My Hong Kongese Dream

From Denmark to Estonia

Category: Message to Europeans 3.0

The backlash of #MeToo movement and how the EU can deal with it

By Iverson Ng & Julia Bergström

The movement of silence breakers has been going on in the past few months as more victims of sexual harassment are stepping up against the perpetrators who assaulted them in various ways in the name of working relationships. Yet, what has been called a backlash of the #MeToo movement came as a French actress along with some 100 signatories issuing an open letter to condemn the movement in defence of the freedom to offend.

French actress Catherine Deneuve. (Credit: The Telegraph)

When it comes to the EU institutions, there are existing regulations and mechanisms for the victims of sexual harassment working in Brussels. However, the legal instruments failed to protect the safety of female offers due to a range of reasons from their career prospects to the political party’s reputation. Here’s a short account on the existing legislations that EU staffs from potential sexual harassment in workplace, fundamental problems that lie beyond #MeToo movement and recommendations for the EU to ensure a gender-friendly environment for all staffs in Brussels.

Existing legislations

The EU’s staff regulations explicitly defines psychological and sexual harassments and states that such actions are unacceptable. In Article 12 (a), it defines “sexual harassment” as “conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment.” It is categorised as discrimination based on gender. Article 24 also mentioned that the EU will compensate for the victims who are suffered from such discrimination if the perpetrator who caused it cannot compensate on the loss of the victims. Earlier last year, the EU also signed the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, recognising sexual violation on women is a form of human rights violation.  

Fundamental problems

There are numerous cases of sexual harassment within the EU. In October, more than a dozen women accused politicians within the EU of groping, stalking and harassment. Cecilia Malmström, a Swedish commissioner with responsibility for human resources, pointed out the need to better address allegations of sexual abuse within the European parliament and commission after at least two staff members claimed they had been raped. Yet, most of the incidents are never reported. The reasons for the many unreported cases of sexual harassment in the EU are many. Some claim it mainly boils down to a loyalty towards the aggressors and the belief that reporting could end the victim’s career. The question of “if it really happened, why did they not just report it?” becomes naïve when looking at the mechanisms steering work relationships.

Proposed solutions   

Overviewing the current public sphere of discussions, it is sensible for the EU to take actions to follow up the fundamental issues that lie within the European institutions in Brussels: firstly, the proportion of representations in leading roles of the institutions must be increased to transform a patriarchy system into a system being free from gender bias; secondly, a mechanism is needed to report any secret trade-off between female assistants/ trainees in exchange for political interest so that the proposed mechanism can end the vicious cycle within the institutions; thirdly, additional trainings on gender equality must be made compulsory for all the staffs working in the EU.  

Summary

It is obvious that the EU has to take further steps to tackle the fundamental issues. Although it takes time to transform the current European institutions into a better system which everyone can work safe regardless of one’s gender , reported cases of sexual assaults must be followed up to protect the victims from predices. In a nutshell, a double-track approach must be taken to create a safer environment for all EU employees from an instrumental level to a civilizational level.  

This article has also been published in https://medium.com/@julia.bergstrom3

 

The Wrocław satire & Article 7

Town Hall Square, Wroclaw

As a student in Europe, it’s not surprising to spend your Christmas holiday out of the town where you are studying. In my case, I had a week-long visit to this former German city which left a post-World War II legacy with Gothic architectures. Given the ongoing standoff between the EU and Warsaw government, it’s worthwhile to see whether the Commission’s repeated warning on suspending Poland’s voting rights in the European Council has changed the public perceptions towards the European institutions.

The Polish satire

Being a student leader of the Message to Europeans 3.0 project implies that I have a moral duty to promote the positive sides of the EU, albeit the facade of Europe we’re facing right now; an unshakable belief towards the crumbling political project also shows that my desire to make changes overrides the self-protection mechanism to avoid taking risks. With a list of questions on how the Polish people see the EU in general, I met up with an Oxford-based Polish student who studies Politics, Philosophy and Economics. During the conversation I tried to bring up the domestic issues in Poland but she seemed to be indifferent about the latest saga between the Commission and Poland. She also gave me an impression that while she is studying about politics, the level of hopelessness she has in Polish politics in not less than any other average Polish youngsters who are not privileged enough to join the Oxbridge club in England. This led me to start thinking, if an elite student is losing hope in her country, then how about other ordinary citizens?

Leopoldine Hall, University of Wrocław

The biggest beneficiary of the EU

When I walked around the downtown of Wrocław, all I saw was nothing but the traces of the EU here and there. Throughout the week I joined several free walking tours about the old town’s history, World War II & Jewish Wrocław, and the islands and bridges in the city. As I listened to the narrative of the tour guide, I realised how much this city has benefited from the EU–Euro 2012 football tournament to the EU cohesion fund that improves the infrastructure around the city. The tour guide also indicated that there are several buildings are opening for free, thanks to the EU funding. In fact, Poland is the biggest net beneficiary of the EU funding which contributes to a percentage point to the GDP growth of this country.

An elusive ruling government backed by 43% Poles

Before visiting this city, my assumption was that people were generally sceptical about the EU because the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has more than 40% support from the public. So I went to Literatka, a local cafe that is  believed to have intellectuals and artists meeting near the town hall square. I talked to two medical students and they are pro-EU in a way that they feel more European than Polish. The Erasmus programme and Schengen area encouraged them to study and travel within the EU, painting a different picture when we talked about the European institutions. I also met a Ukrainian migrant who speaks conversational Polish as she has been in Poland for 2 years. She didn’t feel excluded by the locals and it’s a good sign for an European ideal that embraces cultural diversity.

For now, the so-called “nuclear option” for triggering Article 7 in the name of sanctioning Poland against the violation of the rule of law doesn’t seem to be a decisive factor that changes the perception of Polish people towards the EU.

Literatka café

 

The question of European identity:

What does it mean to be European?

The European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

It seems to be a cliché to ask such question but there are at least dozens of different answers because there are 28 member states in the European Union. But if you consider European countries which are part of the European Economic Area without a EU membership, then there will be 32 approaches to define “Europeanness”; if you are generous enough to also take the potential candidates and  candidate countries into account, then there will be 39 different perspectives on the meaning of being a European. The list goes on if you also include the Council of Europe……

What makes the “European identity” an even more interesting topic is that it depends on the geopolitical integration, ethnic minorities, and, above all, identity politics.

First, the geographical proximity of European countries creates different categories for the public to generalise various characteristics of “Europe”. When people refer to the “West”, it often implies the UK, France, Germany, and the Benelux countries, i.e. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg; when there is a discussion on “Eastern Europe”, it somehow identifies post-Communist countries including the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia), the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), and the Balkans ( countries located within the Balkan Peninsula using the Danube-Sava-Soča border definition).

Wait! But how about the other Balkan countries which are excluded by the Danube-Sava definition? It seems like our romantic Italian friends and the Greek philosophers are missing! As Christmas is coming, we should also count in our Viking friends and Santa Claus in Lapland, isn’t it?

In truth, it’s problematic to draw a line between eastern and southern Europe because their histories are not mutually exclusive and one can’t simply say there is no tie between the two. Even for Scandinavia, one could put Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland into the same basket, but when you refer this definition to the Danes and Swedes, it often results in their dubious attitudes on whether the Finns are Scandinavians, or it might conclude with a broader term “Nordic“.

Second, the question of ethnic minorities in the Baltic states. Due to the Soviet legacies, there are about one-quarter of ethnic Russians born before/after the independence of the Baltic states respectively. Although there is only 8% of ethnic Russians living in Lithuania at the moment, there are almost two-thirds of Latvians with Russian backgrounds and around 330,000 ethnic Russians living in Estonia.

It raises a question on the dual identity of ethnic Russians who were born and raised in the Baltic states after the independence–they are localised but never fit in for neither “Russian” or “Estonian”/”Latvian”/”Lithuanian” categories. The locals don’t see them as part of the community, not would the Russians living in Russia consider them to be Russians because they often possess a strong accent associated with Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian.

Third, identity politics, for far too often, denotes a “us” versus “them” scenario. People identify themselves in different ways because there is a significant “otherness” to compare with. In the case of identity politics, one’s identity is confirmed because there is an “enemy” who is against the whole group of people with the same characteristics. In the case of Europe, it’s ambiguous due to its universality of values and principles–Europe isn’t bounded by physical borders, but it encompasses imperial legacies, colonial past, and the civil wars that lingered for centuries.

In my case, I’m a Hongkonger identified as an ethnic Chinese with a British colonial past which nurtured me with European values. I feel European in some ways because I embrace European values but I was born and raised in an ethnic Chinese community and Cantonese is my native language, even though English is my working language. I’m also British by nationality but it doesn’t make me culturally British because my knowledge on English history is rather limited.

What’s your take on European identity?

The future of European Monetary & Finance Policies

The statue of Euro outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

This is my first “digital diary” on being a student leader after the initiation of the EU-funded citizenship project Message to Europeans 3.0 in Warsaw. Enjoy!

10.12.17
Money talks.

During the EU Monetary Policies class last week, we had pitches and voting about our opinions on further centralization and efficiency of the economic governance by the EU, namely the establishment of a EU-wide corporate taxation, EU tax system, fiscal transfer system, doubling EU budget, membership of European Monetary Union, Banking Union, Asset Purchase Programme, Eurobonds, the establishment of Eurozone institutions and independent Fiscal Board.

Given that the majority of our classmates are Estonians, the class overwhelmingly voted for further centralization of monetary policies of the EU in order to create income equality through redistributing the capital among the EU countries. On the other hand, the class was split regarding the establishment of an efficient system for economic governance.

It often comes to the point of frustration when European youths talk about European politics from an institutionalized point of view since the functioning of the European Union as a whole is far too complex for ordinary citizens who are not well-informed about what really happens inside the European institutions in Brussels. Yet, the mandatory presentations in the class somehow reflected the opinions of a particular group of Estonian students who attended the class. Thus, this article aims at describing Estonian students’ attitudes towards further economic integration among the EU countries in terms of federalization, sovereignty, and democratic accountability.

Federalization
There was a general consensus that by setting up a EU-wide system on corporate taxation, the fairness of competition among EU countries will be ensured due to harmonization of corporate tax system. Business companies will not invest in EU countries with lower corporate tax because of the standardization. The shortcoming will be, though, that national governments will have less control over business activities since the competence will be given to the EU institutions and less developed economies with the EU won’t be able to catch up with the advanced economies in other EU countries since they will lose the advantage of low corporate tax in order to attract business activities in respective countries. The same logic goes with the establishment of a EU tax system.

Sovereignty
During the pitches, there were several presenters pinpointing the loss of sovereignty if all EU countries will eventually become part of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and Banking Union. It’s a hasty generalization to state that a country’s sovereignty will be lost if it joins the EMU which gives competence to the EU to administrate monetary policies and Banking Union which regulates European Banks. Currently, while Denmark and the UK have the opt-out from joining the EMU, all the EU countries have to join the Eurozone and EMU once they have fulfilled the Maastricht convergence criteria enshrined in the EU Treaties. For the membership of the Banking Union, 19 EU members from the Eurozone countries along with 5 non-Euro area countries are part of the Banking Union, meaning that there are only 3 EU member states which don’t belong to the Banking Union. The argument of “sovereignty” is a mere misconception which isn’t applicable to the current situation of the economic integration among EU countries.

Democratic accountability
It comes to a paradoxical situation which criticisms are surrounding the EU regarding democratic deficit in European economic governance but more than half of the class didn’t agree to set up a separate “Eurozone parliament” which can establish check-and-balance with the Eurogroup leaders who decide public spending cuts in particular EU members whose financial situations are at stake. The paradox is, though, if there is such EU institution within the Eurozone, the European citizens’ concerns will be brought to the Eurozone parliament which affects the unpopular decisions such as austerity measures; on the other hand, it could further confuse the European citizens who don’t understand the organizational structure of the EU, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the decision-making process.

To sum up, it’s never an easy job for us to promote the understanding economic policies of the EU since there are times when populist politicians misinform the public and point fingers at the EU when it comes to economic downturn, so that they can archive personal goals such as getting more seats in the local parliament with more votes from the public. For far too often, we’d forget about the fine balance between simplifying how the EU works exactly and detailing the operations of this European project because of the degree of technocracy which creates a distance between the European citizens and the Eurocrats in Brussels.