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A most (in)convenient breakup: How tension has come to define Britain after Brexit

February 24, 2020


Brexit has rightly been described as a defining moment in contemporary history, but like the process itself, its relationship to history is a complicated one. Scholars, historians in particular, are often times wary of drawing conclusions from current events. To some, recent history is worthy of note and commentary regardless of its proximity, while for others it is this very proximity that clearly demarcates a line between history and journalism. Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that a complex and often contradictory event like Brexit would attract the gaze of numerous disciplines and fields of inquiry. Britain’s departure from the European Union following the extended deadline of January 31, 2020 seemed to have come and gone without much fanfare and mostly devoid of theatrics, save for the somewhat disappointing turnout of ‘Leave’ supporters. It looked like Britain had sleepwalked its way out of the EU.

Yet the tensions are all too apparent, and not only in terms of the UK’s new relationship to the rest of Europe but also in regards to Britain’s relationship with itself. The issues of class disparity, racial relations, xenophobia and religious discrimination immediately came to the fore in Britain, as reports of racial discrimination, racialized attacks and religious discrimination spiked immediately after the Brexit vote and once again increased after the separation came into effect.[1] The United Nations, after an eleven-day visit to the UK in 2018, issued a report warning that xenophobic views were becoming more mainstream in the country’s politics. This report highlighted a marked increase in hate crimes reported immediately after the June 2016 Brexit vote.  Hate crimes increased almost a third to around 80,000 cases in a year-on-year basis. The UN’s observer, E Tendayi Achiume, concluded that “(A) Brexit-related trend that threatens racial equality in the UK has been the growth in the acceptability of explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance,” and went on to single out austerity and counterterrorism policies, immigration laws and hostile environmental policies that targeted “illegal immigrants” as structural enablers of systemic discrimination and hostility.[2] Many minority members in Britain have expressed fear that they could become targets of increasing hate crimes.[3]

Such fears of persecution are not unwarranted. With a conservative government in power and far-right ethno-nationalism on the rise as a political force it is not inconceivable that Brexit could mean the passing of more restrictive and discriminatory legislation that openly contradicts legal standards held by the EU with regards to homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, including racial and religious discrimination.[4] In late 2019 a series of social media posts regarding racist notices by landlords to minority residents stating that with Brexit they would no longer be welcomed in a “white Britain’ quickly went viral, serving to underscore the growing racial vitriol in the country after Brexit.

No More Polish Vermin Post-Brexit UK- Daily Mail

Image by The Daily Mail

Racial tensions extend to every corner of British society, including the House of Lords. An article by The Guardian reported that minority staff at the House of Lords (known in the UK by the acronym BAME, or Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) are asked far more frequently for their security passes by security staffthan any other group. The mostly white chamber also continued to uphold archaic rules that resulted in de facto segregation because of differences in the salaries of BAME staffers and white staffers, like separate toilets and eating areas. According to The Guardian, “Commons authorities acknowledged that the higher representation of BAME staff in lower pay bands meant they were less likely than their white colleagues to have access to certain areas. They have since opened up access to some facilities.”[5]

Tensions are not only limited to the domestic politics of post-Brexit Britain, but have been a staple of the long and arduous negotiations that have come to define this separation. Britain’s journey away from Europe has been characterized by frequent clashes between heads of state in a seemingly interminable and often times belligerent process. Negotiations between London and Brussels oftentimes read more like drunken brawls than foreign policy.

No More Mosques Post-Brexit UK-Aljazeera

Image by Al Jazeera

Recently the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, denounced Britain’s continuing negotiation position. Verhofstadt stated that the UK’s approach is “as if the UK and Europe are living on two different planets.” This was in response to a statement by the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, that the UK would not “sign up to alignment with EU rule or any supervisory role for the European court of justice, adding that the two sides were ‘genuinely sovereign equals’.”[6]

Verhofstadt’s statement was issued during a joint press conference with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, where Khan once again asked Brussels to consider Verhofstadt’s concept of an “associate citizenship” to allow British citizens free movement across the European Union.  According to The Guardian, associate citizenship would allow for “continued freedom of movement and residence around the bloc for those who wished to retain such rights. Such a status would also protect rights in healthcare, welfare and workplace conditions and likely the right to vote in European parliament elections.”[7]

The concept of “associate citizenship” is a controversial one in Brussels, especially with growing pressure from other European countries to counter Britain’s position with tougher negotiations. Such has been the position of embattled French President Emmanuel Macron, who has asked for a tougher EU negotiating posture regarding free trade, a posture that others fear could scuttle upcoming talks before they even begin in March. As reported in The Guardian:

France has, however, been an outspoken voice, albeit not entirely isolated among the 27 member states, in calling for more ‘ambitious’ commitments to be a condition for the UK government in any future treaty. There is a concern that EU attempt to increase its environmental standards, in particular, will be held back if there is a risk that British companies will be left able to undercut European firms in a decade or longer.[8]

The entire Brexit experience has been fraught by tensions inside and out since the beginning. It has exacerbated latent racial tensions in the UK, an almost inevitable occurrence with the rise of ethnic nationalist groups like UK Independence Party (and the toxic political rhetoric employed during the recent elections. As these tensions within and outside of the United Kingdom continue to shape policy it becomes ever more difficult and contentious to attempt to draw any conclusions or predictions on where Brexit is headed or what will become of the United Kingdom after all is said and done.


[1] May Bulman. “Brexit vote sees highest spike in religious and racial hate crimes ever recorded”, The Independent, 7 July 2017.

[2] See Lizzie Dearden. “Racism has become more acceptable since Brexit vote, United Nations warns”, The Independent, 11 May 2018.

[3] See Rachael Bunyan, “Marginalized Communities Fear for Their Future in the U.K. in Wake of ‘Ugly’ Election Campaign“, Time, 13 December 2019.

[4] See Ben Quinn. “Hate crimes double in five years in England and Wales”, The Guardian, 15 October 2019.

[5] Martin Beckford. “Minority staff asked for security passes more in parliament, report finds”, 18 February 2020.

[6] See Daniel Boffey, “UK Brexit negotiator accused of treating Britain and EU as ‘two different planets’”, 18 February 2020.

[7] Daniel Boffey, “Sadiq Khan urges EU to offer Britons ‘associate citizenship’, 18 February 2020.

[8] Daniel Boffey, “Brexit: Macron pushes for tougher EU negotiation position”, 13 February 2020.



Do the Winds of Change Portend a Moderating Political Climate in the European Union?

December 10, 2019

March 26, 2018: Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former Finance minister, second right, announces his new left-wing party, MeRA25, in Athens. (AP Photo)

Over the 25 years that I have been studying Greece, the country has often served as a canary in the coalmine for the global economy and the global body politic.  In the 1990s, I was struck by the level of governmental corruption and the tight relationships between business interests and the political parties.  Then I watched as lobbyists expanded their tentacles into virtually every aspect of governance in the United States and as corporations and wealthy individuals, aided by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Citizens United v. the FEC decision, began to increasingly dominate electoral politics.  Similarly, I was struck by the politicized nature of news reporting in Greece, which was so different than the relatively balanced nightly news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC with which I had grown up.  Then, I watched the increasing politicization of cable news, and the transformation of FOX News into American Pravda—a party organ masquerading as a national network.

These experiences have continued during the past decade.  As the financial chaos of the collapse of the housing bubble in the United States spread globally, Greece was an early bellwether for the Sovereign Debt Crisis, which spread to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Cyprus.  It also foretold the rise of extreme right-wing, anti-immigration politics in Europe and the US.  The transformation of Greece’s Golden Dawn from an irrelevant neo-Nazi political sect into a movement capable of attracting enough support—as much as 7% in national elections—to enter Parliament foreshadowed the subsequent electoral success of Alternative for Germany; the successful turn toward right-wing populism of the Austrian People’s Party, which has pursued an increasingly anti-immigrant line under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz; the reinvigoration of France’s National Front under the leadership of Marine Le Pen; and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States.

I used to attribute this canary-in-the-coalmine phenomenon to what anthropologists George Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer termed “anthropology as cultural critique”: The act of observing another culture destabilizes and defamiliarizes one’s gaze so that, returning to the home culture, one sees that culture in an entirely new light.  Today, I am more inclined to see the phenomenon in geopolitical terms.  Greece exists on the margins—or in Immanuel Wallerstein’s terminology, the semi-periphery—of the West, of Europe, and of the Eurozone.  A small nation, it is more structurally, politically, and institutionally vulnerable to the winds of geopolitical change than are larger, wealthier nations.  Phenomena that are fundamentally global in nature thus manifest themselves first in Greece and other similar countries and then later make their appearance elsewhere.

Today, I find myself hoping that the canary-in-the-coalmine effect has gone into reverse: that instead of being a bad omen, events in Greece are auguring positive change.  Greece’s July 7th parliamentary elections saw a decisive victory by the center-right party, New Democracy, which took nearly 40% of the votes and, with the electoral bonus, holds a majority in parliament (158 out of 300 seats).  Normally, this isn’t something that I would celebrate.  The way the victory was achieved, however, gives me some cause for hope.  Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, won by running to the center, by promising to govern for all Greeks and by promising better, more efficient government that improves the quality of life for everyone.  His pre-election rhetoric was effective if I can judge from the multiple friends and acquaintances who confessed to me that they voted, for the first time ever, for New Democracy.  Mitsotakis also sounded the right notes after the election: he spoke in a unifying language about wanting to work cooperatively with other parties and find agreement on policies that can move the country forward.  His cabinet appointments represent a broad coalition of the center and the right, including three former members of PASOK as well as hardline conservatives like Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis.

The election also had two other positive outcomes.  First, Golden Dawn failed to make the electoral threshold for entry into Parliament.  For the time being, their political voice is returning to the margins, and they will not be entitled to the constitutionally mandated access to the airwaves that comes with representation in Parliament.  Second, MeRA25 (Day25 or the European Realistic Disobedience Front), the Greek version of the German party DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe 2025) and part of the European Spring network of political parties, made the electoral threshold and is represented in Parliament.  MeRA25 and DiEM25 are  pan-European, left-wing, anti-austerity parties that are the brainchild of  Croatian philosopher and activist Srećko Horvat and economist and political scientist Yanis Varoufakis.  Varoufakis, whom I hosted at IU in 2013 in conjunction with the Modern Greek Studies Association Symposium and the Tocqueville Program, is a lightening rod.  He was Greece’s Finance Minister during the failed negotiations with the EU in 2015 that led to the imposition of capital controls on the Greek banking system and the  imposition of a third, extremely onerous memorandum of understanding between Greece and its Troika of Lenders (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF).  He is also a very innovative thinker with a strong pragmatic streak who has the potential to add a lot to the national and federal conversations.

Thus far, the results are decidedly mixed for New Democracy.  The Mitsotakis government has hit the ground running, showing a level of activity and efficiency that stands in stark contrast to the first 6 months of the previous coalition government, which was led by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).  New Democracy has devoted a lot of energy to law and justice issues: revoking the country’s university asylum laws; devoting increased energy to policing Exarcheia, a downtown bohemian neighborhood in which both anarchists and organized crime thrive; and enforcing anti-smoking laws.  These moves are politically popular with the broader populace but carry risks.  Greece’s university asylum laws, which were passed by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in the 1980s, are symbolically fraught.  Ensuring the free speech of students and their right to protest, they honor the memory of the 1973 Polytechnic Uprising which helped lead to the eventual downfall of Greece’s Junta of the Colonels in 1974.  In recent years, they have been abused by common criminals, mostly drug dealers, to evade prosecution.  Anarchists also use universities as safe havens for preparing and launching protests, including the preparation of Molotov cocktails.  University asylum is still, however, lionized by significant segments of the population who will not surrender it easily.  Likewise, the confrontation with the anarchists of Exarcheia has the potential to degrade into a war of attrition that will gradually sap the government’s energy.  The anarchist movement in Greece is strong, determined, and complex.  They have created bonds of solidarity with recent immigrants to Europe—who have found themselves stranded in Greece and neglected by the Greek state—by taking over abandoned buildings and organizing squats that provide housing and a measure of integration into the local community.

On the economic front, New Democracy has been working—thus far unsuccessfully—to restart the stalled Hellenikon Project, a major development on the southern coast of Athens that will be built on a large plot of land that used to be the Athens Airport. The development promises new residential and office high rises, a hotel and an integrated resort, a major park, a marina, a public beach, a museum, research centers, an aquarium, and a casino.  Though critiqued by the left as a space that will benefit the global elite more than it will benefit Greece’s own citizens, the development will provide a substantial number of jobs, contribute significantly to economic growth, and provide Athens with much needed green spaces.  The government has also provided some much-needed tax relief to broad sectors of the population and has been pursuing foreign direct investment including, unfortunately, investments in extractive industries like gold mining and oil and natural gas drilling.  It is difficult to see how the environmental risks that these projects entail are worth the relatively small number of jobs and economic growth that they create.

Thus far the signals from outside Greece seem mixed as to whether the winds of political moderation will be blowing in the rest of Europe.  In early October, Portugal weighed in on the side of moderation, reelecting Prime Minister António Costa, a Socialist who nonetheless pursued fiscal discipline and presided over economic growth that outpaced Europe as a whole.  Spain, however, is a different story.  Though Spanish elections in early November saw the Socialists come out on top again, the far-right nationalist party, Vox, emerged as a political force, more than doubling the number of seats it has in Parliament, going from 24 to 52 and putting to rest the notion of a Spanish exception to the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe.  Elections results in Poland and Hungary are somewhat ambiguous.  Poland’s conservative Law and Justice Party lost seats in the Sejm, the powerful lower house of Parliament, but maintained a majority.  They lost control of the Senate, however, and failed to obtain a majority in the Sejm that will allow them to unilaterally pass constitutional changes.  In Hungary, opposition politicians made significant strides in city elections despite a playing field that was decidedly tilted against them.  In an interesting op-ed, Sławomir Sierakowski argues that there are hopeful signals in both Poland and Hungary.  In Poland, Sierakowski suggests, the Law and Justice Party seems to have hit its electoral limit, failing to expand its electoral majority even though the party passed generous social spending provisions that were designed to increase their vote count.  In Hungary, opposition politicians won despite Fidesz’s control of the mass media and the organs of the state.

Exhuming the Legacy of Francisco Franco

November 6, 2019

The Valley of the Fallen 

On the 24th of October, 2019, the remains of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco were exhumed from their resting place at the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a massive monument inspired by fascist aesthetics and built by the National Catholic regime in the Sierra de Guadarrama near Madrid. The monument took eighteen years to build, using the conscripted labor of political prisoners. Construction of the monument started in 1940, only a year after the end of the Spanish Civil War and the victory of Franco’s nationalists and fascist allies over the Spanish Republican government. The site also serves as the final resting place for approximately 40,000 combatants from the civil war, many of whom were simply dug up and interred without thorough verification of the faction for which they fought and died.  This has been a bone of contention for many of the families of the dead.


The exhumation of the former dictator’s body from its grave has been a contentious issue in Spain beginning with the country’s uneven transition to democracy, which took place from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s. Following the dictator’s death and the ebbing of political power away from the inheritors of Franquismo that followed the establishment of a constitutional representative democracy, the question of the regime’s legacy remained both urgently relevant and surprisingly static. The result was a “Pact of Forgetting” that was formally codified by the 1977 Amnesty Law, an agreement between conservative and leftist parties to avoid the prosecution of crimes committed by members of the regime in favor of a smooth transition to democracy. The Pact has increasingly come under fire, and not just from groups in Spain. The United Nations urged Spain to reconsider the law in 2013, and in recent years there have been other official steps taken to move away from its legacy. The most recent of these gestures is Franco’s exhumation and removal from the Valley of the Fallen.


While the Amnesty Law was seen as necessary step by the political elites of the time, as well as a precondition for securing the agreement of the far-right Franquistas to democratic reform, it also weakened the transition, robbing it of any chance of prosecuting the perpetrators of decades of violent repression, torture, and persecution. The law also failed to acknowledge the suffering of countless exiles who were forced to flee Spain following the Nationalist victory to places like France, Mexico, the Caribbean, North Africa, and Australia.


It is also noteworthy to mention that the law failed to secure a transition devoid of problems and complications, its supposed reason for being. For years the threat of another pronunciamiento—a declaration of a military coup by officers—was a very real one. This fear turned very real on the 23rd of February, 1981, with an attempted coup by reactionary members of the military and the Guardia Civil. Recent literary and academic publications, from Javier Cercas’s Soldados de Salamina (Soldiers of Salamis) and Anatomía de un Instante (Anatomy of a Moment) to Sophie Baby’s “Le mythe de la transition pacifique: Violence et politique en Espagne (1975-1982)” (“Myth of the Peaceful Transition: Violence and Politics in Spain (1975-1982)”), to name just a few examples, have taken the official narrative to task for insisting on a peaceful transition that did not take place and therefore failing to address tensions and unanswered questions that have only increased in relevance.


Rather than forgetting, the pact led to the festering of open wounds and the survival of far-right elements in Spanish society and politics which have only grown more toxic. Some traditions dating back to the dictatorship can still be seen in the military, and these phantoms of totalitarian traditions are seen by some as a dangerous sword of Damocles precariously aimed at the country’s democratic institutions.


To many in Spain, the legacy of Franquismo has not been forgetting, but has instead served to kindle a passion towards preserving memory and rescuing the past. The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, founded in 2000, was at the forefront of this effort. The Historical Memory Law, ratified in 2007, was an attempt at bringing legal tools to find mass graves and identify the bodies of those buried there, but later conservative administrations of the right-wing Partido Popular have actively sought to hamper these efforts.


Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, caudillo of Spain. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


The biggest point of contention regarding both forgetting and remembering in recent years became the resting place of the dictator himself. When Franco died he was given a full state funeral, an act that raised eyebrows even then. Franco was considered by many to be Europe’s last fascist dictator, and his dictatorship was certainly predicated on fascistic elements like extreme nationalism, conservatism, and militarism, as well as aspects of vertical syndicalism borrowed from Italian and French fascists. Franco combined these components with a reactionary form of Catholicism to fuse Church and State into a unified entity that served him and his rule as caudillo, or leader, of Spain. In this way his burial site, the Valley of the Fallen, became a physical embodiment of Francisco Franco’s regime in its scale, its symbolism, and its cruelty.


Like the giant cross that hauntingly stands on top of the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s legacy has cast a deep shadow over contemporary Spain. The legacy of Franquismo still find echoes in the far-right politics of Spanish parties like VOX that deploy the same xenophobic and reactionary rhetoric that has made inroads in other parts of Europe with the rise of radicalized far-right populism.  VOX mobilizes the far right with a ethno-nationalist rhetoric that is similar to Trumpism in the United States, railing against Catalonian independence movements while exalting the sanctity of Spanish nationalism. Its virtues are Franco’s virtues.  Additionally, some very real remnants of Franco’s legacy in the country still endure: many of Spain’s judges were trained in Francoist institutions, the conservative Partido Popular is populated by the sons and daughters of members of the Francoist regime, and its armed forces are still populated by officers trained in the Franco era.


Most of all, the dictator’s body was a very real, physical obstacle to addressing the wounds of the past in new ways. Franco’s tomb represented a tangible anchor to the past for a country that only now seems to be willing to openly confront its history and to entertain the notion of abandoning the self-imposed cage forged by the Pact of Forgetting. While the late dictator’s family insists that Franco did not wish to be buried in the Valley of the Fallen, his followers recognized that the monument was a lasting legacy of the principles of National Catholicism: By giving their caudillo a state funeral there, they would forever wed Spain to the dictator’s memory. Perhaps with the removal of the dictator’s bones from the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s shadow can truly begin to fade from Spain and a different kind of memory can begin to take hold. The path to a lasting resolution to the wounds of history cannot be travelled without stepping out from under the shadow of Europe’s last fascist dictator once and for all.






Boris Johnson’s Brexit Woes Continue as Deadline Approaches

October 24, 2019


It seems like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is caught in a struggle against time, politics, and himself. The ongoing political wrangling surrounding Brexit only continues to increase as the deadline for Great Britain’s departure from the European Union grows ever closer. For the past few days Britain’s embattled prime minister has become the focal point of the Brexit controversy as last-minute negotiations attempting to negotiate a “soft Brexit” deal continue feverishly. Johnson, the former mayor of London and a former Eurosceptic himself, inherited a growing backlash against the exit process as soon as he moved into No. 10 Downing Street, following Theresa May’s resignation in July of this year. His often tense exchanges in Parliament and his combative personality have often elicited frequent comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump. Johnson, however, seems to lack Trump’s apparently endless political survival skills, guile, and luck, and his PM-ship has been engulfed in controversy and political missteps. This has undermined an already complicated and controversial process following the June 2016 referendum.


Johnson’s position further deteriorated when, on 28 August, in an attempt to bypass continued discussion and deliberation regarding Brexit, he advised Queen Elizabeth II to call for an unusually long prorogation of Parliament which sought a suspension from early September until the Parliamentary session on 14 October. On his advisement the Queen granted the prorogation. This unusual move was met with open hostility by ministers on all sides and by the general populace. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called the move a “constitutional outrage”, and it lead to dissent among moderate and “remain” Tories which culminated in desertion from the party and a loss of a working majority for the conservatives. Among these losses was the prime minister’s own brother, Jo Jonson, who resigned from government. The prorogation controversy came to an end when it was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on 24 September, ending Johnson’s gambit.


Johnson’s loss of a working majority and his mishandling of the prorogation affair directly reflected on the ever-increasing urgency regarding the specter of a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister’s race against time is a very real one. The deadline for Brexit is on 31 October, and so far there has been very little in the way of progress towards securing any deal between London and Brussels. On the contrary, the tone between both parties has only grown more acrimonious as the deadline approaches, with EU officials placing the blame on Johnson for “playing a stupid blame game.”  On 8 October the prime minister held a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which reportedly ended badly over the impossibility of finding common ground with regards to Norther Ireland’s position in a customs union. Other high-profile meetings on 9 October faired similarly.


The only sliver of good news for Johnson’s government as the deadline neared was a meeting held on 10 October with Ireland’s head of government, or taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in which the possibility of an accord towards further negotiations was agreed to. Varadkar issued a statement after this meeting where he expressed hope for continued cooperation and the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement, a statement which Downing Street quickly echoed. Furthermore, The Guardian’s continuous coverage announced on 10 October that Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, were to meet on Friday the 11th in order to determine whether there was enough existing common ground to proceed with negotiations. The news of this possible breakthrough failed to assure already shaken business envoys that business would continue as usual after the 31st.


According to The Guardian, Johnson had to convince Brussels to get on board with any agreement that his administration would hammer out before the deadline in order to avoid a hard Brexit during the slim two-day window of 17-18th October. Reflecting Johnson’s last conversation with Merkel, no deal came to pass. There was an additional complication on the home front for the Johnson government, a complication that had already drawn the ire of the prime minister on previous occasions: the Benn Act.


The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, colloquially known as the Benn Act, was passed on 9 September 2019. It legally binds Parliament to a hard deadline in which it must negotiate a deal regarding Britain’s separation from the European Union. If a deal was not reached by that time then the act directs the prime minister to address the EU and ask for an extension on Article 50 for 31 January. The date when this act would be automatically triggered was the 19th of October. In response to this impending date, Parliament scheduled a session for 19 October, dubbed “Super Saturday”, which will be fully devoted to Brexit. This was the first time that Parliament met on a Saturday since the Falklands Crisis in April 1982.  Prior to this session Johnson had declared that blame would fall squarely on Parliament if the Benn Act came into effect; disregarding the fact that Johnson’s own behavior and political maneuvering has repeatedly undermined his government’s negotiation efforts.


The extraordinary Saturday session provided some forward momentum for Brexit legislation, but only up to a point. Sir Oliver Letwin, a former Conservative member of Parliament who was one of those removed from the party last September for insubordination and is now an independent, proposed an amendment that would delay the implementation of any agreement until legislation had been implemented. This amendment passed, and with this delay the Benn Act went into effect, much to Johnson’s dismay. Downing Street responded by sending two letters. The first was the required text addressed to the European Council requesting the extension. This was seen as being compliant with the Act. The second letter was from the prime minister, underscoring his belief that an extension would be a mistake.


Following the implementation of the Benn Act the legislation for the withdrawal agreement, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, was passed by Parliament was passed 329 votes to 299. This victory for Johnson, however, was fleeting. A programme motion to speed through the discussion of the bill was defeated by Parliament on 22 October. Time has not been kind to the Johnson government regarding Brexit, and the Benn Act constricted this time further. Even though the EU leadership has signaled its favoring of an extension, if Johnson’s presumptive preliminary deal with Varadkar falls through or fails to impress the EU, then the triggering of the Benn act would be assured. Inevitably, Johnson’s failure to secure a deal would be a considerable political blow, and perhaps a final one. An extension would possibly grant Johnson a reprieve. A more likely scenario is that, regardless of a last-minute deal being reached, Johnson will face a no-confidence vote from an already hostile Parliament. This might be a price—putting an end to Boris Johnson’s government—which many Tories in Parliament may be willing to pay in order to guarantee an extension of negotiations with Brussels. Whether this scenario will actually play out remains unclear, as do the results of the snap election that would be called after a successful no-confidence vote. Already talks of an election have become ever louder as Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn failed to come to an agreement regarding the timetable, and Varadkar, Johnson’s apparent last-minute ally, seemed inclined to favor an extension. The longer the Brexit question remains unresolved, the more polarized British politics become.  The only certainty in this whole affair is that the repercussions of this increasingly acrimonious break-up threaten to be severe.



EU Presents a United Front on the Venezuelan Crisis

January 30, 2019


This week’s blog post takes us some distance away from the European continent to focus on the EU’s response to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. On January 23—a specially symbolic date in the country, as it marks the ousting of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez and the transition to democracy in 1958—opposition leader Juan Guaidó sworn himself in as interim President of the Republic before a massive crowd in the center of Caracas. The crowd, numbering tens of thousands, had come out to protest the regime of President Nicolás Maduro amidst increasing discontent for the growing political authoritarianism and economic devastation that has forced more than three million Venezuelans into exile, in a country that until not long ago was seen as one of the wealthiest and most genuinely democratic in Latin America. Although, ever since the rise of Hugo Chávez to power in 1999, Venezuela has gradually experienced an erosion of democratic checks and balances and a concentration of power in the hands of a populist Executive, things took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Maduro, Chávez’s hand-picked successor. Faced with growing discontent from the working classes—which, although traditionally a bastion of Chavismo, were hit hard by an economic crisis fueled in large part by the regime’s mismanagement of the state’s powerful oil industry—and the ensuing control of the legislature (the National Assembly) by the opposition, Maduro decided to convene in 2017 a National Constituent Assembly supposedly charged with revising the constitution, but actually designed to serve as a “supraconstitutional” power meant to bypass the opposition-controlled legislature. This Constituent Assembly, in turn, convened presidential elections in 2018, won by Maduro but not recognized by most members of the international community as legitimate for not having taken place through the regular constitutional procedures or with the requisite guarantees, which led to an electoral boycott by the opposition.

It is in this context that Juan Guaidó enters the scene. Recently elected President of the National Assembly—the only representative institution recognized by the international community as democratically legitimate—he invoked Article 233 of the Constitution to claim that, given the lack of valid elections, there is a vacuum in power that must be filled by the next in the line of succession: himself. Calling Maduro a usurper, he proclaimed himself interim President for a transition period leading to new elections, and he received the immediate backing of the United States and most Latin American nations (excepting Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Uruguay), who have recognized him as the legitimate leader of the country.

The emergence of an all-out crisis, with two parallel governments claiming representation of the state, has also brought pressure on European nations to lend their recognition one way or the other. In this regard, however, the European response has been more measured than the American one: rather than immediately recognize Guaidó as President, most EU countries have manifested their desire for a democratic transition and have called for elections to be held as soon as possible. Notably, the EU did not recognize the 2018 presidential elections as legitimate, so there seems to be some ground on which to base a show of support for Guaidó’s cause. Nevertheless, the EU has chosen to avoid rushed decisions, in large part due to the complexity of the situation: given the multiple avenues of interpretation surrounding the constitutional issues at stake, it may have made sense to wait until it could be ascertained that Guaidó’s claim had at least some facial credibility.

guaido maduro

In the end, the position that prevailed was to issue an ultimatum to the Maduro regime: either convene free and fair elections in a matter of days, or the EU will recognize Guaidó as the only legitimate president. In a statement released by High Representative Federica Mogherini, the Union reiterated “its full support to the National Assembly, which is the democratic legitimate body of Venezuela,” noting that “[i]n the absence of an announcement on the organisation of fresh elections with the necessary guarantees over the next days, the EU will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country’s leadership in line with article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution.”

This position was advocated by the Spanish government—undoubtedly the one with deepest connections to Venezuela—, which also insisted on the need for a united European front on the issue. And it is perhaps the most sensible position that the EU could adopt, declaring itself unequivocally in favor a democratic transition while avoiding the appearance of a direct interest (or participation) in the challenge launched by Guaidó. Nevertheless, most of the principal European nations (such as the UK, France, or Germany) have made clear their sympathies towards the self-proclaimed interim President. This once again includes Spain, whose Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has travelled to Latin America and is currently in the process of discussing the Venezuelan crisis with the Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who remains one of the few Latin American leaders that have decided not to pronounce themselves against Maduro.

Ultimately, the international recognition of Guaidó as interim President may play a significant role in swaying what is in all likelihood going to be the key player in the current crisis: the Venezuelan armed forces, on whom a hugely unpopular and increasingly authoritarian Maduro depends to keep him in power. After all, international powers like the US and the EU have the capacity to exercise financial pressure by blocking the regime’s many assets abroad and by freezing its oil exports, as well as to ignore Maduro’s foreign policy in favor of Guaidó’s, thus helping turn the latter’s claims into a de facto reality and helping convince loyalist members of the military that they may be on the losing side of the equation. But, in any case, it is important that the international response be seen as supporting, and not driving, Venezuela’s own struggle for a democratic transition, or else it will fuel the regime’s own discourse that, by supporting Maduro, the military are also defending the nation against foreign intervention. It is equally important that such response avoid flaring up the already delicate situation with a bombastic rhetoric that may lead to violent escalation and even civil war. And, in that sense, the approach taken by the EU may be striking the adequate balance. Whether that balance will produce the necessary results, and contribute to a peaceful transition in the Caribbean country, remains to be seen.


Forest Schools in Europe

January 25, 2019

knife girl

A forest schools or nature school has been a popular and upcoming form of early childhood education in parts of Europe since the 1950s. As the name denotes it is outdoor education for young children in which students visit natural spaces to learn personal, social and technical skills. Forest schools mostly cater to preschool or kindergarten aged children and some of the outdoor skills learned include how to light fires, garden, whittle, prepare chickens, and climb.

To some this can be a frightening sight with children high up in trees or using sharp knives but now what originated in Denmark has spread to other parts of Europe and the world. Denmark itself has 1 in 10 preschools, which are held outdoors. The UK now has around 150 forest schools and Germany has around 2,000. Canada started their first school in 2007 and the concept is also popular in Australia and New Zealand.

Many involved in the development of forest school education claim playing and learning outside has been found to boost children’s development in various ways. These schools are said to improve concentration, creativity, happiness, and social skills. Such improvements in childhood development were found in a study on Forest Schools in England and Wales, which listed increased language skills, higher motivation to participate, and greater knowledge of natural surroundings. There is also evidence that it stimulates motor development. Some elementary teacher in Denmark say they can tell the difference between kids who have been to a forest schools because they are quick to learn.

This type of schooling, which has now spread to beyond Scandinavia, is based on the Nordic philosophy of ‘friluftsliv’ (literally ‘outdoors’ in Danish) which embodies the idea that returning to nature is returning to home. For the Danish in the 1950s, Ella Flatau formed a “walking kindergarten” where daily hiking was part of the curriculum. Mothers began sending their children from Copenhagen’s busy neighborhoods to the countryside for these forest schools. In the 1970s, there was another boom in nature-based preschools. The forest school approach has also existed since the 1950s in Sweden. Goesta Frohm who created the idea of ‘Skogsmulle’ (in Swedish ‘skog; means forest and ‘Mulle’ is character who lives in the forest) to bridge the gap he felt younger children had to nature. His methods include hand sensory experiences, regular visits to the forest, and reconnecting to nature. He executed this process though an imaginary character called Skogsmulle. In 1986 the first ‘I UR och Skur’ (In Rain or Shine) nursery opened and led to a movement of more than 190 nurseries and 20 primary schools based upon the Skogsmulle teaching method.

There are many types of ‘forest schools’ in Denmark and Sweden. They are usually set of in woodland to provide starting points for activities inside and outside for the whole or significant part of the day. The people that take care of these children of the forest have to complete a special 3.5-year bachelor program and train to care for children. They have the know how on when to step in and help and when not to, in order to teach a lesson. Some schools in the UK use this method to help kids with special education needs or who suffer from extreme stress and anxiety.

tree boy

Using sharp tools and playing in more unconventional  conditions does increase the likelihood of injuries but serious injuries are rare and parents seemingly trust the forest schools’ teachers. The main injuries are insect stings and scrapes and some view this as a positive opportunity to build more resilience at a young age. So, will these schools be a fad or continue to spread across the world helping us connect to nature as we live in an increasingly technologically bound world?


Uncertainty Looms after Commons Reject Brexit Deal

January 18, 2019

may commons

On Tuesday night, the House of Commons handed a resounding defeat to Prime Minister May’s Brexit deal, voting it down 432 votes against 202. The defeat, by a staggering 230 votes, is the largest ever suffered by a British government in the modern era, and it had the dubious honor of bringing together rebel Conservatives dissatisfied with the proposed deal (for not sufficiently delivering on the Brexit promises) and Labour remainers who believe the entire Brexit process to be a disaster. This seemingly unnatural communion actually reflects the difficulties lying ahead in the road towards the March 29 deadline, marking the moment in which the UK will officially leave the EU: although there is widespread agreement among members of parliament (MPs) about what they don’t want, there is no such agreement about what they do want. The crux of the situation was perhaps best captured by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, in a speech before the European Parliament on the day after the vote: “Objectively speaking, this vote is not a clear manifestation of a positive majority which would define an alternative project, and an alternative to the proposal on the table today.”

This reality is particularly stark insofar as it moves Britain ever closer to the one outcome that almost nobody wants: a no-deal Brexit. No-deal has been rightly depicted as a worst-case scenario, as it would see the UK storming out without any kind of system in place for its future interaction with Europe, thereby becoming just another third country vis-à-vis the EU, but one whose infrastructure is not prepared to cope with a customs border between it and its main trading partner. Unfortunately, however, no-deal happens to be the default rule if, well, no deal is reached by the time the March 29 deadline arrives. And EU representatives have repeatedly emphasized that the deal presented to Parliament by Ms. May is the only viable deal, already incorporating as many concessions as they can possibly include. Therefore, the expectation on the part of some hard-Brexiter MPs that after Tuesday’s vote the Prime Minister should simply go back to Brussels and get a better deal—specifically, one without the now famous “Irish backstop”—is simply unrealistic. More than that, it is delusional.

In light of that reality, it would seem to make sense for Ms. May to start to look for a different kind of consensus, one that seeks to bring Labour MPs hoping for a soft Brexit together with moderate Tories who may be willing to give up on some of the unrealistic demands of hard-Brexiters. Unfortunately, she has taken the opposite path: while promising to seek cross-party support, she has already ruled out the possibility of a customs union or a second referendum, thus entrenching herself in the same red lines that led to her unprecedented parliamentary defeat. Given that these two are precisely the alternative demands of soft-Brexiters and remainers, the call for cross-party talks is largely an empty one, as it rules out the participation of liberal MPs. This leaves her, once again, with only the more radical and intransigent Brexiters within her own party as her interlocutors, which means that the possibility of any alternative deal with the EU for which she may garner enough backing remains as distant as ever. Perhaps her hope is that, in the midst of the ensuing deadlock—with her political supporters agreeing only to demands that that the EU would never acquiesce to—, the impending reality of a no-deal Brexit will force most MPs to change their minds at the last minute and accept her deal as the lesser evil. But, if that is in fact her hope, it is an irresponsible one, one that rests on putting the nation’s future at stake for the sake of her own political pride. Indeed, the politics that have surrounded Brexit thus far give little reassurance that the possibility of nefarious consequences for the country will actually drive Conservative politicians to make the responsible choice. On the contrary, opportunist figures like Boris Johnson are likely to hail no-deal as a more welcome outcome than “vassalage” to the EU, putting all of their deceitful demagoguery on display in a bid to obtain the Prime Ministership during the ensuing chaos.

In the face of the impossibility of compromise over a reasonable Brexit, then, it would seem that the best alternative to the self-inflicted wounds of no-deal would be to convene a new referendum and let voters decide whether they want to move ahead with the madness. Ms. May’s arguments against the second referendum, that it would be a betrayal of democracy and that it would undermine the trust of British citizens in their institutions, are simply misplaced. The referendum would not be a re-do of the 2016 vote, asking voters to change their minds: it would be a new question on a new subject; namely, whether in light of the current reality surrounding the implementation of Brexit (something about which citizens could not have had the necessary information before the process begun), voters would prefer to go ahead with a no-deal, to endorse May’s own deal, or to remain within the EU. In addition, absent some constitutional constraint that may serve the purpose of facilitating democratic governance, there is no normatively compelling reason why the will of voters some years ago should be any more authoritative than the will of voters today, especially when we consider the reality of changing demographics and of a changed political context. Therefore, it may be better for Ms. May to give up on her red lines and open up the possibilities of a softer Brexit, or of a second referendum if that does not work. There is simply too much at stake, and if through her intransigence the Prime Minister leads the country into the disaster of a no-deal, the responsibility will rest squarely on her shoulders.


In your @_Orbit: Germany’s data breach by G0d

January 11, 2019


Starting in December personal data and documents from hundreds of German politicians and public figures were publish on Twitter for all to see in one of Germany’s most-far reaching data leaks. There was, however, one group that remained unaffected out of the seven political parties. AfD or Alternative for Germany’s right wing party was left untouched. Some of the higher profile people affected include Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greens leader Robert Habeck. The published information included telephone numbers, addresses, credit card data, photographs, and private communications. Several affected have deleted social media accounts as a result of  the breach.

Germany’s federal criminal police (BKA) said the information published online included addresses, telephone numbers, credit card data, photographs, privates communications and copies of identity cards. The Twitter account G0d with the handle @_0rbit was suspected to be behind this as it published the leaked information in an “advent calendar” where a window is opened each day leading up to Christmas. Early postings involved the personal information of rappers, journalists and YouTube video bloggers, but starting Dec. 20, information on members of five of the six political parties with seats in the German Parliament was released. It was not clear why AfD politicians were spared.

The account has since been suspended. Originally security officials thought the breach to be ‘the usual suspects’, Russia, however while they have denied involvement, this time they have been cleared as a unnamed German suspect has been identified as the culprit. The perpetrator was unknown until Jan 7th when G0d confessed to the crime. Police report A 20-year-old German man has made a confession that he was behind a data breach. Investigators said the man was still in school and living with his parents. The suspect said he acted alone and out of annoyance at statements made by the public figures he attacked. Styling himself “G0d”, he published private information about politicians, journalists, and celebrities on Twitter, under the username @_0rbit. His provisional arrest, however, was lifted on Monday evening and he was released “due to a lack of grounds for detention”, police said. They took into account both his age and his co-operation. He “exploited several vulnerabilities”, investigators said, adding that several such security gaps have since been fixed. The private information seems to have been acquired over a substantial period of time in 2018 in what officials called a “sophisticated” operation, and added to publicly available information.

The breach has been a wake-up call to security officials around the world as there have been much criticism towards Germany’s BSI or Federal Office for Information Security. The BSI defended its role in responding to the data breach, saying it could not have connected individual cases it was aware of last year until the entire data release became public last week. “It’s clear that we as the federal government … must do more to improve cyber security,” Stephan Mayer, state secretary in the Interior Ministry said. It has also emerged that German officials knew of at least one attack last year, but thought it was an isolated case. Overall, this has caused a call for a tightening data security laws.


Crisis or Opportunity? Macron and the Need for an Adequate Response to the Yellow Vest Movement

December 14, 2018

Arc de Triomphe

Competing with the demise of Theresa May’s Brexit deal for the most prominent news of the week in Europe, the revolt of the “Yellow Vests” in France has captured both headlines and people’s imaginations. The largely spontaneous protest movement, with its peaceful demonstrations on the one hand and its riotous vandalism on the other, has rekindled a hope for the revival of the ideal of popular resistance in the face of an elitist government that fails to deliver for the working and middle classes. Very much in line with the old-timey French tradition of the barricades, this modern-day revolution has left images of the Arc de Triomphe clouded by the smoke of burning debris and the tear gas of armored law-enforcement, along with hundreds of injured and arrested, as demonstrators gathered to protest for a fourth consecutive weekend in the streets of Paris. More importantly, perhaps, the revolt has placed the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, against the ropes. Indeed, Macron himself is at the very center of the storm: although the protests begun in opposition to his announced fuel-tax increase—aimed at reducing carbon emissions—, the yellow vests (named after the reflective hazard  vests that all drivers are mandated to carry in their vehicles under French law) were soon asking for his head. And they continued doing so even after the President backtracked on the tax. “Too little, too late,” most protesters said, as the movement progressed towards an overarching critique of a system that many feel is all too ready to simply “leave them behind.”

Indeed, much of the recent discontent with Macron has come from the perception that he is a self-centered figure too preoccupied with his own image as the savior of Europe to pay attention to the needs of the not-so-privileged. The issue for a large swath of voters is that the President, who ran as the non-establishment yet pro-European alternative to both far-right and far-left populism, has readily embraced neoliberal policies (such as the reduction of taxes on the wealthy to stimulate investment) while neglecting the common people. More than that, he is seen as having adopted a generally haughty attitude towards the public, treating those who express their discontent towards him in a condescending manner that betrays an elitist arrogance reminiscent of other French political figures of the past.

There is a danger behind this attitude, however, that extends well beyond Macron’s own political future. In particular, the problem is that the President’s self-positioning as both a pro-European centrist and an aloof, “Jupiterian” figure unconcerned with the predicaments of the common Frenchman risks damaging not only his own image, but the whole idea of a political center that may serve as a viable alternative to the populism currently on the rise throughout Europe. After all, Macron’s message is that his presidency is the last bulwark against the populist tide, especially on the Euroskeptic right. He has therefore effectively tied his own figure to the possibility of continued institutional stability in the heart of EU, especially as he is now positing himself as the heir-apparent to Angela Merkel’s European throne. But considering that it is in large part the perception of a detached elitism by the political cadres that has driven many voters to the ideological fringes, Macron’s overall approach may only serve  to reinforce in the eyes of a majority the idea that pro-European institutionalism is indistinguishable from an elitist neoliberalism that works against the needs of the common people. This, however, is not necessarily the case: as German political philosopher Jürgen Habermas has repeatedly emphasized, a politically integrated European Union may in fact be the best and only hope for the survival in the continent of the social-democratic model and the welfare state, since individual nations can no longer be expected to successfully cope with the forces of global neoliberalism that dictate their economic and social policies.

Of course, the possibility of any such integration passes through the fundamental reformation of European institutions so as to make the whole EU more democratic or, in other words, more directly accountable to the people, thereby giving its citizens a greater stake in European politics and a greater sense of common belonging to a European polity. And this, in turn, can only be based on a reinforcement of European competencies, so that the democratic participation of citizens at the European level may have a meaningful object, and so that the Union may have the capacity to operate as a meaningful actor in the global stage. Interestingly, Macron’s pro-European stance includes some ideas in that direction, ideas that anti-establishment protesters like the Yellow Vests tend to oppose, having developed a reasonable suspicion of the European Union as just one more element in the government’s drift towards globalization. Therefore, it is the President’s responsibility to disassociate the process of European integration from the neoliberal project that many French citizens legitimately fear, and part of that task may include repudiating some of the economic policies that have so angered the populace. It also includes a rejection of the elitist attitude that voters have come to despise, and in that sense Macron may have a lot to learn from the very leader he aspires to replace at the head of European politics, Angela Merkel. Indeed, Merkel’s political savviness has always been accompanied by an outward projection of humbleness and a rejection of the same egotism that Macron all too often likes to display. This outward image has helped Merkel secure the admiration of many in Germany and abroad, and has given her a voice of authority even as she stepped down, just recently, from her position as the leader of the conservative party in her country. An image like that would certainly help Macron dispel some of his own reputation as an elitist figure that does not truly represent the people, a reputation that is now one of the gravest dangers to his presidency and to European stability more generally. After all, if populism were to succeed in France, the hopes for the continuity of the European project would be largely shattered.

Perhaps Macron’s televised speech last Tuesday in response to the protests, accepting responsibility for his aloofness and promising to put in place reforms meant to improve the condition of the working class—such as an increase in the minimum salary—should be seen as a good first step, a gesture of good faith that will hopefully lead to an altogether different approach by the embattled leader. In fact, the current crisis could even serve as a moment of opportunity for the President, a chance to change the direction of his policies while portraying himself as someone willing to listen to the demands of the people. Naturally, that opportunity will be complicated by the headless nature of the Yellow Vests, who as a largely grassroots movement do not actually operate under a single voice or an identifiable leadership, but instead comprise a multitude of different individuals with different demands that are unlikely to be all simultaneously satisfied, not matter the response. What this means is that not just Macron, but also the protesters themselves, as well as the broader French citizenry, bear part of the responsibility to bring the current crisis to a satisfactory conclusion, At this moment, following the President’s concessions, the ball appears to be on the court of the Yellow Vests. Let us hope that, instead of mere violence or impossible demands, what follows is a process of dialogue that allows the political classes to effectively respond to the concerns of their constituents. Nothing less than the future of social democracy in Europe is at stake.


Green Taxes and Yellow Vests: French Outrage to Increasing Gas Prices

December 7, 2018


Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a green tax on fuel to go into effect January 1 as part of his environmental policy strategy. This green tax comes on the back of the call for action against climate change. This has set off protest for the last three weeks, which turned violent last weekend in Paris. As a result, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the gasoline tax increase for at least six months

These protests have been named the Yellow Vest Movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) for the safety vests worn by the protesters The yellow vest idea came early on, people who agreed with a petition were encouraged to show their support by displaying the high-visibility yellow vest every driver in France must by law carry, in case of roadside trouble. 

The Yellow Vest Movement originated in May and spread through social media.  It started when a woman named Priscillia Ludosky launched an internet petition calling for a drop in gas prices. The petition went mostly unnoticed until October, when Éric Drouet, a truck driver,   circulated it among his Facebook friends. The media picked up the story causing the number of signatures to skyrocket from an initial 700 to 200,000. Now it has more than 1.15 million signatures and counting. Originally, the yellow vest protesters were people from rural areas who have to drive long distances as part of their daily life and couldn’t afford the increase in fuel prices. The movement grew to include members of the working and middle classes, who  say their incomes are too high to qualify for social welfare benefits but too low to make ends meet.

The movement moved from social media to the streets on November 17 when Drouet decided to hold a car rally protest to demand lower gas prices. Supporters were asked to place their yellow vests on their dashboard or back shelf. The protests started in the French provinces but moved to Paris last week where they turned violent  over the weekend. Rioters defaced the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, looted shops, vandalized buildings and even attacked police. The cost of damage in Paris has been estimated at 4 million euros, or $4.5 million, protesters sprayed graffiti that read “Macron resignation” and, on the Arc de Triomphe, “We’ve chopped off heads for less than this.” Along with monetary losses four people have lost their lives due to the protests and hundreds were wounded. Three of the four people were killed separately in traffic accidents caused by roadblocks set up by yellow vests, and an 80-year-old woman in Marseille died from injuries she received when a tear gas grenade hit her in the face as she closed her apartment windows to protests below. Over 400 people have been arrested in Paris. Macron was in Buenos Aires for the G-20 summit over the weekend during the riots. He denounced the violence from Argentina and said those responsible for the chaos would be found and punished.


What the protester want has changed with their initial demand to repeal the green tax on diesel. Now, others want the current minimum wage to be raised. There have also been calls to dissolve the National Assembly and hold new elections. There has been a lot of rhetoric directed towards Macron, there have even been chants of “Macron resign!” President Emmanuel Macron was elected last year with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping reform, but his popularity has fallen sharply in recent months. He was elected on a platform of economic reform which would, the French people were told, improve their lives – with lower unemployment and a kick-started economy and many feel that has not emerged. Political leaders such as Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally (formerly the National Front), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left France Unbowed have tried without success to latch on to the yellow vests. Macron has accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block the reforms. Macron has previously said he won’t back down on the fuel tax. Since he took office 18 months ago, the French president has seen public push back on almost every one of his reforms, especially liberalizing the labor market. However, this is the biggest political crisis he has faced so far, and it could determine the rest of his presidency.

On Tuesday, due to the violence, it was announced the tax would be postponed for six months and not start at the beginning of the year as planned.announced the green tax would be postponed for at least six months. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, is the one who announced this saying, “The French people who have put on yellow vests love their country,” he said. “We share those values.” But condemned violence.  “No tax warrants putting the unity of the nation in danger. One would have to be deaf and blind not to see or hear the anger. This anger is rooted in a profound injustice, that of not being able to live decently from the fruits of one’s work, of not being able to provide for the needs of one’s children.” According to a poll conducted Sunday by Harris Interactive for French media, 72 percent of French people support the yellow vests, even after Saturday’s riots, but 85 percent say they are against the violence. Along with a suspension of the gas tax increase, the government said it would also delay new vehicle inspection measures and increases in electricity rates that were intended as part of Macron’s plans to transition France toward cleaner energy. Now the French government is concerned about more violence this upcoming weekend and we will have to see if this postponement improved moods or made matters worse.