. “We treat our animals in an incredibly violent way. The conditions in which they are kept are terrible.”

In vitro meat promises to make slaughterhouses a thing of the past. No animal must die to obtain the stem cells, which are taken from a living animal during a biopsy. But is in vitro meat entirely free of animal deaths? For years, critics could rightly point out that cell multiplication in a nutrient solution requires the killing of an animal. Björkbom explains: “When you let grow the cells, traditionally you need a fetal bovine serum that comes from calves. The challenge for companies is to replace an unethical product as it is produced today by another product that is cultivated but does not use fetal serum.”

Business ethicist Nick Lin-Hi is certain that cultured meat will not be accepted on the market until a cost-effective substitute serum is found. However, “an economic interest is already steering the search for a substitute,” he says. The cultured poultry meat approved in Singapore seems to be gaining a competitive advantage in this respect, according to Björkbom. “Now they have managed to move away from fetal serum. They have developed animal-free substitutes.” This animal-free nutrient solution could consist of proteins and hormones from plants, algae, or fungi.

Sociologist Porcher expects cultured meat to be just the beginning: “Cellular agriculture also deals with eggs, milk, and other animal products. They are all to be developed in the laboratory. The big investors who have the money and industrial agriculture are working hand in hand on this. Animals are seen as resources. So far we have used all the animal material. Now we are taking animal cells and replacing the cow with a bioreactor. What does a cow actually mean to these people? How can animal welfare organisations support this? This shows that they don’t know what a cow is and what kind of relationship we have with this animal as humans. Under the pretext of not wanting to kill a cow, they prefer to let the cow disappear altogether.”

And Green politician Häusling points out that there are alternatives that also have animal welfare in mind: “If someone doesn’t want to eat meat for moral reasons, he or she can either become a vegetarian or look for farms that produce meat according to animal welfare standards. Forty percent of the world’s land is entirely grassland. We could make better use of this land for sustainable farming of ruminants.”

“With cultured meat, we can also try out fun mixtures: Penguin-kangaroo burgers without hurting penguins and kangaroos.” – K. Schmidinger

And what role will organic farming play? Kurt Schmidinger is convinced that organic farmers will have new tasks. He sees farmers as producers of the plant-based raw materials that are necessary for the nutrient solutions. “So cultivated meat does not do away with agriculture per se. Especially since we continue to eat plant products.”

Porcher does not agree. She fears that small organic farms have no prospects: “I talk to many farmers who have small farms. They already have existential problems due to competition from factory farming. The argument that ensures survival for small farmers today is: we treat our animals well, we love our animals. Cultured meat makes it even harder for them. Organic farmers offer the animals a dignified life and the quality of the meat speaks for them. But what else can they say when the producers of cultured meat offer their product in the supermarket as slaughter-free? The aim of this industry is to destroy livestock farming. Except for the cow that donates the cells for 80,000 burgers, farm animals will disappear.”

A healthier kind of meat?

The impact of cultured meat on human health remains the subject of speculation. One advantage is that, while animals are often treated with antibiotics in mass farming, this would not be the case for cultured meat. The cell reproduction takes place under sterile conditions. The bioreactor is self-contained, which also prevents fungi and bacteria from entering.

In addition, in vitro meat can be produced individually according to the nutritional needs and tastes of the consumer. Food scientist Schmidinger explains: “So far, there are only a few animal species that we eat. With cultured meat, we can also try out fun mixtures: Penguin-kangaroo burgers without hurting penguins and kangaroos. It will be easy to lower cholesterol, lower saturated fat and push omega-three fatty acids. In livestock farming, it is only possible to influence this very slowly through certain breeds.”

MEP Martin Häusling is sceptical about whether this automatically means that in vitro meat is healthy: “To give the muscle cells a structure, many substances are added. Many of them do not come from nature but are produced artificially. I’m thinking of flavour enhancers to make it taste like meat. How can that be healthy?”

A mixed response among the population

It is still difficult to foresee to what extent cultured meat will find its buyers. Hermes Sanctorum and Dr. Christopher Bryant carried out a study to find out more about potential acceptance among the population. ”As cultivated meat is not on the market yet, you can only measure consumer intentions. In Belgium for example, young people are more positive towards it than older people. Flexitarians are also positive. Women were more inclined towards eating and buying plant-based meat alternatives whereas men were more interested in cultivated meat. But it is clear there will be people that are reluctant because it is new,” says Camilla Björkbom.

It is difficult to estimate how large this sceptical group will be. For Björkbom, it is clear that vegetarians cannot be convinced by the alternative meat either. On the other hand, she says, “cultivated meat can appeal to the meat consuming part of the population. If you want the taste and texture but you do not want the slaughter, you might be interested in cultivated meat.”

Scientists agree that our current meat-eating habits cannot be reconciled with either ecological or industrial livestock farming in the coming decades. The world’s population will increase to about 10 billion people by the middle of the century. The appetite for meat is growing, especially in many emerging countries whose economic growth and standard of living are rising. Nick Lin-Hi calculates: “A globally rising level of prosperity goes hand in hand with rising meat consumption. So we are talking about at least a 50 per cent increase in meat consumption by 2050, but the studies predict even more. Our food system is currently at an impasse.”

Cultivated meat – within our reach?

In vitro meat would convince many people if it were to be affordable, Nick Lin-Hi believes. This may not be such a distant prospect. ”We will reach price parity at some point. I assume that we will be able to undercut the current price of meat by the end of the decade. Cultivated meat will be cheaper than discounter meat,” says Lin-Hi. In his current study, he already notes a high openness to cultivated meat: “But we have to do something to increase acceptance. We need to educate all levels of society.”

In France, the minister of agriculture took a clear position following the approval in Singapore. On Twitter, Julien Denormandie rejected cultured meat: “I say clearly. Do we really want this for our children? No! You can count on me: In France, meat will never be artificial”. In the end, the question of the future of meat production will also be determined by the amount of meat the average adult consumes. The German Nutrition Society recommends 300 grammes per week. That equates to a substantial piece of steak – the likes of which a laboratory has yet to create.

La solution européenne à la “Question macédonienne”

Tout au long de son histoire, l’État, le peuple, l’histoire et la culture de la Macédoine du Nord ont fait l’objet de litiges et de revendications concurrentes de la part des pays de la région. Ces attitudes sont toujours présentes, comme en témoignent les positions anachroniques adoptées par les voisins de la Macédoine du Nord ou encore le veto opposé par la Bulgarie aux négociations d’adhésion à l’UE en novembre dernier. Pourtant, l’intégration européenne constitue le seul chemin durable vers la stabilité pour les Balkans. 

En mars 2020, la République de Macédoine du Nord devient le 30e membre de l’OTAN, changeant son nom de l’Ancienne République Yougoslave de Macédoine (ARYM) en 2018 pour surmonter le veto de la Grèce. Longtemps retardée, une invitation à entamer des négociations d’adhésion à l’UE est attendue. Cependant, le 17 novembre 2020, la Bulgarie bloque le déroulement des négociations en raison de différends sur l’histoire, la langue et les politiques « d’identité nationale ».

Le Département d’État américain a exprimé sa déception, tout comme les représentants de l’UE et les dirigeants des États membres. Tous ont appelé les deux pays à résoudre leurs problèmes bilatéraux, mais aucune solution rapide et facile ne se profile à l’horizon.

La décision du gouvernement bulgare n’était pas surprenante, étant donné la présence d’une mouvance populiste et des exemples d’histoires similaires impliquant la Macédoine du Nord. Toutefois au regard de l’objectif de stabilité recherché sur le long terme en Europe du Sud-Est, elle n’en demeure pas loin étonnante. Cet objectif ne pourra pas être atteint tant qu’une solution durable n’aura pas été trouvée à la question de la Macédoine du Nord.

Contrairement à ce que l’on pourrait penser, ce n’est pas le Kosovo qui encourt le plus grand risque pour la région, mais bien la Macédoine du Nord. Le Kosovo était une “province autonome” de l’ancienne république fédérée de Serbie et, bien que le problème soit aigu, il ne concerne que deux pays. En revanche, le cas de la Macédoine du Nord revêt de multiples implications régionales.

La « Question macédonienne »

Dans un manuel publié en 1977, la Macédoine était décrite au tournant du XXe siècle ainsi :

« La population était divisée en neuf groupes distincts : Les Turcs, les Bulgares, les Grecs, les Serbes, les Macédoniens, les Albanais, les Valaques ou Kutzo-Vlaques, les Juifs et les Tsiganes […] Les Bulgares utilisaient des arguments linguistiques pour démontrer que les Slaves macédoniens étaient bien leurs frères. Les anthropologues serbes soutenaient que leur fête de la slava, également présente chez les Macédoniens, faisait d’eux des Serbes. Les Grecs ont cherché à démontrer que toute personne se trouvant en Macédoine sous l’autorité du patriarche œcuménique était grecque. Chaque nation a donc utilisé tous les arguments imaginables pour étayer ses revendications, et chacune d’entre elles pouvait effectivement être contestée […]. La Bulgarie, la Grèce et la Serbie souhaitaient toutes acquérir la Macédoine ou une partie importante de celle-ci pour trois raisons principales. Premièrement, cela permettrait d’élargir l’État et d’y incorporer davantage de ressortissants. Deuxièmement, l’acquisition des vallées fluviales du Vardar, de la Struma et des voies ferrées qui les traversent présenterait de grands avantages économiques. Troisièmement, et peut-être le plus important, celui qui contrôlerait la Macédoine serait la nation la plus forte de la péninsule. Pour les grandes puissances, cette dernière préoccupation était certainement la plus importante. ».

Cette description constitue un compte rendu complet de la manière dont la Macédoine était perçue et appréhendée à la fin du XIXe siècle et au début du XXe siècle. Au cours de cette période, le discours sur la Macédoine a accouché de ce que l’on appelle depuis lors la « Question macédonienne ». Au tournant du 20e siècle, la Macédoine apparaît non pas comme un ensemble autonome doté d’un projet politique propre, mais comme un espace défini par le croisement de points de vue extérieurs, au premier rang desquels les attitudes politiques de ses voisins.

Selon ce discours, les nations limitrophes estimaient que la Macédoine était un ajout naturel à leur propre achèvement ; les questions relatives à l’histoire, à la langue, à l’ethnicité, etc. soutenaient les ambitions territoriales. Dans le même temps, les « grandes puissances » telles que l’Allemagne, la Russie, l’Autriche-Hongrie et la Grande-Bretagne considéraient que la Macédoine revêtait une importance particulière. Quiconque contrôlait la Macédoine, pensaient-ils, pouvait exercer un contrôle sur l’ensemble de la région.

Aujourd’hui, l’idée de revoir les frontières des États est anachronique. Il n’y a pas non plus de raison de penser que la Macédoine du Nord a conservé l’importance stratégique qu’on lui attribuait autrefois. Et pourtant, l’attitude de ses voisins rappelle encore l’ancien discours. Aujourd’hui, les États voisins contestent la langue de la Macédoine du Nord, son histoire et toutes sortes de symboles nationaux.

« Depuis 20 ans, le pays glisse sur la pente abrupte du nationalisme. »

Il est difficile de dire à quoi ressemblerait une satisfaction totale de ces revendications. Si ces demandes étaient satisfaites, la Macédoine du Nord conserverait son territoire et ses institutions étatiques – mais pas sa langue, sa culture et son histoire. Il s’agirait d’une construction très exotique, et véritablement absurde. Pourtant, cette image fantastique a des implications politiques et sécuritaires directes pour la région.

Un corps politique divisé

Une deuxième série de risques résulte des tensions entre les communautés slave et albanaise. Les Albanais ont contesté leur statut dans le cadre de la Constitution ethno-nationaliste de 1991 et ont exigé des changements pendant de nombreuses années. La Constitution leur avait attribué un rang politique de seconde classe en tant que communauté non “constitutive” de la nation macédonienne, comme c’était le cas pour la communauté slave. Cet arrangement ethno-constitutionnel a conduit à une série d’autres lois, décisions politiques et pratiques discriminatoires. En 2001, le conflit a dégénéré en une courte guerre civile. Les communautés albanaises n’ont toutefois pas soutenu une séparation territoriale et ont limité leurs demandes à un statut constitutionnel égal.

Il est juste de dire que l’ancienne République yougoslave de Macédoine a évité la désintégration territoriale grâce à la modération des communautés albanaises. L’État lui-même était faible et incapable d’imposer une volonté politique centrale. Le conflit a été résolu grâce à une médiation internationale menée par James Pardew, dépêché par le secrétaire d’État américain Colin Powell, et le représentant de l’UE François Léotard. Le résultat s’est matérialisé avec l’accord d’Ohrid en 2001, une réforme à grande échelle de la constitution existante.

Depuis lors, l’ARYM/Macédoine du Nord a connu une succession de crises politiques. Parfois, celles-ci se sont développées selon des lignes ethniques, comme ce fut le cas en 2017, lorsqu’un Albanais de souche a été élu président du parlement. Cependant, d’autres facteurs ont également joué un rôle, comme la corruption, la discrimination, la haine traditionnelle, la radicalisation politique et le manque de contrôle sur l’immigration en provenance du Kosovo. Cette combinaison a été responsable des affrontements de Kumanovo en 2015, impliquant un groupe albanais armé se faisant appeler l’Armée de libération nationale. Ces affrontements ont fait des dizaines de morts de part et d’autre, de nombreux blessés parmi les forces de l’ordre, et ont donné lieu à des pistes de terrorisme.

Le plus souvent, les crises politiques ont impliqué une corruption politique et institutionnelle de haut niveau. En 2015, une enquête de l’UE a souligné « la fraude électorale, la corruption, l’abus de pouvoir et d’autorité […] le chantage, l’extorsion […] les dommages criminels ». Depuis 2001, l’ARYM/Macédoine du Nord a toujours été au bord de la faillite ou de l’effondrement de l’État, mais a survécu contre vents et marées. La Macédoine du Nord se trouve également dans une situation économique difficile, avec un taux de chômage allant jusqu’à 20 % et une économie informelle importante. La pandémie n’a fait qu’aggraver cette crise économique.

Enfin, au cours des 20 dernières années, le pays a glissé sur la pente raide du nationalisme. Cette guerre symbolique a détourné une énergie sociale précieuse pour transformer Skopje en un musée national. Ce type de propagande d’État ne se limite pas à l’espace architectural de la capitale, mais se poursuit à tous les niveaux de la politique, de l’éducation et des médias.

Ces facteurs signifient que l’État continue d’exister en tant qu’entité politique divisée et problématique. L’effondrement de l’État n’est pas un danger imminent, comme en 2001, mais un risque perpétuel. Les missions diplomatiques ad hoc ne permettent pas d’instaurer une stabilisation durable. Un nouvel accord d’Ohrid, des amendements à la Constitution, voire une nouvelle Constitution, ne suffiraient pas. Quelque chose de fondamentalement différent est nécessaire.

Au-delà de la balkanisation

Il est dans l’intérêt de tous les pays voisins de se détacher de la “Question macédonienne” et de commencer à penser en termes de stabilité globale des Balkans. L’ensemble de la région doit prendre très au sérieux le scénario de la désintégration de la Macédoine. Si cela devait se produire, il en résulterait deux demi-États non viables ou deux communautés apatrides. Une telle évolution aurait un effet domino immédiat. L’ensemble des pays voisins subirait de graves dommages en conséquence.

« La pleine adhésion à l’UE est le seul moyen d’ouvrir la voie à une Macédoine du Nord stable. »

Le redécoupage des frontières dans cette partie des Balkans a été périodiquement suggéré par certains hommes politiques occidentaux, comme David Owen, ancien Ministre britannique des Affaires étrangères et négociateur pendant les guerres des Balkans dans les années 1990. Cependant, aucun pays de la région n’a la capacité d’absorber une grande partie de la population, de l’économie et de la société de la Macédoine du Nord, même s’il le voulait et même si les principaux acteurs internationaux étaient d’accord, ce qui semble actuellement improbable.

Les risques ne peuvent donc être minimisés que par l’adhésion de la Macédoine du Nord à une grande communauté réglementée. Par le passé, l’Empire ottoman et la Fédération yougoslave ont fourni des garanties de sécurité et empêché des forces extérieures de constituer des poches d’occupation autour de la Macédoine – même s’ils ont également impliqué des politiques de répression et d’assimilation. L’OTAN fournit des garanties de défense mais œuvre peu en termes de stabilisation et de développement de la société. La pleine adhésion à l’UE est le seul moyen d’ouvrir la voie à une Macédoine du Nord stable.

Les médiateurs internationaux, les principaux États membres de l’UE et les missions américaines doivent s’efforcer de convaincre la Bulgarie de soutenir le processus d’intégration de la Macédoine du Nord. Ce n’est pas une tâche facile, car la politique actuelle bénéficie d’un soutien massif de la part des Bulgares, un peu comme la demande de la Grèce de changer le nom de la Macédoine.

Il ne suffit toutefois pas de forcer le gouvernement bulgare à se soumettre aux pressions extérieures. Au contraire, la facilitation internationale devrait promouvoir un changement radical du langage avec lequel les voisins de la Macédoine du Nord parlent du pays. Les gouvernements bulgare et macédonien doivent être persuadés d’une vérité toute simple : l’intégration internationale vise à garantir la paix et la sécurité, et non l’histoire, les symboles, les souvenirs et les émotions populaires. Les deux gouvernements doivent mettre un point d’honneur à remplacer le langage du souvenir romantique par un langage pragmatique de sécurité internationale.

Donner à la Macédoine du Nord une véritable chance d’intégration européenne serait une réalisation cruciale pour démanteler la réalité de la balkanisation des Balkans, qui trouve un puissant écho dans la très contestable “Question macédonienne”. 

Cet article a été publié pour la première fois par Eurozine.

Niezależne media w Europe Środkowej. Walka trwa

Wolność prasy jest kluczowym elementem demokracji, umożliwiającym otwartą dyskusję oraz wykrywanie nieprawidłowości ze strony władz. Media w Europie Środkowej muszą radzić sobie z utratą różnorodności w branży, przejęciami niezależnych tytułów i wszechobecnością propagandy. Mimo tych okoliczności niektóre tytuły okazały się zaskakująco odporne na wyzwania, zapewniając czytającym je osobom wysokiej klasy dziennikarstwo – pomimo rosnącej presji ze strony rządów. Dzięki dostatecznemu wsparciu ze strony czytelników oraz społeczności międzynarodowej będą one mogły być podstawą rodzącego się, pluralistycznego krajobrazu medialnego.

Dziennikarstwo w Europie Środkowej dalekie jest od zejścia ze sceny. Osobom niedowierzającym tej diagnozie wypada polecić przyjrzenie się zwycięzcom i nominowanym do Europejskiej Nagrody Prasowej – wyróżnienia, które coraz częściej traktowane jest jako dobry miernik jakości w branży. W roku 2020 za najlepszy materiał publicystyczny uznano tekst z największego słowackiego dziennika SME. Beata Balogová – dziennikarka, która w roku 1989 uczestniczyła w protestach studenckich skierowanych przeciwko ówczesnej socjalistycznej władzy – opisała, jak po trzech dekadach demokracji Słowacja po raz kolejny stoi na rozdrożu między wolnością a jej brakiem. W swym materiale zaapelowała o opór wobec polityków, którzy „sabotują przyszłość”, uzasadniając swe destrukcyjne posunięcia potrzebą „ochrony narodowej tożsamości przed wrogami, których stworzyli na bazie dobrze znanych autokratom metod”.

W tym samym roku Spięcie, wspólny projekt pięciu polskich redakcji, doceniony został przez konkursowe jury za wysiłki w przeciwdziałaniu postępującej polaryzacji społecznej. Uczestniczące w nim magazyny, zajmujące zróżnicowaną pozycję na spektrum politycznym – od umiarkowanie konserwatywnych po postępowo-lewicowe – wspólnie wybierają zestaw tematów do dyskusji. Zamiast ograniczać się do publikacji tekstów redakcyjnych zamieszczają pełen zestaw przygotowanych w jego ramach materiałów po to, by skonfrontować czytelników z nowymi, być może niecodziennymi dla nich perspektywami, wspierając ich w przekuwaniu baniek informacyjnych. Region był godnie reprezentowany również w innych latach, np. rumuński serwis Republica.ro nominowany został w roku 2017 za pokazanie tendencji do obwiniania ofiar (w kwestiach, takich jak molestowanie seksualne, wypadki drogowe czy klęski żywiołowe), węgierski Direkt36 w 2021 za opisanie sposobów, w jakie niemiecki przemysł chroni rząd Viktora Orbána przed zachodnią krytyką, a czeski A2larm – w tym samym roku – za przygotowanie analizy na temat tego, co dla mniejszości romskiej znaczy ruch Black Lives Matter.

Udostępnianie jakościowych doniesień wyłącznie osobom płacącym to wyjątkowo niebezpieczna strategia.

Wysokiej jakości, dające do myślenia dziennikarstwo z regionu nie jest jednak ograniczone do nominowanych do wspomnianej nagrody. W roku 2018 Ján Kuciak i Martina Kušnírová zostali zamordowani na Słowacji w odwecie za swe śledztwo dotyczące organizacji mafijnych w serwisie informacyjnym Aktuality.sk. Bułgarski serwis śledczy Bivol, trójjęzyczny serwis śledczy skierowany do społeczeństw państw bałtyckich Re:Baltica oraz przekraczające granice projekty, takie jak Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, są znane dziennikarzom z całej Europy. Nominowany do Oscara rumuński film dokumentalny Collective (Kolektyw) pokazuje, w jaki sposób dziennikarz Catalin Tolontan i jego zespół w redakcji Gazeta Sporturilor rozpoczęli śledztwo, które odsłoniło skalę korupcji i niekompetencji, która doprowadziła do śmierci dziesiątek ludzi w trakcie pożaru w klubie nocnym w Bukareszcie. Jego rezultaty doprowadziły do rezygnacji ministra zdrowia, co dobrze pokazuje, jak wysokiej jakości dziennikarstwo może zmieniać rzeczywistość. Choć dokument kończy się trzeźwym wnioskiem, że samo z siebie nie zmieni świata, to opisana w nim praca reporterska daje jasny znak politykom, że nie wszystko jest im w stanie ujść na sucho.

Niekorzystny klimat

Choć jak widzimy nie brakuje wysokiej jakości dziennikarstwa, to krajobraz polityczny i ekonomiczny Europy Środkowej ostatnich dekad sprawia, że redakcjom coraz ciężej jest zapewnić redakcjom stabilne źródła finansowania. Spora część z nich zmaga się z zapewnieniem sobie dostatecznych środków, umożliwiających wykonywanie wysokiej jakości, niezbędnego do rzetelnej pracy researchu oraz szerszą dystrybucję treści. Artykuł  w magazynie Green European Journal opisuje, w jaki sposób, począwszy od otwarcia rynku medialnego na początku lat 90. XX wieku, krajobraz medialny w nowych państwach członkowskich UE zaczął stawać się bardziej kolorowy. Dziennikarze mogli w końcu pisać bardziej swobodnie i wykorzystując nowe, dotychczas im nieznane formaty. Większość redakcji skończyła w rękach zagranicznych koncernów. W krajach geograficznie bliższych „Zachodowi” (takich jak tym z Grupy Wyszehradzkiej – Polsce, Słowacji, Czechach i Węgrzech) oznaczało to przejęcie przez nie nawet 80% rynku. Były one słusznie krytykowane za stawianie na zyski bardziej niż na jakość warsztatu, tymczasem dziś widzimy nieco nostalgii za okresem, gdy media miały zagranicznych właścicieli. Na Węgrzech wielu dziennikarzy twierdzi, że inwestorzy spoza kraju zapewniali stabilność finansową i chronili redakcje przed naciskami politycznymi.

Nowe stulecie przyniosło szereg niekorzystnych zmian w związku z brakiem wymogów, dotyczących przestrzegania praworządności po wstąpieniu do Unii Europejskiej, kryzysem ekonomicznym oraz zmianami na rynku medialnym, spowodowanymi gwałtownym rozprzestrzenianiem się dostępu do Internetu. Analogicznie do globalnego trendu zaczęły spadać przychody, kiedy pieniądze zaczęły przepływać w stronę Google i Facebooka, co pogorszyło bilanse finansowe dotychczas zyskownych mediów. Zagraniczni inwestorzy stracili zainteresowanie redakcjami, które kupili (szczególnie dotyczyło to mniejszych krajów, a w najmniejszym stopniu dość dużego i żywotnego rynku w Polsce). Niemal jednocześnie w różnych miejscach regionu pojawiać się zaczął nowy rodzaj autorytarnych, populistycznych polityków mających chrapkę na kontrolowanie mediów. Doprowadziło to do pojawienia się działań na rzecz przejmowania niezależnych redakcji, mających na celu uniemożliwienie im realizowanie swojej pracy i zatrzymując się tylko o krok od jawnego łamania ich praw.

Zamiast aresztowania dziennikarzy czy nalotów na redakcje rządy, które chciały zwiększyć swą kontrolę nad mediami, decydowały się na zwiększenie poziomów ich opodatkowania czy wprowadzenie nieproporcjonalnie wysokich wymogów kontroli jakości, które odciągały dziennikarzy od ich pracy. W tym samym czasie grupy interesu dokonywały manipulacji na rynku reklamowym aby zdobyć wpływ na przekaz medialny – a czasem wręcz kończyły na wykupywaniu poszczególnych tytułów. Andrej Babiš, biznesmen i premier Czech od roku 2017, stał się największym graczem na tamtejszym rynku medialnym po zakupie szeregu czołowych tytułów z rąk zagranicznych inwestorów. Słowacki SME przez chwilę znalazł się w rękach grupy finansowej Penta, o której pisał w kontekście skandali korupcyjnych. W wypadku Słowenii inwestorzy związani z autorytarnym rządem węgierskim zaczęli wykupywać udziały w mediach – po to, by pomóc koledze-populiście, Janezowi Janšy, w upowszechnieniu jego przekazu. Na Węgrzech cała prasa lokalna i regionalna została wykupiona od jej (w przeważającej mierze niemieckich) właścicieli i zmieniona w tubę propagandową rządu. Polskie władze wyraziły podobne aspiracje, mówiąc o „repolonizacji” mediów w kraju.

Nieprzypadkowe jest również przydzielanie budżetów reklamowych – dla przykładu w Bułgarii i na Węgrzech państwo stało się kluczowym graczem na tym rynku, co pozwala mu nagradzać przychylne mu redakcje i karać te wobec niego krytyczne. Demaskujące skandale i promujące dziennikarstwo śledcze newsroomy – a czasem po prostu osoby, chcące stymulować rozwój żywej debaty publicznej – mogą w efekcie znaleźć się w tarapatach finansowych.

Odwołanie się do czytelników

Choć trudno powiedzieć, by kontekst, w którym działają niezależne media był w regionie szczególnie korzystny, sporej części z nich udało się przetrwać. Części dziennikarzy, którzy utracili pracę udało się również zainicjować powstanie nowych projektów, tyle że o mniejszej niż te dotychczasowe skali. Widać również nieco pozytywnych znaków na przyszłość. Jakościowe dziennikarstwo wydaje się bardziej odporne na wyzwania, niż zdawało się z początku komentatorom. Czytelnicy zdają się wykazywać większą niż myślano gotowość do wspierania przetrwania wiarygodnych źródeł informacji. Raport ze stycznia 2021 roku pokazał, że rosnąca ilość redakcji spogląda w stronę modelu, w którym podtrzymanie ich działania możliwe jest przede wszystkim dzięki finansowaniu ze strony odbiorców medium. Skupienie się na ich wsparciu jest opcją również w krajach położonych na wschodzie UE. Raport Reuters Digital News za rok 2020 zauważa, że odsetek płacących za treści informacyjne odbiorców zwiększył się w trakcie pandemii. W Czechach i Bułgarii sięgnął on poziomu 10% ankietowanych, podczas gdy w Polsce – 20%, a w Rumunii – 16%.

Finansowanie społecznościowe z reguły przyjmuje jedną z trzech form: subskrypcji (w której płaci się za dostęp), darowizn (dzięki czemu medium pozostaje bezpłatne) oraz członkostwa (zakładającego bardziej aktywną, partycypacyjną rolę osób czytających). Już dziś wskazać możemy na pewne przykłady udanych projektów, wspartych przez ich odbiorców. Grupa słowackich dziennikarzy, zirytowanych przejęciem dziennika SME, zdecydowała się na stworzenie nowego medium Dennik N (N jak Niezależny). Jego rozruch wsparty został darowizną ze strony lokalnej firmy z sektora IT, ale przyjęty przez nich model subskrypcyjny osiągnął tak duży sukces, że w krótkim czasie byli w stanie spłacić ten kapitał początkowy. Choć Dennik N uważa się za potencjalny model dla redakcji w regionie inne media nie odniosły aż takich sukcesów w wykorzystywaniu potencjału tkwiącego w ich odbiorcach. Projekty oparte na aktywnym członkostwie w większości krajów wciąż dopiero raczkują, subskrypcji z kolei nie udaje się osiągnąć porównywalnych do słowackiego sukcesów. Częściej spotyka się darowizny, tyle że wiążą się one z szeregiem problemów, takich jak nieprzewidywalny strumień przychodów czy fakt, iż generowane w kampaniach crowdfundingowych środki rzadko kiedy wystarczają na podtrzymanie redakcji większej niż kilka osób. Mimo tych ograniczeń bez tego typu modeli wielu redakcjom śledczym czy o lewicowych poglądach ciężko by było utrzymać się na rynku.

Media na zakręcie

Momentem przełomu okazała się pandemia. Kryzys zdrowia publicznego uwrażliwił odbiorców na kruchość niezależnych redakcji. Wraz z załamaniem się rynku reklamowego i zamknięciem kiosków coraz więcej redakcji zwróciło się o bezpośrednie wsparcie do czytelników. Powiązanie między kryzysem zdrowotnym a zagrożeniem dla najbliższych nam osób doprowadziło również do docenienia redakcji, zajmujących się odkrywaniem prawdy, nie zaś powtarzaniem zmanipulowanych danych rządowych.

Węgierska ekipa Viktora Orbána zdecydowała się na krok, który zszokował opinię publiczną, decydując się na usunięcie redaktora naczelnego serwisu Index.hu – jedynej pozostałej przy życiu niezależnej redakcji, której materiały równie chętnie czytali liberałowie i konserwatyści, fani i krytycy rządu. W jego miejsce do zespołu zarządzającego trafili zwolennicy władz. Doprowadziło to do masowej rezygnacji niemal całego newsroomu. Bezrobotni dziennikarze zdecydowali się ruszyć z własną kampanią crowdfundingową, której efektem było pozyskanie około 40 tysięcy subskrypcji. W kraju, w którym internetowe dziennikarstwo finansowane wyłącznie z wpłat osób czytających dane medium wydawało się czymś niemożliwym, udało się stworzyć serwis Telex.hu, w którym znalazła zatrudnienie cała, chcąca do niego przejść ekipa. Jak do tej pory wsparcie finansowe wystarczy mu do działania bez konieczności publikowania reklam czy wprowadzania odpłatności za treści.

Populistyczni liderzy w Polsce chętnie kopiowali szereg realizowanych na Węgrzech kroków, takich jak atak na rządy prawa, społeczeństwo obywatelskie i niezależne media. Kluczową taktyką jest tu zmiana mediów publicznych (finansowanych z abonamentu i mających zachowywać niezależność) w kontrolowane przez rząd narzędzie upowszechniania jego ideologii, których przekaz przez krytyków określany jest mianem propagandy. Na początku roku 2020 Dariusz Rosiak, popularny prowadzący radiowej Trójki, został zwolniony – wśród pojawiających się sugestii co do przyczyn wymieniano jego obecność na antenie krytycznej wobec rządu stacji TVN oraz niepochlebne opinie pod adresem Donalda Trumpa. Kilkunastu jego dawnych, redakcyjnych kolegów zdecydowało się na stworzenie własnego medium. Kampania crowdfundingowa, którą zorganizowali, przekroczyła ich najśmielsze oczekiwania, a Radio Nowy Świat pochwalić się może miesięcznym budżetem na poziomie bliskim 700 tysiącom złotych.

Słabsze punkty

Wspomniane przykłady pokazują, że wsparcie czytelników może utrzymać ważne dla nich medium. Dziennikarzom, którzy udowodnili jakość swojego warsztatu i którzy stracili pracę po przejęciu ich macierzystych redakcji, pozwoliło to na kontynuowanie pracy i jakościowego dziennikarstwa. Trudno jednak na ich bazie wyciągać pewnej ogólne wnioski, jako że otrzymane przez nich wsparcie o bezprecedensowej skali związane było z ryzykiem utraty cennego źródła informacji. Trudno zatem powiedzieć, jak długo utrzymać można tego typu model finansowania. Opierające się na darowiznach dziennikarstwo nie ma długiej historii, a dotychczasowe doświadczenia wskazują, że fundatorzy mogą szybko tracić zainteresowanie. Na początku danego projektu mogą okazywać hojność, która niekoniecznie przekłada się na długofalowe przetrwanie medium.

Model subskrypcyjny, w którym dostęp do treści zależny jest od finansowania projektu, uważany jest za bardziej stabilny i praktykowany jest przez redakcje, takie jak słoweńska Mladina czy polska Gazeta Wyborcza. Sęk w tym, że modele te są trudne do wprowadzenia. Zamykanie treści na krótszą metę oznacza pogarszanie rankingu stron w wyszukiwarkach, zmniejszenie poziomów czytelnictwa czy przychodów z reklam. Subskrypcje (i towarzyszące im paywalle) niosą ze sobą również ryzyko odgrodzenia wartościowych treści od szerszej widowni. W czasie, gdy w niektórych państwach członkowskich UE rządy czy inne grupy interesu przeznaczają coraz więcej środków i energii na szerzenie propagandy i dezinformacji, udostępnianie jakościowych doniesień wyłącznie osobom płacącym to wyjątkowo niebezpieczna strategia. Przekaz z podtekstem politycznym (płynący z przejętych mediów publicznych oraz tożsamych ideowo prywatnych redakcji) może w efekcie stać się domyślnym źródłem informacji dla wszystkich niechętnych, niezmotywowanych czy niezdolnych do wykupienia dostępu do bardziej rzetelnej alternatywy. Grozi to powstaniem niemożliwej do zasypania luki – nie tylko między bogatymi i biednymi, ale też między „ekspertami”, których praca, pozycja społeczna czy zainteresowanie polityką umożliwia wyszukiwanie najlepszych dostępnych informacji o życiu publicznym, a obywatelami z ograniczoną wiedzą i słabiej usieciowionych, których odmienne zainteresowania czy obowiązki utrudniają identyfikację cennych, dostępnych za opłatą źródeł informacji. W takiej sytuacji cierpi na tym demokracja. Jeśli elektorat ma łatwy dostęp jedynie do zmanipulowanych informacji, wówczas podejmowanie przemyślanych decyzji w dzień wyborów (czy – szerzej – świadomość własnych interesów) jest niemal niemożliwe.

Środkowoeuropejskie media nie powinny zostać pozostawione same sobie w konfrontacji z zagrażającymi nim siłami w krajach, w których działają.

Bardziej przekonującym modelem może być ten, przyjęty m.in. przez węgierski serwis video Partizán, a mianowicie podejście „freemium”. Redakcja tworzy talk showy, dogłębne wywiady, dokumenty oraz magazyny śledcze. Większość treści oferuje za darmo w formie nagrań video bądź podcastów – darczyńcy otrzymują z kolei dostęp do różnego rodzaju materiałów dodatkowych, takich jak nieskrócone wersje nagrań. W niektórych państwach rządy zdecydowały się wesprzeć redakcje, by ograniczyć skalę strat, poniesionych przez nie w wyniku pandemii koronawirusa. Dobrym przykładem jest tu Łotewski Fundusz Wsparcia Mediów, który postawił sobie za cel pomóc tak nadawcom, jak i publikacjom drukowanym oraz internetowym w czasie, gdy mierzyły się one ze sporymi wyzwaniami finansowymi. W wielu krajach tego typu środki są (lub byłyby) niedostępne dla krytycznych wobec władz mediów – wystarczy popatrzeć na wrogość, z jaką się spotykają.

Niezależnie od pandemii również Unia Europejska zapewnia pewien poziom wsparcia dla dziennikarstwa śledczego, z którego sporo redakcji chętnie korzysta. W minionych latach szereg prywatnych inicjatyw filantropijnych również udzielało wsparcia finansowego mediom i ich pracy. W grudniu roku 2020 Komisja Europejska przedstawiła plan działań na rzecz europejskiej demokracji, jak również analogiczny plan w kwestiach mediów i sektora audiowizualnego. Towarzyszyła im obietnica kolejnych kroków na rzecz pogłębienia pluralizmu, m.in. w zakresie poprawy przejrzystości publicznego finansowania reklamowego oraz ubiegania się przez media o wsparcie finansowe. Powiązana z tymi tematami rekomendacja z roku 2021 stawia sobie za cel poprawę bezpieczeństwa dziennikarzy, uwzględniając niepokojący trend ich zastraszania i atakowania (szczególnie dziennikarek). To wszystko kroki w dobrą stronę, ale mogą nie wystarczyć w sytuacji kurczących się redakcji i coraz trudniejszych warunków uprawiania zawodu – szczególnie poza rynkami stołecznymi.

Jeśli patrzeć przez pryzmat umiejętności dziennikarskich to wiele spośród niezależnych inicjatyw medialnych w Europie Środkowej i Wschodniej jest dobrze przygotowanych do tego, by pomóc krajom, w których działają, w przezwyciężeniu „kryzysu demokracji”. Nie brak wśród nich mistrzów dziennikarskiego warsztatu, cieszą się też zaufaniem swych czytelników. Udaje się im zwrócić uwagę na problemy związane z efektami funkcjonowania władz, odkrywając przed opinią publiczną nieprawidłowości w świecie elit politycznych i gospodarczych. Potrzebują jednak wsparcia ze strony europejskich decydentów, fundacji i odpowiedzialnych obywateli – wsparcia, które umożliwi im kontynuowanie swej działalności, oferowanie wysokiej jakości treści i poszerzenie ich zasięgu. Wsparcie umożliwi również zachowanie atrakcyjności zawodu dla kolejnych pokoleń, których przedstawiciele wahają się w obliczu otrzymywania oferty niskopłatnego zatrudnienia w redakcji o niepewnej przyszłości. Jeśli pomoc nadejdzie na czas, wówczas dziennikarze, mający doświadczenie w pozyskiwaniu wiarygodnych informacji oraz walce z propagandą stać się mogą fundamentem nowego, znacznie bardziej żywotnego krajobrazu medialnego – takiego, w którym kluczowe informacje pozostają dostępne dla wszystkich. Redakcje pozostają szczególnie wrażliwe na trendy, takie jak zamknięcie w obrębie baniek poznawczych, fragmentacja widowni czy niestabilny rynek medialny. Rosnąca gotowość do płacenia za wysokiej jakości treści jest jednak obiecującym sygnałem pokazującym, że coraz więcej ludzi docenia pluralizm informacyjny. Środkowoeuropejskie media nie powinny jednak zostać pozostawione same sobie w konfrontacji z zagrażającymi nim siłami w krajach, w których działają. Biorąc pod uwagę problemy finansowe redakcji w Europie Zachodniej jest jasne, że samowystarczalność i pewność co do przyszłości to wciąż odległa perspektywa dla niezależnych mediów w środku kontynentu.

Tłumaczenie: Bartłomiej Kozek

W partiach wciąż tkwi życie!

Wedle globalnych badań żaden zawód nie cieszy się niższym poziomem zaufania niż politycy[1] – nawet bankierzy i specjaliści od reklamy budzą więcej ufności. Dziennikarze rzadko kiedy wypadają w tego typu zestawieniach lepiej. Niektórzy sądzą, że poradzimy sobie bez nich. Postęp technologiczny zdaje się wskazywać na to, że taki scenariusz staje się technicznie możliwy. Część populistycznych polityków żywi się tą nieufnością. Zajmujący się kwestiami filozofii politycznej Jan-Werner Müller ostrzega, że taka postawa podmywa fundamenty demokracji. Kluczem do jej zdrowia nie jest pozbycie się polityków i dziennikarzy, lecz budowa i podtrzymanie funkcjonowania otwartego, kreatywnego i dynamicznego społeczeństwa obywatelskiego.

Green European Journal: Określasz partie polityczne i media mianem „infrastruktury krytycznej dla demokracji”. Co przez to rozumiesz?

Jan-Werner Müller: Chodzi tu o podstawowe prawa polityczne – prawo do zgromadzeń, wolność słowa, stowarzyszenie się – a także o rolę, którą różnego rodzaju siły pośredniczące, takie jak partie polityczne i media, odgrywają w ich wykorzystywaniu oraz, w szczególności, we wzmacnianiu efektów ich używania. Są niczym infrastruktura fizyczna, umożliwiająca obywatelom kontakt z innymi oraz to, by kontaktowano się z nimi.

Jaki jest zatem wkład partii do tego procesu?

Oferują one reprezentację społeczną, w szczególności zaś ujście dla występujących w nim konfliktów i podziałów. Nie reprodukują ich przy tym w sposób mechaniczny – to znacznie bardziej dynamiczny i kreatywny proces. Partie, jak stwierdziła teoretyczka polityki, Nancy Rosenblum, w świadomy sposób generują konflikt. Można tu rzecz jasna argumentować, że podobnie robią ruchy społeczne, ale też wiele innych podmiotów. Różnica polega na tym, że celem partii jest przejęcie władzy.

Te dynamiki nie są wcale wykluczające się – ruchy społeczne wpływają na partie, czasem zresztą zakładają własne – ale same partie polityczne jako takie pozostają ważniejsze, niż nam się często wydaje. Wielu badaczy, szczególnie tych o lewicowych poglądach, cechuje antypartyjne podejście. Uważają, że ze swej natury są one niereprezentatywne i potencjalnie oligarchiczne, przyczyniają się do pogłębiania nierówności – i tak dalej. W niektórych krajach opinia publiczna podziela te opinie, nierzadko nie bez powodu. Nowoczesna demokracja reprezentatywna nie może jednak istnieć bez odpowiednio funkcjonujących partii politycznych.

Co rozumiem przez „odpowiednie funkcjonowanie”? Powinny one zapewniać zarówno wewnętrzny, jak i zewnętrzny pluralizm. W idealnym scenariuszu wewnątrzpartyjny pluralizm powinien być regulowany tak, by zapewnić jego określony poziom. Nie chodzi o nieskończony pluralizm, wszak ludzie wstępują do partii dlatego, że podzielają pewien zestaw wartości. Żadna zasada nie jest jednak możliwa do prostego przełożenia na rzeczywistość. Nawet, gdy podzielamy pewne przekonanie na temat wolności czy ochrony środowiska wciąż pozostaje jeszcze sporo do przedyskutowania w kwestii tego, w jaki sposób realizować wartości w specyficznych kontekstach, gdzie dochodzi do kolizji różnych norm czy jakiego typu kompromisy pozostają dopuszczalne.

Partie polityczne oferują reprezentację społeczną, w szczególności zaś ujście dla występujących w nim konfliktów i podziałów.

Zaletą tego typu procesów jest fakt, iż uczestniczące w nich osoby przywiązują się do myśli, że w wypadku porażki wciąż mogą zaakceptować rezultat działania. Jako że kierowano się uznanymi procedurami, a każda chętna osoba miała szansę wyrazić swoje zdanie, mogą one przyznać, że być może to kto inny miał w danym sporze rację. Odmowa zaakceptowania wyników amerykańskich wyborów prezydenckich przez Donalda Trumpa i towarzyszące jej wydarzenia pokazują, jak istotną rolę w demokracji odgrywają przegrani. Pamiętajmy też o tym, że wewnętrzne debaty umożliwiają zaprezentowanie nowych perspektyw, konfrontację z dowodami empirycznymi oraz pozwolenie ludziom na mówienie o ich doświadczeniach życiowych. Nic z tego nie jest możliwe w partiach wodzowskich.

W wielu krajach mogliśmy w ostatnich latach zaobserwować wstrząsy na tamtejszych scenach politycznych. Formacje, takie jak włoski Ruch 5 Gwiazd, coraz częściej określają się jako ruchy społeczne. Co pojawianie się tego typu ugrupowań mówi nam o dzisiejszej demokracji?

Pojawianie się nowych aktorów i instytucji jest co do zasady dobrą rzeczą. Niektórzy lubią narzekać, że na scenie mamy zbyt wielu starych graczy, system jest zabetonowany i mamy do czynienia z „kryzysem reprezentacji”. Z drugiej strony słyszeliśmy o kryzysie również wtedy, gdy sporą popularność zdobywać zaczęły Podemos w Hiszpanii czy SYRIZA w Grecji. Oskarżano je o bycie „niebezpiecznymi wichrzycielami”. Można się zatem zastanawiać cóż nie jest kryzysem reprezentacji? Sytuacją problematyczną określa się zarówno zmiany, jak i ich brak. W teorii dostateczny poziom otwartości systemu, umożliwiający wejście nowych graczy, jest zjawiskiem pozytywnym. Choć słyszeć będziemy narzekania na uwiąd partii masowych to procesy te nie oznaczają, że z demokracją od razu dzieje się coś złego.

Należy jednak zaznaczyć, że części z tych „partii-ruchów” brakuje przestrzeni na pluralizm i przejrzystość w ich strukturach wewnętrznych. Niektóre wierzą w coś, co socjolog polityki, Paolo Gerbaudo, określa mianem „partycypacjonizmu”. Podkreśla on rolę aktywnego zaangażowania bazy członkowskiej – szczególnie w sieci. Niełatwo czasem jednak ocenić, w jaki właściwie sposób podejmowane są decyzje i co tak naprawdę oznaczają te wszystkie kliknięcia. W efekcie nie wiadomo jaką rolę odgrywać mają osoby zaangażowane w ruch – poza wspomnianym klikaniem i słuchaniem „wielkiego przywódcy”.

W innych przypadkach nazywanie się mianem ruchu to czysta zagrywka PR-owa. Gdy Sebastian Kurz wymyślał na nowo Austriacką Partię Ludową określił ją mianem ruchu – tyle że to wciąż ta sama partia, co najwyżej mocniej podległa swojemu przywódcy. La République En Marche Emmanuela Macrona to też partia. Nie ma żadnego argumentu za tym, by określać ją mianem ruchu społecznego. Ruch 5 Gwiazd we Włoszech to bodaj najbardziej radykalna próba zerwania tak z tradycyjnie pojmowaną partyjnością, jak i systemem medialnym (które są przez jego założyciela, Beppe Grillo, zawsze określane mianem skorumpowanych), tyle że sam coraz bardziej przypomina zwykłą partię. Możemy w tym fakcie odnaleźć tak dobre, jak i złe strony, ale przede wszystkim potwierdza on to, że robiący najwięcej szumu wokół nazywania się ruchem najczęściej kończą jako typowa partia polityczna.

Więzy społeczne, które niegdyś trzymały partie w ryzach, nie są już tak silne jak kiedyś. Czy partie polityczne mogą jeszcze w ogóle odzwierciedlać różnorodność współczesnego społeczeństwa?

Nie ma wątpliwości, że zestaw zachodzących zmian społecznych mieć będzie konsekwencje dla partii i systemów politycznych, jak również samej ich formy. Wiara w powrót sytuacji z lat 50. i 60. XX wieku, kiedy to tożsamości społeczne znacznie łatwiej niż dziś przekładały się na partie masowe nie jest szczególnie produktywna. To takiego stanu rzeczy nie ma już odwrotu.

Zmieniać się dziś mogą formy zaangażowania – ludzie nie są już dożywotnimi członkami partii jak dawniej. Deklaracje o tym, że w partiach nie ma już żadnego życia byłyby jednak czymś przedwczesnym. Gdyby ktoś powiedział 15 lat temu, że lewicowa partia Jeana-Luca Mélenchona, La France Insoumise, będzie mieć pół miliona sympatyków (odstawiając na bok kwestię tego, co to właściwie oznacza) albo że taką liczbę członków osiągnie Partia Pracy w Wielkiej Brytanii za Jeremy’ego Corbyna to byłoby to trudne do uwierzenia. W ludziach wciąż istnieje chęć zapisywania się do partii i zaangażowania – w ten czy inny sposób – w ich działanie.

Wróćmy do kwestii infrastruktury krytycznej. Czy systemy polityczne powinny zwracać więcej uwagi na regulowanie definicji partii politycznych po to, by zachowywać zdrową, pluralistyczną demokrację?

Sporo zależy od finansowania. Europejczycy lubią patrzeć z góry na USA uznając, że wydawanie 14 miliardów dolarów na kampanię na szczeblu federalnym jest obsceniczne. Patrząc jednak na to, jak poszczególne państwa na kontynencie regulują swe własne systemy, nie zawsze jest wiele lepiej. Kwoty mogą być mniejsze ale wciąż mamy tu do czynienia z nierównością, nieuczciwymi regułami i szemranymi pieniędzmi. Popatrzmy na odpisy podatkowe, które oznaczają, że osoby ubogie efektywnie subsydiują preferencje polityczne bogatych. Moją propozycją jest wsłuchanie się w głos szeregu uczonych i polityków i wprowadzenie powszechnego bonu o równej wartości, który osoba go posiadająca mogłaby wykorzystać do wsparcia finansowego dla demokratycznej infrastruktury krytycznej.

W jaki sposób media – w szczególności te tradycyjne – kształtują życie polityczne?

Systemy medialne są zróżnicowane, dlatego nie w każdym przypadku ich infrastruktura krytyczna jest do siebie podobna. W wypadku Zjednoczonego Królestwa BBC odróżnia się od silnie skomercjalizowanego otoczenia, które z kolei wygląda jeszcze inaczej niż krajobraz medialny w krajach, w których doszło do znaczącej redukcji pluralizmu, jak na Węgrzech czy – do pewnego stopnia – w Polsce. Tak czy owak jednym podstawowych obowiązków dziennikarstwa jest informowanie obywateli o perspektywach, przyjmowanych przez poszczególne partie oraz, do pewnego stopnia, również ich ocenianie.

Nie jest czymś jednoznacznie złym zajmowanie określonego stanowiska przez dziennikarzy i media, w których pracują. Zapominamy o tym, że wiele partii socjalistycznych miało niegdyś własne gazety, a spora część ich liderów wywodziła się nie ze związków zawodowych, lecz z redakcji. Wyrażanie opinii nie musi oznaczać wymyślania nieprawdy, jak w wypadku amerykańskiego Fox News, lecz interpretowanie i informowanie o świecie z pewnego punktu widzenia. Póki wszyscy z grubsza wiedzą co dostają, skąd dana informacja się bierze i dlaczego jest ona omawiana pod danym kątem nie ma w tym niczego zdrożnego. Wciąż pozostawia to wiele przestrzeni dla regulacji, takich jak zapobieganie nawoływaniu do przemocy, rozprzestrzenianiu dezinformacji czy stygmatyzacji określonych grup (jak czynią to dziś prawicowi populiści). Reguły te mogą współistnieć z otwartym systemem, znacznie lepiej niż dziś prezentującym kreatywny i dynamiczny wymiar demokracji.

Media społecznościowe – w przeciwieństwie do tych tradycyjnych – oferują bezpośredni kontakt między użytkownikami a politykami, komentatorami i liderami opinii. W jaki sposób zmieniają one demokrację?

To wciąż przestrzenie kontaktu zapośredniczonego – tyle że w bardzo nieprzejrzysty sposób. Z pozoru wygląda to tak, że mamy do czynienia z relacją bezpośrednią, co zachęca do stawiania tezy o powiązaniach między mediami społecznościowymi i populizmem, ale ta bezpośredniość to tylko iluzja. Media społecznościowe, podobnie jak te tradycyjne, są pośrednikami – również i one tworzą zatem część infrastruktury krytycznej dla naszych demokracji. Rzecz jasna zawsze deklarują, że ich jedynym działaniem jest „łączenie ludzi”, że nie zabierają głosu i czują się bardzo niekomfortowo, gdy kasują konto prezydenta Stanów Zjednoczonych. Stojąca za mediami społecznościowymi technologia, podobnie jak infrastruktura fizyczna, może jednak zostać wykreowana na różne sposoby. Modele biznesowe i umożliwiające je algorytmy, wpływające na funkcjonowanie tych mediów miały silnie niszczący efekt na debatę publiczną. Są dziś niczym czarne skrzynki. Choć wizja zupełnej przejrzystości to ułuda, to osoby badające te systemy muszą być zdolne do ich zrozumienia – po to, by móc ocenić efekty ich upowszechnienia oraz to, co może i powinno zostać w nich zmienione.

Mając to wszystko na uwadze byłbym ostrożny z twierdzeniem, że media społecznościowe są ze swej natury szkodliwe dla demokracji. Niosą ze sobą kreatywność i otwartość, sporo da się również powiedzieć na temat poszerzania przez nie dostępu do różnych możliwości. Rzecznikom danych spraw pozwalają też poruszać tematy, które w przeciwnym wypadku zostałyby zamiecione pod dywan.

#MeToo czy #BlackLivesMatter mogły się rozprzestrzenić na taką skalę tylko dzięki mediom społęcznościowym.

Trudnym pytaniem jest z kolei to, w jaki sposób przejdziemy od większej reprezentacji w mediach społecznościowych do mającej pewną strukturę debaty publicznej. Wiemy, jak ona z grubsza działa w wypadku partii czy tradycyjnych mediów: dochodzi do wymiany zdań, sporu, oskarżeń o nieuczciwy atak – i tak dalej. Tego typu dyskusja jest w mediach społecznościowych znacznie trudniejsza.

Pytanie o to, w jaki sposób technologie masowej komunikacji i demokracja łączą się ze sobą zadawano również w trakcie poprzednich rewolucji medialnych. W latach 30. XX wieku filozof i krytyk literacki, Walter Benjamin, wygłosił słynną opinię, że tak jak kino doprowadziło do zastąpienia tradycyjnego aktora gwiazdą filmową, tak dotychczasowy model polityka ustępuje miejsca dyktatorowi. Odrzucam wszelki determinizm technologiczny, natomiast pytania o powiązania między mediami społecznościowymi a stanem demokracji uważam za zasadne.

Co sądzisz o coraz głośniejszych nawoływaniach dotyczących upowszechniania innowacji demokratycznych, takich jak panele obywatelskie?

Są one szczególnie pożyteczne gdy mamy podstawy sądzić, że partie podejmą kiepskie decyzje – albo też nie podejmą żadnych. Kiedy mowa o zmniejszeniu składu parlamentu czy zmianie systemu wyborczego partie polityczne mogą niechętnie podchodzić do pomysłów, które stoją w kontrze do ich interesów. Inny tryb podejmowania decyzji ma wówczas sens. Weźmy pod lupę dwa przykłady z Irlandii. Trwający w latach 2016-2017 panel obywatelski oraz dotyczące aborcji referendum roku 2018 pokazały, że zbiorowe decyzje o sporym wymiarze etycznym, które nie wymagają dużych poziomów ekspertyzy mogą zostać podjęcie w efektywny sposób poprzez kompleksową debatę.

Niektórzy chcą jednak pójść znacznie dalej i zupełnie zastąpić nimi politykę partyjną. To kolejny dowód na antypartyjne tendencje, do których mam dwa główne zastrzeżenia. Po pierwsze – demokracja potrzebuje jasnych reguł co do tego, jak postępować powinni przegrani. Partie polityczne, kiedy ponoszą porażkę w pojedynku idei, wykorzystują czas między wyborami na zmobilizowanie większej grupy ludzi i na doprecyzowanie swego stanowiska po to, by spróbować ponownie. Jeśli decyzje podejmować będą losowo wybrani obywatele to trudno powiedzieć, w jaki sposób dojść ma do ich ewentualnej zmiany. Co robić mają przegrani? Do jakich instytucji mogą się odwołać, by wzmocnić swoją pozycję? Niektórzy politolodzy przekonują, że wybory odbywają się w cieniu wojny domowej. Na szczęście dziś w Europie tak jednak nie jest. Ich celem pozostaje pokazanie układu sił różnych grup społecznych realizowane pokojowymi metodami. Partie polityczne pozostają wyjątkowo sprawne przy tym procesie, ale w wypadku losowej grupy obywateli ta funkcja systemu zanika.

Po drugie, dowody dotyczące udziału w panelach obywatelskich nie są jednoznaczne. Niektóre analizy wskazują, że w jeszcze większy niż alternatywy sposób korzystają na nich już uprzywilejowani. Możemy oczywiście usprawnić mechanizmy doboru – nie jest zresztą prawdą, że z narzędzi tego korzystają wyłącznie osoby uprzywilejowane – ale wszelkie formaty, odchodzące od tradycyjnych partii politycznych mają tendencje do sprzyjania lepiej wykształconym, zamożnym ludziom, posiadającym więcej czasu i zasobów. Na panele obywatelskie może być w systemie miejsce, ale nie stanowią one alternatywy dla polityki partyjnej.

Tłumaczenie: Bartłomiej Kozek


[1] Gideon Skinner i Mike Clemence (2019). Global trust in professions: Who do global citizens trust? Ipsos. Badanie dostępne pod adresem <http://bit.ly/2QJO4q0>.


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