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How differentiated politicisation affects voting behaviour in the Council of the European Union | Europp – LSE Blog

Featured image credit: European Council

Decision-making in the Council of the European Union has long been characterised by a depoliticised consensus culture. Yet, as Brigitte Pircher explains, this has changed in the wake of multiple crises and increased politicisation of the integration process. Drawing on a new study, she illustrates how different facets of politicisation are uploaded from the member states to the EU level and subsequently affect governments’ voting behaviour in the Council.

The EU has been challenged and transformed by multiple crises throughout the last decade. First, member states have been asymmetrically exposed to economic stress, which has increased economic tensions and disparities among the member states. Second, the crises have enhanced politicisation in the member states, which places pressure on governments to adjust their policy positions at the EU level.

Scholars have previously identified geographical, ideological, and economic factors as pivotal drivers for governments’ position taking and voting in the Council of the European Union. A general assumption in many of these studies is that governments in the Council act largely insulated from domestic party politics and electoral pressure.

However, as these studies focus on the pre-Lisbon period, they do not account for the impact of the multiple crises that have occurred since – the financial, economic, Eurozone and asylum crises – or the increased politicisation of EU policymaking. In a new study co-authored with Mike Farjam, we focus on Council voting during the post-Lisbon era and take these recent political developments into account to explain governments’ voting behaviour.

Facets of politicisation

Politicisation can be conceptualised as a multi-faceted process where an issue (European integration) grows in saliency, while actors’ positions on this issue become increasingly polarised. Previous studies ascertained that Council voting reflects governments’ responsiveness to their domestic electorate. Therefore, we theorise that the growing Euroscepticism in the EU’s member states – which is either directly expressed by public opinion or channelled through political parties – is also key to understanding how governments vote in the Council.

We further argue that the left-right positions of national parties – both in government or opposition – as well as the growing polarisation between parties, such as increased party system fragmentation, shape Council voting. Moreover, we suggest that the effects of politicisation on voting in the Council are more pronounced in policy areas that were especially challenged by the recent crises – that is, in policy areas pertaining to economic and financial affairs, the internal market, and justice and home affairs.

We combine a new dataset comprising all member states’ votes on legislative acts in the Council between 2010 and 2019 with national-level data. To test the hypotheses, we use mixed-effect logistic regression and model government voting behaviour as a function of, among other things, party system fragmentation within the parliament, Euroscepticism separately for national governments and parliamentary oppositions, and a left-right wing positional score (RILE and RILE square), also separately for government and opposition. While RILE and Euroscepticism are based on the Manifesto Project Dataset (CPM), the variable party system fragmentation is based on the Comparative Political Data Set (CPDS).

Oppositional voting in the Council of the EU post-Lisbon

We find that 36% of all legislative acts were contested by at least one member state after Lisbon, which is a stark increase compared to previous studies. Most contestation occurred in relation to the environment and in our ‘others’ category. This was followed by the internal market; transport, telecommunications and energy; agriculture and fisheries; and, justice and home affairs. We observe the lowest level of contestation in economic and financial affairs. The United Kingdom was by far the member state that most often expressed opposition (votes against and abstentions) in all policy areas except for the environment, where oppositional voting primarily stemmed from Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland.

Table 1: Opposition and contestation in the most frequently contested policy areas

In our cluster analysis, shown in Figure 1 below, we found a stable cluster of countries that most frequently opposed together in the Council, including the UK, Ireland, and Denmark. While Germany’s oppositional voting was relatively independent of other countries before 2015, it tended to align with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria from 2015 onwards. Lastly, and most importantly, after the 2015 refugee crisis, a new cluster of oppositional votes developed among the Visegrád Group.

Figure 1: Clusters of oppositional voting in the Council of the European Union

Note: Clusters are coded in colours. Countries’ positions in the figure correspond to their geo-centroids. The size of the circle surrounding a country indicates the frequency with which it opposed in the Council. Clusters were computed through a hierarchical cluster analysis.

The impact of politicisation on Council voting

We find that domestic national party politics, either directly driven by governments or indirectly channelled through opposition parties, substantially affects voting in the Council. While governments generally became more Eurosceptic in the post-Lisbon era, the impact of this on oppositional voting is only apparent in agriculture and fisheries, economic and financial affairs, and the internal market.

In contrast, in the areas of justice and home affairs and the environment, only the Euroscepticism of opposition parties has an impact on the voting behaviour of governments. This suggests that Eurosceptic opposition parties exert pressure on governments, who subsequently adjust their positions in the Council. In the context of the refugee crisis, and due to increased relevance of environmental topics, one may also interpret this as evidence for governments’ strategic voting behaviour to prevent future electoral losses to opposition parties.

Voting in the Council is, further, primarily driven by government and opposition parties with a centrist position on the left-right scale. This is plausibly traced back to the fact that the main opposers of the EU, radical right parties, tend to take a centrist position on economic issues. The position of governments on the left-right dimension only predicts voting in economic and financial affairs and the internal market. In contrast, opposition parties’ left-right positioning predicts voting in agriculture and fisheries; transport, telecommunications and energy; and our ‘others’ category. We, therefore, again find evidence that governments adjust their positions in the Council as a response to their national opposition.

Overall, governments are the main driver for position-taking at the EU level in the areas of economic and financial affairs and the internal market, whereas all other policy areas (except for agriculture and fisheries) are left to the national opposition and indirectly impact governments’ voting. Taken together, we find strong evidence for differentiated politicisation where ideological standpoints of political parties in government and opposition differently affect voting in the various policy areas. This may result in increased differentiated integration. Further research should, therefore, address the question of how EU politicisation transforms domestic political conflicts and how these conflicts are integrated into EU policy-making.

EVENT HIGHLIGHTS | 5G for Businesses: Evolution or Revolution?

In mid-March, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an afternoon session on the questions of 5G as a game changer in transforming business organisations and the rollout of 5G networks in Europe with Mr Pearse O’Donohue, Director, Future Networks, DG CONNECT – European Commission, Ms Susana Solis-Perez MEP (Renew/ES), Ms Hilary Mine, Head of strategy and technology, Nokia Cx and Mr Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Orange.

Mr Roberto Viola, Director-General, DG CONNECT – European Commission made a keynote speech.

Mr Frank Guldentops, 5G Project Manager, Covestro and Mr Mikael Shamim, CEO, Helicus held a short presentation on 5G business cases respectively in the domains of Industry 4.0 and Healthcare.

The debate was moderated by Matthew Newman, Chief Correspondent, MLex.

Director-General Roberto Viola began his introductory speech by providing an overview of the state of play concerning connectivity and 5G within the EU. He explained how, before the pandemic, the world was supposed to be on the verge of a “digital revolution”, with connectivity and artificial intelligence (AI) at the centre of this process. However, the pandemic and the consequent accelerated transition to smart working made clear the existence of obstacles to embracing the “digital revolution”. In this regard, Roberto Viola stated that it has been evident that not only is Europe not yet fully equipped to complete the switch to digital, as a result of underinvestment in the necessary infrastructures and the lack of uptake of digital tools, but that there is also still some way to go in order for digital tools to be fine-tuned to serve the best interests of EU business and citizens. Director-General Viola further explained that, in order to overcome these challenges, the EU has made an unprecedented effort that resulted in the creation of the Recovery Plan for Europe, which aims to boost significantly the digitalisation process. For this reason, the speaker remarked, 20% of the EU-wide recovery package is allocated to digital investments, which should foster an inclusive digitalisation process throughout the old continent. Roberto Viola then introduced Europe’s Digital Decade, the EU strategy adopted by the European Commission to embrace digitalisation, which is based on four pillars. The first pillar focuses on advanced digital education and the fostering of an advanced level of skills among the EU population. In fact, the digitalisation of both the economy and society will require around 20 million digital experts by 2030, against the 7 million currently present, the speaker added. He highlighted that this process must be facilitated by educating at least 80% of the population to enable an advanced use of digital tools and to achieve gender parity in terms of employment within the digital sector as soon as possible. The second pillar of the EU strategy, the speaker continued, consists of enabling all businesses to become fully digital. He stated that only some undertakings have been making effective use of AI and big data, while the vast majority of actors, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), are still far from exploiting the opportunities offered by digital innovations. As the speaker pointed out, providing SMEs with the tools to embrace digitalisation will be crucial and will also require a vast amount of investments in physical capital. The third pillar of the Europe’s Digital Decade strategy focuses on public administrations, including healthcare systems. For instance, one of the goals of the strategy is dedicated to public administrations and their capacity to facilitate the interaction between citizens and public services by fostering the means to create secure, privacy-proof and interoperable digital records. As the fourth pillar, Roberto Viola drew special attention to the fact that the European Commission is aiming to provide high-speed connectivity and 5G coverage for all European citizens by 2030. He explained that the implementation of such an approach will not be linear, as the development of 5G infrastructure requires a large degree of investment and long-term commitments from all stakeholders involved. Furthermore, the speaker hinted at the fact that developing 5G in Europe will also require substantial efforts that will have meaningful societal consequences, especially for those EU countries in which connectivity is lagging behind. He explained that the Commission is planning to hold a public consultation, as the EU executive body would like to ensure that the strategy for a swift 5G rollout is the result of a comprehensive and inclusive process. Roberto Viola proceeded to state that the business model of the telecommunication sector will surely be impacted. On the same note, he stated that telecommunication companies must take the opportunity to create a comprehensive offer of services to adapt to the new situation. He noted further that the integration of edge computing and cloud services will be a crucial strategic opportunity for the European telecom sector. In addition, he stressed the importance of ensuring network security, notably addressed by the creation of the Toolbox for 5G Security, a coordinated approach between the Commission and EU Member States aimed at further mitigating cybersecurity risk. In conclusion, Roberto Viola mentioned the efforts of the Commission to secure the upcoming 6G networks. In particular, the proposal for a revised Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems, the NIS 2 Directive, has been updated with the aim of both addressing the weaknesses of the NIS Directive and making it increasingly future-proof.

After the introductory speech, two business cases were presented by Mr Frank Guldentops, 5G Project Manager at Covestro and Mr Mikael Shamim, CEO at Helicum respectively.

As a first business case, Frank Guldentops presented Covestro, one of the leading European polymer producers which is aiming to drive sustainable growth, while expanding digital innovation. He described the transformation that the company is undertaking in order to accelerate digitalisation and creating a more efficient and sustainable environment. Furthermore, the speaker explained that Covestro is participating in a 5G-based pilot project with Orange which grants access to all information regarding a specific production asset by scanning a QR Code. While stating that 5G will bring about valuable transformations in this industrial sector as a whole, Frank Guldentops provided a business case stemming from the chemical industry by explaining how 5G would create a safer and more efficient work environment by providing remote field control to workers thanks to faster communications and high-speed connectivity. In addition, he stated that new technologies, such as augmented glasses for operators, are being developed and they will be used through voice-controlled hand-free wearable equipment. He specified that this process would allow much safer conditions for workers and more precise and efficient operations. Nonetheless, he added that despite the valuable increment in efficiency and scale of operations, 5G will require dedicated devices and specialised operators. Given this context, he concluded, fostering investments in the sector, developing digital skills and creating specialised workers should be a priority in every EU strategy aiming at fostering digital innovation in Europe.

The second business case was presented by Mikael Shamim, CEO of Helicus, a company which is developing a platform for the delivery of medical supplies via drones. The speaker began by explaining the importance of this kind of operations. Indeed, the increment and the population ageing in several advanced countries are changing the needs in terms of healthcare efficiency as Europe’s demography is putting a heavy toll on the healthcare sector, whose costs have been rising dramatically over the last decades, he continued. In order to reduce costs and increase productivity, the speaker explained that there has been a multiplication and centralisation of healthcare facilities, such as laboratories and blood banks, grouping them away from hospitals. However, while this process resulted in a more efficient use of space, there are often severe inconveniences when hospitals require urgent medical supplies or test results and delays in the delivery though traditional means of transport occur. Despite the criticalities of the supply chain being already known, the pandemic has exposed these phenomena further. Given this context, the mission of Helicus has been calibrated in order to overcome these obstacles by exploiting less traditional forms of transport, such as drones, to avoid traffic congestions, improve operational efficiency in the supply chain and reduce the carbon footprint. The speaker went on to explain in more detail how the operations will work. In the scenario portrayed by Mikael Shamim, the command and control centre (C2C) acts as intermediary between the hospitals and the other concerned premises. The role of the C2C is to mediate the communications between medical and the logistic operators, while dispatching drones for the delivery and guiding them over populated areas. In this regard, the speaker highlighted the significant improvements that 5G technology would provide to these operations. In fact, C2Cs will require high-speed connectivity to maintain robust communications among the operators and improve the reactivity of the commands. More specifically, 5G will provide low latency and more efficient mission control, while a larger bandwidth will allow constant video monitoring and visual flight backup. Finally, Mikael Shamim remarked the importance of securing the connections in order to prevent operations being object of malicious attacks.

Matthew Newman proceeded to introduce the rest of the panel and began the discussion by asking the speakers to provide their views on the importance of a swift rollout of 5G in Europe. He also questioned them on the potential benefits of this new technology for the European economy, competitiveness and society on the whole.

Pearse O’Donohue began by emphasising three elements that should occur for a rapid development of 5G. In the first place, he highlighted the need to transform the business model and the economy around the centrality of investments and investments’ incentives. In fact, while acknowledging the importance of fostering investments in the digital sector in order to speed up the digitalisation process, he stressed the necessity for businesses and industry to be prepared to fully embrace the opportunities offered by this new wave of innovation. He also observed that 5G applications will go beyond the very technological sector, offering valuable advantages for industry as a whole by developing new working methods and increasing productivity. Secondly, 5G-based technologies should reduce the overall European carbon footprint. This process will occur both indirectly and directly, such as in the agricultural and logistics sector, by incrementing efficiency and precision of operations with a reduced use of resources. Lastly, 5G will find several applications that should improve social life in its entirety. As previously mentioned in one of the business cases, healthcare and telemedicine can set an example since innovative technologies can potentially open new frontiers in the medical assistance to citizens, while responding to the needs of an ageing population. In addition, Pearse O’Donohue highlighted the advantages coming from the development of connectivity, which would allow the creation of smart and interconnected cities able to offer a variety of integrated services to citizens and thereby improving their quality of life. The speaker further stressed the importance of enabling all citizens to be connected in order to allow everyone to embrace the digital revolution. Indeed, he concluded, providing high-speed connectivity to the whole European population is one of the ambitious goals that the Europe’s Digital Decade plan is aiming to achieve by 2030.

Susana Solis-Perez MEP answered the question by highlighting the watershed moment Europe is currently experiencing, with special regard to both the debate on the EU strategic autonomy and the dependency on non-EU actors for technology development. In fact, she continued, achieving the question of the European strategic autonomy has been at the centre of an intense political debate within the European Parliament. The MEP subsequently explained how the current state of play constitutes an impediment to the development of 5G technologies in Europe, as well as a barrier to the competitiveness of the EU technological sector on a global scale. As a result, through several policy initiatives such as the EU toolbox for 5G, the EU is trying to maintain a diverse and sustainable supply chain in order to avoid long-term dependency on foreign markets, she explained. Indeed, securing a certain degree of control over innovative technologies will be fundamental for the development of 5G which, she remarked, will be the precondition for initiatives such as the fostering of smart cities and the advancement of the healthcare system. In this regard, she highlighted the importance of the Recovery Plan for Europe to foster the consistent amount of investments needed in order to close the gap between the EU and other countries, such as the US and China. Nonetheless, the MEP also highlighted the necessity for a just transformation of the economy and society, for which the Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027 will be crucial to provide connectivity to isolated and rural areas. The MEP continued her speech by stating that, despite the importance of investing in new technologies and cybersecurity, the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the Next Generation EU instrument will have to address societal questions, as well. In fact, given the deep impact that these technologies will have on the economy and society, the EU will have to make sure that no citizen is left behind, thus operating a massive development of digital skills among the population. In conclusion, the MEP called for clear results about 5G safety for human health in order to dissipate concerns among the population and avoid potential future impediments to its rollout.

Hilary Mine started her speech by quoting the white paper recently published by Nokia, The Big Inversion, which addresses the evolution of the digitalisation trend as a consequence of the Covid pandemic. The study explores how digital industries such as online retail, media and banking have already realised much of their digitalisation potential, but other industrial sectors, such as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, logistics, mining and energy utilities have been lagging behind significantly. The study shows that, to date, the ratio of information and communications technology (ICT) investment between digital and physical industries is 7/3, even though the proportion of their respective GDP contributions is 3/7. More specifically, the study predicts a “big inversion” in ICT investment in physical and digital industries is approaching, driven by this emerging set of 5G+ technologies. This inversion will restore the parity in ICT investment between the amount these industries invest in ICT and their respective contributions to overall global GDP and workforce employment. Hilary Mine subsequently expressed her opinion on three actions that should be considered during the digitalisation process. First, while expressing appreciation for the objective of allocating 20% of the Recovery and Resilience Facility Instrument (RRF) as investments for digitalisation and research, the speaker called for measures that will ensure that the investments are actually used in a productive and sustainable way. In addition, she reiterated the importance of placing SMEs, which notably represent 60% of the European economy, at the centre of the digital transformation. As a further point, the speaker exhorted EU Member States to find more regulatory incentives to foster private investments in the sector by reducing barriers to network deployment and by avoiding overregulation. Lastly, Hilary Mine called for a consolidation of telecommunications operators. In fact, she concluded, the deep fragmentation of the sector within Europe needs to be addressed in order to make the EU more competitive in this field.

Michaël Trabbia began by pointing out the duality of the benefits coming from the fast development of 5G in the EU. On the one hand, 5G will enable massive improvements across multiple businesses and industries, contributing to scaling up European competitiveness. On the other hand, 5G will contribute to the creation of millions of jobs and it will prove critical for business-to-consumer (B2C) communications, while providing high-quality networks to consumers. Furthermore, Michaël Trabbia explained that emerging 5G networks and the “internet of things” (IoT) allow the deployment of technology in ways that protect the environment and promote long-term sustainability. As has emerged from the business cases presented, 5G can unlock multiple possibilities for public administrations and increment efficiency in several industrial sectors. Moreover, 5G technologies could reduce the energy consumed in the telecommunication sector, allowing this domain to take further steps towards the zero-carbon emissions goal.

Moving towards the second part of the discussion, Matthew Newman questioned the speakers on the harmonisation of the spectrum of 5G for industries. In addition, the moderator asked the speakers to provide their opinion about the importance of network sharing to avoid fragmentation.

Pearse O’Donohue started his reply by focusing on the harmonisation of the spectrum bandwidth for European industries. To clarify the current state of play, he took the example of Germany where regulators reserved a specific band of the spectrum for local industries, commonly referred to as campus networks, in a context where wireless connectivity is increasingly becoming a necessity for business-critical services in industrial processes, such as those related to assembly lines. Indeed, several industries, commonly referred to as “verticals”, would prefer to obtain access to the same harmonised spectrum that mobile operators use in order to benefit from the mobile equipment ecosystem and lower rollout costs. Pearse O’Donohue explained that this initiative could be understood to present a number of advantages for large industry, as companies with several production sites can use the same spectrum for their operations. Considering the fact that the spectrum is a scarce resource, however, this choice may present inefficiency in terms of reuse, and also poses significant risks to wider mobile services, most notably slower 5G networks and reduced coverage. Furthermore, he clarified, the European Commission is reluctant to over harmonise the spectrum and force the Member States to adopt specific measures, as it will impose a rigid plan for operators and potentially delay 5G deployment. Due to the heavy economic effects that the pandemic has had over the past few months, the speaker explained the precarious situation that the EU is currently facing, as several Member States would be tempted to operate choices in the sector that maximise revenues. In this regard, he highlighted that the deployment of 5G must be operated with a long-term vision of recovery instead of favouring immediate and temporary gains. Pearse O’Donohue concluded by pointing out that licensing the spectrum and facilitating the rapid rollout of 5G will be more viable options to boost the economy, to effectively achieve recovery goals and to make the economy more resilient to future shocks.

Michaël Trabbia emphasised the competition aspects of the question of 5G by bringing attention to network-sharing operations. He explained that the deployment of 5G is widely known to be extremely expensive and difficult to operate in the absence of vast amounts of capital and investments. Consequently, network-sharing agreements have become increasingly widespread in mobile telecommunications markets. He further stated that this option greatly facilitates deployment and may result in better and larger coverage and both added capital and operating cost savings may be significant, making it an appealing choice for smaller operators. However, the speaker also said that network sharing could potentially carry consumer harm and lead to anticompetitive behaviours. Michaël Trabbia went further into detail by saying that network sharing could be a fundamental component for the effective deployment of 5G in the EU and he called for more legal certainty concerning these operations, as they require long-term engagement between parties with potentially divergent strategies and interests, as well as a valuable amount of investments. As a result, he concluded, without legal clarity on these matters, operators may not be incentivised to use this tool if it can lead to long and unforeseen antitrust cases with the EU.

Hilary Mine agreed on the fact that network sharing, despite not being the only option for operators, should be promoted and be given more legal certainty in order to foster more private investments. To support her statement, the speaker explained that this procedure is especially relevant in Europe where network sharing could be the only viable option for small countries, such as in the Baltics and in the Benelux. In fact, several EU Member States lack the economic possibilities to support multiple mobile operators. As a result, a joint action from multiple actors might be necessary. However, she also pointed out that, in the absence of clear rules concerning network sharing, the private sector is not incentivised to rapidly mobilise investments and that this process could delay the rollout of 5G, especially in smaller countries, and broaden the gap between Member States.

The moderator moved the focus of the discussion by asking the speakers about their views on safety and environmental concerns that have emerged regarding 5G technologies.

Susana Solis-Perez MEP stressed the importance of dealing with these kinds of concerns which have been rising among EU citizens. The debate as to how to prevent online disinformation, she stated, has been a centre of discussions inside the Parliament and the relevance of the subject pushed the European Commission to take action. This process has been evident in the plan for shaping the Europe’s digital future, which includes an action plan to tackle online disinformation to ensure the protection of European values and democratic systems. However, the MEP also called for more independent scientific assessments to ensure the safety of new technologies. Indeed, the EU should also act to make citizens aware of the functioning of innovative technologies, both to dissipate their fears and to provide the adequate digital skills, which will be increasingly fundamental in a digitalised economy and society.

Mikael Shamim expressed his opinion by highlighting the relevance of public opinion for sectors such as healthcare. In particular, he explained that addressing public concerns is crucial, given the importance of healthcare for citizens and the sensible data treated in these operations. On the same matter, and given the very nature of this domain, the speaker explained that ensuring an adequate level of cybersecurity for 5G must be the priority not only to prevent malicious actions, but also to increase public trust towards innovative digitalised options. Mikael Shamim went on to point out that 5G energy efficiency will cut costs, improve decision-making with data insights and provide the ability to connect almost every device across vast distances, offering control over hard-to-reach facilities to prevent life-threatening events. In addition, he stated that telemedicine requires a network that can support real-time, high-quality video, which often implies the use of wired networks. With 5G deployment, healthcare systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine appointments. Indeed, he specified, when healthcare systems utilise this technology, patients can often be treated sooner and have access to specialists otherwise not available. In his conclusion, the speaker remarked upon the necessity of clear standards and harmonisation between applications to facilitate operations for companies that are active in several Member States.

Frank Guldentops reiterated the importance of ensuring the highest levels of security to ensure the safety of all data transfers, communications and networks stability. He explained how 5G can fulfil energy goals both by improving energy distribution within a smart grid and by adding remote monitoring of decentralised renewable energy sources. In addition, smart sensors and 5G power generation can achieve more network stability, allowing for more reliable electricity production and consumption. In addition, the speaker also pointed out the potential benefits for the industrial sector, since 5G is expected to interconnect a massive number of embedded points, thanks to the ability to scale down data rates and transmit data much faster through new protocols with lower power consumption. This process will allow users to control, support and monitor equipment with a high degree of precision and improve considerably the efficiency of operations in specific fields, such as the chemical industry.

Pearse O’Donohue continued the discussion by describing the problems that the European Commission is facing with the European public opinion and the acceptance of 5G. He added that the EU is currently lagging behind other countries in providing 5G coverage, reaching 24% of the population by the end of the last September, against the 76% in the US and 93% in South Korea. Indeed, the speaker explained, there have been cases of strong opposition to the expansion of 5G networks in Europe. This fact led to a substantial delay in the 5G rollout also due to the fact that public authorities in the Member States are often reluctant to license the spectrum in order to avoid political repercussions. The speaker went into detail about health concerns regarding 5G technologies by explaining that several independent studies have proven the safety of 5G. More specifically, he mentioned a study carried out by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which demonstrated that 5G actually ensures reduced electromagnetic fields (EMFs) exposure, making it safer for human health. In addition, he stated that fully implementing 5G will allow the removal of outdated repeaters for 2G and 3G, which are considerably more energy consuming. The speaker continued by referring to the improvements that 5G will bring for cybersecurity, as it will allow a higher level of coding and masking of signals, features which are critical for the security of the data transmitted across the network. Pearse O’Donohue subsequently highlighted the importance of the Multiannual Financial Framework and the Digital Europe Programme, both indispensable to providing the conditions to attract investments. This goal, he added, would otherwise be difficult to achieve, given the very difficult market conditions for the industry. However, he also specified that these strategies are not only aimed to incentivise mobile operators, but also the financial players they rely on. Pearse O’Donohue subsequently mentioned the importance of having European networks linked to edge computing, as it will be essential in the future of telecommunications. Pearse O’Donohue concluded his remarks by stating that, despite the delays in the deployment of 5G compared to other countries, the EU currently has the lead in terms of industrial applications. For this reason, these technologies should be viewed as a means to ensure the economic recovery and strengthen the European resilience in all sectors.

Michaël Trabbia pointed out the necessity of having clear and transparent discussions concerning 5G safety in order to dissipate fears among citizens and to avoid potential political barriers during the deployment. Indeed, the EU has witnessed sometimes extreme actions taken by citizens against 5G structures in countries such as France or Belgium, which further delayed the implementation of high-speed connectivity. However, the speaker added that, thanks to transparent dialogues and the publication of additional assessments, citizens are starting to understand the immense benefits that these technologies can bring, a fact which has led to a smoother deployment process. In addition, Michaël Trabbia referred to the potentialities of Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) in supporting the evolution of 5G networks. Originally implemented through a closed architecture, the RAN traditionally locked operators into the same vendor for both their radio and their baseband units. In contrast, O-RAN benefits operators through its emphasis on intelligence and on open interfaces and standards, a fact which encourages multivendor deployments and facilitates customisation to suit individual operators’ needs. He added that the O-RAN Alliance considers it as the final piece of the unbundling puzzle that enables mobile network operators to use equipment from multiple vendors and still ensure interoperability. The speaker then exhorted all actors to grasp this opportunity in order to create a strong European ecosystem and to avoid dependency on foreign technologies. He brought the debate to a conclusion by saying that this will be a crucial step towards the European strategic autonomy as a fundamental matter to ensure the block’s digital future.

The remaining part of the debate and the Q&A session covered the following issues: whether to prioritise the development of 5G or providing basic infrastructure; generating the energy required for edge technology in a sustainable way; the role of foreign companies essential for a quicker deployment of 5G technology in the EU; accelerating the 5G rollout in Europe while preserving the EU’s competitiveness and sovereignty; the creation of the optimal regulatory framework to provide the broadest possible access for businesses to data; the necessity of linking new privacy challenges to 5G in the new ePrivacy Regulation.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

Recovery plan for Europe, European Commission

Europe’s Digital Decade, European Commission

5G for Europe’s Digital and Green Recovery
Recovery and Resilience Facility, European Commission

The EU toolbox for 5G security, European Commission

Proposal for directive on measures for high common level of cybersecurity across the Union, European Commission

The Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS Directive), European Commission

Tackling online disinformation, European Commission

New Cohesion Policy, European Commission

2021-2027 long-term EU budget, European Commission

Next Generation EU: A European instrument to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, European Parliament Think Tank

Latest analysis of 5G roll-out in Europe reveals slow progress – European Round Table for Industry

Business readiness for 5G, Nokia

The Big Inversion, Nokia

Fostering digital transformation with customer benefit, Covestro

Medical Transport by Drone, Helicus

Sustainability is measurable: our sustainability goals, Covestro

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)

O-RAN Use Cases and Deployment Scenarios White Paper, O-RAN Alliance

Orange positions on European politics, Orange Brussels

SAVE THE DATE | Pesticides Residues: How to ensure EU agri-food competitiveness? (June 2)

We are delighted to invite you to an event which will be held on Wednesday, 2nd of June 2021 at 17.00.

The event will consist of an evening discussion on pesticide residues and how to ensure EU agri-food competitiveness.

Although speakers and event details will be announced in the coming days, we are publishing this event now to make sure you save the date.

This event is public, hence it will not be held under the Chatham House Rule

Given the current developments regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, this event will be held in streaming

This event is kindly sponsored by

About the debate

The production of crops in the EU coupled with the free flow of agricultural commodities, produced in other regions of the world and then imported into the EU, provides European consumers with a stable supply of affordable, safe and nutritious food. A wide variety of staple commodities, as well as fruits and vegetables that we enjoy all year round, are only placed on the EU market by respecting the EU’s very strict standards. No matter where the products come from, they have to respect the same high EU standards.

The international trade of agricultural products relies on the joint efforts of many countries to set, and adhere to, internationally agreed standards. These are key to allowing the free flow of agricultural goods around the world. One such standard is a Maximum Residue Level (MRLs) for pesticides. These are set to ensure that all traded agricultural goods adhere to good agricultural practices and comply with the latest scientific evaluations. MRLs are always set to guarantee consumer safety.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducts annual evaluations of both food grown in the EU, and of food imported from outside the EU. Year on year these evaluations have demonstrated that good agricultural practices are being respected by farmers and that nearly all food products on the EU market comply with EU MRLs. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having free flowing, transparent and resilient food supply chains in the EU.

Farmers around the world have different needs when it comes to protecting their crops from pests and diseases. These farmers should not be unduly penalised when legally treating their crops and subsequently realizing that they will not be able to export to the EU. Trade-enabling policies help foster the development of agriculture in developing countries, a key sector to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals of poverty eradication, zero hunger and economic growth.

MRLs not only provide fair market access for suppliers from non-EU countries, but also ensure the competitiveness of the entire EU agri-food value chain, including traders, processors, food and feed industry, as well as livestock producers. The EU relies on imports of key commodities that end up being further processed in the EU, resulting in added value food products such as chocolate or coffee, or directly enjoyed by EU consumers such as tropical fruits, nuts and spices.

The event will commence at 17.00 and it will be held in streaming

The session intends to cover the views from EU authorities, third countries and the EU agri-food chain on EU MRL policy, with a discussion on how to go towards a win-win scenario for EU agri-food competitiveness, third countries market access and EU consumer choice.

The audience will be able to ask questions during both the discussion and the Q&A session through #MRLs




We look forward to hosting you at 17.00 on the 2nd of June 2021

Setting Europe’s economic recovery in motion: a first look at national plans | Bruegel

Plans for spending European Union recovery funds submitted by the four largest EU countries reflect rather different priorities. So far, only Italy is interested in borrowing from the EU.

European Union countries are starting to set out how they plan to spend money from Next Generation EU (NGEU), the EU’s landmark instrument for recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In late April, countries began submitting their recovery and resilience plans. A first quick analysis shows that the plans of the four largest EU countries, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, reflect rather different priorities, even if all meet the minimum expenditure benchmarks of 37% for climate and 20% for digitalisation.

Let’s briefly clarify what plans have been submitted. The total funding envelope for NGEU amounts to €750 billion at 2018 prices or €795 billion at current prices. NGEU includes seven instruments, of which the largest is the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This is composed of grants amounting to €312.5 billion at 2018 prices or €337 billion at current prices, and loans amounting to €360 billion at 2018 prices or €390 billion at current prices. Most recovery plans relate to RRF only, but in Italy’s plan, ReactEU (another component of NGEU) is also included. Italy also includes some extra spending from national resources in its plan. Here, we focus on spending financed by NGEU. It should be noted we do not examine whether spending plans constitute new spending, or also cover spending that was planned before the pandemic.

Of the four countries, only Italy’s plan envisages borrowing under the RRF and thus the Italian plan amounts to a much larger value (€205 billion = €69 billion RRF grants + €14 billion ReactEU grants + €123 billion RRF loans) than, for example, the Spanish plan, which amounts to €69 billion in RRF grants only. Nevertheless, the Spanish plan indicates the country might apply for RRF loans in the future.

The plans have rather diverse structures, which makes their comparison difficult. In particular, the four largest EU countries categorise differently the various spending priorities. On the green and digital components of sub-headings, France and Germany present precise numbers, Spain reports qualitative information, while Italy has a separate digitalisation and two green categories, but does not report whether other categories, such as education and health, have digital or green components. Nevertheless, all countries report the overall shares of green and digital spending. It would have been advisable to use a common template for classifying and reporting various spending categories and their green and digital components.

Thus, we can reasonably compare the overall shares of planned green and digital spending, while grouping all non-green and non-digital spending into a single group (Figure 1).

Germany plans to spend more than half of the EU money it will receive on digitalisation, while the other three countries will spend a quarter or less. In terms of euro values to be spent on digital priorities, Italy plans to spend the most at €42 billion, followed by Spain (€16 billion), Germany (€15 billion) and France (€10 billion).

France plans to spend half of its share of the EU money on green priorities, while the other three countries will spend around 40%. In terms of euro values to be spent on green priorities, Italy plans to spend the most at €86 billion, followed by Spain (€31 billion), France (€21 billion) and Germany (€11 billion).

Figure 1: Overall resource allocation in national plans

The sub-components of the plans also vary. The German plan includes little funding for non-climate and non-digital related policy areas, possibly because Germany is expected to receive the lowest amount in euros. The plans of the other three countries are much more diversified, and include policy priorities such as social inclusion, education, research, health, and even culture and sports in the case of Spain.

Table 1a: Components of the French plan

Table 1b: Components of the German plan

Table 1c: Components of the Italian plan

Table 1d: Components of the Spanish plan

Significant differences between plans can also be seen in their main spending item: climate. The plans set out similar priorities in this area, featuring, in order of importance, green infrastructure and mobility, green energy and buildings energy efficiency. But specific action plans differ significantly (Figure 2).

For instance, possibly because it receives the lowest amount in euros, Germany’s green infrastructure and mobility investments are entirely focused on the development of electric mobility, with incentives to foster the deployment of electric cars, buses and rail vehicles, and a push to develop electric car charging infrastructure. In Spain, starting from a larger euro amount, the plan foresees investments in the development of electric mobility, but also in public transport. Meanwhile, in both France and Italy, half of the investment focuses on the development of the railway system. In France, the focus is rail network modernisation and further development of rail freight and local lines. In Italy the development of high-speed trains is prioritised.

Green energy investments are also structured differently. Probably as a result of the same funding limitation, Germany focuses strongly on the development of a hydrogen economy, through a variety of instruments ranging from research funding to carbon contracts for differences to scale-up deployment. France also plans investment in decarbonised hydrogen, alongside aeronautics support projects and support for the development of key markets for green technology. Italy and Spain – also thanks to the larger resources available to them – plan sizeable investments in renewable energy and smart grids, in addition to support for hydrogen projects.

While investments in buildings energy efficiency follow a similar approach, concentrated on the renovation of both private and public buildings, Italy plans significant investment in climate change adaptation, while France gives greater attention to territorial cohesion in the context of adaptation.

Figure 2: The green components of national plans

We will build on this quick comparison of the plans of four EU countries with a Bruegel dataset covering all the plans. Stay tuned!

We thank Marta Dominguez and Mia Hoffmann for their help with the Spanish and German data.

Recommended citation:

Darvas, Z. and S. Tagliapietra (2021) ‘Setting Europe’s economic recovery in motion: a first look at national plans’, Bruegel Blog, 29 April

Policy Insight | Steering and Monitoring the Recovery and Resilience Plans | CEPS

This paper provides an extensive account of the procedures and rules of the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

It analyses the European Commission’s guidance and offers insights into how the process is being steered and how the implementation of the NRRPs will be monitored. The aim is to highlight not only the opportunities, but also the pitfalls of the RRF governance system. We find a number of difficulties on which member states and the European Commission should focus. A major risk is getting lost in administrative procedures and taxonomy exercises, and neglecting the fundamental pillar for a successful recovery, namely structural reforms that have a direct and lasting impact on the stability and resilience of the European economies and that are in line with EU priorities.

Find the full publication here

Policy Insight | Study on the Non-Financial Reporting Directive | CEPS

This report provides data analysis as part of the ongoing monitoring of implementation of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). The study analysed data on more than 17 million companies, gathered survey responses from more than 200 companies and conducted interviews with over 60 stakeholders.

Among the main findings is that there are about 2 000 companies (excluding exempted subsidiaries) in the EU27 that come within the scope of the NFRD. In practice, approximately 10 000 additional companies (excluding exempted subsidiaries) are obliged to prepare nonfinancial statements based on a broader transposition of the Accounting Directive and NFRD into national legislation. A further estimated 9 000 other public interest entities (PIEs) and large non-PIEs report without a legal requirement. The recurring administrative costs for providing non-financial statements under the NFRD are on average EUR 82 000 per year, of which about 40% can be fully attributed to the legal requirements. These costs depend, among other factors, on company size and sector, level of assurance, comprehensiveness and type of reporting. In addition, about two-thirds of the companies surveyed incur assurance costs, which amount to EUR 76 000 per year on average.

This is the final report of the “Study on the Non-Financial Reporting Directive” for the Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union (DG FISMA).

Find the full report here


CEPS authors: Willem Pieter de Groen, Cinzia Alcidi, Felice Simonelli, Alexandra Campmas, Mattia di Salvo, Roberto Musmeci, Inna Oliinyk and Silvia Tadi.

Can the German Greens benefit from a Merkel-less CDU? | Europp – LSE Blog

Featured image credit: Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Nordrhein-Westfalen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The German Greens have selected Annalena Baerbock as their candidate for German chancellor ahead of the country’s federal elections in September. Marco Bitschnau writes that with the ruling CDU plagued by scandals and internal divisions, there is now a viable chance that Baerbock could lead the next government.

On 14 March, the German Greens (shorthand for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) celebrated what was arguably their greatest ever success. In the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, best known for picturesque Black Forest villages, powerful car manufacturers, and a notoriously Pietist-conservative population, they not only became the strongest party again with a record result of 32.6%, but also surpassed Angela Merkel’s CDU (their junior coalition partner since 2016) by a margin of 8.5 percentage points. It was nothing less than a show of strength – and another humiliation for the CDU in its traditional southwestern stronghold. The party that has led all state governments between 1953 and 2011 was once again forced to concede defeat to an opponent they had long refused to take seriously enough.

Ups and downs

There are many reasons why the Greens prevailed in the South. One is their incumbent Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, a popular 72-year-old former teacher who was swept to power by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster ten years ago. A member of the Maoist Communist League of West Germany in his youth, Kretschmann, with his distinctively Swabian accent and grandfatherly appearance, has turned into the poster boy of a new Green pragmatism that is unafraid of reaching across the ideological aisle.

It is this pragmatism that has grown increasingly attractive to a centrist electorate otherwise favouring the CDU or the liberal FDP, and that has led the Greens into coalitions with both. In recent years, they have agreed to such alliances in the federal states of Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein, leaving no doubt that they want to emancipate themselves from the rigid bloc logic (CDU-FDP vs SPD-Greens) that has defined German party politics for most of the post-war era.

This emancipation was in large part enabled by the SPD’s Babylonian captivity in an unpopular grand coalition and the fallout from the climate crisis. Particularly the impact of the latter cannot be overstated: whereas the Greens were polling around 11% in June 2018, they rose to an all-time high of 27% during the climate protests the summer thereafter.

They are peaking too early, many political observers feared, and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in February 2020 seemed to prove them right. Once the virus had tightened its grip on Europe, it soon became evident that this was a crisis benefitting the governing parties – just like other crises that the public experiences as immediate, instantaneous, and unanticipated, it engendered a rally around the flag effect of considerable proportions. Likewise, it became evident that global warming, as important as it may be in principle, cannot compete for attention during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. For the Greens, this meant falling poll numbers at a time when they were hoping to establish a new pecking order within the German centre-left.

Coalition games

They eventually recovered a little and now once again poll ahead of the SPD by a few percentage points (e.g., 7% at Kantar, 5% at GMS and 3.5% at Allensbach in recent polls). Yet the situation remains rather volatile, and party strategists are planning for different scenarios come September. The single most likely scenario is a narrow CDU/CSU victory in conjunction with a strong Green performance, followed by a Black-Green coalition that would focus on enacting bolder climate policies and continue the Merkelian project of gradual modernisation. This is the outcome expected by most but not preferred by all.

Especially the leftist wing of the Greens, mostly located in the Northern and Eastern states, is still beating the drum for a so called ‘Red-Red-Green’ or ‘Green-Red-Red’ coalition with the SPD and the socialist Left (Die Linke). And a ‘traffic light coalition’, where the Left would be swapped for the FDP, is also considered an increasingly realistic alternative. Both of these options have their advantages in theory (as they would leave the Greens leading the government) but would possibly rely on razor-thin majorities and entail a range of secondary complications. The Left’s reliability and willingness to compromise has been repeatedly doubted, and the FDP could feel outnumbered and pushed aside by two larger centre-left coalition partners.

Other post-election scenarios are scarce, the most obvious being the continuation of the grand coalition. In theory, both parties would have good reasons to at least consider this possibility: by maintaining the status quo, the CDU could calm troubled waters and the SPD avoid the loss of cabinet representation (and thus relevance). However, at this point, such arguments seem in vain – the end of the grand coalition is widely regarded as a fait accompli, and it would require a lot to change this view.

Neither the respective party bases nor the public would be likely to accept a more of the same message after substantial election losses. But since all other options are either modifications of the grand coalition (e.g., CDU-SPD-FDP) or have been ruled out emphatically (e.g., CDU-FDP-AfD), it still remains the most realistic alternative to Green government participation. Put differently, even the most probable coalition without the Greens is exceedingly improbable. All they need to do is avoid mistakes and seize the moment on Election Day.

Eyes on the chancellery

Yet, before this, they had to answer one essential question: who their candidate for chancellor would be. This is not a formal position, as the chancellor is elected by parliament and MPs are under no obligation to cast their (secret) ballots for their party’s nominee. But the expectation that the person selected as the candidate will lead the government if a majority can be secured is hardly ever contested.

Most often, the honour of being chosen falls to the respective party leader, but exceptions to this rule are not uncommon. A prominent example in 2021 is the SPD, who have announced vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz as their candidate, giving him preference over co-leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. The CDU came close to following suit by sidelining newly elected leader Armin Laschet in favour of the more prolific, popular, and ambitious Markus Söder (leader of the CSU). However, the party ultimately backed Laschet in a vote on 20 April.

In any case, Merkel’s successor will face a tough campaign, for the departure of the successful four-term chancellor bears severe electoral risks for the CDU. With her statesmanlike appearance and unpretentious style, Merkel attracted many who would probably not have voted for her party on ideological grounds alone – and who could now reconsider their choice. The fickle loyalty of these Wechselwähler*innen may have provided the Greens with additional motivation to field their own chancellor candidate for the first time in history.

On 19 April, they announced co-party leader Annalena Baerbock, a political scientist, international lawyer, and expert on climate policy, as their candidate. To many casual observers, the decision to select Baerbock came as a surprise – they had expected the nomination of her fellow party leader Robert Habeck instead. A professional writer with a PhD in literature studies, Habeck served for more than eight years in the state government of Schleswig-Holstein, which provided him, in addition to greater name recognition, with valuable governing experience that Baerbock lacked. But, in the end, the 40-year-old mother of two proved that massive intra-party support and strong political instincts can be more important qualities.

Not that Baerbock and Habeck are that different. Both represent an adaptive and refreshingly non-ideological style that contrasts with the intransigency of the post-Schröder years. And both are aware of their historical opportunity to replace the SPD as Germany’s foremost centre-left force and possibly even win the chancellorship by appealing to the centrist voters the CDU needs to retain at all costs. This does not mean that traditional Green politics will be neglected, but rather that the ongoing transformation from an ecologist niche party into a proper Volkspartei has to be adequately reflected on the campaign trail.

The Greens have a strong hand, and if they play it right, they could make history in September. No doubt the CDU is aware of this, as its reaction has proven to be increasingly erratic. Plagued by a series of corruption scandals, lacking orientation, and facing the most dangerous challenger in more than fifteen years, one can easily imagine its quarrelling leadership nervously glancing at the (prophetic?) lines of Emily Dickinson, who once wrote that ‘the colour of the grave is green – the outer grave – I mean…’

Populism and Covid-19 in Europe: What we learned from the first wave of the pandemic | Europp – LSE Blog

Featured image credit: Rassemblement National

Populist parties are often assumed to benefit electorally from major crises. Yet as Giuliano Bobba and Nicolas Hubé explain, populist actors have found it difficult to politicise the crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on a new book covering the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, they identify several lessons concerning the effect of crises on the electoral appeal of populist parties.

Several authors agree that crisis situations are a precondition for the emergence and success of populists, or at least that they can favour them. While the impact of Covid-19 has not been the same around the world, in many countries the pandemic has been the biggest health, economic and social crisis since World War II.

Given the peculiar nature of the crisis, however, it is not obvious how populists can take advantage of it. Like other catastrophes or natural events, Covid-19 is difficult to politicise, that is, to become an arena for political confrontation between parties with traditional divides (us vs. others; elites vs. people), at least in its early stages.

In a new book, we have brought together contributions covering eight European countries that were affected in different ways by the pandemic (the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK). Our study presents a comprehensive comparison of how populist parties in each of these countries responded to the first wave.

Table 1: Impact of the first wave of Covid-19 infections in selected European countries

Note: The table includes figures from the start of the outbreak until 10 June 2020. Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

While populists sought to take advantage of the crisis, the impossibility of taking ownership of the Covid-19 issue has made it difficult to exploit the pandemic politically. In particular, populists in power have tried to depoliticise the pandemic, whereas radical right-populists in opposition have tried to politicise the crisis, but have largely failed to gain substantial public support. In what follows, we outline what we have learned so far and what we could expect in the next future.

Populists did not gain support during the pandemic

In terms of political support, as measured by voting intentions, populists have not significantly benefited from the crisis (Table 2). This is evident both in the short term, after the first wave (end of May 2020), and in the medium term (end of March 2021).

Table 2: Voting intentions for populist parties during the Covid-19 pandemic

Source: Politico – Poll of Polls

Although the success of populism is often interpreted as the result of an external crisis (i.e., economic, financial, political, migration, traditional values), this general pattern does not work when applied to the Covid-19 crisis. The peculiar nature of the crisis, as well as the implementation of similar policy solutions across European states, has largely prevented populists from using their usual proposals and rhetoric to gain centrality in the political arena and public support.

Left-wing and right-wing populists reacted differently

Our research found evidence that right-wing and left-wing populist parties reacted in different ways to the crisis. On the one hand, right-wing populism has identified new lines of conflict: an intensified emphasis on nationalism (and neo-natalism), and the (resulting) opposition of ‘we, the national people’, not only against the EU but also against some other member states. These findings confirm that even during the pandemic, right-wing populism is strictly intertwined with Euroscepticism.

Right-wing populist parties have been prevented from using their traditional appeal to the people as a basis for support and have instead emphasised the handling of migration issues. While in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Spain and the UK this included requests to close borders to reduce the risk of contagion from abroad, in France and Italy two right-wing populist leaders, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, accused governments of taking care of migrants instead of focusing only on nationals. On the other hand, left-wing parties (Podemos, La France Insoumise, and to a certain extent the Five Star Movement) did not use this kind of discourse. During the crisis, they were more focused on denouncing the lack of public investment in national health-care systems and the disastrous consequences of years of EU neoliberalism.

Being a populist in power or in opposition matters

Whether populist parties were in power or in opposition appears to have structured their discourse on Covid-19. Opposition parties attempted to politicise the pandemic at the end of the first wave, primarily blaming parties in power for their handling of the crisis, though with only partial success. No populist party attempted to politicise the pandemic in the manner Donald Trump did, by questioning the origin of the virus. The more marginal parties such as the Brexit Party, Vox, the AfD, and Konfederacja, have clearly radicalised their discourse based on nationalist, protectionist, and neo-nationalist agendas.

In contrast, parties aspiring to govern, such as the Rassemblement National, La France Insoumise, and Lega, have been much more cautious, focusing mainly on alleged government incompetence. On the other hand, the governing parties have tried to depoliticise the crisis using technical and scientific arguments and following the recommendations of national experts. For them, the crisis was an excellent opportunity to show their political competence, managerial skills and dedication to the people. A typical case is the Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, who emphasised his ability to govern the country through the crisis with the same success that he had achieved in managing his businesses in the past.

Again, a difference seems to have emerged between the left-wing and right-wing populists in power. Podemos in Spain and the Five Star Movement in Italy, as members of coalition governments, have based their political action on the advice of scientific and technical committees, while emphasising the need for more public investment in health care. At the opposite end of the spectrum, right-wing populists in power in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary have primarily used scientific arguments to justify their political decisions, emphasising their leader’s ability to make informed decisions solely on the basis of the authority of their political leadership.

Populists as ‘crisis entrepreneurs’

While populist actors often operate as ‘crisis entrepreneurs’, most of them have been unable to exploit the pandemic. Evidence suggests that populists benefit more from a situation of continual complaint against new contradictions than from the actual outbreak of a crisis such as Covid-19, or, worse still, from a solution to it, such as Brexit in the case of UKIP.

As crisis entrepreneurs, populist strive to fuel a permanent crisis cycle. This is, in fact, the condition that allows them to take full advantage of crises in terms of political centrality and voter support. Of course, as already mentioned, not all crises are the same. Populists take ownership of the contradictions that best suit their view of society. The quest for this crisis ownership is what feeds the continuous process of naming, blaming, and claiming of systemic contradictions that populists implement as a political strategy.

The pattern typically begins with the emergence of a political contradiction, triggered by populists. The next step is for this contradiction to be publicly recognised as a relevant problem, before being exploited by populist politicians, who then push it toward becoming an actual crisis. Finally, populists do not limit their focus to a single contradiction, but instead trigger this cycle for all contradictions they identify at a given time. The initial phase is when populists can benefit the most from a crisis while in the final phase, the climax, the contradiction finds a solution or a compromise that weakens the issue.

During the pandemic, all political actors suddenly found themselves in the final phase, where a crisis had broken out and a solution had to be found. This is the worst condition for populists because citizens perceive problems as real or experience them directly. Political responses must be rapidly implemented. At these critical junctures, disputes and polarisation often leave room for forms of political collaboration or non-hostile, tacit agreement in the name of national solidarity. However, as soon as this state of emergency ends, populists begin to implement the permanent crisis strategy again, fostering the emergence of new contradictions. This is exactly what happened in the eight countries we analysed between February and May 2020.

From the Covid-19 crisis to multiple crises: a new breeding ground for European populism?

In our view, crises per se do not necessarily favour populism. On the contrary, it is populists who fuel a ‘permanent crisis cycle’ that consists of a continuous search for ‘crisis ownership’ around stable or emerging political contradictions. The Covid-19 pandemic is an interesting case where populists were not able to obtain this kind of ownership at an early stage of the crisis. However, the consequences of the management of the pandemic – in health, economic and social terms – are multiplying critical situations that could lead to real crises in the coming months.

As we all know, unfortunately, the health crisis is far from over or under control. Covid-19 has entered the political routine and governments are oscillating between economic, public health, and preventive policy measures. Once in the coming months the first vaccination campaign is over, the situation will evolve to a new standard – far different from the previous one – in which the political struggle will take place and people will have to live. This normalisation of the Covid-19 crisis is likely to give opposition parties more opportunities to politicise the policies implemented by governments and possibly take advantage of the crisis. Populists in power and in opposition, therefore, will face opposite challenges, the outcome of which will determine the characteristics of European populism in the post-Covid-19 age.

For more information, see the authors’ accompanying book, Populism and the Politicization of the COVID-19 Crisis in Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021)

Policy Insight | The power surplus. Brussels calling, legal empathy and the trade-regulation nexus | CEPS

The EU may not be a superpower but it holds a ‘power surplus’ when it comes to the trade-regulatory nexus. The strategic challenges posed by the deployment of this power surplus are the subject of this paper, which argues that in order to be a responsible regulatory power and positively influence the multilateral agenda, the EU needs to develop a coherent overall approach to the external dimension of its regulatory policies.

In this spirit, and in most cases, the EU would be ill advised to project itself as a model or to seek to ‘weaponise’ its regulatory powers in pursuit of unrelated foreign policy goals. Instead, it should wield this power to enhance the regulatory compatibility between its own and others’ jurisdictions through cooperation rather than relying on the passive market-based influence of the so-called Brussels effect. This is simply a way to be faithful to its core defining philosophy of legal empathy.

The CEPS Policy Insight by authors Ignacio Garcia Bercero and Kalypso Nicolaïdis offers a typology of different forms of external EU regulatory impact, a discussion of the risks of either underuse or overuse of the regulatory power surplus, and considers the ‘good global governance’ model implied by a principled geopolitical role. It moves on to discuss a unifying conceptual framework to encompass this approach, under the umbrella of ‘managed mutual recognition’ as the operationalisation of legal empathy. It concludes with six specific suggestions as to how the EU can best exercise its regulatory power through a closer integration of trade and regulatory policies.


Download the full publication here


This paper can also be found at the European University Institute as a School of Transnational Governance Policy Report.

Can responsible investing encourage retail investors to invest in equities? by M. Brière and S. Ramelli | European Capital Markets Institute (ECMI)

On 16 March, the European Capital Markets Institute (ECMI) published a commentary by Marie Brière and Stefano Ramelli, named Can responsible investing encourage retail investors to invest in equities? which acknowledged that the low participation of retail investors in the equity market is a concern for many countries. It is a necessary condition for the development of capital markets in Europe and a key factor for funding post-Covid economic recovery. Recently, savers’ appetites for responsible investment has grown, but little is known about the consequences of this development on individual investment decisions. 

Employee savings plans constitute a unique laboratory for studying these choices. In a recent research article (Brière and Ramelli, 2021), the impact of introducing responsible funds into the investment choices of more than 900,000 French employees was analysed. The addition of a responsible option to the menu of funds led to a 7% increase in the equity allocation of new investments. Given that the average equity allocation is around 13%, this increase is substantial and represents an encouraging result for retail investors’ participation in the equity market. The role of social preferences further explains this phenomenon.

Download the full publication here

About the authors

Marie Brière is Head of Investor Research Center at AMUNDI, Affiliate Professor at Paris Dauphine University, Senior Associate Researcher at Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Member of the ECMI Academic Committee.

Stefano Ramelli is PhD Candidate at the Department of Banking and Finance, University of Zurich.