Germany’s (not so) grand coalition may cause ripple effects on European refugee policy


Kelly Soderstrom, University of Melbourne and Philomena Murray, University of Melbourne

After a tumultuous 2017 election and six months of political uncertainty, Germany finally has a government. The so-called “grand coalition” made up of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), its right-wing sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), will govern Germany for the next four years.

At the centre of it all is the coalition agreement. The 179-page document sets out the goals for the government, including a new approach to Germany’s refugee policy.

The agreement explains “a new direction for Europe, a new dynamic for Germany, a new cohesion for our country”. It notes two changes in German leadership: a change in the power dynamics among the ruling parties, and a strong emphasis on using the European Union (EU) to achieve German political objectives.

With a weakened CDU under Chancellor Angela Merkel ceding considerable control to the anti-immigration CSU and the socialist SPD, the centre of German political power has shifted. This shift will have a profound impact on German and EU refugee policies.




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Angela Merkel wins a fourth term in office – but it won’t be an easy one


The issue of refugees is discussed deeply in German society. Since the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, when 722,370 people applied for asylum in Germany, the number of asylum applicants has decreased significantly.

However, 1.6 million refugees remain in Germany and Europe’s refugee crisis appears to be far from over. Not unexpectedly, this is a huge source of tension in the government.

At first, Merkel gained praise for her humanitarian, liberal refugee policy focused on refugee reception and integration. However, growing anti-immigrant sentiment, evident in the rise of groups like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the difficulties in integrating a large number of refugees all resulted in increasingly protectionist sentiment.

Germany needs to provide a feasible refugee policy that is manageable and does not split the coalition.
Shutterstock

Merkel had pushed for refugee responsibility-sharing across the EU. However, no pan-EU approach drawing on the German example eventuated. Many EU member states refused to honour the major instrument for delegating responsibility for refugees, the Dublin Regulation, or participate in the EU-wide refugee redistribution scheme.

Given Merkel’s weakened position in the coalition, it is not clear that Germany will continue her humanitarian approach.

The government faces two leadership challenges in refugee policy. Firstly, it needs to provide Germany with a feasible refugee policy that is manageable and does not split the coalition. Secondly, it is attempting to lead a different type of coalition – namely, the EU’s 28 member states.




Read more:
Why Europe shouldn’t follow Australia’s lead on asylum seekers


Leadership in Germany: Can Merkel still say ‘wir schaffen das’?

In domestic refugee policy, Germany is fractured. Of the three coalition partners, the anti-immigration CSU is the primary winner in migration and refugee policy. CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is leading dramatic restrictions in refugee policy. Although the SPD negotiated a modest victory with 1,000 family reunification visas per month for refugees, government parties are refusing to do more than this.

Creating a cap on refugee visas was a major point of controversy between the CDU and CSU. The CSU prevailed, with the coalition agreement calling for an annual cap of 180,000-220,000 refugees. However, that cap may not take effect as only 198,317 first-time asylum applications were filed in Germany in 2017. Yet this threshold creates distraction from Merkel’s humanitarian approach as it prioritises immigration control over humanitarian obligation.

There is some good news for refugee integration in Germany.
Shutterstock

This, coupled with the limitations on movement of refugees imposed by centralised processing centres and repatriation centres for failed asylum seekers, demonstrates new constraints in refugee policy. This in turn demonstrates the CDU’s diminishing power and the fracturing of the centre of policy leadership.

Yet there is some good news for refugee integration. The grand coalition still maintains a focus on refugee integration, especially through language acquisition and participation in the labour market.

As Germany struggles with its fractured leadership and seeks consolidation and centralisation of refugee processing procedures, the German approach is becoming increasingly binary: if you are not a refugee, you must leave; if you are a refugee, you must integrate.




Read more:
Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging impacts on the world’s refugees


Leadership in Europe?

When it comes to the EU, the grand coalition government has four objectives: halt secondary movement of refugees; toughen the EU’s external borders; tackle external push factors; and create a robust mechanism for responsibility-sharing.

The Common European Asylum System aims for common application procedures for refugees and accommodation standards to prevent asylum-shopping across countries. The German government is also renewing calls for a quota-based refugee redistribution and resettlement scheme among EU states.

In calling for increased policing of the EU’s external borders and a common approach to push factors, these mechanisms paint refugee protection as a security issue rather than a humanitarian one.

During the Eurozone crisis, Germany showed strong leadership in EU policy. However, it has failed to persuade other member states to follow its leadership on refugees. Its leadership may further weaken as other states refuse to follow.

Will Germany step up to lead in Europe?

The EU is deeply divided on refugee policy and distracted by other concerns. The United Kingdom is consumed by Brexit negotiations, while many eastern and central European states refuse to participate in EU-level refugee resettlement schemes.

The anti-refugee populist parties have increased influence across Europe. Merkel has few natural allies, if any, in the grand coalition or within the EU on this issue.




Read more:
What Europe can teach Canada about protecting democracy


Yet Germany regards leadership of the EU as the key to achieving its interests. Merkel is emphatic that “Germany will only do well if Europe is doing well”.

However, Germany is falling in line with more restrictive policies, rather than leading the EU towards a more comprehensive and humanitarian solution to the refugee crisis.

The ConversationIf Germany leads EU policy change, we may well see increased blocking of access to the EU for refugees and policies that emphasise control and expediency over humanitarian values.

Kelly Soderstrom, PhD Candidate in International Relations, University of Melbourne and Philomena Murray, Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences and EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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We asked five experts: do I have to drink eight glasses of water per day?



File 20180307 146694 f8k2mx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Eight seems like a lot…
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

Everyone knows humans need water and we can’t survive without it. We’ve all heard we should be aiming for eight glasses, or two litres of water per day.

This target seems pretty steep when you think about how much water that actually is, and don’t we also get some water from the food we eat?

We asked five medical and sports science experts if we really need to drink eight glasses of water per day.

All five experts said no

Here are their detailed responses:

https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/248/5569e2081efba668022eb859f9f36a24735d7625/site/index.html


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


The ConversationDisclosure statements: Toby Mündel has received research funding from the Gatorade Sport Science Institute and Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, which has included research on hydration.

Alexandra Hansen, Section Editor: Health + Medicine, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Telecommunications Ombudsman reports surge in complaints about services delivered over NBN


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NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech on Tuesday.
AAP Image/Supplied by NBN Co

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has strongly challenged the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) after its report showed complaints about services delivered over the NBN surged by 204% in the second half of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield also announced details of a review, earlier flagged, of the telecommunications consumer protections framework, saying the high level of complaints about telecommunications services generally showed “the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working”.

Fifield said the way the information regarding the 22,827 complaints about services delivered over the NBN was presented in the TIO report, released Tuesday, “could give the impression that responsibility for this figure rests with NBN Co”.

But advice to the government from NBN Co was that of these complaints, less than 5% were sent to NBN Co as complaints to resolve.

The NBN has been been heavily criticised for a slow rollout – although it says it has met every target for the past 14 quarters – low speeds and connection problems, generating high levels of complaints.

The six months to December saw a 39% increase in NBN premises activated.

The government and NBN Co are also focusing on the 16% fall in the rate of complaints about these services from the first to the second half of 2017.

In January to June of 2017, there were 19,683 complaints about services delivered over the NBN, making the picture better for the NBN when comparisons are made between the first and second halves of the year.

But the TIO report warns generally about comparisons of the two halves of the same year because of seasonal variations, preferring to compare the same period of each year. The government rejects the seasonal variation argument, saying the TIO itself has previously made comparisons within a year. It also believes the TIO is letting retailers off the hook.

The TIO is an industry-funded complaints resolution body. The NBN is not represented on its board.

The TIO report includes complaints for the six months to December covering mobile and fixed line telephony and both pre-NBN and NBN broadband.

It received nearly 85,000 complaints in total, which was a 28.7% rise over the same period in 2016. There was a 30.7% increase in complaints from residential consumers, and a 15.6% rise in those from small businesses.

Total complaints decreased from the 92,000 in the first half of 2017.

Fifield said that no matter who was the responsible party, the complaints figures were too high. “The current model for protecting consumers needs reform”.

The review, to provide for the post 2020 environment, will be undertaken in three parts to ensure consumers

… have access to an effective complaints handling and redress scheme;

… have reliable telecommunications services including reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments, as well as potential compensation or penalties against providers;

… are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly by their providers in service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management and switching providers.

Meanwhile chief executive of NBN Co Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

He will say the network generated an extra $1.2 billion in economic activity in 2017 and is encouraging more women to become their own bosses.

Morrow, who is leaving his job at the end of the year, will present figures prepared by the economic advisory firm AlphaBeta, using census data, modelling and polling to estimate the impact of the network – labelled “the nbn effect”.

He will say that “nbn-connected women are becoming self-employed at twice the overall rate of self-employment growth in nbn areas.

“In percentage terms, these results are stunning. The number of self-employed women in nbn regions grew at an average 2.3% every year, compared to just 0.1% annual average growth in female entrepreneurs in non-nbn areas.

“If this trend continues, up to 52,200 additional Australian women will be self-employed by the end of the rollout due to the ‘nbn effect’”, he will say.

The 2017 overall $1.2 billion estimated increase in economic activity – through new jobs, businesses and greater productivity – excludes the economic stimulus of the rollout itself.

“By the end of the rollout, this ‘nbn effect’ is predicted to have multiplied to $10.4 billion a year,” Morrow will say. “This represents an extra 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth, or 2.7% of the estimated GDP growth rate in 2021. By the end of the rollout, the ‘nbn effect’ is forecast to have helped create 31,000 additional jobs,” Morrow will say.

The ConversationThe network is now more than halfway built. About one in three homes and businesses are connected. The rollout is due to be completed by the end of 2020. Morrow has been CEO since 2014.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Angus Campbell to head Australian Defence Force


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The new Australian Defence Force Chief will be Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army since 2015, who became the operational public face of the Coalition government’s Operation Sovereign Borders.

Campbell replaces the present chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, 58, who will retire from the ADF in July.

With his promotion, Campbell has jumped over the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who was involved in controversy over his relationship with a junior officer, whom he later married. Two reviews cleared Griggs of any impropriety. He is now leaving the military.

While the vice chief is frequently promoted to chief, as were Binskin and David Hurley before him, it is not an invariable practice. Neither Angus Houston nor Peter Cosgrove had been vice chief before taking the top role.

Campbell joined the army in 1981, graduating from Duntroon in 1984. Later he served in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

In 2005, he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, rising to become Deputy Secretary and Deputy National Security Adviser. In 2011, he took command of Australian forces deployed in the Middle East area of operations.

He has a Bachelor of Science (honours) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Philosophy in international relations from Cambridge University.

In his role in Operation Sovereign Borders, Campbell was known for his tight lips in face of questions, often ruling them out as “on water” matters.

Announcing the ADF changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Campbell brought leadership and experience to his new position. Defence Minister Marise Payne said he had shown leadership across many roles – “from operational periods of the highest tempo to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also praised the Campbell appointment, saying it was well-deserved and the Labor Party “wholeheartedly support it”.

The new Vice Chief of the ADF will be Vice Admiral David Johnston, currently Chief of Joint Operations, where his role has been “to plan, control and conduct military campaigns, operations, joint exercises and other activities” to meet Australia’s national objectives.

John Blaxland, Professor of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, praised the appointments, tweeting that these were “a good call”. Both were “well-seasoned, intelligent and highly regarded officers”, he said.

He said Campbell understood the importance of closer engagement with our Southeast Asian and South Pacific neighbours.

Houston said Campbell was “an outstanding appointment”. He was very happy the government had appointed such a “strong and well-credentialed team”.

The new Chief of Army will be Major General Rick Burr.

Rear Admiral Mike Noonan becomes Chief of Navy, replacing Tim Barrett the present Navy Chief, who will also retire in July after a 42 year career.

Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld will become Chief of Joint Operations – he is currently the head of Force Design.

The ConversationChief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, continues in his present position.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why mandatory retirement ages should be a thing of the past


Alysia Blackham, University of Melbourne

Mandatory retirement ages are – rightly – mostly a thing of the past in Australia. But they still linger both formally and informally in some sectors and roles. This is of major concern for a country with an ageing population, such as Australia.

Compulsory retirement ages have been progressively prohibited in Australia since the 1990s. There are good reasons for this: reliance on irrational stereotypes about older workers can prevent businesses from finding the best person for the job. Allowing workers to choose when they retire can improve staff retention, increase workforce morale, and help employers retain vital skills and experience.

At a national level, prohibiting mandatory retirement can help relieve the burden of an ageing workforce on pension systems. It also promotes labour market supply and removes barriers to older people participating in society.




Read more:
Keeping mature-age workers on the job


Abolishing mandatory retirement can reduce welfare expenditure and increase self-reliance. Importantly, it recognises the inherent worth and dignity of workers of all ages, and sends a strong national message about the importance of ending age discrimination.

Where mandatory retirement remains

Federal Australian judges must retire at the age of 70, as outlined in section 72 of the Australian Constitution. While section 72 does not generally apply to state or territory courts, all states and territories also impose a retirement age for their judges. These range between ages 65 and 72.

The Australian Defence Force has also maintained a mandatory retirement age of 60 for personnel and 65 for reservists, though this can be extended on a case-by-case basis.

In Australia, federal court judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70.
Shutterstock

Overseas, some countries still allow mandatory retirement. The UK, for example, allows employers to justify a mandatory retirement age for their workforce. The UK Supreme Court has identified two broad categories of legimitate justification: intergenerational fairness and dignity.

Retirement provisions have been retained by some UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. These organisations have claimed that retirement ages are justified by very low turnover, which may limit progression for other staff. They also cite the need to increase staff diversity, refresh the workforce, and facilitate succession planning.




Read more:
How we could make the retirement system more sustainable


My research on how Australian universities are operating without mandatory retirement shows that there has been an increase in the number of academics working longer. The percentage of total academic staff at Australian universities aged over 64 increased from 0.96% in 1997 to 4.66% in 2012.

Extending academics’ working lives may be affecting the employment prospects of younger academics, particularly in relation to the availability of permanent academic posts at junior levels. Overall, though, there have been few negative impacts from the removal of mandatory retirement ages in universities.

I found Australian universities value the experience and skills of their older academic workforce, and explicitly reject any link between age and declining performance.

Judicial retirement ages

Even for the judiciary, mandatory retirement ages are outdated and inefficient. When they were introduced at the federal level in 1977, retirement ages were intended to “contemporise” the courts by introducing new people and ideas. They were designed to prevent declining performance on the bench and provide opportunities for younger judges.

But the workforce and our attitudes to older workers have changed since 1977. My research found that mandatory retirement ages for judges are inconsistent with modern workplace practices and are contrary to the desire for age equality. There is no evidence that older judges are “out of touch”, and age is a bad predictor of individual capacity.

Instead, judicial retirement ages may deprive the courts of expertise and experience. Retirement ages also appear to be contrary to the wishes of judges themselves. Justice Graham Bell, who retired from the Family Court of Australia on 20 February 2015, was quoted as saying:

These days 70 is equal to 60 or 55. … Judges should be able to go on till 80 provided they pass a medical inspection. After all, the pension makes judges pretty expensive creatures in retirement. They are sent out to pasture too early.

What’s more, judicial retirement ages are largely unnecessary in practice. Judges are entitled to generous pensions and often retire of their own accord. New judges will still be given opportunities even if we remove mandatory retirement ages.

Informal retirement pressures

Where mandatory retirement has been officially removed, there can still be pressure to retire at a certain age. My research found that some Australian universities may be using potentially discriminatory methods (such as redundancy) to manage an ageing workforce.

A significant proportion of older Australian workers report experiencing age discrimination. In 2014, over a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 years and over reported experiencing age discrimination in employment in the last two years.

Given these findings, in 2016 the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) conducted a national inquiry into discrimination against older workers. It recommended a suite of changes including discrimination law reforms and appointing a cabinet minister for longevity.




Read more:
Age discrimination in the workplace happening to people as young as 45: study


Previous studies have suggested that declining numbers of older men in the workforce are mostly due to employer constraints, not constraints on the part of older workers. This suggests the need for a shift in employers’ attitudes towards older workers, to encourage continued participation.

Why mandatory retirement ages are inefficient

With an ageing population, Australia cannot afford to lose skilled workers prematurely. In 2013, the Productivity Commission estimated that overall labour supply per capita will fall by nearly 5% by 2059–60 due to demographic ageing. The commission concluded that:

A period of truly diminished outcomes is likely to be at hand, unless luck or appropriate policy initiatives intervene.

The ConversationOne of the key policy measures available to address this looming issue is to increase workforce participation rates for older workers. Eliminating the last vestiges of mandatory retirement is an obvious first step.

Alysia Blackham, Senior Lecturer in Law and ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Four years after the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine: key gains and losses


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In Kyiv in February 2014, riot police line up opposite crosses marking the deaths of protesters. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Euromaidan protests began in late 2013.
Christiaan Triebert/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Olga Oleinikova, University of Sydney

This article is part of the Revolutions and Counter Revolutions series, curated by Democracy Futures as a joint global initiative between the Sydney Democracy Network and The Conversation. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


On November 21 2013, massive protests under the European Union flag erupted in the central square of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The Euromaidan revolution demanded democratic values and decried the kleptocratic regime of the then president, Viktor Yanukovych. In the next three months, a hundred activists were killed, Russia annexed Crimea and supported breakaway forces in a war that tore apart eastern Ukraine.

Violence continues today. By late 2017, more than 10,000 people had been killed and an estimated 2 million forcibly displaced. Nevertheless, the Euromaidan revolution has resulted in democratic and social gains, but also significant setbacks, for Ukraine.

Four gains

1. The birth of civil society

Euromaidan was the catalyst for the birth of civil society in Ukraine. Opinion polls suggest that, since the protests, Ukrainians have higher levels of patriotism and trust in each other, and are more optimistic about the nation’s future. The level of civic activity and desire to contribute to the nation’s development have increased.

In October 2015, 41% of Ukrainians reported being more willing to donate (12% were less willing), while 33% were more willing to protect their rights, freedoms and dignity (compared to 8% whose readiness declined). Furthermore, 22% were more willing to volunteer in the local community and 18% reported an increased willingness to join a civil society organisation.

In 2012, 23% of Ukrainians made donations, increasing to 41% in 2014 and 47% in 2015. This growth is significant given the impoverished conditions people faced around the country.

Unfortunately, these civic gains have failed to translate into real political activity. Low turnouts at elections (especially among 18 to 29-year-olds, the most active and educated citizens) and citizens voting according to populist television advertising or accepting “gifts” in exchange for “correct” voting are all reasons for the slow pace of progressive reform, and the even slower replacement of the political elite.

2. The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement

On September 1 2017, the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was negotiated between 2007 and 2011 and signed in 2014, finally entered into full force. The agreement is seen within the country as the main tool for bringing Ukraine closer to the EU because it promotes stronger political ties and economic links, as well as respect for common European values.

The hope is that the agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), will provide a framework for modernising Ukraine’s trade relations and economic development by opening up markets and harmonising laws, standards and regulations with EU and international norms.

In August 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said:

We have only one road to follow – a wide Euro-Atlantic highway leading to membership in the European Union and NATO.

3. Visa-free travel in the EU

The EU lifted visa requirements for Ukrainians on June 11 2017. The move sparked joy among Ukrainians and raised their expectations for a better future in an aspiring EU member country.

All Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports can now enter the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism or business. However, they are not allowed to work in the EU.

4. Reform program begins

In the summer of 2016, long-awaited judicial reform began. Amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution on the judiciary and a few corresponding laws were adopted. However, it is too early to evaluate these changes.

Ukraine has also taken steps towards greater transparency to combat corruption. Government officials are now obliged to declare their assets and property. The results have displayed a shocking concentration of wealth in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Ukraine’s online procurement system, ProZorro, has already become a global brand, with the World Bank planning to adopt it for its Ukrainian projects.

Still, these efforts are only a small first step towards eliminating corruption. Education, energy and regional reforms are yet to take place. These will require serious financing and take a long time.

Five losses

1. War

Ukraine’s decision to pursue a “Western direction” caused a wave of social cleavages in cross-border, multi-ethnic southern and eastern Ukraine. The tensions resulted in the Russian annexation of Crimea and war around two Russian-backed breakaway provinces.

Every day, thousands cross the line of contact, between areas controlled by Ukrainian government and separatist forces, to visit relatives and obtain basic goods and services.
EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operation/Flickr, CC BY-ND

The war has touched every facet of social, economic and political life in the country. Here are some telling facts:

  • 10,225 citizens had been killed as of August 15 2017

  • 1.4 million people had been internally displaced by August 2015

  • Ukraine’s population is projected to shrink to 36 million by 2050

  • emigration has increased significantly in the last four years.

2. Economic decline

Due to the war in the Donbass region and the breakdown of relations with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, the economy shrank by 6.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2015, according to the state statistics service. The National Bank of Ukraine stated a 11.6% decline in 2015, while the World Bank registered a 12% shrinkage.

In 2016, the economic collapse was halted as GDP inched up 0.1% in the first quarter and 1.4% in the second. However, these marginal gains were short-lived, as the economy shrank again by 6.1% by April 2017. Even if the economy now manages to sustain 3-4% annual growth, it will take four to five years to return to 2013.

3. Remaining corruption

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine has seen little change in state and institutional corruption. The several anti-corruption institutions created in the past four years are scattered and the country still lacks anti-corruption courts and effective preventive tools. Anti-corruption activists are still subject to prosecutions and attacks.

Ukraine only managed to move up one point in the global Corruption Perceptions Index in 2016 and 2017, ranking 131 and 130 out of 176 and 180 nations respectively.

Disappointment with the government and poverty levels is growing. In 2016, only 9% of Ukrainians were satisfied with the president’s actions, with 70% dissatisfied. [LINK to poll] Only 5% were satisfied with the government and 58% were not. And only 2% were satisfied with parliament’s performance, with 83% dissatisfied.

4. Setbacks for freedom of speech and the free media

With the war in eastern Ukraine came an information war between Ukraine and Russia. As a result, freedom of speech and the media in Ukraine has significantly deteriorated in the past four years, with unavoidable radicalisation on both sides of politics.

There is little media diversity, as just a few oligarchs control the top outlets. President Poroshenko, for instance, owns his own television channel.

Anti-government views are often deemed “pro-Russian”, effectively chilling freedom of expression. The intolerance of opposition media is violently visible. There have been protests and scandal over “pro-Russian views”, with broadcast studios being burnt.

Dozens of journalists have been denied entry to Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has urged Ukraine to protect free media and drop its ban on Russian and Western journalists.

5. A wary EU

Ukraine will definitely not be able to become a member of the EU in the next 20 to 25 years, and not of NATO either. – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in March 2016

While Juncker did not explain why Ukraine would have to wait so long, his speech was aimed at reassuring Dutch voters that the association agreement with Ukraine was not a step towards quick EU membership.

In April 2016, 61% of votes in a Dutch referendum rejected the agreement (a 32% turnout was barely enough for the result to be valid), in a rebuke to their government and the EU establishment. The broad political, trade and defence treaty – already signed by the Dutch government and approved by all other EU nations, along with Ukraine – provisionally took effect in January 2016.

A pro-EU rally attracted a huge crowd in Kyiv on November 24 2013, but membership now appears to be a long way off.
Ivan Bandura/Flickr, CC BY

A recent opinion poll suggests that 58% Europeans support Ukraine joining NATO, and 48% support Ukraine joining the EU. But, in 2015, when the first such poll was held, a majority (55%) favoured Ukraine becoming an EU member. Today, the idea is best supported in Lithuania and Poland (68% and 67% respectively), and least supported in the Netherlands (27%). The level of support in France, Germany and the UK is less than half of the people polled.

Tracking the results of opinion polls on Ukraine joining the European Union.

Evidently, the post-Euromaidan government efforts failed to make the case in the West for Ukraine to gain EU membership. Whether the EU will admit Ukraine (and when) is a big question. Within Ukraine, plenty of work remains to be done to ensure the success of its ambitious plans for economic growth, modernisation and accelerated democratisation.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here.

Olga Oleinikova, Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Director of Ukraine Democracy Initiative, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The far-right’s creeping influence on Australian politics


Andrew Markus, Monash University

This article is the last of a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here.


Far-right political groupings are a constant feature on the fringes of Australian politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, they included the League of Rights and minuscule neo-Nazi parties. In the 1980s, there was National Action, the Australian Nationalist Movement, Australians Against Further Immigration and the Citizens Electoral Council.

In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of a number of groups that combine online organisation with intimidating street activity: Reclaim Australia, Rise Up Australia, the Australian Defence League, the United Patriots Front, True Blue Crew and Antipodean Resistance.

While hostility between – and within – far-right groups is typical, they are united by their nationalism, racism, opposition to “alien” immigration and disdain for democracy.

Most far-right activists continue to be excluded from polite society. But the endorsement of their ideas by some mainstream political figures has allowed them to make creeping gains into the political culture.

Paranoid style

A feature of far-right movements was characterised in the 1960s by the American political scientist Richard Hofstadter as the “paranoid style”:

a style of mind that … evokes [a] sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.

A common belief concerns conspiracies that are hidden by the media, which disseminates what today is termed “fake news” or “alternative facts”, previously known as propaganda and misinformation.

The conspirators have been identified in various guises, with the common element being the promotion of international and cosmopolitan, as distinct from national, values. They include Freemasons, Catholics (or “Papists”), Jews, Muslims, Communists, Socialists and Fabians.

International organisations such as the United Nations are especially suspect – seen as agents of a “New World Order”. Climate scientists and environmentalists, with their proliferation of international treaties, have become major targets in recent years.

Eric Butler, the driving force of the League of Rights for half a century, strove to unmask what he saw as the “New International Economic Order”, orchestrated by Jews, manifested in the Indigenous land rights movement, the destruction of family farms and small businesses, and the policies of “multi-racialism and multi-culturalism”.

In the 1980s and 1990s, far-right groups focused on their discovery of the “The Grand Plan – Asianisation of Australia”. The 1997 book The Truth, issued in Pauline Hanson’s name by a group of her followers, revealed “the internationalist elite of The New World Order” that was plotting the destruction of Anglo-Saxon Australia through “immigrationism, multiculturalism, Asianisation and Aboriginalism”.

In contemporary Australia, far-right movements focus on Islam. It is seen as an authoritarian force that supposedly seeks world domination through the infiltration of Muslim populations into the West, the establishment of a separate legal system (Sharia Law) enforced through mosques, and the subjugation of non-Muslims through acts of terror.

Hostility to immigration

The distinctive mindset that characterises supporters of minor political parties of the right is evident in public opinion surveys, but findings on members of fringe political groupings are less reliable because their numbers in national surveys are very small.

Nevertheless, we can confidently conclude that a high proportion of people attracted to the far-right have a heightened negative view of their life circumstances, a stronger sense that the area in which they live – and their country – is on a downward path, and negative views of immigration and ethnic diversity.

The 2017 Scanlon Foundation national survey, which I led and analysed, disaggregated attitudes by political alignment. In response to the open-ended question “What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?”, immigration (viewed negatively) was the most important issue for One Nation supporters. By contrast, it ranked fifth for Coalition voters, sixth for Labor, and was not ranked at all by Greens voters.

When asked for their view of the level of immigration, 86% of One Nation supporters indicated that the intake was too high, compared with just of 37% of the national sample.

Heightened concern over immigration links to nationalist values. Asked to respond to the proposition that “people who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians”, 78% of One Nation voters strongly agreed, compared with 37% of Coalition voters, 30% of Labor and 4% of Greens. An overwhelming 92% of One Nation voters strongly agree that “in the modern world, maintaining the Australian way of life is important.”

Expanding reach

While there is consistency over time in far-right values, in one respect there has been change. Where once these previously fringe political groupings struggled to reach large audiences, they have now improved their messaging and, most importantly, harnessed the power of the internet and social media to grow their networks.

This is illustrated by the “Stop the Mosque” campaign in the Victorian regional centre of Bendigo, which reached a level of activism and civil disobedience that won national and international attention. Opponents of the mosque established a Facebook page in January 2014; within six months, it had amassed more than 8000 followers.

Links were forged with like-minded groups across Australia, the United States and Europe, who provided encouragement, campaign advice, donations and access to resources. Protest activities were maintained for over two years and spread to other areas.

The emphasis on the perceived threat of Islam has been a crystallising issue for the far-right in recent years, helping it to grab headlines and recruit followers. Pauline Hanson and the Liberal National Party’s George Christensen spoke at anti-Islamic Reclaim Australia rallies in 2015.

The politics of the paranoid style remains in vogue among the far-right, which limits its possibilities for growth. But today, as Collette Snowden has observed, its reach is greatly enhanced:

with the dedication and commitment of a few passionate supporters, small and more marginalised groups are able to create a public presence that previously would have required years.

The ConversationThe influence of the far-right should not be overstated, but it is a danger sign when mainstream politicians associate themselves with its hateful agenda.

Andrew Markus, Pratt Foundation Research Chair of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.