The opening of a new scenario: the first European Union rule of law crisis.

By Elena Alban.

The Article 2 of the European Union Treaty states: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”.

Nowadays, democratic values seem to be in danger, even in Europe, where most of the times they have always been taken for granted. At the European Economic and Social Committee Conference on  “Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law – Trends in the EU from a civil society perspective”, held on the 5th of November 2019, in Brussels, the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL) reported the perception (and the reality) of a general crisis within European democratic culture.

The Brexit and the rise of populism have been born in an unsatisfactory political and economic environment, that has not been able to provide answers toward the crisis Europe is still facing today.

Indeed, the European Union presents a strong and consistent lack, what is better known as “democratic deficit”.

The term “democratic deficit” is used to put in evidence the inaccessibility perceived by the EU ordinary citizens toward EU institutions and policies, due to their complexity. It reflects the absence of an effective European policy, able to provide appropriate answers to the new challenges of the recent years, such as the migration and refugee crisis and the recessionist economic crisis. Actually, the concept does not refer to the inability of European institutions on reacting to these phenomena, but it better concerns the fact that at EU level, citizens do not feel themselves involved. In this regard, populist movements and separationist movements are born as the expression of feelings of anger and disappointment in relation to a world that seems extraneous toward own’s ordinary life.

At the EESC Conference, the president of the LIBE Commission, Juan Fernando Lòpez Aguilar, emphasized the fact that “EU was never meant to be just a market, economic, financial project”.

It was destined at a political goal, that reached its first real turning point in 2009 with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In particular, he pointed out the importance to link article 2 of the European Union Treaty with article 7, in order to solve the so-called “Copenhagen dilemma”. Indeed, with reference to article 7 the decision of suspension of some rights, as a consequence of the violation of article 2, is submitted only to the competence of the Council (a political body), as the role of the EU Court of Justice concerns only procedular prescriptions (article 269, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Rule of law, democracy and the respect of fundamental rights are the basis of European Union and it must be imperative for States to respect them, as they are crucial for mutual trust, market and friendly environment.

In this context, the “Copenhagen dilemma” is an extremely high important problem EU institutions have to face, when talking about democracy, as it implies consequences for those Member States that do not respect the Treaty of Lisbon.

Thus, here is the problem: as EU governance cannot still be identified as attributable to the one of a State entity, but it is reflected in the form of “no government”, how can EU effectively act in order to prevent such democratic crisis within Member States?

How can EU manage to put in action more sever policies toward the unrespect of the fundamental values, without finding itself submitted to national self-interested policies?

CIVIL SOCIETY is the answer.

If top down actions cannot work, because of the strong power Member States have within the European context, there is the need to change direction. European Union approach needs to be bottom up. Even if all EU policies are integrated to own’s ordinary life through the State, it does not mean that EU institutions should be totally unlinked to citizenship. The key weapon to face such a global crisis of democracy is to look at where democracy effectively lies: to citizens.

Civil society plays a fundamental role, both for the Member States and for the European Union as it is the scenario in which all policies take place. Even if at the institutional level some EU organizations of civil society are already functioning (like the Conference of NGOs), there is evidence of the need to rethink a stronger cooperation, especially in these years of crisis.

A cooperation that can take life in different forms: through promoting a shared European culture, through the education of citizens on the functioning and the values of EU as an international organization, through the building of new bounds with the activity of the Council of Europe (that plays a vital role in the respect of human rights, by providing every year an annual report on the 47 Member States, and so on the 28 EU Member States too), through a collaboration with NGOs to organize more on-spot visits on countries or through the deepening of monitory mechanisms in Member States (such as the one promoted by the FRRL group on the annual rule of law cycle with a final report synthetizing positive and negative developments and trends that, consequently,  shall be discussed within the Parliament and the Council).

The democratic deficit is not a consequence of populist and separationist crisis, it is the cause and the cause does not lie within member states only, but firstly within EU.

The European Union must take actions: it must involve the direct recipients of its own policies in order to make citizens become aware of what a wonderful project it is aimed to be, if people first decide to stand for it.


Isn’t it time to change our minds?

By Elena Alban.

On the 24th and the 25th October 2019, the 8th University-Business forum was held at Mont Des Art, in Bruxelles. The Forum brought together policymakers, representatives from higher education, business and other stakeholders to discuss and debate the role of university-business cooperation for innovation and sustainable development. The conferences that took place were focused on the actual need of integrating university training with the activity of firms. Entrepreneurship, sustainability and digitalization have been at the centre of the debates.

It was underlined the importance of creating a strong cooperation between students’ learning and their involvement into the labour and market world. This necessity was supported by the fact that it must be part of the priority agenda of politics, economics and education adopting both different technics of teaching and learning at university and a different approach toward education by entrepreneurs and firms.

During the conferences, it was highlighted the fact that a mutual relationship exists between the market world and the educational one. Firms should invest in higher education and universities in order to promote research and development from which they themselves can benefit. Universities should accept the evolution to which knowledge is subjected nowadays, especially due to the digital revolution of the last decades. We are not talking about a kind of knowledge that lasts for some times (as in the past); we are talking about an ongoing changing knowledge, that develops day by day. It is in this context that universities should adopt an approach more focused on making students become more proactive, more challenging and creative toward the external world, in order to offer to the labour market human capital able to keep up the speed of the technological and digital challenges.

A key-point of the conference was, indeed, the concept of lifelong learning, meaning the fact that due to all these types of evolutions (from the educational to the digital to the environmental ones), learning (at all ages) never ends, neither for firms as for universities.

The university-business cooperation was so included in a broader framework based on sustainable development. Borhene Chakroun, secretiariat of UNESCO, reminded the goals of the 2030 Millennium Agenda, among which poverty and inequality, sustainable development, digitalization, gender equality, health, climate change and education are the main top priorities and he emphasized how important is to create a stronger link between innovation, education and entrepreneurship in order to face these challenges.

The Forum was a great space of discussion and confrontation and brilliant and smart ideas from universities, start ups and companies were exposed during the meeting.

Anyway, to put them into action, it is necessary to consider also the type of space in which we are going to act.
All these beautiful projects risk to remain abstract ideas when introduced in the actual neoliberal context that is governing the world today.

We speak of entrepreneurship in a world that does not allow to take risks.

We speak of digitalization skills in a world that runs too fast, in a world that does not allow to the same creators of those skills the time to experience their new inventions, as other innovations are already required. In particular, digitalization is a subtle theme. There is no doubt on the necessity  of supporting technological and digital innovation for what concerns science and the study of the world around us, but we should look also at the other side of the medal: the risk concerns the fact that artificial intelligence could replace not only technical and scientific skills, but also human responsibilities that individuals should have toward the society and toward each other.

We speak of risking and being proactive. As highlighted from the forum panel “Developing an entrepreneurial culture”, firms do not risk, they do not invest on education and on research.

And do you know why?

Because education and research need time, a time that our economic system, aimed at increasing the value of its final production, is not able to conceive.

In this context it is difficult for a student to become proactive: they go out from an academic environment that did not teach them the ability to fail and they enter a labour market that does not allow them to fail.

There is the necessity to change our mind, to adopt a different approach toward education, work, business. We have not to be focused only on the final result of our action, but we need to look also at the way through which we can get the goals, because, as in the words of an Italian writer, “a tree with much foliage and few roots is uprooted at the first gust of wind. In a tree with many roots and few foliage, the sap barely flows. Roots and foliage must grow in equal measure, you have to stay in things and stand on them, so that in this way you can offer shade and shelter, in this way in the right season your tree will cover itself with flowers and fruits.” (Susanna Tamaro, 1994).

Global Compact for Migration: has it failed?

By Diogo T. dos Santos

Last Thursday, April 25, ECEPAA attended the conference “Global Compact for Migration: Controversy and Media” at the Press Club Brussels Europe. The talk was on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration non-legally binding agreement adopted by most UN Member States in December 2018, in Morroco.

However, not every country was in accordance with the objectives of the agreement. Though it had more of a symbolic nature, the five countries that voted against and twelve abstained ones had perhaps something in common.

What is the Global Compact for Migration?

It would have been an inter-governmentally negotiated agreement of non-binding nature to comprehensively and holistically comprehend all fields of international migration. Such an agreement was an opportunity for ameliorating the governance on migration, approaching major issues of the recent circumstances migrates face around the globe.

[…] judgement about ways of securing borders and on the criteria for admitting legal residency or granting citizenship is among the pillars of a country’s sovereignty not subject to international instruments.

The 23 objectives for international migration

The process of mediation between the member states ended up in twenty-three (23) objectives:

  1. Collect and utilise accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies
  2. Minimise the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin
  3. Provide accurate and timely information at all stages of migration
  4. Ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation
  5. Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration
  6. Facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions that ensure decent work
  7. Address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration
  8. Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants
  9. Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants
  10. Prevent, combat and eradicate trafficking in persons in the context of international migration
  11. Manage borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner
  12. Strengthen certainty and predictability in migration procedures for appropriate screening, assessment and referral
  13. Use migration detention only as a measure of last resort and work towards alternatives
  14. Enhance consular protection, assistance and cooperation throughout the migration cycle
  15. Provide access to basic services for migrants
  16. Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion
  17. Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration
  18. Invest in skills development and facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences
  19. Create conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries
  20. Promote faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances and foster financial inclusion of migrants
  21. Cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration
  22. Establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits
  23. Strengthen international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The Ones Against

United States, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, and Israel were the ones against the Global Compact for Migration. Some of them posed their reasons and drew our attention.

The representative of the United States clarified their position by explaining that the goals and objectives of the agreement were “inconsistent and incompatible” with American law and policy, stressing on the idea that judgement about ways of securing borders and the criteria for admitting legal residency or granting citizenship is among the pillars of a country’s sovereignty irrespective of international instruments.

Can these acts be considered nationalist, being taken by populist governments?

Poland, in the same line, affirmed that the Global Compact is not the correct instrument for handling the migration phenomenon, turning out not to serve the best interest of the nation and its people. Polish government, therefore, maintains the sovereign position as for restringing the admission of non-nationals.

To what extent do international decisions affect a country’s sovereignty?

Israel’s prime minister had already instructed their foreign minister that the agreement should not be signed, justifying the act given that they have a committed duty to protect their borders “against illegal infiltrators.”

The Ones Abstained

The ones abstained were Austria, Australia, Algeria, Bulgaria, Chile, Singapore, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Switzerland, Libya, Liechtenstein. Some of them call ECEPAA’s attention given the role they play in Europe in the migration decisions and discussions.

Austria, for instance, affirms that the human right to migrate is not included in their legal order, and that the distinction of a legal or illegal migrant, which was assumed to be “clear” in the country, would be ruined with what the agreement poses.

Italy, more briefly, decided that a postponed discussion had been already scheduled for a parliamentary debate precisely on the Global Compact for Migration. For that reason, therefore, they also abstained from the agreement.

Has it failed, then?

Well, as a matter of fact, it would be nonsensical to assume that such an agreement would have failed with 152 countries voting for it, regardless of its non-binding aspect. It is clear that the international community, as a whole, is inclined to act in accordance with international instruments.

However, some of the countries that were either against or abstained from the Global Compact for Migration have important international and, more specially, European roles. Italy is considered one of the point of access for migrants who come through the Mediterranean Sea. Such an abstentions of theirs might suggest that there is still reluctance to the migration issue. If you add Hungary, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania to the equation, one is able to view that the division on migration policies reform is still present.

Naturally, ECEPAA attempts to cope with the responsibilities of integrating European citizens through its projects, researches and active work between partners from all over Europe.



Nationalism and Populism: how they affect migration talks.

By Diogo T. dos Santos

ECEPAA has recently been at the high-quality conference “Nationalism and Populism: The Future of Europe?” held at the University of Kent in Brussels. The speakers and panelists that composed such a meeting had an outstanding intellectual exchange and considerable levels of both input and output. That was possible for two reasons: diverse fields of activity and diversified perspectives from both the panelists and audience, who generated thought-provoking questions for discussion.

The topics on nationalism and populism have been posed as crucial to the future of the European politics and also as a reason for division between member states, which has consequences in more specific fields (for instance, that of migration policy reform). The panels focused on potential difficulties to be faced by European governments with regards to migration, security and defense, and the role of media.

As a keynote given by Dr. Richard Sakwa, some very interesting remarks were pointed out, and an overview of the current global context that is related to nationalism and populism was given with some very convenient observations. One of them, for example, was the misuse of the so-called “crisis in Europe” as a reference to what is currently occurring in Europe. As a matter of fact, according to Sakwa, such a crisis is indeed taking place in certain parts of Europe, though the “crisis” is actually for the refugees themselves and other specific regions across the globe.

“[…] the ‘crisis’ is actually for the refugees themselves […]”

Regarding the notions of populism, more specifically, Sakwa mentioned it as being sometimes regarded as an instrument of political renewal (referring to recent “updates” of the political agenda and discussion), as though it were seen as “the authentic voice of democracy,” of the people; whereas it has also, paradoxically, been referred to as “anti-pluralist” and not considering people’s voice as important. As a matter of course, this given notion is that of a general view when confronted with what the world is living nowadays with the rise of many populist and nationalist governments (either left- or right-wing).

How does is affect migration discussions?

The first panel of the conference “Securitisation of the Migrant: At the Border & Beyond” brings particular attention to ECEPAA. It had the participation of Gulwali Passarlay, spokesperson for refugees and asylum seekers, Pia Klemp, human-rights activist, Kumut Imesh*, who has been active in supporting and assisting migrants and is currently living in France as a refugee, and Marianna Karakoulaki, humanitarian reporter.

A very heartbreaking but true information mentioned during that discussions is that about half of the refugees and displaced people in the world are children. It was asserted that migration itself is not a security matter; rather, security talks and decisions are based on “fear” and on the fact that migration might “bother” a specific community. Those factors might be the motives which lead an individual hold a position that is in accordance with a populist and, potentially, nationalist parties’ discourse and propaganda.

Are governments creating policies and environments that foster both its citizens and newcomers to integrate and assimilate each other’s customary practices and beliefs?

As far as the discussion went on, it was agreed that populist political propaganda becomes very opportunistic by posing past economic and/or social challenges a country was having before as if their causes were strictly related to refugees, asylum seekers.

Another interesting thing pointed out was that the definition of the word “refugee” is still not well comprehended by the majority. Besides the distorted notion populist candidates give, the media is also the one to blame for communicating a distorted meaning of the term to the public, hence conducting people to imprecise conclusions and incoherent associations. Certain people, then, are not as engaged in the happenings and are easily influenced by populist rhetoric**.

“[…] the media is also the one to blame for communicating a distorted meaning of the term to the public […]”

If there is a struggle or a clash between different cultures, is it not better to approach these issues via intercultural means rather than multicultural ones?

There are questions that should not fade away in face of what history has showed us and of what society is witnessing right now.

Watch our video!

*Kumut Imesh has taken part in a documentary in which he attempts to retrace and retake the same paths he walked through in his journey to Europe. You can watch the documentary for free at:

**During the discussion, the speaker referred to “right-wing” politicians. However, as the author of this article and in the light of my own understanding and opinion, I claim that the same influential effect can be noted under any political or ideological orientation.

All notes were taken from the presentations and exchange of ideas done at the conference.

Key Elements for a Reasonable Reform Of Asylum and Migration Policies.

By Diogo T. dos Santos

About a week ago, ECEPAA attended a conference along with other representatives of other organizations and professionals engaged in the non-profit organizations sector. The discussions consisted of topics from written “Policy Papers*” stemming from internal security matters, asylum and migration policies, to notions on the single market in the European Union.

Though such researchers did not attend the discussion sessions, Andrew Geddes and Martin Ruhs’ paper “Reforming Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe: Attitudes, Realism and Values” was referred to and talked about by other panelists, and it drew particular attention to ECEPAA.

How should EU Member States face the Asylum and Migration Policies issue?

EU Member States find themselves divided by attempting to figure out how to reform and reconstruct European asylum, refugee and migration policies. Although the number of new asylum applications has drastically reduced in the last year—in 2018, about 580,800 first-time asylum seekers were registered, a number considered low comparing with the years of 2015 and 2016 when number struck more than 1,200,000 applications a year—, talks about migration issues are still heated and without a definite solution.

” More Europe and greater solidarity” or “national or trans-national policy responses”?

Part of the Member States holds the position that the solution for such a challenge would be focusing on “more Europe” and “greater solidarity,” which means that a centralized EU asylum system and the sense of solidarity between countries could bring a brighter horizon. Others, however, face EU policy reform as unreachable and are fed up with waiting, hence making them take actions via national or trans-national policy responses.

So… How to approach the problem?

Among diverse policy proposals pouring around at the European Commission, Geddes and Ruhs argue that, in order to facilitate a reform, discussion and agreement should be engaged. Approaching the problem under the light of ideas exchanged in a debate and finally reaching an agreement are more effective because there has to be:

  • a better understanding of public attitudes;
  • a greater realism;
  • a better definition of fundamental values conducting policy reform.

ECEPAA is highlighting the very first fundamental issue, which is understanding attitudes to migration in Europe and its motivations is essential for advancing with policy making. There is need to clarify, for once, that there is no increasing of negative feelings towards EU immigrants in spite of some far-right (as they are usually regarded) political leaders behave as being against immigration. Civil society is certainly not, but some powerful sections of the European population hold power enough to support highly influencing anti-immigration rhetoric. A large portion of Europeans have a more conservative orientation that directs them at favoring tradition, security, and conformity, but that does not mean they are not in accordance or not sympathizing with the distressing situation refugees go through. It only so happens that these citizens correlated chaos and disorder with the migration crisis.

Their standpoint, Geddes and Ruhs’ one, is particularly interesting and considerable given almost all recent new policy proposals had no agreement between EU member states in the course of the last four years. ECEPAA upholds their view on how the asylum and migration policy reform should be approached and undertaken.

Watch our video

Ecepaa YouTube channel here

Do not forget to share with us your thoughts about this issue!👇

*If you want to take a look at the other panelists’ papers, all works are available at: