Europe and India in the Asian Century

In a world increasingly divided by rising tensions between the US and China, what of relations between India and Europe? From their democratic traditions to shared interests in technological development, Europe and India have much in common and to gain from cooperation. We spoke with Jagannath Panda on India’s role in the hegemonic conflict between the US and China, its position on the upcoming climate change negotiations, and the role of democracy in its outlook on the world.

Roderick Kefferpütz: During the Cold War, India was part of the non-aligned movement, refusing to formally align itself with or against any major power bloc. Today, tensions are growing between the US and China. Where does India stand?

Jagannath Panda: Let’s be clear: China is the biggest national security threat to India at this moment. We have a long-standing border dispute with China and fought a war in 1962. There have always been ups and downs in our relations with China, but under Xi Jinping’s presidency the situation has become more worrisome. Tensions have mounted, with China increasing its troops along the border, and India is vigilant about this threat. China’s rising military and economic power gives more global influence abroad and affects India’s strategic interests in its neighbourhood.

Though India prefers not to indulge itself in a US-China power struggle, Delhi’s choices are still very much drawn within it. India’s strategic interests in world politics are more aligned with the United States hence the strong interest in strengthening its relationships with the United States as a natural partner. In October 2020, both states concluded the fourth in a series of military pacts, highlighting their growing security partnership in the Indo-Pacific. While India is not likely to take a direct stance in the US-China hegemonic struggle in the near future, New Delhi has growing ties with the US and has come to recognise the threat posed by China to its strategic security.

Would India be interested in closer alignment with other democracies?

Indian foreign policy is multivariate, engaging with all countries and regions. It is not about putting all your eggs in one basket and aligning with one power against another. Instead, India espouses the notion of “inclusivity” across all spectrums. Unlike a majority of the strategic partners of the United States, India does not envision an anti-China arrangement. Of course, China is a threat but that makes engagement more necessary and it does not mean that we cannot simultaneously cooperate on other issues. We have strong ties with China on economic cooperation in multilateral domains. This partnership, however, has taken a backseat considering China’s conduct towards India and the recent border incidents.

In this context, India has improved its ties with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, such as the US, Japan and Australia going as far as concluding a number of mini-lateral and trilateral arrangements with these partners. Cooperation in the maritime domain and maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific” have emerged as central aspects of India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific. Moving forward, these partnerships will imbibe a post-Covid-19 outlook with a focus on strategic integration, infrastructure cooperation, information technology collaboration, and enhancing institutional inclusiveness. Nevertheless, India would not like to build an alliance at the cost of China. India holds a pragmatic interest in maintaining a diplomatic relationship with China – albeit with power parity and equilibrium.

China is increasingly active in Central Asia and South-East Asia. Is India also increasing its ties across the regions?

You cannot compare India’s influence and capacity to China’s; we are not at the same level. China’s economy is roughly four times ours. Their massive economic power alone provides greater geopolitical influence. New Delhi must play a different game which is why it has opted for a “good-will strategy”. India, unlike China, is not building a Communist empire. Rather, Delhi is building partnerships to protect its national interests against hegemonistic tendencies.

India does not intend to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. We engage on a soft power connection, promoting good relations and highlighting our democratic character. The strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India and its potential institutionalisation, is an endeavour in this direction. India’s soft engagement in the Indian Ocean is also driven through a security lens. Located at the centre of the Indian Ocean Region, India is a key part of the maritime region that has become one its topmost foreign policy priorities. Initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative1 have become a significant forum through which China’s mounting presences and assertive military-maritime posturing can be balanced. India is also actively involved in the institutions and mechanisms like the Indian Ocean Rim Association2 and the Quad Plus3 framework on a broader scale. New Delhi’s Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy vis-à-vis South Asia and other Indian Ocean states is an extension of such a soft power approach.

You cannot compare India’s influence and capacity to China’s. New Delhi must play a different game which is why it has opted for a “good-will strategy”.

India and China are both carbon-heavy economies but that have historically low carbon emissions and low per capita emissions. To what extent do India and China cooperate on climate change?

India has always supported the international climate negotiations and indeed, has stood alongside China on the issue of climate change. On many occasions, we have partnered with countries such as South Africa and China. However, given the way that China has developed under Xi Jinping and its attempted nexus with the United States on climate issues, India has been forced to review its collaboration with China. So New Delhi has decided to also go its own way when it comes to climate protection and it is doing so very successfully. We are one of the very few countries that are meeting the Paris agreement and overachieving its nationally determined contribution target.

India is meeting its Paris obligations but has provided mixed signals on how it will move on with its energy transition. It’s pushing towards a higher share of renewables, but it also keeps planning for more coal capacity. What interests does India have in the climate negotiations?

India has one of the most ambitious renewable energy programmes. Yet, it continues to push for coal-fired plants, which are projected to play a vital role in the country’s pandemic recovery package. This is something countries often question India on; however, it is important to remember that the Indian coal industry employs millions of people and is a major source of revenue. Coal still powers almost 70 per cent of India’s electricity.

Weaning off coal dependency will therefore need to be a gradual and strategically planned process. This is something the government is building on. Recently, India set up an implementation committee for Paris Agreement with representatives from fourteen Indian ministries whose main directive will be the reduction in coal use. This, coupled with India’s on-track position to meet the Paris pledge, shows not only New Delhi’s active focus on the environment but also the crucial place it holds in climate negotiations. Setting up a coalition on solar energy and disaster-resilient infrastructure show that India is not only focusing on domestic environmental improvement but also taking a leadership role amongst economies worldwide to further the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement. India is performing even better than its developed counterparts like China and the USA. A new index by climate analysts from international climate think tanks Germanwatch, New Climate Institute and Climate Action Network place India 10th, China 33rd and the US last in their assessment of 61 large world economies vis-a-vis their Paris pledge completion track.

India’s relationship with China, based on conflict and cooperation, has similarities to the European Union. Of course, the EU is firmly rooted in the transatlantic alliance, but it is also economically heavily invested in China and not keen on joining Washington in an alliance against Beijing. To what extent could Europe and India build on such similarities?

Europe has been re-discovered as an important region for Indian foreign policy. In the past, we did not really pay much attention to Europe as geographically this region is far away and India has traditionally emphasised its immediate neighbourhood. In addition, there’s a big gap between the way Europe and India thinks. However, the rise of China has brought India and Europe closer together. Europe has experienced deteriorating ties with China over the pandemic. Beijing’s “wolf warrior” and “charm offensive” diplomacy has added to Sino-EU tensions. Beijing is recognised as a “systemic rival” in Europe and Chinese aggression in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the South and East China Seas has only brought about an emerging consensus in Europe.

India holds a pragmatic interest in maintaining a diplomatic relationship with China.

India-EU interests are now more aligned. Europe has realised that India is arising economic power that stands for liberal democratic principles such as transparency and the rule of law. India in turn sees Europe as an important part in its power-building exercise. So there’s a great willingness on both sides for greater engagement. India has been focusing on France and Germany on defence and security issues. The India-France-Australia trilateral is one recent mechanism to emerge from India’s budding synergy with Europe.

Technological governance can also emerge as a key area for India’s collaboration with the EU. With China currently writing the rules by which the future of the internet and technology will be governed, India and the EU are fostering deeper cooperation in innovation and research of cutting-edge, sustainable digital infrastructure, which can further translate to cooperation in formulating global tech governance norms.

A range of European countries have adopted Indo-Pacific strategies. How does India see that increased European interest and engagement in the Indo-Pacific?

India welcomes these initiatives. The Indo-Pacific strategies of France, the Netherlands or Germany are in New Delhi’s interests, because they allow India to engage with these countries in one of the most important geopolitical regions of the 21st century. This strengthens the democratic spirit in the region. India’s synergy with the EU is also critically driven by France, Germany and the Netherlands’ new Indo-Pacific policies (or outlooks) that demonstrate the EU’s emerging focus on the region. New Delhi sees the EU (as well as the UK for that matter) as a key middle power partner. Their shared focus on sustaining a rules-based, liberal institutional regional and global order makes them like-minded partners and gives them a foundation to drive their partnership further.

You mentioned that India can’t counter China’s Belt and Road strategy, but perhaps it could join the EU in its Connectivity Strategy that is investing in infrastructure and networks in the region. What do you think?

They have convergence vis-à-vis their shared rules-based, sustainable and mutually beneficial conception of connectivity. The EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy is a fresh and promising avenue to promote not just economic but also a political partnership between the EU and India. Much like Japan’s partnership for quality infrastructure – of which India is a vital partner – the EU-Asia connectivity outlook was not designed to compete with China. Furthermore, the strategy is not limited to physical infrastructure connectivity; digital, services, research and innovation are sectors that also figure prominently. Programmes such as Erasmus+ have already been expanded to India to promote academic collaborations. While individually neither can match China’s funding patterns, together EU and India can provide alternatives to the Belt and Road initiative for small Asian and European economies.

In the EU there is a lot of talk of “strategic autonomy” although the EU is militarily dependent on the US. What does the future of Europe in the world look like from an Indian perspective?

The EU’s place in the world has long been established; it is the single most important trading bloc that has shaped the politics and policies of one of the world’s most important continents for years. However, with the “Asian Century” in place, the emergence of Asia as a pivotal –if not most crucial – geography has put Asia in tandem with Europe. Furthermore, due to a surge in the power of Asian economies like India, Japan, China and South Korea, the playing field between Asia and the rest of the world has been further levelled. The creation of regional and trans-pacific trade pacts has further strengthened the Asian narrative. The most important step for the EU to take must be focused on determining a consensual policy on China, if not a unified EU policy on China. The development of a consensual EU policy on China and a coherent Indo-Pacific outlook could transform India-EU relations into a comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era.

With the “Asian Century” in place, the emergence of Asia as a pivotal – if not most crucial – geography has put Asia in tandem with Europe.

As the world’s largest democracy India certainly has a role to play in curbing the rise of authoritarianism. From the United States, President Biden has announced that he wants to convene a Summit for Democracy. How does India see such proposals?

One of the key pillars of India’s rise in global affairs has always been its democratic character. New Delhi supports democratic regimes across the world and is committed to promoting democracy. So in that context, India would strongly welcome Biden’s proposition of a Summit for Democracy or Britain’s proposition of a Democratic 10 Summit. However, details matter. India would want to know what exactly this summit or forum wants to achieve. If this will remain just a goodwill summit, then it will have limitations and would not benefit democratic countries, including India.

What we need is a forum that goes beyond a mere talking platform or making few headlines and rather finds a common approach of democratic nations on issues such as maritime rights, freedom of navigation, defending the rules-based order or democracy promotion in the Indo-Pacific. India would support such an approach and can take on a leadership role in this regard.

Simultaneously, the Modi government has been under a lot of criticism with regards to democratic backsliding.

In democratic countries, there are always vibrant debates and protests. That is what democracy entails. Only authoritarian countries don’t have protests. The farmers’ protest is a case in point that showcases India’s democratic spirit. Of course, there are always issues between the ruling party and the opposition parties. That is just part and parcel of India’s multiparty system. There is no democratic country in the world that does not have protests and whose governments do not face protest movements.

But this isn’t just about the farmers’ protest, it’s also about how democratic governments handle such protests. Democratic political leadership should be about bridging divides and bringing people together and not driving them apart, by – for example – suggesting that protesters are Sikh separatists, arresting a 21-year-old environmentalist for sharing a protest toolkit promoted by Greta Thunberg, or asking Twitter to block hundreds of accounts.

Well, India has always been in the limelight for ethnic to religious to caste-class politics. In a free and open society that allows absolute media freedom, small matters look bigger on a storyline. Nevertheless, the ruling party or the government of the day needs to handle protests in a democratic society with care. It is also an absolute responsibility of the opposition party to not colour or politicise such issues so that a healthy, democratic environment within the country can be sustained. Likewise, the media, intellectual classes and civil society all bear a responsibility to be vigilant and not indulging in politicising the matters. What you are asking concerns a political manifestation of farmers protests where a lack of responsibility is visible across the political spectrum and that is not a good thing for a democratic society like India. However, if history can be a lesson, incidents or protest movements like this only strengthen the political resilience within the country to challenge any facets of political authoritarianism – that has been one of the key pillars of India’s democratic success.

How Greens in Government Are Tackling Homelessness

From Helsinki to Brighton, Greens in local governments have been working to find lasting solutions to the persistent problem of homelessness, often drawing inspiration from pioneering policies from around the world and calling for a shift in understanding and response measures. Green proposals have brought about significant progress at many different levels of government, yet the current climate threatens to set back these efforts. Although the onset of Covid-19 was an impetus to find solutions, many of the policies addressing homelessness during the pandemic are temporary and thus liable to be rolled back, while funding cuts imposed by recovery policies risk worsening the situation.

More than 700,000 people sleep rough across Europe on any given night, according to data from the European Parliament. This figure has risen by 70 per cent in the past decade, as rents in cities spiralled, social housing shrank, and governments grappled with the impact of the 2008 financial crash. Millions more live in temporary housing, informal shelters, and on couches and floors of friends, family, and acquaintances.

The profile of people who are homeless varies across Europe, and it is difficult to get a clear picture as there is no cross-EU data. However, a comparison of national data reveals that some groups are more at risk than others, and that picture is changing. Undocumented migrants, who do not have access to social protection are at high risk across Europe, and make up over half of rough sleepers in some cities in Europe, such as in the Spanish capital of Madrid. By contrast, in Portugal, of the 1386 homeless people supported by the NGO Assistência Médica Internacional (AMI), 79 per cent were born in the country. In Austria, there is growing concern about the impact of rising rents on “middle class” people in employment. In the UK, an increasing number of younger people under the age of 25 have become homeless. In Brussels, a count in 2016 revealed that of the 3386 people who were homeless in the city, 35 per cent were living on the streets, 25 per cent were in temporary accommodation, and 39 per cent were living in inadequate housing.

The coronavirus pandemic has given urgency to tackling of homelessness. Governments have taken unprecedented steps to protect the homeless against the risk of infection and death. In the UK, for example, the government briefly funded the “Everyone In” programme in March 2020 to bring rough sleepers into the hotels that had emptied. By contrast, rough sleepers in Brussels were issued “curfew passes” that allowed them to stay on the streets. In Paris, Doctors without Borders found that four in ten people who were in homeless hostels were testing positive for Covid-19, with rates as high as 94 per cent in one hostel.

“How can you stay at home if you don’t have a home?”

Progressive alliances for ambitious policies in Brighton

Over the past six years, several Green “waves” have swept through countries in western Europe and brought more Greens into power at the local, regional, and national levels. These new (and sometimes older) Green and Green-led administrations are having to deal with the growing homelessness as part of their policy agendas. To do so, they have often taken inspiration from innovative approaches to housing provision, while building up emergency hostel services, creating more social housing, and seeking to strengthen the rights of people who are most at risk of homelessness.

Brighton and Hove on the south coast of England have many of the problems faced by seaside towns, which have suffered from the loss of traditional industries and now have a lot of more low-paid seasonal tourism work. It has a long waiting list for social housing, hundreds of families in emergency housing, and rough sleepers on the streets. During the coronavirus pandemic, the council has worked hard to get rough sleepers off the streets as part of the “Everyone In” scheme. The local council has been led by a minority Green Party administration since last year, and housing and homelessness are one of their priorities.

David Gibson is the joint chair of the city’s housing committee. He explained that the administration is working at different levels: increasing the supply of council housing and expanding the “Housing First” provision. “Since we took over the council, we’ve produced as many additional council homes in a year than the previous administration produced in four years,” he explains.

Under the Greens, the council has accelerated its programme of buying up housing in Brighton to add to those it has commissioned, using a mix of loans and their own money to do this. “Part of the package is that we need to tackle the supply side,” Gibson added. It is a policy that they have been able to pursue even as the construction industry ground to a halt due to the pandemic.

Without increased funding from the central government and with the prospect of the ban on evictions in England being lifted the council will still find it challenging to house everyone.

As a minority administration, Gibson explained that the Greens work with councillors from the Labour Party on a joint housing and homelessness programme to pass the necessary policies and budgets, and on setting more ambitious goals.

The council has also bought several of the better buildings being used for temporary housing, with the aim of turning them into long-term housing in the future. They have recently bought a 38-flat scheme in Gibson’s ward, which means housing that would otherwise have been in the for-profit market is now being let through the council.

A “considerable success” for Gibson and the Green administration is the expansion of “Housing First” homes from 20 to 60, with more in the pipeline. Based on the approach pioneered in New York in the 1990s, Housing First emphasises getting people into stable housing and meeting their holistic needs for support such as mental health or addiction on an ongoing basis. This is a complete reversal of the prevailing thinking that people should have addressed these issues before they can access housing, which is near impossible when someone is living on the street or in insecure housing.

The expansion is fortuitous for Brighton and Hove, as many of the people being sheltered in hotels due to the pandemic are exactly the people for whom Housing First can help. However, without increased funding from the central government and with the prospect of the ban on evictions in England being lifted (the ban has now been extended until May), Gibson predicts the council will still find it challenging to house everyone in need. “There’s this problem in the long run that at the moment, without funding, we haven’t got a prospect of resolving.”

Bureaucratic barriers undermine Amsterdam’s local solutions

In Amsterdam, the Green-led administration is facing similar challenges with their central government, explains Marijn van der List who is the GroenLinks (Green Left) spokesperson on homelessness in the city. As the capital city, homelessness is particularly acute and the local government has had to respond to Covid-19. “It’s quite contradictory that we were told to ‘stay at home’ but how can you stay at home if you don’t have a home?” she observes. Locally, the lack of available housing causes blockages throughout the homelessness system, “you would like people to get a house as soon as possible to start their lives again or with a little bit of help, or step by step doing it on their own again, but there are no houses,” she explains.

Efforts by local governments are not being matched by policy change and support from the central government

At the national level, anti-immigrant policies passed by successive governments mean many undocumented people are homeless and cannot access services. Marijn first became involved in politics, resisting policies such as denying undocumented people the right to a shelter and a fair asylum system. “Cities were always providing shelter in some way to people without documents,” she explains. There is currently a national shelter programme running in five local governments, including Amsterdam, and the Green-led administration there has added funding to expand the shelter capacity. It provides 24-hour shelter for around 500 people together with support for their asylum cases. They are also working with other parties to look at a “city ID” card for residents of Amsterdam, including undocumented people, modelled on efforts in New York, Paris and other European cities to ensure some basic rights such as access to bank accounts and access to state buildings.

Van der List is frustrated that efforts by local governments are not being matched by policy change and support from the central government on the causes of homelessness and on funding for mental health services. “Sometimes I find it very hard to look at the numbers we spend on this system, where we try and help people once they hit the bottom, because if you’re ‘too well’ you’re not helped,” she says. Long waiting lists for housing and local connection rules on access make it more difficult for people who have had to move around a lot. The Dutch welfare system also discourages house-sharing by cutting benefits to people who share a home, including parents with adult children. These are policies developed at a national level that create challenges for local governments. “You can’t solve everything as a city,” says van der List.

Greens in Finland – leveraging power in government to shift policies

Finland is already a leader in reducing homelessness. In 1987, there were around 18,000 rough sleepers. Their strategies throughout the 1990s and early 2000s used the “staircase” approach where, in theory, a homeless person moves from street to shelter, to temporary housing, and eventually to permanent housing. However, the staircase approach failed to tackle long-term homelessness. In 2007, the government and municipalities like Helsinki embarked on their own Housing First policies: 1250 homes were built or made available in Finnish cities to people who were long-term homeless by converting existing shelters accompanied by intense support around their health and social welfare. In parallel, the government improved its efforts on prevention and continued to build more general needs social housing. By 2017 the number of people who were homeless was 6600 – it now stands at 4600. It is in stark contrast to other parts of Europe, such as the UK where there has been an increase of 141 per cent in the past ten years.

As part of the agreement with the five parties that form the government, the Finnish Greens negotiated including the target of halving homelessness by 2023 and eliminating it all together by 2027. The current minister for environment, climate and housing responsible for making this happen is Green MP Krista Mikkonen. The government has introduced a new Homelessness Cooperation Programme between the state, municipalities, service providers and NGOs. This program focuses on providing funding and support for municipal work on homelessness.

Alongside this, the government is steering through legislation to make housing counselling statutory. This would make it a requirement in every municipality and bring together services, enabling them to intervene to prevent evictions and negotiate issues such as rent debt.

In common with many countries, homelessness in Finland is concentrated in cities and particular in Helsinki, where housing costs have risen beyond people’s ability to pay. The Finnish Greens in Helsinki hold the vice-mayor positions on health and social care along with housing. They have worked to integrate different services to help people with multiple and complex needs such as homelessness, addiction and mental health, and are also proponents of “Housing First” as a principle in their housing policies. In contrast to the New York model of Housing First, tenants in Finland pay the rent entirely themselves (drawing on the benefits system) and the relatively well-funded health and social services mean there is less of a need for the large multi-agency support meetings used in the US.

Progress and prospects at the EU level

The issue of spiralling housing costs in cities is something Dutch GroenLinks MEP Kim Van Sparrentak has been working on in her role as rapporteur for the EU Parliament on access to decent and affordable housing for all. The rapporteur draws up a report which recommends new EU legislation to the parliament which is a key stage of the legislative process in the EU. Van Sparrentak’s housing report has taken a year to put together and covers a broad range of issues such as affordability, homelessness, discrimination, speculation, investment in public housing, and evictions.

The main recommendation of the report was creating an EU level target of eliminating homelessness by 2030, and the Greens/EFA group in the parliament are running a petition in support of this goal. However, Van Sparrentak believes that while governments stick to austerity policies, this will be difficult to achieve. “Homelessness is not a fact of life, it does not have to be considered as one,” she says, highlighting the success in Finland. “There are solutions that exist, if we dare to invest in them, and if we dare to take a different approach to social support.” She adds that there is a lot of support for tackling homelessness in the EU and that there are steps that can be taken to enable national and local governments to take action, and to tackle the root causes such as speculation.

The work builds on the European Pillar of Social Rights, adopted by the EU Commission in 2017. Principle 19 is about housing assistance and homelessness, and mandates the EU to work on the issue. The Commission published its action plan at the start of March, and while it does not go far enough, it is an important step. Alongside this are plans to launch a “collaboration platform” in June for EU states to work together and share information on homelessness. The EU can also play an important role in improving the quality and availability of data along with developing a common set of concepts and policy language for homelessness.

Van Sparrentak’s report also calls for all EU member states to have a homelessness strategy, with the EU providing coordination, and that the main solution is providing permanent secure housing – basically a roll-out of Housing First across Europe, the MEP explains. Intersectionality is another key part of the Green approach to homelessness, with specific attention being called for to meet the specific needs of groups such as LGBT youth and women, particularly as the range of people who are homeless has become more diverse. One area where the Commission could take stronger action, according to Van Sparrentak, is on the criminalisation of homelessness. In Hungary for example, sleeping rough is a criminal offence something which breaches EU law.

The big challenge, and where the EU could potentially have the most impact are the underlying causes of the rise in homelessness. Austerity policies mean there is now a 57-billion-euro gap in investment in affordable and social housing across Europe, this is happening alongside the privatisation of public housing and deregulation of private rented housing. “What you see is a lot of people falling between the cracks in the social housing market and the private rented market,” Van Sparrentak explains. They are neither able to access a dwindling social housing stock nor afford private rented housing. While national governments hold much of the power to tackle homelessness, the EU can play a role in it too by supporting national and local governments. EU fiscal rules currently focus heavily on balanced budgets and eliminating deficits, which does not allow for the level of investment needed in housing and other infrastructure. These rules, however, have essentially been suspended until 2023 due to the pandemic and could inspire a generous attitude towards investment to help EU economies recover.

On a broader level, the EU can help tackle housing speculation. Big institutional companies such as Blackstone have bought up housing and used the value of the homes and the stream of rental income to borrow and buy up more housing. What the arrangements mean in practice is that these companies can earn money from the resale, rental income, and borrowing against both of these through bonds. The EU can use its powers on banking and financial rules to have an impact, drawing from existing policies and ongoing research. “This is one of the big stories in what is driving up prices and is causing the housing crisis,” says Van Sparrentak. In 2019, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Housing and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights wrote to Blackstone outlining their concerns about the role of the company in the financialisation of housing. Blackstone robustly defended itself in response.

The scale of homelessness is likely to grow in cities and beyond as governments decide on how best to respond to the economic damage created by the pandemic. In the UK, the government has already signalled that it will likely embrace another set of austerity policies and cut public spending. This will undermine progress made by local governments to tackle homelessness through building social housing and Housing First-type policies. They will put future generations at a greater risk of becoming homeless. Greens can play a vital role in resisting these trends at a national and European level while making a difference locally where they have power.

Girls Gone Running: Taking on Street Harassment in Romania

Street harassment is an all-too-common reality for women across Europe. Often trivialised or ignored, this form of abuse must be understood as being situated at one end of a deadly continuum of gender-based violence. Journalist Ana Maria Ciobanu tells the story of the Romanian athletes who mobilised to make their streets safer, part of an ongoing movement to call attention to gender-related issues at a time when the pandemic is sharpening inequalities. Where political will is severely lacking, it is up to civil society and the media to keep the issue of violence against women on the agenda and put forward solutions.

This article contains details of sexual abuse and harassment.

One Friday, Andreea Călugăru went running in a park in Bucharest. After three kilometres, she needed to take a break. As she slowed down, a cyclist approached and put his hand on her backside. Andreea saw the look in his eyes: “What are you going to do about it?” 

Andreea is a 34-year-old national triathlon champion. She is used to grueling, 15-hour-long challenges. Fuelled by rage, she chased the cyclist. Without knowing what would happen if she caught him, Andreea kept the cyclist in her sights over half the park, running as fast as 3 minutes and 40 seconds per kilometre.

The cyclist glanced back occasionally. He no longer seemed amused – now, he was trying to escape. For Andreea, it was some consolation to know that the cyclist might think of her the next time he felt like groping a stranger. Having finally lost sight of him, Andreea stopped and cried. Then she resumed her training. The anger stayed with her long after her run, and upon returning home she joined a Facebook group called “Girls Gone Running”, where she shared her story.

A dangerous reality 

Her post in the group triggered dozens of comments with similar stories. Roxana Lupu, a runner and cyclist, wrote that she had been in a similar situation: “[I felt] the same anger. What is stifling is the frustration that you really can’t do anything to them.” Roxana, who is 39 years old, founded the platform for amateur athletes, and is among the top 10 women in Romania to have finished an Ironman race.

Andreea also received messages from female athletes who prefer to train in groups. If they are alone, they choose the treadmill at the gym. Other women shared stories about men who had chased them for days in a row, forcing them to change their routes and training hours, or to always carry pepper spray.

I had been a member of this Facebook group since 2013, when I ran my first marathon. Seeing Andreea’s post, I wrote to her about not knowing what to tell my 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter when strange men shouted or whistled at me in the street, or the shop assistant who caught my left hand and held it tightly to stroke my tattoo. I wrote about the fear of going out alone when the darkness sets in, and how vulnerable I felt during my first training after the first coronavirus lockdown. Isolation and empty streets had brought with them a feeling of safety; as people returned to the parks, so too did the whistles, unwanted remarks and, sometimes, gropes.

Street harassment is still far from being seen by society as a form of gender-based violence.

We were by no means alone. In a Runner’s World poll, 84 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of harassment that made them feel at risk when running – from being groped or watched to indecent exposure or inappropriate comments and noises. In response to a freedom of information request made, the Romanian police revealed that in 2019 they had registered 2045 harassment complaints (as defined by the Penal Code) and handed out 17 non-criminal penalties for street harassment. At the end of August 2020, a runner was sexually assaulted in Bucharest Youth Park.

In Romania, 30 per cent of women say they have been affected by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In 2019, around 20 000 women were physically assaulted by a domestic partner. Of these women, 44 died. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for prevention and support services for victims of violence. In April 2020, the hotline for victims of domestic violence in Romania – 0800 500 333 – had received a record number of 308 calls in the previous five months. Romanian Police announced that in March 2020 the number of domestic violence offences had increased by 2.3 per cent compared to the previous year.

The existing measures to combat violence against women are still insufficient. In 2019 police were finally given the power to issue restraining orders on the spot. A massive 36 per cent of restraining orders were broken in 2019. Every time a woman loses her life at the hands of a current or former partner, politicians reiterate the until now unfulfilled promise to introduce electronic monitoring tags to help enforce restraining orders.

Street harassment is still far from being seen by society as a form of gender-based violence. When women complain about it, or even when they report it to the authorities, they are often met with suspicion, doubt and victim blaming.

Law as a starting block 

Andreea – and all of us who read and commented on her post in “Girls Gone Running” – wanted to know what to do in the situation where a stranger suddenly touches you intimately. The information vacuum was frustrating: can you call the police? Can you catch the harasser and detain him until they arrive? How do you assess the risks? Who should protect you? Is there a public authority that deals specifically with harassment?

Determined to make the streets safer for all women, not only sportswomen, the runners organised a new Facebook group called “Proiect legislativ Girls Gone Running” with the aim of creating a bill to regulate street harassment. Oana Solomon, a runner and law school graduate, was in charge of researching the existing legal framework for harassment in Romania. She discovered that harassment (including sexual harassment and psychological abuse in both public and private places) was included in the 2018 law on equal opportunities and treatment between women and men, an initiative led by independent Member of Parliament Oana Bîzgan. Prior to this, there had been no provision to penalise harassment in public spaces in Romania. The 2018 law states that in cases of harassment police have the power to impose fines of between 3000 and 10 000 lei (the equivalent of between 615 and 2050 euros).

The articles in the 2018 law on street harassment were Oana Bîzgan’s first legislative initiative. Bîzgan says she began with clarifying the legislation on harassment because the equal opportunities law did not outline penalties or who could apply them, and the Penal Code defined harassment as something that occurs “repeatedly”, thus excluding most street aggression. “We need to punish such deviations immediately and proportionately. Otherwise, if the aggressor sees that they can get away with it, next time they will do something even more serious. I wanted to send out the most important message: your actions will not be tolerated.”

When working on the legislative initiative, Bîzgan spoke with various women’s rights organisations and activists, including Simona Chirciu, a researcher who represents Romania for global anti-harassment movement HollaBack. Chirciu’s doctoral research on street harassment in Bucharest found that over 80 per cent of women ignore their aggressors, while only 2.9 per cent call the police. Reasons for not taking harassment complaints to the police range from a lack of trust in the authorities, exacerbated by victim blaming, to the information gap on what constitutes harassment.

According to trauma experts, there is a widespread social tendency to minimise the impacts of sexual harassment in public space because it is not necessarily perceived as abusive behavior, unlike rape or physical violence. However, street harassment can be traumatic, and for those who have already experienced sexual violence or an abusive relationship it can be a trigger that strengthens the feeling of not being safe anywhere – not at home, not in the street, and not even when you run.

When Bîzgan first spoke in Parliament about harassment, she experienced derision from her colleagues. “I was met with total ignorance, mockery and laughter in plenary, but I kept going”, the MP recalled. She believes that women’s rightful and legitimate participation in politics is yet to be fully recognised in Romania. In 2015, only 13 per cent of parliamentary seats were occupied by women, with the figure rising slightly to 19.8 per cent by 2020.

Pacing for cultural change 

While Bîzgan’s legal initiative was certainly a step forward, the women runners questioned the effectiveness of laws or sanctions when the public is unaware of them. They realised that harassers must be made aware that their actions were punishable with fines. Beyond deterrence, they wanted to open a conversation about what behaviour is and is not acceptable in public space, and to obtain unequivocal agreement that gender-based harassment should never be tolerated.

In an online discussion in which I took part along with fellow Girls Gone Running activists and around 30 other participants, questions were posed which made it clear that much work remains to be done to clarify the definition of harassment and what women can do when they experience it: “How can we convince the aggressors that honking car horns, whistling or groping is abuse, not a compliment?” “Is it helpful to tell the aggressor that what he did is wrong and that he broke the law?” “How can I convince people it is wrong when someone threatens me on the bus and they hear it but don’t intervene… or worse, they just look strangely at me because I got scared?”

While we all wanted to make change, formulating our discomfort and thinking about solutions was still difficult. It was clear, however, that legislation would not be enough to eliminate the harassment of women in public space. We would have to encourage people to start talking about these experiences, to recognise them as abuse, and to report them.

Much work remains to be done to clarify the definition of harassment and what women can do when they experience it.

Andreea Călugăru assures me that the groping incident will not stop her from training. She sees harassment as a barrier that can prevent women from reaching their maximum potential. Her triathlon training involves cycling out of town: “It’s not safe for me to go 150 kilometres alone. I can no longer accept this reality. If I ever have a daughter, I would like her to do sports. I don’t want to have to tell her, as my mother told me when I was 5 or 6 years old, that men can hurt you.” Since the incident in the park, Andreea has been wondering how to generate solidarity among other runners and cyclists. “I would like the athletics community to be aware of this problem and to fight for a safer environment for everyone.”

Sociologist Daniel Sandu explains that an ally is a person who supports a vulnerable group even if they have never been a witness or victim of discrimination. The ally believes the testimonies they hear — without seeking fault in the victims, or apologising for the aggressors — and is willing to raise the issue in public. Recent studies exploring why men are often more reluctant to vocalise support for gender equality in public than in private point to different factors, including the pressure of conformity, the bystander effect, and the feeling that it is not their place as men to speak out about “women’s issues” issues. 

Gender in the public debate 

In 2020, gender-related issues frequently entered the spotlight in Romania. First, there was the tragic case of a teenager from Mehedinți, who was raped and set on fire by her aggressor after reporting him to police. Once again, the system demonstrated its devastating inability to protect victims.

Then, summer 2020 was dominated by debates about health education in schools, which is currently optional and excludes any topic that mentions the word “sex”. Romania has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the European Union: mothers under the age of 20 represent 9.9 per cent of all births, compared to the EU average of 2.8 per cent. The socio-economic situation of mothers who are minors is mostly precarious – 40 per cent say their incomes are not even sufficient to afford basic necessities, and over 60 per cent of households with teenage mothers do not have running water. The ideological battle around sex education for adolescents draws in conservative religious groups, activists who have been fighting for 30 years for the right to information on health and contraception, parents scared that schools will destroy their children’s innocence, teachers unprepared to discuss such topics with teenagers, and politicians who pay lip service while failing to consult policy experts.

This debate gained great visibility over the summer as a draft to modify the education law was initiated by a theologian senator with a view to banning any reference to the concept of gender identity in schools and universities. The amendment to the education law, which was passed in June 2020, was eventually annulled by Romania’s Constitutional Court after it was challenged by Romania’s centre-right president, Klaus Iohannis, for violating freedom of thought and opinion. The attempt to change the law has sparked protests despite the pandemic, as well as solidarity between women’s NGOs, LGBTQI+ activists, and academics.

Beyond Romania, recent years have seen campaigns in Europe and Latin America that seek to block projects supporting women and the LGBTQI+ community, part of a wider “anti-gender” backlash. According to Oana Băluță, a political scientist and gender studies scholar, these campaigns have fuelled the rise of certain illiberal politicians. Hungary is a case in point, where far-right prime minister Viktor Orban banned gender studies in 2018 [more on gender politics in Hungary]. For Băluță, gender studies have strategic importance: “[they] have led to the development of public policies, legislation, and international conventions on gender violence and inequality.”

Civil society at the helm 

As with other movements – notably youth climate movements such as Fridays for Future – teenagers are providing new inspiration for the Romanian feminist movement. Girl Up Romania, the national branch of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up initiative, was created by Sofia Scarlat when she was just 15 years old. The organisation invites teenage girls to share their experiences, creates online support groups, and promotes an inclusive approach to tackling gender-based violence. Sofia has also campaigned against discrimination targeting Roma women and raised awareness of the historic slavery and genocide of the Roma ethnic minority.

In autumn 2020, a group of 10 teenagers documented street harassment through art with the “Hey, pisi!” outdoor exhibition in Bucharest, talking about their work with young people in order to raise awareness of the issue.

During the pandemic, non-profit organisations such as Identity.Education Timișoara in western Romania have ensured that LGBTQI+ cultural events (including film screenings, plays, debates, and coming-out stories) continue to run online. The organisers firmly believe in the power of art a common language, and that attaching human figures and stories to complex social phenomena is a valuable way to win allies outside the community.

In the absence of political representation to actively combat sexual harassment and gender-based violence, it is mostly up to civil society and the media to keep the issue on the public agenda […]

With a real intersectional spirit, teenagers are eager to collaborate with many different organisations. E-Romnja is a Roma feminist movement that works with young people to raise awareness of inequality and discrimination in- and outside of their communities. This kind of solidarity, which is both a response to the pandemic and to political efforts to curb rights and freedom of expression in Romania, is the anchor to which more and more activists cling. 

2021 will be a year of many challenges, stringent funding, growing poverty, and worsening gender inequality in the wake of the pandemic. However, Romanian civil society is more aware than ever of the importance of collective, inclusive action that clearly demonstrates the impacts of gender equalities and ensures that local authorities and policymakers understand what is at stake. A good example of promising action is the initiative launched in January 2021 by ALEG, a not-for-profit organisation working to combat violence against women, to invite schools and kindergartens to join a gender equality education project which aims to combat gender stereotypes from early childhood.

Following legislative elections in December 2020, Romania stepped into 2021 with a newly elected Parliament in which female representation reaches just 17 per cent, a fall of almost 3 per cent from the previous legislature. This puts the country among the poorest performers in the European Union in terms of women’s political representation. Gender equality did not feature in the electoral campaign, despite numerous studies and monitoring projects exposing the pandemic’s disproportionately negative impact on women, from domestic violence to increased care duties meaning more women leave formal employment. In the absence of political representation to actively combat sexual harassment and gender-based violence, it is mostly up to civil society and the media to keep the issue on the public agenda, hold failures to account, and pilot solutions.

A Democratic Counteroffer to China’s Digital Power

The EU and the US have to navigate bilateral differences and work with like-minded countries to formulate a response to China’s techno-authoritarianism. This effort should go beyond industrial policy towards shaping a positive and inclusive digital agenda.

In dealing with China as a digital superpower, the European Union and the United States share a range of values and interests, but they start from very different places. For the US, China’s growing geostrategic and technological power poses a direct strategic threat. While European policymakers, business leaders and the public increasingly share the perception of a systemic rivalry between liberal democracies and China’s techno-authoritarian state, the fear of losing access to China’s market is still a more powerful motivator for the EU and its member states, especially Germany, than the US fear of a potential confrontation – militarily or in cyberspace.

There is growing transatlantic agreement on the national security risks of letting companies from a state-run economy build our critical infrastructure or of increasing our vulnerability to unwanted technology transfer by integrating our companies into China’s digital ecosystem. Let alone the moral issues around exporting products that could be used for domestic surveillance purposes in China or of integrating our companies into supply chains that include forced labor.

Yet when it comes to data protection or fair competition in the digital economy, Europeans don’t trust Facebook any more than TikTok. Europe’s assertion of its “digital sovereignty,” exemplified by the Gaia-X project to build a European framework for governing clouds, is a testament to the mistrust of US surveillance and lack of data privacy protections.

Navigating these differences seems over-ambitious within the confines of a narrowly defined transatlantic project. The answer to the question how the EU and the US should deal with China in the digital sphere, to some extent, lies in taking China out of the equation – and instead building new partnerships with the goal to create a joint vision of the digital world we want to live in as democratic societies. Rather than focus on countering China, we should craft a global democratic digital agenda.

Research, standards, and digital public goods

A comprehensive transatlantic China policy is as elusive as a template for a transatlantic digital agenda. Yet partial convergence in some areas can be leveraged in concert with other like-minded partners.

The Biden administration is currently discussing a framework for joint research and standard-setting with the goal to protect critical infrastructure and supply chains. In a Foreign Affairs article, Jared Cohen and Richard Fontaine proposed that such an alliance of “techno-democracies” should initially consist of Australia, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, along with the United States. A similar concept was put forth in a joint call for action by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which is led by Fontaine, in coordination with the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and the Asia Pacific Initiative of Japan. The three also recommended that alliance members pool resources to finance secure digital infrastructure and boost digital inclusion in third countries. The China Strategy Group, which was co-chaired by Cohen, a Google executive, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, proposed to set up an international technology finance corporation as a way to counter China’s global connectivity project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), by providing digital public goods to the parts of the world that increasingly depend on Chinese technology.

When it comes to data protection or fair competition in the digital economy, Europeans don’t trust Facebook any more than TikTok.

For such efforts to gain broader democratic legitimacy, they will have to go beyond industrial policy and competition against China. They would have to aim to structure global digital governance debates around shared values – from sustainability and inclusion to democracy and human rights. And they would have to include the EU as a global standard-setter instead of just some of its member states.

For this to become a path forward, both sides have homework to do. The EU needs to come to a clear evaluation of how its economic interests align with its other goals of protecting human rights, environmental standards, and yes, strategic interests in its Eastern neighbourhood, which is very much a target of BRI. German carmakers’ deep entanglement with the Chinese market continues to provide Beijing with leverage, as seen in the last-ditch EU agreement with China on the principles of an investment agreement at the end of 2020, which raised fears in the US of a closer integration of European companies into China’s digital economy.

Germany’s China dilemma meets America’s credibility gap

In a virtual speech at the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung’s annual foreign policy conference on January 18, 2021, German Green Party co-chair Annalena Baerbock sharply criticized the deal, a priority of the Merkel government, for failing to gain sufficient Chinese concessions on market access and labour standards. Yet Baerbock also conceded the dilemma. “We won’t be able to decouple from China, but we also must not be blind,“ she said, warning of growing dependencies on Chinese infrastructure investments in EU’s regional vicinity, such as in Serbia.

The Biden administration, on its end, will have to regain European trust in a US-led global digital economy and to re-affirm its membership in the democracy and digital rights camp after the end of the Trump years. Injecting values into the global digital governance conversation will be difficult as long as the US lacks credibility for protecting digital rights at home. The US political debate has recently moved away from disregarding European regulations as protectionism. After an initial outcry in 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is now accepted as the de facto global gold standard even by many US companies. California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) draws heavily from GDPR, and many expect Congress to make another attempt at passing federal data privacy legislation this year.

Injecting values into the global digital governance conversation will be difficult as long as the US lacks credibility for protecting digital rights at home.

The US tech lobby is geared up for a fight over the European Commission’s draft Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). At the same time, many US policymakers and experts discussing a reform of the liability protections for platforms (Section 230) rather look with envy to the thoughtful legislative proposal, which proposes greater accountability and transparency as an alternative to blunter tools for filtering and taking down content that is seen as harmful, but not illegal. As anti-trust investigations against Google and Facebook are gaining steam in the US, the DMA’s linking of platform accountability to market domination is widely discussed as a pioneering legislative approach.

The need for a broader coalition

Apart from domestic adjustments, the EU and the US need to sort out a few things bilaterally. For a broader multilateral democratic digital governance coalition to take shape, it would be ideal if they could remove the most obvious transatlantic digital policy stumbling blocks sooner than later – by finding a rights-respecting way to restore transatlantic data transfers after the European Court of Justice struck down the Privacy Shield agreement, and by finding a compromise within the OECD on digital taxation. They can revive what used to be the most promising part of the failed TTIP negotiations – a dialogue on aligning industrial standards for emerging technologies. The European Commission’s proposed EU-US Trade and Technology Council could be the right place for that.

A broader coalition among democracies would seek to establish and coordinate multilateral export controls for critical technologies, investment screening and other measures to protect national digital infrastructures. It would identify areas to pursue research and commercial cooperation – within the realistic limitations of competition within such a group over IP and talent.

But apart from security and competition, it would focus on a positive agenda around values such as sustainability, inclusion, democracy and human rights, for example by seeking to shape value-guided rules for emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the OECD, G20 or other forums.

Differences in domestic laws or regulations should not be insurmountable obstacles, as long as the partners can agree on procedural elements to ensure the democratic legitimacy of digital governance structures. Transparency, accountability and legal redress would be core elements of such legitimacy.

Very importantly, the democratic coalition would have to open the conversation beyond an exclusive circle once known as “the West.” Its members would have to demonstrate that its alternative connectivity offerings to low- and middle-income countries are buffered by higher ethical standards than China’s. They would have to ensure that digital trade agreements such as the one currently under negotiation by 80 WTO members under the Joint Statement Initiative give others the space they need to carve out their own digital sovereignty. Developing and emerging economies have to be a part of the discussions over what an inclusive, democratic, sustainable and rights-based digital sphere should look like – and how much they are willing to trust a powerful coalition of “techno-democracies” over China.

This article was inspired by discussions during the workshop “Elements of a New Transatlanticism” at the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung’s 21st Foreign Policy Conference on January 28, 2021 and is published in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Germany’s Year of Elections: Has the Pandemic Scuppered the Green Rise?

Before the pandemic hit, Greens in Germany were on an upward trajectory, reaching historic highs in terms of membership and electoral success. Key to their emergence as the preeminent progressive force in the country was the party’s capacity to set out a forward-looking vision that resonated with society. But as Germany enters a Superwahljahr – with regional elections throughout the year and federal elections in September – where do the Greens currently stand? As Merkel readies to leave office and the pandemic continues on, are the Greens still carrying the political momentum?

When I last wrote about the German Greens in late 2019, the party was on a high, riding a Green wave. It had achieved its best-ever result at the European elections and in a string of regional and local elections. Overtaking the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens had become the leaders of the progressive camp and were challenging the Conservative CDU/CSU in the opinion polls. In June 2019, they were leading the pack, polling at 27 per cent, followed by the CDU at 25 per cent.

Fortune favoured the Greens but then, as they often do, events took over. Covid-19 put an abrupt end to the hype. Climate change no longer dominated the headlines and the Fridays for Future movement deserted the streets, while the politics of permanent emergency put the spotlight on the governing parties.

Now, in 2021, Germany has entered a Superwahljahr – a super election year, comprising five state elections and a federal election in September. The upcoming period will be a defining moment for Germany, ushering in a post-Merkel era (the Chancellor has led Germany since 2005). The new government will face enormous challenges: the hegemonic US-China conflict, climate change, new technologies, populism, and the post-pandemic economy. It will chart the path for Germany, and with it the European Union, for these “roaring twenties” of the 21st century.

Pandemic realignment

Crises inevitably concentrate public attention on the executive and so the pandemic naturally rearranged the political pecking order. Chancellor Merkel and the CDU/CSU emerged stronger with poll numbers rising from the mid-20 per cent range to 39 per cent during the pandemic. Even the struggling coalition partner SPD enjoyed a boost, moving from an all-time low of 12 per cent to 17 per cent. Meanwhile, the Greens dropped 9 points from 26 to 17 per cent. In summer 2020, some commentators speculated that the Social Democrats were set to surpass the Greens and reclaim the leadership mantle among the progressive camp. But it was not to be.

This reconfiguration was not simply down to the crisis benefitting governing parties. Of course, the CDU/CSU and SPD received the most media attention during the pandemic, while opposition parties struggled to respond and largely supported the government. But other factors were also at play. While some parties used this historic occasion to their advantage, the pandemic exposed the weaknesses of others.

A steady hand in a crisis

Before Covid-19 hit Germany, the CDU was in a deep quagmire; it was internally conflicted and openly divided.

The leadership challenge between the Merkel wing, represented by Armin Laschet, the Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia, and the more conservative wing, represented by Friedrich Merz, was putting pressure on the party. In addition, the CDU faced difficulties distancing itself from charges of co-operating with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in East Germany. In February 2020, after regional government elections in Thuringia resulted in a stalemate, the CDU joined the AfD in voting for Thomas Kemmerich, leader of the Thuringian Free Democratic Party (FDP) which barely entered the regional parliament with five per cent, for Minister-President. This open co-operation between the CDU and the far right damaged the CDU’s national image significantly. A similar situation resurfaced in Saxony-Anhalt later in 2020, where the CDU joined the far right in opposing the rise in public broadcasting fees.

During the pandemic, the leadership question took a backseat. Markus Söder, Conservative Minister President of Bavaria, appealed for less division, reminding the factions that “divided parties don’t win votes.” More importantly, however, the CDU was able to play to different voter interests, just as the Greens had been doing.

While the Greens have sought to bring people together in their approach, the CDU has taken a different route: using different politicians to speak to different voters.

As explained previously, the Greens have started to pursue a politics that bridge divides (economy vs. environment, savings vs. investment, refugees welcome vs. Fortress Europe) and solve contradictions. While the Greens have sought to bring people together in their approach, the CDU has taken a different route: using different politicians to speak to different voters. For example, while Laschet strongly supports opening up and giving people more freedom, Söder has pursued a very restrictive, cautious pro-lockdown policy. This allows the CDU/CSU to speak to both sides of the debate.

The CDU/CSU has also used the crisis to embark on major policy shifts. Most notably, to abandon its fiscal conservatism entirely. Of course, a crisis requires a fiscal response but the Conservatives went further, investing in crucial research areas such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other key technologies. This influx of public investment matches longstanding Green demands.

It seems the Conservatives have understood that they are increasingly seen as behind the times. They have picked up on the widespread desire for change and recognised that the Greens are widely considered to represent it. Söder considers the Greens to be the greatest political threat to his party and is now running to catch up. Conservative online campaigning now increasingly features gay couples, people of colour, and renewable energy to try and catch the wave. Whether this new image is believable is another question altogether.

A blow for the Greens

The Greens, on the other hand, had a difficult time. Under the leadership of Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, two charismatic and fresh political figures, the Greens have become marketing specialists. In his latest book Die Grüne Macht, Ulrich Schulte argues that “no party has mastered the rules of modern media staging as perfectly as the Greens. Every detail is carefully choreographed.” However, in a crisis, people are interested in action, not photo opportunities. Habeck posting pictures on Instagram of him cutting his own hair and reading Albert Camus’s The Plague was a bridge too far. Habeck has also shown that he is not gaffe-immune in recent years, strengthening the case for co-leader Annalena Baerbock, who likes to know the ins and outs of every political issue, to be named as the lead candidate in the upcoming federal election.

Simultaneously, the Greens faced increased pressure on their climate credentials as a range of Fridays for Futures activists started to argue that the Greens lack ambition. Moreover, a new political party – Die Klimaliste, the climate list – has been formed. Although prominent activists have distanced themselves from the list, this new force could nevertheless cost the Greens a few votes. Elsewhere, contradictions arising from the Greens’ positions have come to a head. In Hesse, the Greens, as the governing party in charge of the economy ministry, were responsible for implementing a federal decision to build a highway. Its construction, however, meant cutting down the 250-year-old Dannenröder forest, to which climate activists reacted by setting up camp in the forest. The dispute pitted climate activists against the Greens, who were legally required to implement the federal decision.

Like many other parties, the Greens initially struggled to respond to the pandemic. Bernd Ulrich, a well-known commentator from the German weekly Die Zeit, has argued that the Greens have shown the extent to which they have become part of the political establishment by rallying behind Merkel’s management of the crisis. By taking relatively radical measures, such as opening the coffers and increasing subsidies for electric vehicles, the government took the wind out of the Greens’ sails.

The road to the elections

The pandemic took the Greens down a peg but, by autumn 2020, they had found their stride again. They started to raise issues that the government had overlooked, such as the hardship experienced by freelancers and the plight of children in the pandemic. They organised a children’s summit, together with child psychologists, paediatricians, teachers, and social service workers.

The Greens also argued that the crisis must be used to tackle the even greater challenge of climate change. By insisting that a recovery from the pandemic cannot mean a return to business as usual, they kept their narrative for a better future alive. They also went beyond traditional Green topics, publishing a paper on combatting Islamic radicalism in Germany and improving internal security. They also celebrated some successes during the pandemic. In the local elections in Germany’s most populous state and Social Democrat heartland, North-Rhine Westphalia, they won numerous mayorships in sizable cities.

Now, the federal electoral situation seems to have stabilised. The Greens are back to polling at 20 per cent, the Conservatives are descending from their high 30s, while all other parties remain frozen in the polls. But a number of factors could still lead to surprises as the race heats up.

With three candidates in the running for the chancellery, the electoral race is still open and polls could begin to shift as Germany emerges out of lockdown.

The CDU/CSU might seem united in the pandemic, but the question is to what extent it will remain so. The CDU leadership election was incredibly close. Armin Laschet won with 53 per cent of the vote, while Friedrich Merz garnered 47 per cent. The question of who will be the Conservatives’ candidate for chancellor, Laschet or Söder, also remains unanswered. As soon as the Conservatives choose their candidate, they could very well lose their Merkel bonus. It will be first time since the Second World War that an incumbent Chancellor is not standing for re-election.

The CDU has suffered historic defeats in the regional elections of Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz. While Greens saw very strong wins. This has the potential to bring the CDU into a downward spiral. Further factors could strengthen such a dynamic. The party is also increasingly tarnished by corruption as more cases of suspected graft and dubious business dealings come to light. CDU/CSU Bundestag members, such as Georg Nüßlein and Nikolas Löbel, used the pandemic to broker procurement deals for masks. For these services as middlemen, they received 660,000 and 250,000 euros respectively. While CDU politician Philip Amthor helped a US firm gain political appointments in exchange for shares in that company, CDU Bundestag members Axel Fischer and Karin Strenz allegedly received payments to lobby in the interests of the government of Azerbaijan. These cases significantly hurt the image of the Conservatives. Last but not least, the federal government is losing public support due to the rolling out of the vaccination campaign, which has been progressing at a snail’s pace.

Some commentators, such as Wolfgang Münchau, have even argued that one of the winners could be the liberal FDP, which has argued for less restrictive management of the pandemic and a more rapid opening up.

The Greens, meanwhile, harbour a huge voter potential. According to a study by the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, the Greens are the second political party of choice for many voters. A quarter of Conservative supporters, 30 per cent of left-wing Die Linke, and 39 per cent of Social Democrat voters name the Greens as their second preference. Many opinion polls indicate that voters would like to see a Black-Green government next.

Parties go on the offensive

The Greens are therefore the main competitor for most parties across the political spectrum. This has led parties to respond in two ways:

First, most political parties have now recognised that German society wants some change and are styling themselves as future-oriented new change-makers. The CDU/CSU has tried to give itself a makeover. The SPD has put forth a “Future Programme” as its election programme. The first slogan that greets visitors to their website is: “Future for you. Social. Digital. Climate-neutral.” The programme is classically left-wing with calls for better social security, more taxes, but also contains green elements with proposals for more climate protection. If the party succeeds in combining a forward-looking and progressive stance with the credibility of its chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz, the current finance minister, it could endanger the Greens’ second place in the polls. However, it would not be the first time such a rebranding has been tried. Die Linke has also attempted to make itself more dynamic, by electing two young women, Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow as its leaders.

The Greens will have to show that they can deliver on their promise of change, even in coalition with conservative partners.

The only political parties sticking to their profile are the FDP and the AfD. The FDP relaunched itself ahead of the 2017 election and is firmly in the grip of its party leader Christian Lindner, who has little interest in reshaping the party a second time. The AfD, on the other hand, have contradicted themselves throughout the pandemic and have steadily lost support.

A second approach on behalf of political opponents has been to step up pressure on, and criticism of, the Greens. A recent controversy over detached family houses is an apt example. A local council in Hamburg decided not to include any single detached houses in their building plans. The ensuing discussion saw Anton Hofreiter, co-chair of the Green Bundestag Group, explain that detached houses had a greater ecological footprint and take up land that could be used for more housing. This stance became framed as “Greens banning single family houses”. The Greens have no such plans and similar planning decisions are common throughout Germany and have been taken in the past by the Conservatives, but the episode shows what they can expect in the months ahead.

With more scrutiny and attacks in store, the Greens will have to be careful about how they formulate their programme and political demands. At the same time, they will have to try to continue to dominate the news cycle as they did prior to the pandemic and demonstrate that they are the only party genuinely driving progressive change.

Moving into unchartered territory

The major election issues will be the handling of the pandemic, the economy (where the CDU/CSU and FDP are considered particularly competent), and which political party symbolises a new dynamic force for progress. Climate change could come to the forefront again once the pandemic restrictions have eased and climate activists return to the streets, giving green issues more publicity. Foreign policy, despite its importance, will most likely not play any major role.

With three candidates – Conversative, Green, and Social Democrat – in the running for the chancellery, the electoral race is still open and polls could begin to shift as Germany emerges out of lockdown. While the SPD has already announced its candidate, both the CDU/CSU and the Greens will announce their chancellor candidates after Easter.

For the first time in history, the German Greens have a realistic chance of being the big winners of a federal election, overtaking the SPD and entering government after nearly 16 years of opposition. A black-green coalition is currently most likely, but other constellations, such as black-red or a three-way coalition with the Liberals, cannot be ruled out.

Should the Greens join the new government, a new raft of challenges will present themselves. The Greens will have to show that they can deliver on their promise of change, even in coalition with conservative partners. They will have to show that they can enact change and not just talk about it in election programmes, op-eds, and on Instagram. They will be also confronted with tough decisions that might go against their core voter interests, in order to benefit society as a whole.

Much will depend on the new leadership. If Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck both join the government, who will take the reins of the party? Both Robert and Annalena are from the Realo – pragmatic centre – wing of the party. Will the more left-leaning Fundi wing argue that now is the time for two left-wing co-chairs? And if so, what would that mean for relations between the Greens in government, subject to the constraints of a coalition and policymaking for the good of society, and the party leadership, operating in a party context and doing politics to mobilise constituencies?

While these questions remain unanswered, it is clear that the Greens are in their strongest ever position going into this electoral race, and they are hungry to win.

This article was updated on March 15th to include the result of the Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland Palatinate elections.

Hea elu „alusmajandus“

COVID-19 pandeemia on näidanud, et mõned majandussektorid on meie põhivajaduste rahuldamiseks ja „hea elu“ tagamiseks teistest tähtsamad. Meie ühiskondade kestliku tuleviku kindlustamiseks on hädavajalik tugev alusmajandus – haridus, tervishoid ja sotsiaalhoolekanne, kommunaalteenused ning jaekaubandus.

Kriis on näidanud mõnede majandusvaldkondade olulisust. Ühtlasi on see ilmestanud äärmusliku vabaturumajanduse piire, tõstes teravalt esile avaliku tervishoiusüsteemi universaalse ja kollektiivse teenuste jaotamise eeliseid võrreldes süsteemidega, milles baasvajaduste täitmine sõltub inimeste maksevõimest.

Selles mõttes on pandeemia pakkunud majanduse toimimisele, tööjõu küsimustele ja ühiskondlikule panustamisele mitmeid uusi vaatenurki. Tagasipöördumine senisesse äritegevuslikku olukorda, mis leidis aset peale viimast majanduskriisi 2008. aastal, oleks viga. „Pandeemia majandusest“ saadud väärt õppetunnid võiksid mängida olulist rolli pandeemiajärgsete majanduste kestlikumaks kujundamises. Nende õppetundide omandamiseks tuleb aga keskenduda kahele asjaolule. Esmalt on vaja head arusaama turuliberalismist, mis kujutab endast turu liberaliseerimise, erastumise ja finantsialiseerimise ideoloogilist baasi. Teiseks nägemust teistlaadi majanduslikust korrast, sh. strateegiatest tulevikukriisidele efektiivselt ja ühiskondlikult sidusalt reageerimiseks. Visioon koorub välja meie igapäevamajanduse ehk „alusmajanduse“ tugevdamisest, mis hõlmab suuri osasid avalikust sektorist ja kommunaalteenustest.

Majanduse kitsenemine

1980ndate neoliberalismi võidukäik muutis majanduslikku mõtlemist ja käitumist radikaalselt. Eriti tajutav oli see kolmes valdkonnas. Esiteks tuhmistas väljapoole sihitud fookus suunitlust sisemajandusele. Tekkis mitmeid uusi turge ning paljud olemasolevad liberaliseerusid, nende hulgas ka paljud põhiteenuste turud. Juhtivateks kreedodeks olid rahvusvahelisele kapitalile atraktiivsete tingimuste loomine ning efektiivsus, optimeerimine ja suured korporatiivsed tulud. Teiseks asendati eri osadest koosnenud süsteemid turumajandusliku süsteemiga – mitmekülgsed majandussüsteemid taandati ühtseteks (globaalseteks) turumajandusteks. Kolmandaks asendati makrosotsiaalsed eesmärgid individuaalsete soovide ja eelistustega – üldine hüvang läbi omakasu.

Selle kõige tulemusel muutusid inimõigused, alates tervishoiust, kuni hariduse ja eluasemeni, turustatavateks hüvedeks ja teenusteks, mida toodavad eraettevõtted ning soetavad turul üksiktarbijad. Individuaalne vastutus tähendas nüüd „vabanemist“ kollektiivsetest kindlustussüsteemidest erapensionide, eratervisekindlustuse või eluaseme omamise näidetel ning läbi investeerimise „inimkapitali“.

Selline küllaltki kitsas arusaam muutus majandusteadustes mitte üksnes laialtlevinuks, vaid laienes võidukalt üha uutesse ühiskondlikesse eluvaldkondadesse. Mõtte formuleerisid oma loogilise järelduseni Gary S. Becker ja Guity Nashat Becker nende 1996. aasta raamatus „The Economics of Life“ („Elu majandus“).

Individuaalse optimeerimise ühekülgne rõhutamine õõnestab aga ühiskonna sidusust, solidaarsust ja paindlikkust. Loomulikult on mõttekas tuvastada näiteks tervishoiusüsteemis säästuvõimalusi, ent ühisteenuste rahalise tõhususe ühepoolne rõhutamine võib olla sügavalt problemaatiliste tagajärgedega, eriti ettenägematute olukordade kerkides. Seda tunnistades vaadati üle pandeemia alguses näiteks Austria Auditikohtu pikaajaline nõudmine vähendada intensiivravi voodikohtade „ebaefektiivset“ arvu.

Asjaolu, et „majandusel“ – mõistetuna globaalsel turul tegutsevate ettevõtetena – läheb hästi, ütleb väga vähe kõikide ühiskonnaliikmete heaolu kohta.

COVID-19 kogemus on tõstnud esile mitmeid sääraste suhtumiste vajakajäämisi. See ilmestab, et turg saab lahendada mõndasid, aga mitte kõiki probleeme, et majandused on enamat, kui turumajandused, et sotsiaalkaitset ei saa vaadata ainuüksi mikroökonoomilise efektiivsuse perspektiivist ja et jäigalt väljapoole vaatav suunitlus võib sotsiaalset sidusust tugevalt õõnestada. Majandustegevus, kui sellineseisneb ressursside efektiivse haldamise ja jaotamise teel elanikkonna põhivajaduste tagamises, mitte isiklike soovide ja eelistuste teenimises. Kestlik majandustegevus stabiliseerib solidaarsusel põhinevaid kogukondi, garanteerib nende liikmete vaba arengu ja kaitseb maavarasid ning ökosüsteeme. Optimeerimine on kahtlemata kasulik, ent ainult juhul, kui see teenib neid eesmärke.

Reservvõimekus ja puhvrid on esmatähtsad tagamaks, et põhivajadused oleksid rahuldatud isegi ootamatute olukordade esile kerkides. See on „täpselt ajastatud“ filosoofia täielik vastand.

Järelikult eksisteerib pakiline vajadus teistsuguse, laiapõhisema arusaama järele ökonoomikast. Lõppude lõpuks ütleb asjaolu, et „majandusel“ – mõistetuna globaalsel turul tegutsevate ettevõtetena – läheb hästi – mõõdetuna kasvu ja kaubandusmahu tõusuga – väga vähe kõikide ühiskonnaliikmete heaolu kohta. Samuti on see halvaks kriisi vastupidavuse indikaatoriks, rääkimata valmisolekust tulevikuks ja planeedi võimekusest kliimamuutuseid trotsides elu alal hoida.

Alusmajandus ellujäämiseks

Mitte kõik majanduslikud tegevused ei ole võrdsed. Kui kriisi ajal suleti mitmeid tööstussektoreid, siis „süsteemselt oluliste“ sektorite kohta seda ei kohaldatud. See „alusmajandus“ tagab inimeste ellujäämise, hoides alal meie igapäevaeluks vajalikke teenuseid nagu toit, tervishoid, vesi ja energia, jäätmekäitlus ning majutus. Lihtsalt öeldes hõlmab alusmajandus igapäevaselt vajalikke tegevusi, ka kriisiaegadel. [1] Samuti ka põhiteenuste ühiste reservide hoidmist ja varumist, ehk majanduslikku hoolimist üksteisest ja üksteisega koos.

Peamiselt Euroopa teadlastest koosnev Alusmajanduse kollektiiv (The Foundational Economy Collective) avaldas vahetult enne ühiskondade sulgemist 2020. aasta märtsis manifesti pandeemiajärgse perioodi kohta. Ühendus seisab alusmajanduse uuendamise eest, tuginedes aastatepikkuse uurimistöö tulemusel väljatöötatud 10-punkti programmile. Programm sisaldab muuseas üleskutseid tugevamaks riiklikuks tervishoiusüsteemiks (sh. ennetusmeetmete arendamiseks), reformitud ja suuremaks progressiivseks maksustamiseks ning avalikkuse kaasamiseks avalike teenuste kavandamisel.

Peamine nõudmine seisneb üleskutses liikuda ühiselt kestlikuma sotsio-ökoloogilise infrastruktuuri poole ning vältida kriisieelse kõrge individuaalse tarbimisega majanduskäitumise juurde naasmist. Me ei vaja mitte rekonstrueerimist, vaid kriisidele haavatava majanduse transformeerimist jätkusuutlikuks majanduseks. See on ainus viis vastupidavuse ja uuteks kriisideks valmisoleku suurendamiseks.

Alusmajanduse kaupade ja teenuste tagamise määravad turu piirid. Üks probleem seisneb selles, et erastamise ja liberaliseerimise käigus sätestatud ärimudelid võimaldasid eraettevõtetele ligipääsu põhiteenuste tagamiseks mõeldud avalikele finantsvahenditele, mida kasutati kasumi maksimeerimiseks ilma vajalikke pikaajalisi investeeringuid tegemata.

Põhiteenused on aga ühiskonna toimimiseks vajaminevate varude ja vahendite tagamiseks esmatähtsad, koosnedes majanduslikest tegevustest, mis toimivad üleilmse turumajanduse põhimõtetest erinevalt. Pikaajalise kindlustatuse tagamine on eriti oluline. Kestlikud majandused vajavad pikaajalist majandusmõtlemist, planeerimist ja koostööd koos järjepidevuse, piisavuse ja vastupanuvõime arvestamisega otsustusprotsessis. Need kriteeriumid on praegu kehtivatest lühiajalise kasumi maksimeerimisest ja mikroökonoomsest konkurentsieelisest fundamentaalselt erinevad.

„Leiba ja roose“ heaks eluks

Alusmajanduse kollektiivi kirjutatud manifesti ilmumisest alates on jätkusuutliku „igapäevaelu majanduse“ kohta saanud selgeks veel nii mõndagi. Karantiiniajal kogesime lisaks sellele, mida ellujäämiseks vajame, ka seda, millest hakkasime puudust tundma. Hea elu hõlmab siiski enamat, kui lihtsalt ellujäämist. Laiendatud arusaam alusmajandusest läheb esmatarbekaupadega varustatusest kaugemale. Siinkohal panustab silmapiiride laiendamisse feministlik ökonoomika. Selle põhimõtted võtab kokku 1912. aastal naiste õiguste liikumise tähistamiseks kirjutatud ja hümniks saanud James Oppenheimeri laul „Leib ja roosid,“ mida hiljem hakati seostama 1912. aasta Lawrence’i tekstiilivabriku streigiga Massachusettsi osariigis:

As we go marching, marching            Nüüd, marssima, marssima minnes

Unnumbered women dead                  Surnud naisi loendamatu hulk

Go crying through our singing           Nutmas läbi me laulu

Their ancient call for bread               Oma ürgset nõudmist leiva järele

Small art and love and beauty            Vaid vähest kunsti ja armu ja ilu

Their trudging spirits knew                Said tunda nende rühkivad hinged

Yes, it is bread we fight for                 Jah, leiva eest võitleme

But we fight for roses, too.                 Aga rooside eest võitleme ka

Heaks eluks on vaja enamat, kui vaid ellujäämise tagamist (leiba). Vaja on ka korralikke töö- ja elamistingimusi (roose). Seda põhimõtet adusid juba vanad kreeklased, kelle mõistet eudaimonia saab tõlkida kui „inimese õitsengu või hästi elamise seisundit.“ Amartya Sen ja Martha Nussbaum kasutasid mõistet oma hea elu teooria arendamiseks, mille järgi eraisikud saavad elada head elu, kui selleks on loodud õige raamistik ja rahuldatud vajalikud tingimused.

Kultuurilised ja sotsiaalsed institutsioonid nagu baarid, restoranid, juuksurisalongid ning rohealad on inimeste vajaduste rahuldamiseks keskse tähtsusega, olgugi, et need pole ellujäämiseks hädavajalikud. Nende klassifitseerimine on keerulisem kuna „hea elu“ definitsioon on lihtsalt ellujäämisest hulga umbmäärasem – see on sisuliselt erinev, toetub väärtushinnangutele ning vajab otsuste tegemisel avalikkuse osalust. „Hea elu“ võtmeosade ning nende tingimuste, infrastruktuuride ja institutsioonide väljaselgitamiseks on hädavajalik uute osalusvormide kasutuselevõtt. See infrastruktuur kipub olema organiseerunud kohalikul tasandil, tootes väärtust ja heaolu kohapeal.

Ühiskondlike väärtuste ümbermõtestamine

Küsimust, mida on hästi elamiseks vaja ning mis vorme see peaks võtma, ei saa ülaltpoolt defineerida. Niisamuti ei saa seda jätta turu otsustada. Millist majandust me tahame ja mis eesmärke see peaks täitma on ühest küljest tugevalt põimunud küsimusega, millised on ühiskondlikult väärtuslikud ning ellujäämise, õitsengu ja hea elu saavutamiseks vajalikud tegevused. Teisalt ka sellega, millised tegevused neid püüdlusi õõnestavad.

COVID-19 kriisist ärgitatud ümbermõtestamine on neoklassikalise majandusteooria üdini küsimärgi alla seadnud. Hinna väärtusteooria järgi, mis asendas klassikalise majandusteooria Smithist Marxini, määravad nõudluse ja sellega ka hinna üksiktarbija tarbimiseelistused. Selle teooria järgi peetakse (turu osas) õiglaseks, et meditsiiniõe sissetulekud moodustavad murdosa investeerimispankuri omadest ning, et kolmanda auto soetamine ei erine sisuliselt kuidagi toidu ostmisest. Lühidalt on (turu osas) ebaõiglane teha moraalset vahet vajadusel, mugavusel ning luksusel. Iga tegevust, mis tõmbab ligi üksiktarbija ostujõudu, peetakse produktiivseks ja väärtuslikuks, olenemata selle sotsiaalsest väärtusest või hävingupotentsiaalist.

Küsimust, mida on hästi elamiseks vaja ning mis vorme see peaks võtma, ei saa ülaltpoolt defineerida. Niisamuti ei saa seda jätta turu otsustada.

Alusmajanduse kriisivalmiduse tõstmiseks on väärtuste eristamine aga vajalik. See võimaldab leida kõigile hea elu tagamiseks vajalikud tingimused läbi demokraatliku arutelu. COVID-19 kriisi ajal otsustas mitu valitsust süsteemse tähtsusega sektorite töölistele erakorralisi lapsehooldustoetusi pakkuda, määratledes seega väärtuste erisust. Väärtuserisusega sektorite sekka kuuluvad ka tervishoid ja erakorralised teenused, jaepangandus, põllumajandus, toiduainete jaesektor, kommunaalteenused ning haridus.

Pandeemiast tulevikku vaadates on selge, et hea elu väljaselgitamiseks on vajalik avalik arutelu. Peame tuvastama, millised majandustegevused ja sektorid on hädavajalikud, kuidas neid kõigile kättesaadavaks teha ja kes seda ellu viima hakkab. Selliste valdkondade tugevdamine ning nendes töötavate inimeste pingutuste asjakohane hüvitamine on ühiskondliku tunnustuse väljendus. On lubamatu, et „eesliinitöötajatest,“ kelle kanda on lõviosa alusmajanduse töökoormast, neist enamus naised, on needsamad inimesed, kes ebavõrdsetest võimalustest, ebakindlast töökohast ning madalast töötasust ka enim mõjutatud on.

Heaolu tulevikukriiside lähenedes

Milliseid õppetunde oleme COVID-19 kriisist saanud, mis aitaksid meil majanduspoliitikat ümber korraldada, pakkumaks head elu kõigile? Esmatähtis on aduda peaasjalikult kodumaise alusmajanduse väärtust, mis tagab elukvaliteediks ja kestlikkuseks vajaliku esmatarbekauba ja teenused.

Meie majanduse vundamendi uuendamine ja transformeerimine tähendab tähelepanu pööramist nendele, kes „hoiavad poe avatud“ (tsiteerides Angela Merkelit). Põhiteenuste majanduslikku ja sotsiaalset väärtust ei tohi taandada nende kursiväärtuseks. Selle asemel peab läbirääkimiste ja otsustusprotsesside fookuses olema kestlik heaolu, seega põhiteenuste kasutusväärtus.

Muutuse esilekutsumiseks on vaja uusi ja laiapõhiseid liite progressiivsete erakondade, ametiühingute ja kodanikuühenduste vahel, ent samuti ka nende konservatiivsete ja liberaalsete osapooltega, kes tunnistavad kollektiivselt põhiteenuste varumise tähtsust. Saksamaal, Šveitsis ja Austrias eriti kogub avalike asutuste, kooperatiivide või omavalitsuste vaheliste partnerluste poolne põhiteenuste kohalik varumine üha suuremat legitiimsust. Nii võiks tekkida uus tasakaal konkurentsivõimelise, maailmaturu poole suunatud majanduse ning varustamisele ja heaolule suunatud alusmajanduse vahel. See tugevdaks sotsiaalset sidusust ja teeks ühtlasi võimalikuks seista vastu uutele kriisidele – kõige tähtsamana kliimakriisile – sarnase vastutustunde, ekspertiisi ja solidaarsusega.

See artikkel avaldati esmalt Makronomis ja on taasavaldatud autorite loal.


[1] Davide Arcidiacono et al. (2017). Foundational Economy: The infrastructure of everyday life. Manchester: Manchester University Press

The Conference on the Future of Europe: Sparking Hope for EU Democracy?

For the past 15 years, the engine driving the constitutional development of the European Union has stalled. However today, the discussion on reforming the Stability and Growth Pact, the aftermath of Brexit, and the opening of the Conference on the Future of Europe could kickstart it once more. The conference has so far got off to a lacklustre start. Despite high expectations and much fanfare, it risks being another missed opportunity unless it lives up to its promise to heed the voices of citizens. But if used wisely, this exercise has the potential to deepen the accountability and representation at the heart of the EU’s constitutional order. For the road to European democracy is long and winding.

With the first rays of the spring sun, the European Council finally delivered its conclusions on the long-awaited Conference on the Future of Europe, delayed due to the pandemic. Announced in late 2019, this joint proposal of the European Commission, Council, and Parliament is intended to reflect on the medium- and long-term future of the EU through an ambitious, inclusive process in which European citizens will also be involved.

Unfortunately, reading the five pages presenting the principles, aims, and governance that will structure the EU’s next big democratic moment, it is hard not to feel a sense of disbelief and depression.

The first thing that stands out is the impoverished and exhausted narrative of the EU as a project of “peace and prosperity”. Even the usual repetitive building blocks of European values, from freedom to solidarity, are toned down. The fundamental challenges to democracy, whether at the national or European level, meanwhile, are barely hinted at. The new and already irritating buzzword of “resilience” fails to mask the sense of déjà-vu that oozes from the pages. “Fair, sustainable, innovative, competitive economy” – it sounds like an old José Manuel Barroso speech.

To say that the document was met with scepticism and disappointment by European politicos would be an understatement. Equating the much needed “democracy” and “democratisation” with the nature and depth of our economic ties does not bode well for the future of the conference. It is hard not to compare this with the spirit and gravitas of the 2001 Laeken declaration, which in its time led to the Convention on the Future of Europe.

Playing it safe

Perhaps the ill-fated European Constitution, signed in Rome with elated enthusiasm in 2004 only to be binned by French and Dutch voters a year later, after two nerve-racking and impassioned referendum campaigns, has taught European leaders to keep a low profile. Or maybe it was the burden of the inescapable fingerprints of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose flamboyant style constantly reminds his European partners how much French “republican kings” still identify with Napoleon. At a more basic level, the reality of lockdown measures could have steered everyone away from overly ambitious projects. Or perhaps it was simply not such a great idea to entrust to the European institutions, and particularly the Commission, an exercise for which they have very little liking or skill.

Persistent calls for more participation and democracy have rarely translated into citizens flocking to the streets of Brussels.

Whatever the reasons, in its current form, the projected conference lacks both momentum and spirit. The discrepancy between the result and the lofty vision of rebooting the European project laid out in Macron’s bold speeches of Athens, Aachen, and La Sorbonne is stark. Although the checklist of contemporary challenges, from green and digital transitions to tackling inequalities and boosting industrial competitiveness, ticks all the boxes, it fails to give a sense of purpose to the exercise.

The higher turnout at the 2019 European elections suggested renewed interest on behalf of citizens in the EU and its stakes. Of course, there are many reasons for this surge. Europe’s domestic and foreign villains, from Warsaw and Washington to Budapest and Moscow, certainly played their part. Yet persistent calls for more participation and democracy have rarely translated into citizens flocking to the streets of Brussels, or their own capitals, to demand a stronger voice in the EU process. As the half-failure of the French “Grand Débat National” in the aftermath of the Gilets Jaunes crisis demonstrated, whether European citizens will respond to, and engage in, an institution-driven process remains to be seen.

Rebooting Europe’s constitutional development

Despite all its flaws, the conference is nevertheless excellent news for both Europe and democracy, for two intertwined reasons. First, although the conference does not commit to treaty change, it will restart Europe’s constitutional process, stalled for 15 years after the disastrous consecutive episodes of the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. Historically, since the 1986 Single European Act, the European Community then Union have roughly had a five-year cycle of treaty revisions. Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, Rome, Lisbon; this European map of summits tells the history of a gradual constitutional process. When active and driving forward its own construction, the European institutional order would grow and develop to complete, correct, and consolidate itself.

Obviously, events tend to intrude and cast doubt upon the conclusions established in the treaties. 2008 inaugurated a decade of cumulative crises, from terrorism to natural catastrophes, that overwhelmed the Commission’s modus operandi and forced the European Council to the forefront of European politics. In Luuk van Middelaar’s famous turn of phrase, “rules politics” – the classic technocratic approach to making decisions by patiently weaving socio-economic interests together in negotiations between stakeholders and member states – is no good in an emergency. Drafting and establishing common rules take time; international border crises and humanitarian emergencies do not wait. Hence the advent of “events politics”, where improvisation and ad-hoc solutions become the new normal.

During this period, many limitations and weaknesses of the treaties, and the policies they enable, became evident – from the Dublin asylum system fiasco to the inadequacies of the Stability and Growth Pact and the rigidities of the Common Foreign Policy. Most recently, history once again intruded with the Covid-19 health crisis and the worst recession of the post-war period, calling into question the future of the EU budget as well as the architecture of the European monetary order.

An opportunity for a democratic breakthrough

After a decade of improvisation, the EU is in dire need of a constitutional reshuffle. However, in an atmosphere of aversion to any treaty change, the only tweak ventured so far was a limited revision related to the European Stability Mechanism. Instead, new developments have mostly taken place outside the community method and the EU constitutional order: from the European Stability Mechanism in 2012 to the Faustian refugee-return pact made with Turkish President Erdoğan in 2016. In this way, the European Council has engineered a sort of a parallel legal universe, bypassing the European Parliament and subordinating the Commission, tantamount to a coup d’état.

This is why the Conference is important. It is a precious spark that could restart the engine of Europe’s constitutional process. Even with its limited impetus and byzantine governance, the conference might offer the conditions to collectively address the issues raised in the past decade. Here, the focus should not be on devising a completely renewed institutional organisation. These sophisticated discussions are only interesting for specialists and activists. Moreover, it would be foolish to expect a successful re-enactment of the convention that gave us the defunct constitutional treaty.

We should pick our institutional fights carefully and focus on two precious cornerstones of any democratic order: accountability and representation.

Instead of emulating that federalist moment and trying to re-design the EU according to the old Spinelli blueprint, we should pick our institutional fights carefully and focus on two precious cornerstones of any democratic order: accountability and representation. In practice, this means: first, striving to find a way to hold the European Council accountable at the European level – and not just to the respective national parliaments, who carry out this responsibility very unevenly, and in a manner far too rooted in the national perspective

Second, establishing a viable path for a proportion of the next European Parliament to be elected by the whole of the European citizenry as one electoral constituency – namely, through transnational lists.

There is a second reason the conference ought to be taken seriously. With its ambition to directly involve the citizens at every level of governance, it could potentially lead the way to a common public sphere of continental dimensions. Language, platform, social network, moderation, and filtering – indeed, the technicalities of how and where the European citizens will be invited to take the floor and express their wishes, aspirations, and suggestions for the Union will matter. But like special effects in a movie, their role is to serve the story and spectacular stunts cannot make up for a poor plot.

Europe’s citizens must have their say

In sum, the conference offers another opportunity to connect with the missing link of the European project – the Europeans. For decades, the EU has built itself on the consent of its nation-state members. For decades, every step of European construction has been taken in the name of the citizens. But for various reasons, the rare moments when these citizens took the floor turned out to be conflictual and disappointing. Because democracy, whether local, national, or continental, is not just about institutions and elections. It is a cultural and sociological process.. It requires a common sense of community and interdependence. It needs people to acknowledge what connects them: shared threats, shared aspirations, shared beliefs, sometimes shared language. And it requires a shared public sphere where these connections come to life. Despite, and sometimes thanks to, the EU’s and its member states’ failings, the cumulative crises of this early 21st century have heightened a sense of shared destiny – perhaps culminating with the pandemic. This sense needs to be nurtured and fuelled.

Its organisers have promised that the conference will be a “citizen-focused, bottom-up exercise.” This promise should be taken at face value and the exercise should be carried out accordingly. Particular attention should then be given to those Europeans who are essential to the social fabric: teachers, social workers, journalists, community leaders, trade unionists, social and environmental economy players, and small business owners. It is their participation and engagement that will make all the difference in bringing a shared political perspective to life. They are the ones whose hearts and minds must be won because their experience is rooted in reality – not in the Brussels bubble or the world of politics. Progressive political forces, regardless of what they think of the conference’s evident flaws, regardless of their legitimate criticisms of the European institutional order, must make the most of this moment.

At stake lies the flesh and blood of democracy: the will of the Europeans to face the challenges of our times together. Whether the conference delivers new institutional arrangements, or not, matters. But far more significant is the process it has the potential foster. A generation of neo-federalists could emerge from this shared experience; a generation less concerned by the state of European institutions and more focused on the reality of European democracy. The “real Europe”.

Draghi’s Team of Rivals

Finding a way out of the pandemic, overcoming years of stagnation, and introducing a new priority in climate change: the new Italian government does not have an easy brief. Since entering office in February, Mario Draghi has reset the agenda and forged a consensus on recovery but the real politics still lies ahead. Luca Misculin unpicks the challenges that the Draghi government will face, from unanswered questions about Italy’s development model to navigating his awkward coalition.

Over the past two years, reporting on Italian politics has become near impossible. The twists and turns since the 2018 general election have made attempts to outline scenarios all too rare: they soon look foolish.

Just look back at the third government in three years of this parliament, which received the confidence of both chambers in mid-February. The most Eurosceptic parliament ever elected in Italian history – the League and the Five Star Movement shared 50 per cent of votes between them in 2018 – has by an overwhelming majority chosen to support a government led by the former president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. The Five Star Movement, born at the height of Silvio Berlusconi’s career to voice dissatisfaction with his governments and with national elites, now sits alongside the former prime minister’s party Forza Italia as part of the governing majority. The two parties who aspire to lead the centre-left and centre-right coalitions at the next general election, the Democratic Party and the League, have also just committed to ruling together.

It’s not just people who report on Italian politics who are disoriented. Before he was forced to resign by the machinations of Matteo Renzi, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte was the most popular politician in Italy, according to opinion polls. He has swiftly been replaced in those polls by his successor, Mario Draghi, who now enjoys similar ratings.

There is the impression that amidst the turmoil of early 2020, a new phase has begun that nobody yet fully understands: the umpteenth reshuffling of the pack for a country that never recovered from the economic crisis of 2008 to 2011. For the time being, the arrival of Draghi – “the man of providence”, as he was described by influential political analyst Alessandro De Angelis – has wrong-footed the electorate, journalists and politicians alike.But few doubt that it will be painless, not least for the politicians who face difficult choices over the coming months.

The grandest coalition

Draghi’s new government brings together support from the Five Star, the centre-left, and the centre-right but, more than anything else, its strength depends on the League. The party most critical of Draghi in the past is now looking to carve out a new political space for itself as a national and moderate party, the natural partner of the European People’s Party after the decline of Forza Italia whose days are now numbered. This new look doesn’t suit Matteo Salvini, quite literally. He was used to holding rallies in town squares wearing a hoodie and baseball cap; today, he’s forced to wear a suit and tie as one of the leaders of the governing majority. But something had to happen after his party dropped 10 points in the polls since summer 2019 and his leadership was starting to show signs of strain. “We’re not pushing for anyone to join,” says an EPP source in the European Parliament. “And we won’t consider it until the League asks us.” In other words, we’ll meet you round the corner.

The political class that supports Draghi is the very same that produced years of squabbling and unproductive governments.

Meanwhile, in the Five Star Movement, cracks that had been temporarily hidden by its unanimous support for Conte are beginning to emerge. The divide between the moderate, “governist” wing and the radical wing has grown so large that there are now two distinct movements: the first is in government for now and well placed to pursue its agenda, while the second will see its appeal grow as election day draws closer. But a wholesale reinvention will be necessary. In Europe, the “pure” populist parties born in the wake of the financial crisis have either disappeared or left space for other experiments, and the Five Star Movement has to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. The recent choice of Conte as new party leader could still go in one direction or another, seen as he enjoys good relations with both wings of the party.

The Democratic Party is also on the lookout for a new identity. As part of the Conte government, the issues that it put on the agenda at the start of the term – citizenship for foreign minors born in Italy and proposed legislation for a minimum wage – were completely overshadowed by the Five Star Movement’s battle to reduce the number of parliamentarians, and then side-lined again by the coronavirus pandemic. The team around party leader Nicola Zingaretti has nevertheless invested heavily in a policy of “civilising the barbarians”: moving gradually closer to the Five Star Movement in an attempt to subsume it into the centre-left alliance. But many inside and outside the party believe the strategy is driven by cynical and superficial political calculation, and that to find its way again, the Democratic Party needs new priorities and fresh leadership (Zingaretti belongs to the last generation of leaders to begin their careers in the Italian Communist Party).

An unexpected entrance

While the direction parties take will only become clear over the coming months and years, Draghi’s appointment has nevertheless brought with it certain core values. The first concerns communication.

“We communicate what we do. We haven’t done anything yet so we’re not communicating anything,” Draghi is said to have to have told colleagues in the days immediately following his appointment, according to Corriere della Sera. In the world of Italian politics, where spin doctors and press officers are fully fledged participants in political debate and political columnists often fill the first ten pages of the country’s biggest newspapers, Draghi’s desire to bring more sobriety to proceedings seems brave. The new prime minister confirmed this approach by appointing as his spokesperson Paola Ansuini, the former director of communications for the Bank of Italy.

In his first speech as premier, given to the Senate on February 17 and lasting 52 minutes, Draghi spoke in concise sentences with few adjectives, adverbs, and subordinate clauses. It marks an abrupt change from his predecessor, a lawyer and university professor who spoke in the Baroque Italian typical of the 20th-century governing class trained in the rhetoric of Roman philosophers.

But in his speech to the Senate requesting its confidence, the most recurring theme was the environment, to the surprise of parliamentarians and commentators. Draghi pointed to climate change as the next great challenge that humanity will have to tackle after the pandemic: “When we recover from the pandemic, and we will recover, what world will we find?”, Draghi wondered, in one of the most heart-felt passages of the speech. “Some think that the tragedy we’ve experienced for over 12 months is like a long power cut. Sooner or later the lights come back on, and everything carries on as before. Science, and simply common sense, suggest that this may not be the case. Global warming has direct effects on our lives and on our health, from pollution to groundwater vulnerability to rising sea levels that could make large swathes of coastal cities uninhabitable.”

And so the environment made a loud entrance into the Senate chamber, where before it was only ever referred to in passing, an obligatory mention of little import. Before Draghi, no prime minister had ever spoken in such concrete terms about the issue and with such knowledge – the line about the sea eating the land was bound to resonate in Venice.

Moreover, for years Italy has needed a new strategy for transitioning towards a more sustainable economy. All Italy’s major unresolved corporate crises are linked to obsolete development models – such as the ILVA steelworks in Puglia and the coalmines in Sardinia – while Italian cities rank among the highest in Europe on air pollution according to a recent study published by The Lancet Planetary Health. Changing Italian habits in such a short space of time will, however, be challenging. According to a recent survey by the European Parliament, Italians are among the western Europeans least aware about climate change: in 2019, just one in four said that fighting climate change should be one of the new parliament’s top priorities.

In his speech, Draghi spoke at length about youth employment and school, calling for the reform of vocational education periodically advocated by experts, but never implemented by politicians. He also emphasised that there is still a long way to go in reaching gender equality across Italian society, but neglected to justify his selection of just eight female ministers out of the 24 members of his cabinet.

Another cornerstone of the Draghi government – and we can be sure of his sincerity on this – will be staunch commitment to European integration. Draghi made this known both in his speech and his first conversations with partners and ministers: the new government looks favourably upon the gradual transfer of sovereignty to European institutions.

Draghi may have said this in public to protect himself against the League and its Eurosceptic impulses, as if saying: you knew what you were getting into when you decided to support my government. But, at the same time, it may have been a move designed to increase his political capital in the European Council, and exploit the power vacuum that will be created over the next few months as Angela Merkel steps down and Emmanuel Macron is forced to fight a long and potentially damaging re-election campaign. The most cautious observers note that in coming months the European Union will not have to make any tricky economic decisions – the multi-annual budget and Next Generation EU have already been approved – but will instead have to decide what its foreign policy will look like, and what exactly strategic autonomy means. But these are areas in which Draghi does not have the same expertise as he does when it comes to major economic issues.

Hard road ahead

Of course, to succeed, Draghi will have to do more than move up the hierarchy at the European Council, set a new political agenda, and communicate differently from his predecessors. To implement his ambitious programme of economic, social, judicial and environmental reforms, and not squander the 209 billion euros from Next Generation EU, Draghi will need the support of both local and national political classes, and the civil service.

It’s the very nature of these classes, which in Italy have for decades seemed impervious to the innovations shaking up the world, that worry observers outside the government. The political class that supports Draghi is the very same that produced years of squabbling and unproductive governments, and whose decision-making is based on calculations about short-term approval above all else. Italy’s public servants are among the oldest and most set in their ways in Europe, and the European Commission has been moaning about them for years informally. Indeed, a source in the Commission confirms that it would look favourably upon a programme of renewal and targeted recruitment financed with Next Generation EU funds.

Nevertheless, none of these changes can be achieved in the brief window open to Draghi. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that the months ahead will be turbulent for the new prime minister.

At the end of March, the moratorium on redundancies, imposed by the previous government to prevent social unrest, will end. In June or September – the exact date remains to be seen – mayoral elections will be held in Italy’s biggest cities, including Rome, Milan and Naples. The parties governing together at national level will be forced to attack one another in electoral campaigns. In a year’s time, the parties will have to elect a new President of the Republic to succeed Sergio Mattarella. And then just over two years from now, in the spring of 2023, this parliament will end.

To use a footballing metaphor often quoted in Italy, a team of amateurs can’t win the league, even with Lionel Messi upfront (much less so if the players are arguing among themselves). Whether or not Draghi can raise the quality of his team overall will determine if victory is possible.

L’Ecologie commence à l’école

L’école est une expérience partagée par tous. Nous avons tous été formés par notre passage dans le système éducatif. Pourtant, malgré l’importance centrale de l’éducation, la question du sens de l’école, de sa place dans la formation de notre individualité et son utilité réelle aujourd’hui reste globalement négligée. Dans un monde en plein bouleversement – social, climatique, numérique – il est urgent de se demander à quoi doit correspondre la mission scolaire d’instruire, d’éduquer, de socialiser. Comment l’école peut-elle préparer les adultes de demain aux nombreux défis auxquels ils et elles seront confrontées ? Telle est la question de départ de Dessine-moi un avenir (plaidoyer pour faire entrer le XXIème siècle dans l’école), publié chez Actes Sud. Nous nous sommes entretenus avec Edouard Gaudot, co-auteur aux côtés de Rodrigo Arenas et Nathalie Laville, à propos des enjeux majeurs des systèmes éducatifs d’aujourd’hui et la place de l’école dans la pensée de l’écologie politique.

Green European Journal : Votre livre part de l’affirmation selon laquelle le projet politique original de l’enseignement scolaire en France est aujourd’hui dépassé. Pourquoi ?

Edouard Gaudot : Notre analyse de la crise scolaire en France est qu’elle n’est pas uniquement liée aux questions de moyens, de personnel ou de formation, mais qu’elle vient fondamentalement d’un dépassement historique de son projet d’origine. Le projet de l’école républicaine dans lequel nous sommes tous aujourd’hui formés en France s’est formulé à la fin du 19e siècle, au moment très particulier de la construction de la République française avec la Troisième République. Le principal souci de cette école républicaine est de lier d’un côté la mission universaliste des Lumières dont elle se revendique l’héritière : les droits de l’homme et du citoyen, l’émancipation par la culture, le savoir, la connaissance et évidemment la raison. De l’autre côté, elle a un projet politique vital qui est celui de l’enracinement de la République dans la nation, et la défense de cette République vis-à-vis de ses ennemis, intérieurs (l’Eglise) et extérieurs (l’Allemagne). Le problème contemporain, c’est que notre école repose encore sur ce modèle-là, qui a été dépassé par plein de choses : le changement démographique, la massification et la démocratisation de la culture, l’Europe et la mondialisation, la composition de la société française et enfin sa maturité. Notre société n’est plus du tout adaptée à cette école.

L’éducation est de plus en plus reconnue comme un clivage politique dans de nombreux pays. En quoi la polarisation de la société française et la distance des élites observables dans des mouvements tels que les gilets jaunes sont-ils liés aux problèmes du système éducatif français?

Il y a à la fois une grande réussite et un paradoxe dans cette réussite. La grande réussite scolaire, c’est que nous sommes à une époque de l’histoire de l’humanité, et ça ne concerne pas que la France mais l’ensemble du monde développé, où jamais nous n’avions atteint individuellement un tel niveau de connaissances générales. On peut toujours dire que le niveau baisse, mais aujourd’hui même les plus ignorants ont un niveau de connaissance supérieur à celui des ignorants de jadis. Ça veut dire qu’il y a une émancipation intellectuelle et qu’il y a de plus en plus de gens qui pensent “par eux-mêmes” même si c’est parfois pour aboutir à des absurdités comme « la terre est plate ». Quand des gamins reviennent avec des idées complotistes sur Internet, ils ont eu une démarche de « scientifiques » : ils sont allés chercher la connaissance, même à une source frelatée.

L’école a à la fois rempli sa mission chez nous et ailleurs, mais n’est pas capable de nous préparer à la mission suivante, qui est celle d’être autonome dans notre autorité.

Il y a beaucoup de facteurs derrière la grande crise de confiance avec les institutions et l’une d’entre elles est bien sûr liée à l’école. En tant que citoyens nous ne croyons plus collectivement la parole de l’autorité. Nous mettons en doute les institutions et les pouvoirs. C’est à la fois une très bonne chose et quelque chose d’extrêmement délicat, parce que quand on remet en cause l’autorité, il faut soit être capable de lui substituer sa propre autorité, soit lui substituer des autorités de rechange. Mais ça peut justement être un mollah sur internet, un gourou spirituel, ou un site conspirationniste. C’est là où ça devient intéressant : c’est que l’école a à la fois rempli sa mission chez nous et ailleurs, mais n’est pas capable de nous préparer à la mission suivante, qui est celle d’être autonome dans notre autorité.

Ensuite, la polarisation autour de l’éducation est aussi liée au mouvement d’émancipation culturelle des élites. Toutes les études démographiques soulignent qu’on a aujourd’hui un gros tiers de la société qui a fait des études supérieures et qui peut donc rester dans une forme d’entre-soi. Or, si l’école ne répond plus à une distribution générale et équitable du savoir et des moyens d’y parvenir, c’est aussi parce qu’une partie de la société a fait sécession en quelque sorte. Ce qu’on a observé avec les Gilets Jaunes par exemple et aussi avec d’autres manifestations ponctuelles : une partie de la population s’estime méprisée et négligée, et elle n’a pas tort, par ceux qui détiennent l’éducation et le savoir – et le pouvoir. Elle a elle-même suffisamment d’éducation et de savoir pour le ressentir, pour voir la différence et pour considérer que c’est une atteinte à sa dignité – et elle a raison. Mais elle n’a pas les moyens politique et culturels pour combler ce fossé.

Cette sécession implique que la promesse de l’éducation, l’idée que chacun recevra une éducation qui les équipera pour réussir, ne fonctionne plus.

La méritocratie est la promesse. C’est comme le paradis des catholiques : si tu ne fais pas de vagues, que tu fais bien ce qu’on te demande et que tu respectes bien les autorités, alors par ton travail et tes œuvres, tu pourras t’élever. Or, l’expérience, la sociologie et le bon sens nous enseignent que c’est faux. Cette promesse méritocratique, qui a fait illusion dans les années 60 avec le plein emploi et la croissance, aujourd’hui se heurte au mur des inégalités.

C’est là-dessus que l’école achoppe. On a une école qui dit aux élèves de travailler pour avoir un diplôme et trouver un job, alors que la situation économique et l’expérience immédiate de ces gamins, leur montrent que c’est faux : ils voient les parents au chômage ou dans les emplois déclassés, ils voient les discriminations, ils savent pertinemment qu’ils ne vont pas au Louvre comme les jeunes bourgeois parisiens. Ils savent très bien que, même s’ils courent très vite, ils ne courront jamais assez vite pour rattraper ceux qui sont partis avec un temps d’avance.

Donc le projet politique de l’école se trouve dépassé et sa promesse de méritocratie ne réussit plus. Vous commencez le livre en citant Greta Thunberg qui rappelle une promesse peut-être encore plus grande, celui de l’avenir. Greta nous a posé la question: pourquoi aller à l’école s’il n’y a pas d’avenir ? Votre livre dit pourtant que l’éducation et l’école peuvent nous sortir de l’impasse. Comment ?

Notre constat est que ce que nous appelons « la crise de la conscience scolaire », vient du fait que collectivement notre société ne pose jamais la bonne question quand il s’agit d’école. Tout le monde, quand il s’agit de la réformer, cherche à adapter l’école à un nouvel environnement, mais en en préservant le squelette et la grammaire. Dans le livre, nous défendons l’idée qu’il ne s’agit justement pas d’adapter l’école mais de la refonder. On ne peut pas adapter l’école telle qu’elle est aujourd’hui à un monde qui ne correspond plus aux questions qu’elle posait. On doit introduire les questions que le monde nous pose aujourd’hui à l’école. Il faut poser la question que Greta pose : « pourquoi aller à l’école s’il n’y a pas de futur ? ». Et donc : qu’est-ce qu’on va apprendre à l’école : un métier, une socialisation, des connaissances générales ?

Il est évident qu’aujourd’hui, à l’heure de la bibliothèque internet universelle, les connaissances peuvent s’acquérir partout y compris en dehors de l’école. Le métier peut aussi bien s’apprendre par un tuto YouTube (même si pour un chirurgien ça reste un peu compliqué), dans les entreprises ou ailleurs. Alors il nous semble que l’école doit surtout servir à préparer nos enfants à faire face à un monde qui n’a plus rien à voir avec celui que leurs parents ont connu.

On ne peut pas adapter l’école telle qu’elle est aujourd’hui à un monde qui ne correspond plus aux questions qu’elle posait.

Il y a trois éléments sur lesquels nous avons bâti ce que nous pensons être nécessaire dans le fait de repenser l’enseignement. Le premier, c’est celui du vivant. On ne peut plus aujourd’hui étudier la biologie ou la géographie sans prendre acte à la fois de l’effondrement du vivant et du bouleversement du changement climatique. Mais on ne traite pas ça simplement en rajoutant un chapitre en sciences naturelles ou en histoire-géo, c’est plus profond. Il faut repenser tout notre rapport au vivant, au cœur des matière et au cœur de l’école. Pour prendre un exemple concret, nous sommes convaincus qu’à l’école il faut apprendre aussi à jardiner ; non pas pour faire pousser des géraniums, mais pour comprendre les liens énergétiques et scientifiques qu’il y a entre la graine, la terre, le climat, la patience et le temps, les conditions de développement – et l’écosystème.

Le deuxième élément fondamental sur lequel l’école doit se refonder, c’est le numérique. Nous appelons cela « le virtuel » dans le livre. Le numérique est une langue et un univers qui n’est ni distinct ni semblable à celui dans lequel nous vivons. Le off- et le on-line constituent un continuum. Le virtuel bouleverse à la fois nos rapports humains, au monde, à la démocratie, à l’espace public, à l’éducation. Notre crainte est que l’école ne serve plus qu’à fournir les valets de la « start up nation » : une poignée de gens qui ont réussi à créer leur chemin dans cette nouvelle économie, et tous les laissés-pour-compte qui vont se retrouver à faire du Deliveroo, à conduire des Uber, garder les enfants ou à nettoyer les locaux des nouveaux maîtres de l’économie. Si on n’est pas capable d’anticiper les bouleversements numériques à la fois dans le monde du travail, dans le monde politique et évidemment dans le monde de nos relations, on va se retrouver avec encore plus de polarisation, de séparations et d’inégalités.

Le troisième, c’est l’interdépendance, « les liens ». Aujourd’hui, il y a plus que les libertariens pour dire qu’on a pas besoin de la société et qu’on se fait tout seul. Le mythe du self-made-man, tout ça c’est fini. On doit détruire ce mythe pour lui substituer une autre histoire, qui est celui de la connexion, c’est-à-dire la description de nos interdépendances. Et il faut aussi apprendre cette interdépendance à l’école, non seulement entre les pays, entre le virtuel et le vivant, mais aussi entre nous et l’autre – c’est la condition de l’apprentissage du respect.

Quelles sont les implications pour la méthode d’enseignement ? Comprendre le monde virtuel, ce n’est pas juste apprendre le HTML. Apprendre le vivant ce n’est pas juste apprendre le jardinage.

Le changement du contenu de l’enseignement s’accompagne nécessairement d’une modification de la pédagogie et de la méthode. À partir du moment où on apprend le vivant, on va pas apprendre la biologie, la géologie, la géographie, la chimie : on va plutôt apprendre les liens entre tout ça et on va changer le rapport à la matière. C’est pareil pour le code et, comme notre post-facier Bernard Stiegler, nous sommes d’ardents défenseurs de l’apprentissage du code à l’école.

Ensuite, il y a évidemment de choses majeures à changer. La première, c’est le mode de recrutement de nos enseignants parce que ça va changer la méthode de l’enseignement aussi. En France, les enseignants sont recrutés par le système des concours publics. La sélection est faite sur l’érudition académique, la maîtrise des programmes et des disciplines. Il y a souvent un décalage entre le niveau de maîtrise de la matière acquis par les enseignants et le niveau requis dans la classe. Nous voulons make our teachers great again (sic). Il faut donc changer le recrutement, mieux payer nos profs qui sont très mal payés en France, il faut organiser leur carrière pour qu’ils ne soient pas prisonniers de l’école et donc que ce soit des enseignants véritablement dotés d’une expérience de vie autre que celle qu’ils ont acquis dans leurs études ou leur famille. Nos profs doivent être bien plus que des élèves qui connaissent bien le programme, ils doivent être de véritables guides – Heidegger parle de « bergers de l’Etre ».

Quelle place pour les nouvelles pédagogies éducatives dans tout ça ?

Même si elles sont importantes pour la prise de conscience, les nouvelles pédagogies comme Montessori ou Steiner ne sont que des réactions aux rigidités du système. Mais ce n’est pas juste un match entre système traditionnel ou nouvelles pédagogies : on a besoin de repenser notre rapport à l’enfant. Dans notre société occidentale, l’enfant est un « petit sauvage ». Soit c’est le “bon sauvage” à-la-Rousseau, donc il faut le laisser être, vivre, et se trouver comme le prônent les pédagogies alternatives. Ou alors, l’enfant est un être sauvage par nature, qu’il faut donc dresser, dompter, civiliser – à-la-Emmanuel-Kant qui a énormément inspiré l’école républicaine.

Mais l’enfant n’est ni un bon ou mauvais sauvage, l’enfant est une personne. Rien que changer notre rapport à l’enfant et y reconnaître une personne qui a des droits et qui a besoin d’apprendre (mais les adultes aussi ont besoin d’apprendre) permettrait de changer les choses. Car en finir avec cette rupture entre l’enfance et l’adulte, même avec cette période prolongée de l’adolescence, ça veut dire changer notre organisation scolaire : la façon dont la classe est organisée, dont la discipline est appliquée, changer même les locaux de l’école qui ressemblent parfois vraiment à des casernes.

Dans The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk décrit un système scolaire qui se passe principalement sur le terrain, dans la nature mais pas seulement, dans des lieux particuliers. Par exemple, ils visitent leurs lieux de mémoire avec tout un parcours d’apprentissage. Nous pensons qu’il faut un système d’éducation qui allie à la fois le savoir et le faire, qui ne se contente pas de donner les théories et les techniques, mais les relie.

Quel rôle pour les enfants, les parents, et toutes les personnes autour de l’école qui ne sont pas nécessairement des enseignants ?

Ça va avec. Il y a une évidente continuité de la communauté éducative. Pour prendre un exemple, dans les sociétés dites « primitives », qui ne sont pas un idéal mais qui sont un très bon miroir de ce que nous sommes devenus, la communauté villageoise assume la continuité de l’éducation – que ce soit les chasseurs qui enseignent comme chasser ou les cuisiniers qui apprennent à traiter la nourriture. Notre école est la production de notre réflexe de séparation. Nous avons une culture de la coupure, entre le privé et le public, le laïc et le religieux, la nature et la culture, l’enfant et l’adulte, l’homme et la femme, la droite et la gauche. Le travail de l’école devrait être de relier.

Les différents éléments de la communauté éducative pour que l’éducation ne soit pas simplement un moment de la vie mais qu’elle se fasse tout au long de la vie.

C’est pour cela que nous ne voulons pas « faire entrer l’école dans le 21e siècle » : on veut « faire rentrer le 21e siècle dans l’école ». Le 21e siècle, c’est l’écologie, c’est un autre rapport à soi, à la société, au monde et aux hommes et aux femmes, et on veut que ça rentre dans l’école. On veut qu’elle en soit changée et devienne à la fois un lieu privilégié, c’est-à-dire un lieu légèrement protégé, et une matrice ouverte dans laquelle les différentes influences peuvent se faire. Alors évidemment c’est un peu théorique, on ne peut pas avoir les parents qui débarquent dans la salle de classe, ou qui prennent à partie le corps enseignant ; mais on ne peut pas avoir non plus le corps enseignant ou l’administration qui rejettent les parents en leur disant « laissez-nous faire ». Il y a tout un travail de reliance entre les différents éléments de la communauté éducative pour que l’éducation ne soit pas simplement un moment de la vie mais qu’elle se fasse tout au long de la vie. Tout ce que nous disons sur l’école et les politiques éducatives, c’est une révolution politique que nous proposons. Ce n’est pas un livre de pédagogie, c’est un livre politique sur l’école.

Concernant la dimension politique, j’aimerais faire un parallèle avec le Royaume Uni. Au Royaume-Uni, les reformes qui ont laissé plus des possibilités aux communautés et des parents à gérer et même bâtir des écoles ont été associés à une forme de privatisation souterraine. Est-ce que apporter les communautés à l’école, et donc d’assouplir la mission politique républicaine et universaliste, risque que des influences externes conduisent à encore moins d’égalité et d’opportunités entrant à l’école?

Absolument, mais c’est déjà le cas. Est-ce qu’on a affaire à la fin de l’universalisme de l’enseignement, par exemple avec plus d’autonomie ? La réponse est que de toute façon on voit déjà la fin de l’universalisme républicain français. La différence avec la Grande Bretagne est que ça ne se fait pas en fonction de l’autonomie des écoles mais en fonction de la territorialisation. Aujourd’hui, entre une classe de 5e d’une école républicaine en centre-ville urbain à Paris, Bordeaux ou Lyon et une en banlieue périphérique ou en zone rurale, il y a déjà une rupture d’égalité très forte. D’abord la sociologie est différente, l’environnement socioculturel est différent et les conditions matérielles aussi. Alors les parents vont parfois essayer de contourner la carte scolaire. Et s’ils n’y arrivent pas, ils iront rechercher l’excellence et la méritocratie dans le privé.

Aujourd’hui le privé est la réponse à l’échec de la promesse républicaine.

Il passe par deux choses : l’enseignement privé ou alors le marché des petits cours d’accompagnement. C’est un marché en plein boom et la pandémie et le premier confinement ont mis au jour et accentué les différences culturelles et les différences de moyens technologiques entre les familles. On a vu l’explosion des petits cours ces dernières années parce que les parents se sentent dépassés, ils veulent le meilleur pour leur descendance, mais ils ne sont pas capables de suivre les cours de leurs gamins ; et puis ils ont aussi leur boulot et leur maison à gérer. C’est une privatisation à la Chomsky, le service public ne fonctionne plus parce qu’on lui en a retiré les moyens, alors on se tourne vers les services privés.

Reconnaissant ces dynamiques inexorables, votre livre lance un débat politique autour du sens de l’éducation. Pourquoi selon-vous ce débat est-il absent aujourd’hui?

L’école est un projet politique au long cours qui ne peut pas s’accommoder de postures politiques à court terme. Quand on a une politique éducative aujourd’hui, ça ne peut pas être pour les cinq prochaines années, mais pour les vingt prochaines années. Or, la plupart des réformes sont des petites réformes d’adaptation, même quand ce sont des réformes ambitieuses. C’est la raison majeure pour laquelle nous insistons qu’il y ait un débat politique sur l’école, non pas sur « comment sauver l’école », mais comment « faire en sorte que l’école prépare nos enfants à ce à quoi va ressembler le siècle dans vingt ans ».

L’école est un projet politique au long cours qui ne peut pas s’accommoder de postures politiques à court terme.

Il y a peu de forces politiques aujourd’hui qui ont un vrai projet éducatif. Les réactionnaires en ont un, c’est le retour aux traditions. Il faut remettre des professeurs avec beaucoup d’autorité, de la discipline, parfois l’uniforme. C’est une militarisation de l’école qu’ils fantasment et c’est un projet anti-éducatif. Selon nous la seule famille politique qui a encore un projet éducatif, ce sont les écologistes. Mais ils ont tendance à négliger cet aspect-là. D’abord pour des raisons de l’histoire de l’écologie politique. Ils ont bâti leurs projets éducatifs dans les années 60/70 et même 80, sur le rejet de l’autorité, sur les pédagogies alternatives, sur la libération de l’enfant, et ça c’est en partie dépassé. Non seulement c’est fait, mais en plus dans certains cas on est allé trop loin, par exemple sur la libération sexuelle.

Et puis les écologistes n’ont pas encore repensé leur projet éducatif. Alors qu’ils étaient très pertinents sur l’école, les écologistes sont progressivement devenus de plus en plus des experts de la lutte contre le changement climatique, de la transition énergétique, de la démocratie participative. Mais ils ont très peu développé leur technocratie de l’école. Quand ils arrivent au pouvoir, que ce soit dans les Länder allemands ou les villes françaises ou les gouvernements, ils s’occupent souvent trop peu d’éducation. Ils le savent, ils le disent, que l’éducation au futur est indispensable. Mais il y a un décalage entre le projet écologiste et la façon dont il se manifeste dans la sphère institutionnelle.

L’école pourrait donc être un moyen de réussir le projet politique de l’écologie au 21e siècle ?

Nous en sommes convaincus. Et c’est pour cette raison que le titre de travail de notre livre était « L’école-logis ». L’écologie est l’avenir. Et elle est l’avenir de l’éducation aussi. Les écologistes doivent réinvestir l’école complètement et pas simplement pour apprendre aux enfants à trier leurs déchets (parce que ça, la Commission Européenne peut le faire). Il faut faire de l’école à la fois l’un de ses piliers, de ses fondements et de ses cœurs – et l’un de ses béliers avec lequel on rentre dans la société du 21e siècle. La décarbonisation de l’économie, elle se fera avec ou sans les Verts. Le défi du 21e siècle n’est pas l’économie ou la transition énergétique. C’est notre rapport à nous-mêmes, aux autres et à la planète. Les écologistes ont un projet pour ça et c’est à eux de le développer. Et ça passe par l’école.

The Value of Nature in the City

The experience of lockdowns across European cities has driven home the importance of access to green space to health and quality of life. In Spain, the political renewal seen in many towns after the municipal elections of 2015 helped push public space and biodiversity up the local agenda. Today, rewilded rivers in Madrid or Errenteria in the Basque country are examples of how investment and imagination can transform urban environments for the better.

The quality of life in cities has constantly been under strain in recent decades. Sources of physical, social, and environmental health in towns gradually disappeared as years of development saw concrete and asphalt dominate built urban landscapes. The experience of the pandemic both exacerbated and exposed this trend.

Today, about 55 per cent of the more than 7.5 billion people who inhabit this planet live in urban areas. If this proportion seems small, by 2050, urbanites are expected to account for over two-thirds of the world population – 6.2 billion people. This projection places doubt on the capacity of cities to face important challenges from pandemics to climate change – a concern expressed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its Human Development Report, and by Sustainable Development Goal 11 which aims to make cities and human settlements “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

However, there is no shortage of ideas to solve the great challenge of making cities healthier places to live. The pandemic has provided cities with an incentive to take on projects with nature at the centre and focus on local needs. It has done so by confronting us with the unsustainability of city life as well as our own vulnerability. As environmental economist Antxon Olabe, now a member of the Spanish vice president’s cabinet and minister for ecological transition, stated in the middle of the first lockdown, the “virus has been a huge slap in the face from the planet: we are biological and vulnerable beings. A real lesson of humility that invites us to work on reconnecting with our closest ecosystems.”

Lockdowns designed with big cities in mind may have left streets deserted and the elderly isolated, but this period has seen cycling lanes and neighbourhood parks used like never before. In this respect, municipalities that previously invested in rewilding initiatives are now reaping their rewards. In Spain, these initiatives were spearheaded by municipalities run by political forces that first came to power in the years after 2015 and that emerged out of citizens’ movements and local organising.

Reshaping the local

“Jack, the collapse is not going to happen. Not here.” The French Minister of Ecology Sofia Desmarest sent this message to her former partner in the fight against climate change from the set of his primetime television show L’effondrement (The Collapse). Right before leaving the set, Jack calls on an applauding audience to create community networks and hubs, connect with neighbours, establish links with local businesses, and have a clear idea of who to turn to if you need help.

The pandemic has provided cities with an incentive to take on projects with nature at the centre […] by confronting us with the unsustainability of city life as well as our own vulnerability.

This call matches a common direction taken in Spanish politics. It is the key message of the many networks of cooperation and solidarity that have formed over the past decade. In Spain, the campaigns that won in the so-called “councils of change” local elections of 2015, appealed directly to emotions: “Cities move us: they generate anger, surprise, happiness, etc. And we can turn those emotions into entrepreneurial actions.” “It is impressive to see how much citizens can do when they are convinced of their strength and want to use it to make things better,” said Manuela Carmena, who was mayor of Madrid until 2019, after winning the May 2015 elections.

These confluences of political messaging during the 2015 municipal elections generated processes of listening and active participation from the people, and brought local corporations closer to the environmental and citizens’ movements who had been demanding action on sustainability and biodiversity for decades. These alliances, sometimes with green councillors, had a much stronger environmental component than the traditional parties. With Covid-19, in Spain as elsewhere, the value of local sustainability and biodiversity initiatives for quality of life in the city pursued by these movements has been highlighted only further.

Landscapes for health

One such example is to be found in northern Spain. Errenteria is a town in the autonomous region of the Basque Country. In 2015, the left-wing, independence party EH-Bildu won the local elections and went on to form a government with Errenteria Irabaziz (a coalition of social movements and Podemos), Izquierda Unida, and the Green party Equo. As a result, the municipal government team finally included a green councillor.

In 2016, the municipality decided to team up with nature to create “landscapes for health” in the singular convergence between the river Oiartzun river and the sea. It began implementing a Landscape Action Plan with the view to rolling out 47 measures and improvement works by 2025. This rewilding initiative has become a place of solace during lockdowns. The river that cuts through Errenteria is now fully walkable, the route accompanied by panels explaining the natural heritage of the area. The Oiartzun river is a veritable natural “highway”, as its passes through Errenteria, Lezo and Pasaia, Atlantic salmon travel 5000 kilometres to spawn here.

Walking through the parks of Fanderia, the Paseo de Iztieta, or the bio-health park Gabierrota near Errenteria, one can forget that you are in the heart of the city, even though a century-old paper factory, which still produces 1000 tons of newsprints per day, is just over 500 meters away. The bioengineering of this environment allows you to walk down the river on logs felled as steps, cool off in its water, watch the Atlantic salmon jump upstream, and the ducks and moorhens run upstream in what looks like a race against the bikes that circulate on both sides of the river. It is the perfect place to exercise or rest on the wooden benches in the shade of the lush forest that you enter as soon as you step off the ramp from the street.

Municipalities that previously invested in rewilding initiatives are now reaping their rewards.

Madrid is also reaping the rewards of a similar initiative. In 2016, Inés Sabanés, now a member of parliament, moved on a proposal from Ecologistas en Acción to re-naturalise the Manzanares river which passes through the city. The initiative saw the restoration of beauty to the channel, the construction of bicycle and pedestrian paths, as well as handrails and information panels. As Madrid continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, these restorations are allowing residents simple pleasures such as walking or cycling by the river. Thanks to the commitment acquired by the new local government team, this initiative will continue. They plan to conclude the project with the dissemination of ecological itineraries in schools located near Madrid Río.

A Europe-wide trend

Similar initiatives are to be found in many European cities. Lousada is a densely populated Portuguese village in the district of Porto. With a landscape degraded by intensive agricultural practices and serious environmental problems – water pollution, fires, loss of biodiversity to name a few – the city looked to environmental education, starting with preschools.

In 2016, the city council in collaboration with the BioLiving Association, and with the support of the University of Aveiro, launched the project BioLousada. In three years, more than 40 000 native trees were planted, more than 20 hectares of degraded land restored with the help of more than 4500 volunteers. More than 20 wildlife ponds were created with the participation of another 600 neighbours, and rivers continue to be restored thanks to more than 200 volunteers. With the full participation of local residents, what was degraded waste ground was thus restored to be a healthy natural environment for residents to access and enjoy.

Further afield, the Polish city of Ostrów Wielkopolski is an example to municipalities looking to build healthy and resilient cities. Like Errenteria, it is a signatory of the Basque Declaration of productive, sustainable and resilient municipalities. 23 per cent of the population of Ostrów is over 60 years old. To provide the community with preventive healthcare, culture, sport and education, as well as to encourage active community participation, the city has built public housing in the city centre, near bus stops, the market, local shops, cultural spaces and the medical amenities.

The French photographer Robert Doisneau used to say that he did not photograph life as “it is, but life as I would like it to be.” As the pandemic continues to disrupt normal life, it has also revealed the value of access to nature, public space and community services, particularly for dense urban areas. So why not take this moment to exercise our public right to build cities in which we would like to live? The experience of many European cities shows what can be achieved on the local level in a short space of time with the support of communities. This success, during lockdowns especially, has given public services and access to nature back their relevance for Europe’s cities.

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