VIEW FROM ABROAD: We live in interesting times: Trump, Muslims and Europe

AHEAD of Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President, New York City is as vibrant and dynamic as ever. Locals mingle with tourists, immigrants and foreigners in the icy cold. The ferry to the Statue of Liberty is brimming with excited Chinese visitors. The stores and restaurants are full.

This is New York, proud global city, still basking in a soft post-New Year glow. It is also in combative mood, braced for a fight with the new president.

“Are you here for Trump’s inauguration,” my Dominican taxi driver asks. I say no, I’m attending a high-level forum on anti-Muslim hate being organised at the United Nations by the European Union, Canada, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — and the US.

“So it’s Obama’s parting shot,” he chuckles. “These Americans are crazy to elect Trump. They are already regretting it. At least here in New York.”

Certainly, the new US President is not this city’s favourite son. The 58-storey Trump Tower may be the fanciest, glitziest building among other fancy, glitzy luxury stores which line Fifth Avenue, but New Yorkers are fed up with the increased security, the barricades and the gawping tourists.

A small but stalwart and loud group of protesters stands outside the Tower, shouting, “No Trump, No KKK, no fascist USA”. Policemen look on warily as tourists take pictures.

Ever since Trump won the election, the protective measures around the Tower, which is his primary residence and where his wife Melania will stay while their son finishes his school year, have caused a dramatic slowdown in business in the neighbourhood, according to PBS journalist Rhana Natour.

Shopkeepers say they are not happy with the chaos. Tourists and shoppers aren’t keen to get caught in the protests or run into policemen and police dogs. If Trump keeps coming to New York, as he has said he will, business just won’t pick up.

Americans are gearing up for a struggle. On Jan 21, a day after the inauguration, a massive Women’s March will be held in New York and other cities across the US and the world.

This city has its own heroes. New York Governor Andrew M Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, have made clear that they will stand firm on their principles.

Cuomo has called New York “a safe harbour for our progressive principles and social justice”. De Blasio joined actors Alec Baldwin and Mark Ruffalo, as well as film-maker and activist Michael Moore, for a protest against Trump. “This is New York. Nothing about who we are changed on Election Day,” de Blasio promised in a tweet.

Trump’s shadow looms large over the UN meeting. Outside the UN building, flags from across the world still flutter. But in the rain, they have a forlorn air. Colleagues worry about the future of the UN. Trump is not a believer in multilateral cooperation. “But this is why we have to stand firm and speak out,” says a friend.

As the forum begins the mood is understandably sober and reflective. It’s also surreal. The keynote speeches in the first hour warn of rising anti-Muslim hate and discrimination without mentioning Trump by name.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres refers to a recently launched initiative “Together — Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” which is designed to strengthen bonds between refugees, migrants and host countries and communities.

David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom warns, “Anti-Muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum…the rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

But then the discussions get more animated. No one can say whether Trump intends to implement his campaign promise of setting up a “Muslim registry” but there is little doubt that his election has triggered an increase in anti-Muslim hate.

In Europe, there is concern that populists are riding high in polls in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Intolerance and anti-Muslim diatribes have become the norm for leaders in Hungary, Poland and other Eastern European countries.

But the forum is not about Muslims as victims but about empowering Muslim minorities in America, Europe and in other parts of the world.

There is talk of creating civil society coalitions against xenophobia, working with other faith groups, countering misinformation and forging positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture.

“Some say we live in a post-truth world,” says EU human rights envoy Stavros Lambrinidis. “We must have the courage to confront narratives when they are based on prejudice, or blatant lies, so that they do not become part of the mainstream.”

Several panellists highlight the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies, saying that as New York has shown, mayors are key to ensuring that cities are more open, tolerant and diverse.

I head home to Brussels just hours before Trump moves into the White House. The New York Times has an editorial chiding the new president for his pro-Russian and pro-Brexit rhetoric and his anti-Nato and anti-EU diatribes.

There is no immediate Trump tweet in reaction. But we know: it is going to be an interesting four years.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2017

VIEW FROM ABROAD: As EU-Turkey relations crash, it’s time to consider ‘Trexit’

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have succeeded in convincing Pakistan’s government to expel Turkish teachers accused of links to an alleged terrorist organisation — a decision now put on hold by a Pakistani court — but the Turkish leader’s links with the European Union have hit an all-time low.

There is talk of “Trexit” or an end to Turkey’s decades-old bid to join the EU. Erdogan has hinted that he is fed up with the EU and ready to move on and seek other partners.

But the message from Ankara is confusing. In Brussels this week, Turkish officials were adamant that “full membership” of the EU was still their aim. And they insisted that Turkey wanted above all to talk about “rule of law” with the EU.

Yes, readers, EU-Turkey relations are complicated. They are difficult, tetchy and at times amusing. Both sides need each other but don’t trust each other. “Can’t live with you, can’t live without you”.

Deep inside where it matters, EU policymakers are wary of opening their club to a majority Muslim nation. And similarly, deep inside where it matters, Turkish officials think Europeans are arrogant and Islamophobic.

Both assumptions are correct. Blame it on history, the crusades, Christian-Muslim rivalries that cast a dark shadow even in the 20th Century. But the love-hate EU-Turkey relationship is entering an even more fraught era.

The EU agreed years ago that Turkey could join the EU — and negotiations began in earnest in 2005.

The talks have never been easy — not least because of the shadow cast by the divided island of Cyprus.

Things are now coming to a head. The European Parliament voted last week to freeze negotiations on Turkish membership of the EU, saying Ankara was guilty of a “disproportionate and repressive” response to the failed military coup against the government on July 15.

“Since the failed military coup in July 2016, tens of thousands of people, including military personnel, public servants, teachers and university deans, prosecutors, journalists and opposition politicians, have been fired, suspended, detained or arrested,” the European Parliament said in a press release.

MEPs are also concerned about the crackdown and the threat by the Turkish President to reintroduce the death penalty.

The non-binding parliamentary resolution calls for a temporary freeze on the EU accession negotiations until the “disproportioned repressive measures are lifted”.

But allegations of human rights abuse by the Turkish government against its own citizens are piling up at the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg-based court said last week that it has received some 850 petitions from Turkish citizens in the past two weeks.

Not surprisingly, Erdogan has reacted angrily to the European Parliament move. The Turkish leader threatened to tear up a landmark deal to stem the flow of Syrian and other refugees into Europe. He also warned that he would seek other partners in lieu of the EU.

For all their anger and frustration at Turkey’s conduct, few in Europe think it wise to allow a further worsening of relations with Ankara.

But there is a growing number of people both in Europe and Turkey who believe that Ankara should push the “Trexit” button. In other words, instead of trying so hard to join the EU, Ankara should reflect on another form of partnership with the bloc.

The new arrangement would take into account massive changes in both the European and Turkish landscapes. Clearly, both the EU and Turkey are very different today than they were when they started their courtship in the 1960s.

The EU was still a modest club of six democracies seeking peace and stability after the devastation of World War II. Turkey was struggling with numerous economic and political challenges including efforts to keep the Turkish army away from national politics.

Fast forward to 2016, and the EU counts 28 members — with Britain on the way out. The bloc is big but chastened, still powerful but also increasingly fragile.

Turkey is an undoubtedly important regional power — but also less influential than many thought it would be in dealing with Syria and Iran.

Given the changes on both sides, there are calls for the EU and Turkey to put aside the long and difficult debate on membership and focus instead on a new 21st century strategic partnership which reflects new geopolitical realities.

“That Turkey’s accession is not a realistic goal for the foreseeable future should be the starting point of this new discussion; but that acknowledgement should not be a punishment but an opportunity to redefine the relationship according to mutual interests: the refugee crisis, economic integration, counterterrorism and energy, to name a few,” argues Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

The approach makes sense to many in Europe and to some Turkish scholars. But the Turkish government insists that past promises of membership cannot be cast aside.

Instead of looking for new avenues for partnership, both sides remain prisoners of the past, unable and unwilling to readjust their ties to a changing world order. The current impasse creates difficulties for both Europe and Turkey. Quite simply, it’s time to change tack.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2016

EU frets as ‘Populist International’ moves fast to win votes

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Legend has it that the European Union thrives on crisis and shows its true colours — its strength and resilience — when life gets tough. Not this time.

As predicted in this column two weeks ago, Donald Trump’s election victory has dealt the EU a body blow. All 28 EU governments — and yes the EU still has 28 members until Britain actually goes out the door at a yet-undecided date — are still reeling from the surprise election result.

To be fair, the bloc has a lot on his hands. Brexit and the refugee crisis continue to weigh heavy. Relations with Russia and Turkey are at an all-time low. And populists, both in government and in opposition, stalk the land.

And now, their bedrock, the “transatlantic relationship” looks like it is in tatters.

As they bade a teary-eyed farewell to President Barack Obama last week, EU leaders had much to worry about.

First, Trump is certainly unlikely to be a pro-European president. He does not like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is sceptical of Nato and if Moscow is to be believed has promised to normalise relations with Russia.

Second, all this would be manageable if EU countries were able to put aside their differences and forge a united stance vis-a-vis Washington.

Alas. Hopes of a united front to deal with Trump have been dashed. A hastily scheduled working dinner of EU foreign ministers called by the German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier and EU special representative for foreign and security policy Federica Mogherini last week was boycotted by Britain and France.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who once said he was afraid of running into Trump while in the US, decided he was tired of the EU’s “whinge-orama” over Trump’s election victory. France said it had urgent business to attend to at home.

Some EU officials like Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker have warned that Trump must get up to speed on how Europe works in order to avoid “two years of wasted time” when he assumes his new role.

“Mr Trump, during his campaign, said that Belgium was a village somewhere in Europe,” Juncker said in his frank remarks to students in Luxembourg, adding: “We must teach the president-elect what Europe is and how it works.”

Juncker said that Trump had called Nato into question, which could have “harmful consequences” because it is the model of Europe’s defence.

The US president-elect had also “taken a view of refugees and non-white Americans that does not reflect European convictions and feelings”, he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lectured Trump on “shared values” and hinted relations depended on the future American president’s respect for “democracy, freedom, respect for the right and dignity of every individual, irrespective of origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation or political attitude”.

No surprise then that Obama’s farewell visit to several EU countries, including Germany, last week turned into a long and painful goodbye.

Emotions were running specially high in Berlin where Obama and Merkel praised each other as “outstanding partners”, with the US president expressing hopes that Trump would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he deviates from US “values and international norms”.

In a joint op-ed, Obama and Merkel defended aid for refugees “because we know it is our treatment of those most vulnerable that determines the true strength of our values”. They hailed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation — from which Trump has threatened to pull back — as a cornerstone of peace.

Still, even Merkel knows it’s time to move on. As the de facto leader of the EU, the German chancellor has a lot on her plate. The next few months are going to be extremely difficult for Berlin and Brussels.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to resign if he loses a referendum on constitutional reform on December 4, saying the “decrepit system” that would be left in the wake of his defeat would have to be taken care of by someone else.

Meanwhile in Austria, far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer and former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen will run again on Dec 4 after Austria’s Constitutional Court annulled the results of May’s presidential vote and called for a rerun.

The court said the May election, in which Van der Bellen narrowly beat Hofer, would have to be repeated after the discovery of irregularities in vote counting across several districts.

Although the presidency is a largely symbolic role in Austria, the Freedom Party’s potential success would herald a major victory for Europe’s far right parties ahead of elections next year in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

The fear in Europe is that far-right populists Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen will give mainstream parties a run for their month in both the Netherlands and France.

Ominously, Breitbart, the so-called alt-right news organisation that is often described as “misogynist, racist and xenophobic”, is reportedly planning to expand to Europe ahead of the crucial elections next year.

Breitbart is believed to have been instrumental in helping Trump win the elections. Steve Bannon, executive chairman of the organisation, has been appointed senior counsellor and chief strategist for Trump.

Meanwhile, Aaron Banks, the millionaire who helped fund the Brexit campaign in the UK, has also promised to take his campaign to France ahead of the elections.

Members of “Populist International” are moving fast to gain votes while EU leaders wring their hands in despair.

FRANKLY SPEAKING | A good moment to reflect on tolerance

Did you know that 16 November is the ‘International Day for Tolerance’? This year, more than ever before, let’s take a moment to contemplate.

Talk of openness and inclusion may appear quaint in a world dominated by hate and harshness. Who wants to “respect and recognise the rights and beliefs of others” – as the United Nations would like us to do on Wednesday – when there is so much fear to spread, and so many angry ‘strong’ men and women to elect?

Life is just too short to be polite. People want tough leaders, not more soppy political correctness. Let’s leave softies like Canada’s Justin Trudeau to fight injustice, oppression, racism and unfair discrimination. The rest of us have better things to do.

Actually, we don’t.

Being mean and nasty can be exhilarating for a naughty moment. There is a thrill in breaking taboos, hurling insults and breaching red lines. Building walls and fences and deporting immigrants can sound like great fun.

But the excitement won’t last. And a permanent state of hate and anger is not a recipe for societal well-being. Living together – even without ‘them’, just among ‘us’ – requires a degree of courtesy and polite interaction.

Taming the demons of racism, nativism and populism unleashed by America’s president-elect Donald Trump during his election campaign – which may be cultivated over the next four years – will not be easy. But here are six ways it can be done.

First, let’s remember that millions of Americans did not buy into Trump’s toxic rhetoric. While the Electoral College certainly voted for Trump, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton secured a majority of the popular vote.

In other words, those who embrace pluralism, tolerance, inclusion – and who reject the nightmare version of a new Trumpian world order – cannot be easily shunted to the side lines. Their voice will continue to count. It may become even louder.

Second, it’s more important than ever to craft an inspirational narrative to counter and outsmart Trump’s European wannabes in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

As elections in these and other countries draw closer, instead of pandering to the ‘Populists International’, mainstream political parties in Europe must reach out with more conviction and passion to the majority of Europeans who believe in an open and tolerant Europe. Their voices are currently drowned out by extremists and ignored by others.

This is no time for old, wishy washy slogans and bland speeches. It’s time to fight fire with fire.

Third, underlining the principles of liberal democracy – as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did in her message of congratulations to Trump – is a good first step. But it will mean very little unless EU leaders take tougher action against those inside the EU – including Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Polish government – who violate these very values.

Fourth, even as they lecture Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on human rights, EU leaders should make sure that they practice what they preach at home and that their own treatment of minorities – as well as migrants and refugees – is above reproach. For the moment, it isn’t.

Fifth, even seemingly small things matter. Christmas traditions like ‘Black Pete’ in the Netherlands may seem harmless to white Dutch people but they send a harmful message of exclusion to the country’s many black citizens.

Offensive language, of the kind European Commissioner Gunter Oettinger used recently when speaking of his Chinese counterparts, sends the wrong message to European citizens and a watching world.

Last, let’s debate and discuss the reasons for Trump’s success, the rise of populists, the flaws of liberal democrats and the pros and cons of globalisation. As with Brexit, there are important topics to analyse and reflected upon.

For the moment, the killing fields of the 21st century happen to be far away, in Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East. But not so long ago it was here in Europe that racism and discrimination led to wide-spread devastation, death and destruction.

History should not be allowed to repeat itself.

Friends of Europe’s ‘Frankly Speaking’ column takes a critical look at key European and global issues.

VIEW FROM ABROAD: Trump victory will shock Europe — but not his many European fans

BY now, Europeans are used to shocks, both internal and external. There’s been Brexit, the mass arrival of over a million migrants and refugees, sporadic terror attacks and a continuing economic slowdown, not to mention earthquakes in Italy.

But the jury is still out on whether Europe will be able to cope with the “mother of all shocks” in the shape of an election victory for US Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The short answer is no. Most Europeans are rooting for Hillary Clinton and can’t think of anything worse than having to deal with “President Trump”. He’s a populist, a bigot, offensive, outrageous and unpredictable. He’s too close for comfort to Russia. And he’s not sure about the significance of Nato.

The long answer is more complex. While most EU policymakers go pale at the thought of Trump in the White House, others are hoping against hope that he will get the job.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, has said that she would vote for Trump. Nigel Farage, a major figure in the successful campaign for the UK to leave the EU, has appeared on the campaign trail with Trump.

Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders appeared at a fringe event of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, praising Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration into the United States.

In fact, whether he gets to be president or not, Trump has already been a gift from heaven for Europe’s far right. He’s shown them how to talk the rough talk, to be rude and coarse, to break taboos and to get away with it.

He’s also boosted the credibility of some of the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic who think like him (keep out the Muslims), talk like him and are building the fences and walls that Trump wants to construct.

But it’s the far-right parties in opposition in France, Netherlands and elsewhere who love Trump so much, their leaders even want to look like him: blonde, wild-haired and blue-eyed.

Like Trump, they like to think themselves as “anti-establishment” and “anti-globalisation”. They rant against “Brussels” just like Trump rages against “Washington”.

Much to the delight of the Brexiteers, Trump cheered Britain’s vote to leave the EU. He sees the Union as outdated and said nations needed to take back control over their future.

They share Trump’s dislike — dare I say “hatred” — of Muslims and hark back to the imaginary Utopia of a Christian and white Europe unsullied by outsiders.

Even though elections in France, Netherlands and Germany are some months away, just like Trump, Europe’s populists are giving mainstream candidates a run for their money.

In some ways, they have already won. Instead of countering the toxic populist narrative, many mainstream European political parties are embracing their ideology.

That’s the case for Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right French politician who wants to come back as president to replace Francois Hollande. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May sounds like Farage in many of her comments.

However, while Hillary Clinton has spoken openly of her desire to welcome immigrants and Muslims as part of the American story, here in Europe only German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a public stance in favour of tolerance and openness.

The shrill tone of the US election, where fiction and simple slogans count for more than facts, is likely to be reflected in the upcoming polls in Europe.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier underlined recently, “hatemonger” Trump and his cronies in Europe prey on people’s fears.

Clinton’s popularity in Europe is no surprise. She was respected as Obama’s Secretary of State. And although there was some concern that her “pivot to Asia” would leave Europe out in the cold, that fear was eased when America continued to engage with the EU on many issues, including climate change.

Trump is feared by the mainstream for his closeness to Russia, his sceptical view of Nato and he has explicitly discussed rapprochement with Russia, a renegotiation of Nato’s budget. Small surprise then that in response some in Europe are now talking of building an EU army.

Significantly, most people in Europe believe that neither Clinton nor Trump is likely to want to complete already difficult negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement.

That’s probably just as well given the obstacle course the EU had to run to get approval of the Canadian free trade deal, with last minute objections from Belgium’s Walloon regional government almost scuppering the deal.

The CETA deal with Canada was done at the eleventh hour — but not before that too had sent shock waves across Europe.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2016

Young, gifted Arabs hold the key to peace

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Helle, Hajer and Hussein are young, articulate and ambitious. They dream big and aim high. They want the best for themselves and for the countries – Tunisia, Libya and Syria – they live in.

You won’t read about them in traditional newspapers. They aren’t making headlines just yet.

But more, much more, than their governments, these young people and millions of others like them hold the key to our future.

Almost 65 per cent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is under the age of 30.  The choices that Helle and her friends make will determine the fate of their own countries. But they will also have a strong impact on Europe and the world.

I met these “Young Mediterranean Voices” – teachers, journalists, environmentalists, social entrepreneurs, peace and democracy activists – at the MedForum 2016, organised last week in Malta by the Anna Lindh Foundation.

The energy and enthusiasm of more than 500 savvy, young Europeans and Arabs whom the Anna Lindh Foundation had identified as “change-makers” rang through the Valetta conference centre. The talk was of crafting a narrative of hope, dialogue and cooperation that runs counter to the extremist discourse of hate and violence.

‘No-one is born a terrorist’, says one young man. Instead of trying to counter the extremists’ poisonous voices, many underline the need to articulate an inspiring vision of societies where people can live in peace.

Religion is the last thing on their minds. These young people want to fight for better education, jobs, clean government, stability and hope. And forget the stereotypes: the girls – including the small number who wears headscarves – are even more confident than the boys.

The focus on civil society and young people as agents of social change is not new. But there is a consensus on the need to act urgently.

The good news is that the Anna Lindh Foundation is getting the attention and support it deserves. The message of the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, to the Forum highlighted Europe’s commitment to engagement with young people.

And there are growing opportunities for young people to make a difference.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, agreed last December, emphasises the crucial role they can play in managing conflicts and establishing peace. And building stronger Euro-Mediterranean bonds is going to be a key priority for Malta, which takes over the EU Council presidency in January 2017.

The conversations in Valetta provided many lessons for policymakers.

First, stop obsessing about religion and start putting money where it really matters: into schools, job creation and investment schemes.

Second, engage with civil society – don’t fear it. MENA governments too often reject the ideas and passion of young people instead of seeking to channel their enthusiasm for change and reform into positive contributions to national policymaking. And while many EU cooperation agreements include an important people-to-people component, these programmes need to be made more crucial and more exciting.

Third, even as it seeks to engage with MENA governments, the EU should invest in the region’s young people. This is essential if the region is to have long-term peace and stability.

Certainly many parts of the Arab world are jolted by conflicts and wars. Violence and economic deprivation are driving many young people to come to Europe.

But the gathering in Malta is proof that Europe’s southern neighbourhood need not be a place of death and destruction. With the right policies, the right people in charge, and sustained support, it can be a region of hope and peace.

The curious contours of a new European conversation

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As the European Union gears up for its 60th anniversary next March, there’s good news and bad news.

Let’s celebrate the renewed interest in the EU, both at home and abroad. But let’s also be prepared for a long and difficult struggle with those working against Europe.

The surge in interest in Europe is encouraging. Demands for change and new ideas to build a more dynamic, vibrant and relevant EU are not in short supply.

Interesting ideas – some big, some small – came fast and furious at Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe brainstorm and conference last week.

The voices of those who have thought about, talked about and worked for Europe for many years are valuable. They should be listened to.

But importantly, others across Europe are beginning to speak up too. They include young people, women and minority groups whose engagement in EU affairs has been minimal. Business leaders, trade unionists, civil society representatives, academics and journalists are making their voices heard. They should be encouraged to say and do more.

Ironically, the shock of Brexit has enlivened the conversation. The Brexiteers may have damaged Britain’s economy (and much more) but they have, unintentionally, also sparked heightened awareness of and popular interest in the EU.

Such renewed curiosity is an opportunity to start a new conversation about Europe. It should be one which looks at the EU’s past, present and future.  It must look at the achievements but also at the failures and weaknesses of the Union.

The confrontation between different visions of Europe is already part of daily life. This contest was evident in the run-up to the 23 June referendum in Britain and will be an essential part of the negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

There are Euro-enthusiasts and Euro-doubters in national capitals and parliaments, and in all EU institutions.

And then there are the populists, both in and out of government, who are not just against the EU but also fighting actively to undermine liberal democratic values. In uneasy and uncertain times, their message of intolerance, xenophobia and “Little Europe” is already attracting voters.

With elections scheduled in France, Germany and the Netherlands next year, the fight for the hearts and minds of Europeans is going to get even fiercer.

France’s National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and his friends in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have no scruples about publicising their dark vision of Fortress Europe. Their voices will get louder.

But those who believe in an open and compassionate Europe should be equally passionate about voicing their beliefs. Contrary to what the populists want us to believe, a majority of Europeans do not share their nightmare version. They also need to be seen and heard.

In a new world where truth and facts appear to matter less than lies, perceptions and fiction, the confrontation between the two visions of Europe is going to be dirty and ruthless.

The naysayers’ simplistic anti-EU diatribes must be countered by equally simple but clever slogans.

Those in favour of Europe should be proud of what has worked, and what makes the EU relevant and important – for example, contrary to conventional wisdom, the EU “peace project” still makes sense in a world where violence and war still rage just a few kilometres from Europe’s borders.

But enthusiasts must also be frank enough to say what has not worked.

Gentle speeches in comfortable settings just won’t do the trick. Those who believe in the EU will have to take their arguments to the people, not wait for people to fill the conference halls.

Those who favour Europe must be as charismatic, eloquent and single-minded as those who oppose it.

Next March’s anniversary of the EU should trigger a discussion on repairing and renewing the EU, but must also be a moment for reflection on what it means to be European in a complex and challenging world.

As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd told the Friends of Europe conference, Europeans must ‘buck up and not talk yourselves into a funk’.

More than ever, Europe is a vibrant mix of people, cultures and religions. The EU is an important part of peoples’ lives, often taken for granted, often criticised and much too often under-estimated and under-sold by self-seeking politicians.

French statesman Georges Clemenceau famously said that ‘War is too important to be left to the generals’.  Today, Europe is too serious and too important to be left to politicians.

VIEW FROM ABROAD: Britain, Europe and the Brexit ‘pantomime’

LONDON in early October and I’m reassured: nothing appears to have changed since the June 23 vote to take Britain out of the European Union. The bustling city is still home to millions of happy “foreigners” of all colour, creed and race. The cafes, theatres and shops are doing a thriving business. Nobody looks at me with hostility or even interest. This is London as we know and love it.

My passport is stamped by a border policeman who is clearly of South Asian descent. The taxi driver is from Cyprus. The waiter at the trendy restaurant my son and daughter take me to is Dutch. Everybody and everything seem as they were before the Brexit referendum and I chide myself for worrying about the post-Brexit future of one of the world’s most wonderful cities.

Fast forward a few days and I am back home in Brussels, worrying again. As I watch and listen to the news coming out of the British Conservative Party conference, I can hardly believe my ears. British Prime Minister Theresa May has declared war, among others, on foreigners, Europe, global elites, and banks.

The rhetoric is straight out of the first half of the 20th Century. Britain is being taken back in time to an imaginary past when it was prosperous, white and Christian. There is no mention of the days of the Raj — but that may have been an oversight. Clearly, May’s version of Britain is a country stuck in a time warp and uncomfortable with life in an interconnected and globalised world.

Luckily, the prime minister’s views are not universally popular. Those favouring Brexit were and still are in a small majority. Many of my British friends are desperately looking for new non-British passports. There is a friend who is becoming Dutch, others are applying for Belgian nationality. Still others are looking desperately for similar deals. There is anger and confusion. The country May is building seems to be more science fiction than reality.

And London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is adamant the London after Brexit will remain open to foreigners. “It’s not simply a state of mind or an attitude — it’s what we are: open for talent, for business, for investment,” Khan told the Financial Times newspaper.

But May is on a roll. Britain is going to become a “country that works for everyone”, she underlined at the conference in Birmingham as her party faithful gazed adoringly at her. The camera zoomed in on an uncomfortable looking Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary and one-time Leave campaigner. Everybody is laughing, nodding — and some are falling asleep.

May has called the Brexit vote in June a “quiet revolution” and insists that she is now in charge of the country’s future. No, parliament will not be consulted. The people have spoken — and they want to leave the EU.

Only of course it isn’t that simple. The referendum was an advisory one, Britain is still a parliamentary democracy and the Brexit vote is being challenged in courts. Also, while turning her back on foreigners and elites, May still wants to retain the maximum possible access to EU single market while ensuring full control over immigration.

As everyone knows, however, nobody in the EU — least of all German Chancellor Angela Merkel — will allow Britain full benefits of the single market without free movement of people. May has admitted that the upcoming Brexit negotiations — once she invokes Article 50 on taking Britain out of the EU in March next year, are going to be tough, requiring “some give and take”.

Worryingly for Europe’s liberal democrats, May, who was supposed to be in favour of “Remain” in Europe when she was in the last government, has suddenly started sprouting populist rhetoric which is reminiscent of Ukip, the British anti-EU party, of Marine Le Pen and other leaders of the many far-right groups which are proliferating in Europe and America’s Donald Trump.

In Birmingham, she described the June vote as a “quiet revolution”, when people “stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored anymore”. She promised to change how the British elite related to the working classes. And then came the killer judgement: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”, she said.

Amber Rudd, the British home affairs minister, added fuel to fire by insisting British companies should hire “British citizens first”. She promised a crackdown on companies, such as minicab firms, that hire illegal migrants, and on landlords that rent properties to people without papers. Only foreign students who graduated at top universities such as Oxford or Cambridge would be able to stay and work in the UK.

Fortunately, there is a backlash over proposals to force companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ, with business leaders describing it as divisive and damaging.

And as the value of the British pound tumbled to another historic low, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon described May’s vision of Brexit Britain as a “deeply ugly one” and warned that she could call for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Britain’s exit talks are to start in March and last at least two years. Expect more poison and posturing from Britain and anger and stubbornness from Europe. Caught in the fire are the country’s young people — and the economy.

However, judging from their performance in Birmingham, May and her team are sanguine about the future and appear to view the upcoming EU negotiations as little more than a traditional Christmas pantomime. They are likely to be disappointed.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2016

VIEW FROM ABROAD: A sober reflection on democracy today

I AM in the European parliament, participating in a discussion on “Democracy today and tomorrow”. We are supposed to be celebrating the “International Day of Democracy” decreed by the United Nations to review and assess whether the ideal of democracy is being translated into “a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere”.

We are reminded that the values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy.

But the mood is sober, self-critical and reflective. Gone are the self-congratulatory speeches and back-patting which would have marked such occasions in the past.

Twenty-five years after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the “End of History” and the victory of Western liberal democracy as the best form of government, liberal democracy, human rights and democratic values are increasingly being questioned and challenged.

In this troubled world can any country today really claim to be a ”model democracy”?

There is consensus that we are living in challenging times. Democracy in the US and Europe is in deep crisis. The problem is no longer “over there” in the non-Western world, but within the “mature democracies” of America and Europe.

The meeting is just a day after the televised encounter between the two American presidential hopefuls, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. There is general dismay — even horror — that Trump could be only weeks away from stepping into the White House.

For years, the US has been the champion of democracy, the gold standard for others also trying to experiment with a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

But democracy in the US is being tested as never before. The emergence of Trump as a credible candidate has shocked mainstream European political parties who fear that something similar could happen very soon in Europe.

Already far-right populists like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are snapping at the heels of established political leaders.

Their xenophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-Europe message is striking a cord with angry men and women who feel uncertain and uneasy in the face of change. Le Pen is expected to do exceptionally well in national elections in France next year. The AfD has already made massive gains in recent regional elections in Germany.

The parliament is apprised of some surprising facts: surveys show a fall in the level of support for democracy among young people. Several seem to think it would be nice to have a “strong chief”.

There is no agreement on whether the economic slowdown, austerity and unemployment are making people ever more suspicious of politicians. But everyone agrees that there is a growing gap between the political classes and the electorate.

And as political parties lose credibility and relevance, populists step into their space and start spinning their tales of hate and woe.

The far-right populists in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere are often in the spotlight but it is time the illiberal leaders of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with their message of division and disunity, received equal attention.

As one participant put it, “We worry about what’s happening outside Europe but as we all know the fundamental rules of democracy are being breached inside Europe. Are we doing what is needed to stop the rot?”

“How can the EU impose principled, punitive measures on autocrats around the world when it has been unwilling to use any kind of sanction against the likes of Viktor Orban in Europe itself,” asked another.

Also, is it enough to hold elections in order to be a democracy? The response from participants is that it is important to think beyond the elections to models and structures of governance.

Political party reform is important for instance. And winners in elections have to learn that once they are behind the driving wheel, they must work for ALL their citizens, not just for those who voted for them.

The discussions are animated and open. There is concern about the growing polarisation of electorates, the rise in extremist ideologies, the lack of space for people in the centre who don’t want to vote for either the Left or the Right.

In addition, the Western liberal model is losing traction worldwide as countries look for help and inspiration to Russia or China. Many in China are already beginning to tout the “Beijing model” to countries as an alternative to democracy.

It is sobering stuff. We leave the conference in a muted state of alarm. It’s good to be aware of the dangers around us and of the even more perilous times ahead.

But I wish someone had come up with a solution to revive and reboot a form of government which — for all its weaknesses — is still the best one around. At least for the time being.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2016

We should all be rooting for Georgieva

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The United Nations is tantalisingly close to having its first woman – and Eastern European – secretary general. European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, who is Bulgarian,  now has the long-awaited backing of the Bulgarian government to get the top UN job. She is finally officially in the race to replace Ban Ki-moon and will be fielding questions from the UN General Assembly on October 3.

We should all be rooting for Georgieva. Here are 3 reasons – among many- why I think she rocks:

  • Georgieva will be transformational. At a time when the UN, like all international organisations, is struggling to reestablish its credentials in a complicated and turbulent world, Georgieva has the personality, skills and experience to break away from the repetitive “same old, same old” way of doing things.
  • From the day she took over as the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs in 2010, Georgieva has travelled the world, standing out as a strong, no-nonsense but compassionate leader who goes the extra mile to engage and connect with people and countries.
  • Having tried all different types of men (from different continents, different races,  different backgrounds) it’s time the UN was led by a gutsy, hard-working woman who commands respect and knows her way around byzantine multilateral institutions, including the EU Commission and the World Bank.

Of course it’s not done yet. Antonio Guterres, the much respected former Portuguese prime minister and head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is still in the lead in the numerous “straw polls” held so far at the UN.  But that was before Georgieva entered the fray.

Also, Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO and the former favourite of the Bulgarian government, is still in the race and reportedly has Russian backing.

Not everyone – including Moscow and some Europeans such as the French and Portuguese governments – is pleased that Georgieva is believed to be the favourite candidate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But really should we care? Isn’t it time to stop the petty political and geopolitical quarrels and focus on what’s best for reviving the only multilateral body which has a mandate to tackle the many challenges of global governance?