Archive | June, 2009

>Clientelism to lead to pension protest in Romania?

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Romanian English language newspaper Nine O’Clock carries the following reflection on the country’s clientelistic and fragmented pension provisions, which seems to have shades of the Italian pattern. I rather doubt the apocalyptic predictions of ‘massive pensioner protestst’ which
uch sectoral divisions strikes me as likely to diffuse unless there is an obviously neglected majority group capable of taking collective actionand/or a highly unpopular priveged special group – in which case one would perhaps expense more generalized anti-political populist protest, if any.

“Pensioner fairytale law

published in issue 4460 page 1 at 2009-06-29

Among the imagines to shock Romania’s future are massive pensioner protests, government and prefecture picketing turned not once into street fights with police forces’ brutal intervention to restore the ‘rule of law’, which rule of law does not stand when it comes to daily life and the
4.6 million-strong pensioners, nearly half of whom have pensions below the minimum wage in the economy and 200,000 benefit from ‘specialpensions’, 70-80 to even 100 times the minimum one, which the governmentin office raised to RON 300 recently.

Romania has several pension laws, the majority of which are drafted in such a way as to unnaturally and immorally favour various categories of political clientele.

Justice, defence, home and foreign affairs and a few other fields benefit from ‘special’ pension laws.

The decisive factor for the pension amount is not the tax paid on it throughout the years, but the way in which a party president, government head or parliamentary group identified themselves with the interests of the said ‘special categories’. Since in Romania, all but every government
official, party head or lawmaker exercise their authority at the expense of the national interest, which results in the bulk of pensioners suffering the most from it.

Such contradictions led to the international financial and political community to ask Romania on and on to sort the salary and pension laws out. The most recent such request was occasioned by the financial loan Romania has taken, with the Boc government pledging to collaborate at the
oonest towards a blanket salary and pension laws. The latter was the subject of long and contradicting talks between government officials, trade unions, employers’ associations, heads of Parliament-represented parties. Yet, only occasionally and by means of mass-media only are
pensioners’ voices heard. Should this be a mere accident?”

It isn’t, as it stands testimony again to blanket pension talks ducking the core of the matter and seeking collateral interest instead. This is why the future pension law doesn’t take into count a fair ration between minimum and maximum pensions, a key lawful and fairness principle that
doesn’t apply to the overall pension law, unlike its salary counterpart.

Moreover, the current or past opposition has often clamoured about the collapse of the pension fund or payment default. Yet none of them refer to the huge ‘special pensions’ as the root of the pension fund being likely to enter collapse. Most of them speak of either the large number of
pensioners and the high unemployment rate, the decline in Gross Domestic Product and the 16 per cent rise in salaries over the past 12 months. Yet, it is exactly such aspects of the ongoing economic crisis that call for cutting special pensions down, as they threaten to bring the pension fundinto collapse. How come this reticence?

Because of the clan spirit, since both in civilian, and political-parliamentary life especially, there is a strong clan spirit with the most contradicting results. ‘Special pensions’ are therefore held
to be a ‘legally earned right’ that cannot be touched by any new law. The fiercest I this respect are the magistrates, whose views drastically change when it comes to the apartments that quite a few Romanians purchase legally from the state. When such properties purchased both legally and in good faith have been claimed by the so-called descendants of the former owners, court rulings are handed down in their favour more often than not.In this instance, there is no such thing as the ‘won asset’ law , as if the Romanian state of 1996 is not the same with that nowadays.

Further more: many at the high end of the rank and file are rushing to retire under the old laws, still in force, which favour them. And ‘special pension; recipients are advised, rank and file wise too, to get their pensions on cards, so that they remain ‘secret’. On the other hand, there
is a trend for decision makers to step in so that the value of the pension fund is no longer tied to the average salary in the economy, so its increase will no longer reflect on pensions too, which are to be frozen indefinitely. Other call for special pensions to be frozen at their current level, until the new ones catch up with them. Yet, since such aspiration is estimated to take about 15 years to come true, its perfidious intention is plain to see, as 15 years from now most of the
pensioners will no longer be among the living, which makes the blanket pension law into a ‘pensioner fairytale’.

by Mihai Iordanescu”

>Famous for E15 seconds…

> My views on the much maligned Czech presidency of the EU are quoted by the Czech online journal e15.cz and then even get cited in the political commentary on Czech radio.
Fame at last

I am also available for weddings and barmitzvahs…

>Grey politics in England’s wild West

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A regional website in the South West of England carries a short report about the English Pensioners’ Party, which is based in this region where it polled a-not-altogether-awful 2.4% in the recent Euro-elections. It didn’t field candidates in any other regions, presumably due to cash shortage as the article is mainly about efforts by the party’s founder to raise cash. If they had it, it the nascent English Greys might be on the theshold of becoming a viable minor party – roughly,where the populist English Democrats are today (Is English nationalism perhaps an up-and-coming political force of the next few decades, if and when Scottish independence comes into view). On the other hand, the English West Country does seem a rather unusual kind of place politically and something of a minor party shangri-la: a historic bastion of the Liberals and the UK Indepedence Party where the Greens polled well and the Cornish nationalists managed to beat the Labour Party in their home county/country.

>SEI on EU

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Sussex European Institute’s roundtable on the euro-elections tries to inject some early academic analysis into interpretation of last week’s election. The debate offers more than the sum of its parts. The underlying issue is not who’s up and who’s down, but how and why we should study the elections (the ‘so what’ qiestion): as a failing institutional device for addressing the democratic deficit in a multi-level EU political system?; as a set of case studies about ‘Europe’ in domestic politics; or 27 parallel ‘second order’ national electoral contests in which disenchanted voters give a pointer to the way that party systems are really going at an underlying level (the UK has is an 8 eight party system struggling to break out of a two-and-half party system.
There’s discussion of various factors influencing the results: the impact of economic crisis; national electoral cycles; the willingness of social democratic voters to vote for the radical left; the format of national party systems and so on… I wonder if it might be possible to cluster the 27 cases inro 4-5 configurations rather than picking out patchy trends or making qualified generalisations, or falling back on series of national stories.
Afterwards I duck into theUniversity of Sussex library. A library assistant in an anarcho-syndicalist T-shirt efficiently helps me find the book I’m after.

>CEE and the Euro-elections: Left behind?

>So the results of the Euro-elections are in.

Having missed out the chance of TV stardom on the BBC Euro-election results programme – half of SSEES seem to have been rung up by various BBC researchers looking for a pundit on Eastern Europe (in the end they did without one) – I can’t resist a brief bit of instant(ish) analysis.

The story as generally reported from a West European perspective is that centre-right incumbents have heldon; the centre-left – opposition or incumbent – has not made expected gains against the background of global recession and social insecurity; Greens, the far right and the anti-market left made modest gains, scooping what there was in the way of Europe-wide radical protest electorate.

A quick glance suggests that CEE suggests that region looses mirrors this trend: only Robert Fico’s Smer in Slovakia (as ever) has really bucked trend of social democratic under performance. Most surprisingly for me -was the performance of the Czech Civic Democrats who managed to avoid the predicted photo finish with the Social Democrats and win the Czech euro-election comfortably with 32% of the vote. The Czech Social Democrats (ODS), however, recovered from the electoral meltdown of 2004 and pulled in a more than respectable 24%, which should enable them to walk a bit taller in the depleted Socialist Group in Brussles. (They will, I suspect, be rather harder to beat in the October parliamentary elections, but, hey, this is the Czech Republic we’re talking about, so the smart money should perhaps be on political deadlock).
However, closer examinations suggests something of parallel narrative in CEE. Indeed, the much discussed erosion of Social Democracy in Western Europe does not seem (as yet) to playing out in the region. Although the Hungarian Socialists were predictably whacked (losing 4 MEPS) and the Estonian social democorats too seem to have lost a seat, other social democratic parties in the region seem to have more or less held their own: as noted, the Czech Social Democrats won’t be crying into their beer too much and leaders Slovakia’s Smer could reasonably crack open the champagne. The Bulgarian Socialists held their own as did the Romanian and Slovenian social democrats. Even the marginalised post-communist left in Poland has undergone a minor revival.

This may perhaps be because there are few if any centre-left parties in the region can really claim to authentically social democratic. But to my mind the regional disparity seems more to interpretable in terms of CEE’s less post-industrial, fragmented and multi-cultural societies posing less acute strategic dilemma.

The grand narrative of social democratic decline/crisis has been academically well set out in Herbert Kitschelt’s 1994 classic The Transformation of European Social Democracy and put across in more digestable form by academic commentators such as Simon Hix in commentaries on the Euro elections. The basic story is this: social change, globalization and economic restructuring are generating competition pressures in the political arena as the big centre left parties struggle to cope with the break up of helectoral coalitions that underpinned them: Greens eating into their support among left-liberal public sector professionals, the populist far-right (and in some places workerist radical left) making inroads among working class voters in deindustrialized, credit crunched former heartlands.

Central and Eastern Europe’s Greens – never a very strong electoral force – seem again to have bombed entirely. This was in part – but only in part – due to the smaller populations and hence smaller numbers of of MEPs elected in CEE states which raised the effective threshold of votes. But even in a largeish state like the Czech Republic where a mere 5% would have done the trick the Green Party (SZ) failed. The SZ gained miserable 2%, as internicine factional infighting seemed at last to have taken an electoral toll – although cynics will note that the political support of Václav Havel, which always turns out to the kiss of political death for any new party.

To get back to centre-left, CEE social democrats have it a little easier. They face little competition from eco-liberal parties – whose support is small and would probably not have gone to them in the first place – leaving economic populists and anti-establishment novelty parties as the main challenge. There is also perhaps a larger constituency demanding social protection making brusingly pro-welfare positions a safer political bet (at least when campaigning in elections). There is, I suppose, less of ‘core vote’ to fall back – the Czech Social Democrats’ vote, for example, has rollercoasted wildly over the past decades despite the engrained social market preferences of a huge chunk of the Czech population – but in sense the lack of one is perhaps almost an advantage. After all, what you don’t have can’t be eroded.

I am fed up being rung up by journalists and asked about the far-right in CEE, so I’m not going so say much about this particular dog that doesn’t bark (much) Given the very healthy vote for the Front National, Danish People’s Party, Austrian Freedom Party, Dutch Freedom Party and, of course, and our own BNP, I am eagerly awaiting Polish and Hungarian journalists getting onto the phone up to ask wave of right-wing extremism of sweeping Western Europe threatens democracy in the region.

>I can’t believe I just did that…

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I can’t believe I just did that…

Secluded in the polling booth, pencil poised over ballot papers for local and European elections, on impulse I voted for a despised minor party. I mean I should have known better. All that ‘British Jobs For British Workers’ stuff was obviously rubbish and, yes, the party’s leadership is a bit thuggish. But, you know how it is , mainstream media vilification does push some poeple into protest voting for fringe parties – and I was truly fed up with both the big parties locally.

For the first time in 21 years, I voted Labour.