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May 25 2018

15:01

Facing legal challenge, Tories hint about scrapping some NHS reforms – but remain wedded to privatising 'solutions'

The effects of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act are now too disastrous to ignore. But Jeremy Hunt’s shift is of rhetoric, not of substance - .and his new “ACO” plans are so dangerous, campaigners this week challenged them in the High Court.

Image: Professor Sue Richards, Dr Colin Hutchinson, Professor Allyson Pollock & Dr Graham Winyard in front of the High Court this week as their Judicial Review opened. Credit: WeOwnIt/Twitter, Fair Use.

The leader of the Opposition’s opening gambit in PMQs this week was to put Theresa May on the spot over how much of NHS services were currently being outsourced to the private sector. Rather predictably, she had no answer of substance to this question.

Most people are aware by now that the NHS is at breaking point. But what much of the public are still in the dark about is exactly how this crisis is happening or being navigated.

Anyone wanting to find out would be well-advised to take a look at incoming Accountable Care Organisations, which threaten to usher in an ‘Americanisation’ of services and possibly the largest vehicle for future privatisation in the NHS’s history. This week, the High Court heard about the impending introduction of these ACOs from a team of 4 senior health professionals (previously 5, until the death of the late Professor Stephen Hawking in March). This judicial review looks to ensure that a shake-up as large as this does not occur without the proper public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny such a significant restructuring of public healthcare should entail.

Along with legislative efforts to reinstate statutory responsibility for the health of people across England – which was essentially torn away by Andrew Lansley in 2012 - the case forms part of a several-year-long campaign to restore public healthcare (as set out in the NHS’s founding charter) as well as to uncover what transatlantic interests have planned for it.

What are ACOs? And why are they such cause for concern?

Already piloted quietly across 10 areas in England, Accountable Care Organisations boil down to a large-scale reorganisation and ‘integration’ of care providers. In theory, ACOs could be owned by NHS hospitals or GPs. But there may be nothing in place to stop them from being controlled by large insurance companies, finance and property firms who could eventually take them over and run them purely for profit.

Through these new integrated care systems, the government looks to pool health and social care budgets from NHS England, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and General Practice with local authority budgets into contracts to be awarded on a per capita basis. This means that ACOs could be a financial “Special Purpose Vehicle”, a public body or a private company. The longer-term upshot may be that CCGs disappear altogether and ACOs take on commissioning responsibilities, presenting them with the power to alter resources and patient composition.

One central concern that has been raised relates to the way ACOs appear to blur the lines between the definition of care that’s ‘free at point of use’, care that’s charged at point of use and care that’s sold off privately. This obviously goes straight to the heart of the NHS’s founding principle of universal public healthcare provision. It is also a partial carry-over from NHS England chief Simon Stevens’ nebulous promise to “dissolve the classic divide[s]” of healthcare in his 2014 Five Year Forward View, which at the same time pledged to reduce tens of billions in expenditure before 2021.

During the last two years, some of the largest ever contracts for NHS services have emerged. One of the first of these super contracts was in Dudley, where financial details of the 15-year Multispecialty Community Provider (MCP) agreement are not known. Then, in April 2017, a Manchester commissioning group announced the largest ever tender for NHS services, in a contract worth £6 billion, for a provider of all out-of-hospital care in an area serving around 600,000 patients. Last year was also the advent of the first “voluntary” contracts to be awarded to GPs and Trusts now operating as tender-based, unofficially pro-profit businesses.

In February this year, a High Court judge temporarily blocked Lancashire County Council’s attempt to outsource a £104 million childcare contract to Virgin. This ruling came only weeks after NHS bodies were forced to make an undisclosed settlement to the health branch of Richard Branson’s conglomerate over its loss of a £82 million contract to provide children’s health services across Surrey.

ACOs could open the door to a great deal more private US equity firms looking to prise open the £120 billion oyster of UK healthcare. Fears of backdoor privatisation have been compounded by indications from an increasingly embattled May desperately scrambling to secure a future trade deal with the US post-Brexit.

Accountable Care?

Despite talk of unification, “seamless” integration and the government’s persistent use of ‘local’ areas and populations in its language around ACOs, they will almost certainly fragment, outsource and create an increasingly complex commercial model of healthcare - instead of an open, transparent, directly-accountable model of provision. ‘Accountable care’ couldn’t be any more of a misnomer.

ACOs’ taxonomy of “local health systems”, each with their own geographic “footprints”, was inherited from the division of local healthcare in England under Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), Stevens’ last grand solution to plug a £22 billion annual funding gap before this latest move. A core problem with STPs was its delegation of responsibilities to the[se] new ‘localities’, with no clear statutory rules or external regulation governing the care provision process. This question is one that has not become any clearer during the introduction of ACOs, for all the government’s talk of openness and liability.

Jeremy Hunt’s visions of a tech panacea have also been part of the push towards ACOs, as well as to square various circles left by Stevens’ glib tract[s]. Meanwhile, underfunding of basic IT facilities in hospitals has continued – as was made all too clear in last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack[s].

Government officials maintain that ACOs are not a move towards US-style privatisation, accusing campaigners of generating “pernicious falsehood[s]” and “irresponsible” alarmism, while insisting the plans “are simply about making care more joined-up between different health and care organisations”. The pro-market King’s Fund has reiterated this message, arguing that identifications with US healthcare are mistaken and that the NHS needs more integrated care to survive.

But, as health economist Allyson Pollock has pointed out, commercial contracting and subcontracting in the NHS is already happening on a scale and at a duration never considered by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This was one of a number of crucial concerns which either weren’t raised or were stamped out during the legislation’s passage through parliament. It’s little surprise, then, that government and pro-market bodies are trying to keep campaigners quiet about ACOs (as they did around the time of Lansley’s reforms) especially given these bodies’ cosy ties with US private health.

Although May deflected Corbyn’s outsourcing question at this week’s PMQs, Allyson Pollock argues that only 36% of healthcare contracts were won by NHS providers in the financial year 2016-17, compared to 60% in 2014-15. And we also know private providers won £3.1 billion of new contracts in 2016-17, 43% of total advertised value.

If anything, ACOs form part of a discursive shift rather than a shift from policy’s direction of travel after the effects of the disastrous 2012 Act became too obvious to ignore – and then needed to be ‘tidied up’. This shift signalled a move away from talk of breaking up public healthcare (remember, Lansley’s top-down reforms were a “reorganisation so big you can see it from outer space”) towards a language of “collaboration” into which the term “integration” fits neatly.

The truth is there is no real or meaningful local accountability with ACOs: no one knows what will happen if private contractors walk away from their contracts, or if they choose to close services and sell off buildings in search of more lucrative ventures, as has been happening recently with nursing home closures.

The JR4NHS case and NHS re-instatement

Sometimes the conversation around the protection and the future of the NHS can seem hopelessly bleak. But, although the task can appear insurmountable, there are groups working to combat the corporate divvy-up of UK public healthcare. And they require public support now more than ever before.

This judicial review action, for instance, has already prevented swathes of ACOs from being rubber-stamped until the case and consultation reaches a conclusion – they had initially been scheduled to come into effect this April.

The case obviously can only go so far, though, due to its necessarily limited remit besides other things. Beyond other standalone legal battles like it, what has so far been stripped away can only be rehabilitated and restored by an Act of Parliament – which is why it is essential to support the Private Members’ Bill on 11th July to reclaim and begin to re-instate the NHS.

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14:58

Footage Released of North Korean Nuke Site Destruction

Journalists witness numerous explosions as part of alleged closure of Punggye-ri
14:50

The Progressive Economy Forum: a new initiative to solve an old problem

A new economic vision based on the values of equality, dynamism and sustainability. 

On 16 May in Westminster, Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, and Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Minister for the Treasury, spoke at the launch of the Progressive Economy Forum (PEF), an organization initiated by prominent London human rights lawyer Patrick Allen.On 16 May Caroline On 16 May Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, and Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Minister for the Treasury, spoke at the launch of the Progressive Economy Forum (PEF), an organisation initiated by prominent London human rights lawyer Patrick Allen. The following day the PEF Council, which is made up of leading economists, met to initiate its project of transforming the economic narrative in Britain. As part of our commitment to policy making, Peter Dowd, Shadow Financial Secretary in the Treasury, joined us in the afternoon. The Progressive Economy Forum will launch a new macroeconomic narrative, founded on the progressive values of equality, dynamism and sustainability. To put it succinctly, PEF seeks to dispel the myths and lies of austerity economics and replace that pernicious ideology with a progressive macroeconomic vision and narrative. What we seek to dispel is nothing less than the ideological justification for the destruction of public services and the associated disintegration of our national sense of community. Conservative governments have implemented this destruction and disintegration through expenditure cuts whose long run purpose is the weakening of the public sector, sometimes encapsulated in the term “neoliberal agenda”.

Austerity: the Tory default Mode

Severe as it has been for the welfare of the British people, the last eight years of austerity under three Conservative governments are only the most recent manifestation of Tory assaults on public services. Since Margaret Thatcher became prime minister almost forty years ago, shrinking the public sector has been the recurrent theme across Tory governments. Far worse than a drip, drip, drip of water torture cuts, Conservative governments have assaulted the public sector with the siege machines of constrained departmental budgets, privatisation and catastrophic reductions in local government grants. This is the sorry history of Tory governments that PEF, through its educational and outreach activities, seek to expose and discredit. That sorry story appears in Chart 1, which shows total public spending as share of GDP over four decades (from 1980-2017). I was initially surprised that in the first three years of the Thatcher government the share of public spending in GDP rose. This unexpected rise is the “exception that proves the rule” of Conservative governments, resulting not from expenditure increases, but from austerity-driven contraction of GDP. Then Chancellor Douglas Howe consciously provoked a severe recession with the putative and punitive purpose of reducing inflation. As the economy haltingly recovered, the public sector declined. The share of public spending fell continuously for the rest of the decade, from 42.8% in 1979 in the last year of the Labour government to less than 35% in 1989 (Thatcher’s last full year in power). By comparison, the years of the Major government were relatively benign for public spending, though it remained continuously below the 38 year average and fell after 1992.  The return of a Labour government briefly coincided with further decline, to 35% in 2000 from 37% when the Major government staggered to its unlamented end in a near electoral wipe-out. The decline at the end of the 1990s represented the reverse causality of the early 1980s. A four year above-average growth rate of 3.5% resulted in GDP expanding faster than public expenditure. During the last of the Blair years, 2000-2007, the public expenditure share in GDP rose almost continuously, to well above the period average.  In 2007 just before the global financial crash public spending relatively to GDP had returned to the four decade average of 39.7%. In the early 1980s a policy-induced recession pushed up the spending-GDP ratio by driving down GDP. A far more severe and certainly not intended recession arrived in 2008. The collapse in GDP combined with strong countercyclical fiscal policy took public sending to 44% of GDP in 2010.  Following the reactionary tradition of Thatcher, the Cameron-led governments quickly and aggressively reversed that increase. This neo-Thatcherite assault on public spending, faithfully continued by the May government, again brought the spending share below 40%. Chart 2 shows the clear link between squeezing public expenditure and economic growth. During the Thatcher-Major years, when the public expenditure share fell drastically and remained consistently for long term trend, the 17 year average GDP growth rate was 2.2% and negative in five of those years. By contrast, during the 10 Blair-Brown years prior to the global crisis the spending ratio rose and GDP growth increased to an average of 3%. The seven full years of Cameron-May brought us back to the Thatcher-Major rates, even lower at 2.0%. Four decades changed neither Tory economic policy nor its outcomes – a contracting public sector and growth rates well below potential. To quote a famous song by Frank Sinatra, Tory austerity and stagnation “go together like a horse and carriage”, and multiple conservative governments have confirmed “you can’t have one without the other”.

Exposing Austerity

Those of my generation may remember another song, this one of the 1960s and satirical, “Lilly the Pink”. The song celebrates the virtues of a miracle cure for all conceivable bodily ailments, the “medicinal compound”. However, when taken by hopeful sufferers, the consequences are disastrous – e.g. its “cure” for a stammer is to leave a person unable to speak. It would be difficult to find a better metaphor for the austerity ideology. Thatcher, Osborne and Hammond all promised that it would repair and revive the British economy. As in the song, when urged to “drink-a-drink-a-drink” the austerity compound, the British public finds itself not cured but suffering from a collapsing health service, economic stagnation, local governments in bankruptcy and social services in tatters. Building on the gathering public recognition that the austerity ideology is no more than snake oil, the Progressive Economy Forum provides focus for a new, positive economic narrative. It is a narrative of hope not despair, identifying the policies that can take Britain from the current austerity-induced malaise to a vibrant society managed for and by the many not the few.

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14:27

Russia: three years for a smashed head. A concert broken up. And, once again, torture

The latest in freedom of assembly news from Russia, via OVD-Info. 

Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the Penza anti-fascists facing terrorism charges. Source: rupression.comThis week there have been many important events in the realm of political repression. As always, we do our best to set out what has happened succinctly and with clarity.

The charges against the mathematician Dmitry Bogatov for incitement to riot and justification of terrorism have been dropped. Another person has now been remanded in custody in the case. Bogatov’s prosecution was based on posts published on the web forum SysAdmins.ru by a user with the nickname “Airat Bashirov”. He used the Tor anonymiser administered by Bogatov. Thirty-three-year-old Vladislav Kuleshov, administrator of the Energomer database, is the new suspect in the case. He has pleaded guilty and, according to a statement by his lawyer, “does not want” to appeal against being remanded in custody.

Vyacheslav Shatrovsky, a resident of the village of Sharya charged with using force against a police officer during the so-called “Maltsev revolution”, has been sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony. Shatrovsky says that on 5 November he was standing on Novopushkinsky Square in Moscow waiting for his son, Maksim, in order to pass a bag on to him. When Maksim got into a conflict with a police officer, his father intervened on his behalf and during the ensuing dispute the police officer threw Shatrovsky over his shoulder. The investigation considers Shatrovksy attacked the police officer. Vyacheslav Shatrovsky suffered an open head wound along with numerous bruises to his head, a diagnosis confirmed by doctors at the Sklifosovsky Institute. Later, the stitches on Shatrovsky’s head, done while he was in hospital, were removed in his cell with the help of fellow detainees.  

A court ruled that Konstantin Saltykov, charged with using force against a police officer during the Voters’ Strike protest on 28 January, must remain in pre-trial detention. Even the prosecutor had requested that Saltykov be transferred to house arrest.

The so-called “Network” investigation continues. Nine young people in Penza and St Petersburg have now been charged with taking part in the “Network” terrorist group. Allegedly, members of the group made preparations for disturbances in the country. A number of defendants have alleged they were tortured by the FSB.

  • - “From now on you will do what the investigator says you will do. If he says white is black, you will say it is black. If they cut off your finger and say eat it, you will eat it.” Defendant Dmitry Pchelintsev has retracted his earlier guilty plea and has told his lawyer he was tortured to make him withdraw his previous allegation that he had been tortured. Pchelintsev was again subjected to electric shocks and threatened with his wife being raped. He has stated that if he retracts what he has said once again, this will mean he has again been victim of torture.

  • - St Petersburg City Court has ruled that the Petersburg defendants in the case, Viktor Filinkov and Yulia Boyarshinova, are to remain in pre-trial detention.

  • - On the Russian-Ukrainian border a friend of the accused, Viktoriya, has been detained.

In St Petersburg, officers of the counter-extremism department and SOBR special purpose mobile police units broke up a punk music concert. All those at the concert were photographed and had their ID checked. A number were arrested. The organiser of the concert said that “for some reason the police said the biggest guys were Nazis, some of them were even photographed with White Power signs, although our concert was an anti-fascist event.”

The administration of Moscow State University tried to break up a “Festival to Get Rid of the Bolsheviks”. An hour before the festival, Moscow State University authorities blocked all public spaces of the university’s main building with ribbons and barriers, while, nearby, employees of a private security agency and police officers in civilian clothes were on duty. The hall where the festival was due to be held was flooded with water, and then, when the group Arkadii Kots was performing, one of the group’s musicians was arrested. Students at the university were protesting against the creation of a fan-zone for Bolsheviks on the territory of the university during the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

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13:16

Harvey Weinstein Handcuffed After Surrendering to Police

Ex-movie mogul faces years in prison
13:12
13:11
12:27

Trump Picks Fierce Anti-Illegal Immigration Advocate for Top Refugee Job

Wants immigrants to use proper legal channels
12:27

Kristol Eyes Never-Trumpers for 2020 Bid

Ideas include Kasich, Romney
12:27

China’s Box Office Beats US

Earnings mark beginning of new trend
12:17

Julian Assange’s Refuge In Ecuadorian embassy ‘In Jeopardy’

Wikileaks founder could face extradition to US
12:10

Gunman In Oklahoma Restaurant Killed By Armed Civilian

Potential mass shooting ended by 2A lionheart
12:08

Islamic Finance Joins IMF

Religious system bans interest payments, pure monetary speculation
11:45

Race-Faker Rachel Dolezal Charged With Welfare Fraud

Swindler caught reportedly swindling again
11:45

MPs criticise Facebook’s “not fit for purpose” foreign ad ban as Ireland votes on abortion

British and Irish parliamentarians call for major changes to unregulated social media campaigning following openDemocracy revelations – but too late for Friday’s historic vote.

Facebook’s logo. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.MPs and data rights advocates have raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of Facebook’s ban on foreign advertising ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum, after an openDemocracy investigation found that campaigners outside Ireland could still pay for social media ads targeting Irish accounts with anti-abortion messages.  

Earlier this month, Facebook announced a ban on ads relating to Friday’s vote that do not originate from advertisers inside Ireland. The move followed growing fears over foreign influence in the referendum and revelations about numerous online ads posted by groups in international and unknown locations.

But openDemocracy was still able to buys ads targeting Irish accounts with referendum-related propaganda from UK after the ban came in. From London, we set up a fake page called ‘Save Irish Babies’, and were soon prompted by Facebook to ‘boost’ our posts. We successfully paid to target Irish accounts in Dublin, Sligo and Wicklow. No VPN or sophisticated IP-masking software were used and we used a non-Irish address and bank card.

“This investigation demonstrates that the changes that Facebook has made regarding political and issues based adverts on its platform are not fit for purpose,” said Damian Collins MP, chair of the Westminster committee that is currently holding an inquiry into fake news.

“Buzzwords like AI and machine learning are all well and good, but it is clear that foreign individuals and organisations are still easily able to post adverts, demonstrating that a lot more needs to be done to protect the integrity of referendums and elections around the world,” Collins told openDemocracy.

“This investigation demonstrates that the changes that Facebook has made are not fit for purpose.”

James Lawless, a member of Irish Parliament, said openDemocracy’s investigation raised "massive concern” about whether Facebook’s ban on foreign ads had actually prevented campaigners outside Ireland from influencing the vote. The referendum result is expected to be very close.

“The moves by Facebook (to block ads) came so late in the day that even if the platforms had a genuine intent to tackle the problem the processes were not in place,” Lawless said. “As your investigation has highlighted it was by no means robust, it might not even have worked. That is a massive concern.”

Lawless has brought forward a bill in the Irish parliament calling for greater transparency in online advertising and social media.

Such legislation is needed, he said, “to prevent the underhanded tactics we have seen on occasion during the campaigns in recent weeks, the Brexit referendum campaign in the UK, the presidential elections in the US and other less known elections across the globe.”

“Our laws related to electioneering must be updated to reflect the new spaces in which people campaign,” he added.

“Our laws related to electioneering must be updated to reflect the new spaces in which people campaign.”

Gavin Sheridan, of the Irish transparency campaign Right to Know, echoed this call for government regulation of online political campaigning.

"We can no longer allow companies to set the terms and self-regulate how ads are seen in the context of elections and referenda,” he told openDemocracy.

“It is not up to Facebook, Google or any other company to choose what information to release or not release about what is going on. We need new, modern legislation to address how campaigns are run in the modern era. Self-regulation will simply not work.”

Social media played a significant role in the Irish referendum campaigns, with anti-abortion and pro-choice ads also appearing on YouTube, Instagram, Twittter and other channels. Transparent Referendum Initiative researchers captured some 1145 Facebook ads, including from groups in foreign and unknown locations.

Google also announced its own ban, on all ads related to the referendum. But reports suggest that anti-abortion campaigners have been able to sidestep this measure and continue to target Irish voters online by buying space on other platforms including news sites such as the Washington Post and the Guardian.

Guardian News and Media said it was “continuing to investigate with our ad tech providers” how this was happening and a spokesperson for the women’s site Bustle.com said it was “reviewing preventative options.”

A spokesperson for Facebook Ireland told openDemocracy: “Since introducing the policy, we have rejected and removed many ads which were in violation of our foreign ads policy. We use both machine learning and human review to identify ads that should no longer be running.”

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11:31

Offensive liberalism: Emmanuel Macron and the New European Politics

Can President Macron save the EU as a legitimate liberal institution, through a deliberate re-politicisation of European politics? What he attempts also has the potential to destroy it.

lead US President Donald Trump speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting at White House, Washington DC on April 25, 2018. Blondet Eliot/Press Association. All rights reserved.Michael Sandel puts his finger on the key problem of recent liberal politics – that liberals, enamoured of technocracy and tolerance have lost their “capacity to inspire” and their power to persuade. He compellingly argues that Barack Obama was initially inspiring in word but less so in deed, falling back too easily on technocratic and neoliberal policies and, like other liberals of recent vintage, avoiding engaging in substantive moral arguments.  

Sandel is not alone in having reached the conclusion that this brand of liberalism has run its course and that if liberal politics is to again inspire and wield influence then it needs fresh “identity, meaning and purpose”. A new approach is needed. French President Emmanuel Macron has already gone far beyond “liberal neutrality” and has taken liberalism on the offensive. In doing so he addresses the concerns of Sandel and others by providing an inspiring and positive vision, and fosters patriotism and community – but at the European rather than the national level.

Some have dismissed Macron as just another centrist, too moderate to make the changes needed to address Europe’s structural problems or as a typical neoliberal, a former investment banker looking after the interests of his ‘own class’. In short, another Obama waiting to happen.

But Macron may be a different kind of liberal, an Offensive Liberal. He may not be the ‘leader of the free world’, but he’s currently its best hope – and the one who has opened a Pandora’s box in Europe. The award of the Charlemagne prize recognises the hope vested in him as the saviour of the EU, but his brand of politics could break rather than make Europe’s liberal future.

The term ‘offensive liberal’, which may also appeal to Macron critics on both left and right, has been used before of course, to describe those such as Tony Blair or Anne-Marie Slaughter who have sought to promote democracy by force. But Macron’s offensive liberalism is different as his recent speeches to the US Congress, the European Parliament and, earlier, at the Sorbonne have shown. This new breed of offensive liberalism amounts to a deliberate re-politicisation of European politics, one that is aimed at saving the EU as a legitimate liberal institution – but which also has the potential to destroy it.

En Garde!

Macron has staked out a moderate liberal position on a number of issues. He has emphasised the importance of multilateralism in foreign policy and has shown a willingness to engage militarily in Syria, but has been reluctant to lecture non-western states. He combines progressive positions on climate change with calls for economic dynamism and the promotion of business and trade, while seeking to ameliorate Chinese influence in Europe and curb social dumping. He has carved out a niche, as Jurgen Habermas put it, “between the self-satisfied anti-capitalism of the left-wing nationalists and the stale identitarian ideology of the right wing populists.”

So far, so centrist – even ‘radical centrist’, perhaps – but Macron’s brand of liberalism is also ‘offensive’ in two key ways that set it apart from other recent liberal politics. First, Macron has called for a revival of ‘political heroism’ and ‘grand narratives’, as well as outlining his own positive vision for a liberal Europe that combines sovereignty, unity and democracy in a ‘European Dream’. This positive approach sharply contrasts with the hesitant, sometimes apologetic, ‘defensive’ liberal positions of the ‘Remain’ and Clinton campaigns in the 2016 Brexit Referendum and US Presidential election.

Rather than outline their own positive visions, these defensive liberals generally focused on what could be lost if their opponents won, while acknowledging (some of) their own flaws and the need for reform. This hesitant, negative approach, reliant on the politics of fear rather than hope, stasis rather than change, was never likely to inspire. The ‘Leave’ and Trump campaigns came across as more assertive, more able to understand widespread discontent but also, crucially, to narrate a clear vision of what should be done about it. Defensive liberals were left nervously clinging to past gains, which many people felt they had not sufficiently shared in, rather than offering a positive vision for the future. As The Economist and others, including Sandel, have noted, liberalism without hope, without the promise of a positive future, is liberalism in trouble. As The Economist and others have noted, liberalism without hope, without the promise of a positive future, is liberalism in trouble.

Macron has also shown himself to be offensive liberal in another way – by carrying the fight directly to the opposition and actively seeking confrontation, conflict and controversy. This puts him at odds with the dominant neoliberal approach of recent years – ‘there is no alternative’ (or at least not any worth countenancing as a serious political contender) – that Habermas has characterised “day-to-day” centrism – and others have seen as showing that neoliberalism has run out of intellectual steam. Hence the approach that often sought to impose neoliberalising measures by stealth or in the wake of what some have seen as manufactured crises. This may have been offensive and humiliating for many people in effect but it was not offensive in its method, seeking to delegitimise opponents through non-engagement, letting the kids have their political tantrums and protest politics, while the ‘adults’ got on with the serious business of business as usual.

Macron is different. He has outlined three ways of dealing with extremist parties: to ignore them, act like they don’t exist but don't risk any provocative initiatives; to imitate them; or to “say these people are my true enemies and engage them directly in battle.” Battle is a term that Macron is fond of – whether referring to the decision to enter the French election, taking on the Front Nationale, reforming French or EU institutions or facing down European populists and illiberal forces. In discussing the latter in the European Parliament he went one step further and likened Europe’s divisions to a “civil war.” In the European Parliament he went one step further and likened Europe’s divisions to a “civil war.”

War by other means

Macron’s offensive liberalism is confrontational and conflictual but, despite the rhetoric, it is not warlike. With reference to Clausewitz’ famous dictum (and Foucault’s inversion of it) it is firmly within the realm and takes the means of politics, even if it remains comparable. And that’s the point: offensive liberalism is, in effect, the re-politicisation of liberalism in Europe and at the European level. If followed through, this will have potentially seismic consequences for the EU.

Re-politicizing liberalism means breaking out of the paradigm that has held sway in European politics for most of the last three decades – the historicist liberalism that came dressed as the ‘end of history’. Many have repudiated Fukuyama and he himself has rowed back from the claims made in the heady days of the early 90s about the inevitability of liberalism’s ultimate triumph.

In practice, however, much of the West and particularly the EU and its member states, acted to cement liberalism’s place at the heart of the their institutions. The EU came to be styled as ‘fundamentally’ liberal, with legally enshrined (liberal) ‘European values’ and ‘fundamental rights’. Making these things fundamental or constitutional effectively put them beyond contestation, off limits for discussion, to depoliticise them. This depoliticization has, in part, provoked the ‘illiberal’ challenge posed to the EU most obviously, but not exclusively, by the approach of the current Hungarian and Polish governments and by the Brexit vote.

Treaty change is no longer taboo

By and large the challenge has been met with intransigence, with EU officials and member states led by Merkel’s Germany, dogmatically repeating the mantra that the EU is a liberal club and refusing to sanction any potential treaty change or serous discussion of the ‘fundamental’ nature of certain rights and values, lest it give the illiberal camp an institutional foothold. Macron has recognised that this further – and potentially fatally – delegitimises the EU as democratic institution, as well as contradicting its own liberal values.

So Macron has taken the third of his three options outlined above and gone on the attack, offending many to his left and right in the process, but also explicitly stating that treaty change is no longer a taboo. He has picked the fight for Europe’s liberal future, which carries with it the risk of creating an illiberal EU, or even the collapse of the Union. Macron and the offensive liberals must now win the fight they have picked.

But if the offensive liberals win, it also carries the promise of a more legitimate, and lastingly liberal Europe. This is a prize worth having but, having gone on the attack, Macron and the offensive liberals must now win the fight they have picked. They will have to show that as well as reviving hope, and articulating a positive vision, they can also address the substantive problems identified by Sandel: income inequality, meritocratic hubris and destructive understandings of patriotism and community – and do so without compromising their liberal values.

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11:30

BUCHANAN: Is US Saber Rattling Backfiring?

We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good
10:32
09:55
08:00

The EU response to the Libyan crisis: shallow impact with a short-term vision

By securitizing migration, EU leaders have appeared to address the needs of European audiences more than those of Libyan stakeholders

Trainees perform a drill during graduation ceremony in Tripoli, Libya, on Feb. 13, 2018. Picture by Hamza Turkia/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.Seven years after the Arab uprisings, Libya’s deinstitutionalization of the established order is far from being a success story. In 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ events were a surprise to the EU, its member states and western organizations. With the outbreak of the protests, the EU was forced to face the challenges of reconfiguring its own action beyond its border and the need to acknowledge each country’s unique domestic political situation, of which Libya is a very illuminating example. Today, the Libyan crisis is still unfolding, and its outcome is utterly uncertain.

The Libyan turmoil upsurged in a country where the EU-Libya relations were virtually nonexistent from 1992 to 1999 and were relaunched only in the late 2000s. In actuality, the Libyan crisis opened a pandora’s box made up of a twisted political scenario imbued with 42 years of authoritarian and uninterrupted personalistic grip on power, upon which the EU wishes to react and elaborate its common security and foreign policy. 

The weight of EU commitment to Libya’s political stabilization and security compared to the persistent conflict that thwarts long-term solutions calls for a more in-depth unpacking of the intention-implementation gap and the implementation-local reception gap between on paper and actual outcomes. This is what my co-authors and I have attempted to do in a recent working paper titled “The implementation of EU Crisis Response in Libya: Bridging theory and practice”. 

The study focuses on how the EU substantiates its crisis response in Libya, analysing the implementation phase and practitioners’ as well as local actors' perception that connects decision-makers in Brussels to final beneficiaries in Libya. The investigation is part of the HORIZON2020 research program called EUNPACK, which analyses EU crisis response in a number of countries including Libya, and it investigates two main gaps in the EU intervention.

The international debate accompanying the EU action in Libya; the anxieties of European audiences vis-à-vis perceived threats of migration and terrorism originating in Libya; and the expectations of EU member states are all indications that the stakes are higher than crisis response alone when it comes to Libya, and these dynamics may have sensible implications on the overall EU action in the country. As a consequence, top-down understandings of policy design must be corroborated by bottom-up investigation of how the EU crisis response is received and perceived by different local actors throughout the conflict cycle, by focusing on practitioners connecting security practices to beneficiaries. 

EU’s response to the Libyan crisis after 2014

The Libyan revolts in February 2011 caused a violent reaction by Gaddafi’s regime and prompted the UN Security Council to intervene. By expecting to overthrow Gaddafi in a matter of weeks, UNSC adopted the resolution  1973 establishing a no-fly zone and, in the name of R2P, it authorized member states to end violence against, and abuses of, civilians. EU’s intervention followed the UN but slowly and incoherently. The EU adopted a panoply of crisis management instruments including diplomatic measures, humanitarian assistance, military and civilian operations.

Libya never joined the EU Barcelona process and never signed any Association Agreement but negotiations on the EU-Libya framework agreement were eventually re-launched in November 2008. In 2009, the Commission issued a Libya Strategy Paper and National Indicative Programme 2011-2013. The country strategy paper (CSP) envisaged a few priority areas of common interest to be covered in the framework agreement, including fighting illegal immigration in the Mediterranean or terrorism, supporting the country’s hydrocarbons energy resources, creating the bases for successful investment in new sectors and eventually human rights. The negotiations stalled and stopped when political turmoil flared up in early 2011.

Between 2011 and 2014 EU policies towards Libya focused less on a crisis response and more on the role of the international community to accompany legitimate Libyan authorities in post-crisis recovery and institution-building. In 2014, the partition of the country in at least two opposing camps and the spreading insecurity across the country forced the EU to refocus on crisis definition and response, as well as to relocate international actors including EU delegation. 

Our research reveals that the overall framework of Europe’s approach to the Libyan crisis has remained fundamentally unchanged since the 2014 recognition of the security crisis unfolding in Libya. Confirming the key orientations of the Political Framework for a Crisis Approach of 2014, the European Council concluded that “there is no solution to the Libyan crisis through the use of force” and reiterated support to the institutions built by Libyan Political Agreement (i.e., Presidency Council and Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj). 

In practice, however, the analysis suggests that short-term objectives have often taken precedence over the stated strategic goal. EU leaders have sought quick-fix solutions to offer immediate answers to the anxieties of their constituents, who allegedly perceive growing migrant flows from Libya as an existential threat. Debates held during the electoral campaigns in a number of key European member states have illustrated how proposed crisis management measures primarily aimed to do as little damage as possible to election results. In other words, as migration became securitized and framed as an emergency, EU leaders appeared to address the needs of European audiences more than those of local stakeholders and vulnerable groups. One could argue that the mismatch between the grandiloquent declarations and the action implemented on the ground is the result of internalizing foreign issues for domestic political purposes. 

Our findings show a troubling lack of monitoring and impact evaluation schemes

Our findings show a troubling lack of monitoring and impact evaluation schemes across most of the EU crisis response initiatives in Libya. This grants weight to those who fuel the suspicion that crisis response initiatives are designed not to bear any meaningful consequence in practice. The decoupling of rhetoric and practice, however, can lead to EU external action and crisis response being perceived as no more than a rhetorical wish-list than seriously considered policy options. 

The gap between ambitious objectives and aspirations on the one hand, and the capacity or willingness to achieve them on the other emerges in different areas of EU response policies in Libya, generating distorted expectations among beneficiaries, local counterparts, and European audiences. 

Securitization migration in a hybrid security scenario

The EU set a broader engagement with the different dimensions of the Libyan crisis, thereby signaling a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of its security implications; however, while deploying a great diplomatic effort with both local and international actors, in practice the EU approached the crisis in Libya as border enforcement and control. This strategy was underpinned by a narrative in which migratory flows across Libya became increasingly complicated through the Islamic State gaining terrain in Libya late in 2014. The migration question captured much of the agenda on the European member states and it was increasingly portrayed as a threat. The EU started to address the migratory flows to Europe through a purely securitarian approach, designing a securitization of migration that contributed to swiftly reframing the Libyan crisis into essentially a migration crisis.

The 2017 Strategic Review of EU CSDP-missions in Libya, including EUNAVFOR MED, stressed that the political framework of EU future engagement in Libya needed to build on the Joint Communication on the Central Mediterranean of 25 January 2017 and on the Malta Declaration of 3 February 2017. This specification amounts to emphasizing the continued centrality of migration among EU security concerns. 

The securitization of migration, and the framing of the latter as a crisis with destabilizing potential have led to the EU’s normative commitments being overlooked, if not abandoned, in spite of their relevance precisely in times of crisis. Such a patent intention-implementation gap has prompted the censure of a broad set of actors, from human rights organizations to UN agencies, which theoretically share the EU’s same normative standpoint and could, therefore, represent natural allies in times of crisis. 

Moreover, the lack of authorisation to operate inside Libyan waters has made the fulfillment of the missions’ original mandates particularly problematic. The recognition of this impasse highlighted the need to strengthen local partnerships with Libyan stakeholders. This happened for instance for EUNAVFOR MED’s tasks, for which the training of the Libyan coastguard became one of its most prominent activities of 2017. However, the monitoring of progress and the evaluation of the impact of training modules tailored to the Libyan coastguard has proved particularly controversial. 

International experts’ reports about the alleged misconduct of Libyan coastguard officers – among which beneficiaries of EU-sponsored training are to be found – have raised doubts about the effectiveness and sustainability of this strategy as the most thorny issues. In the absence of more all-encompassing security sector reform (SSR) and thorough vetting procedures, short-sighted security responses may well lead to the unwarranted legitimization, co-option, and institutionalization of highly controversial security actors.

In practice, Libya displays a quintessential case of hybrid security governance, in which the state is forced to share authority, legitimacy, and capacity with other structures to provide security, welfare and representation. The civilian CSDP-mission EUBAM Libya (EU Integrated Border Management Assistance Mission) focuses on Security sector reform (SSR) advice and planning but as officers confirm, efforts at SSR and DDR have suffered from the lack of an integrated and over-arching institutional framework, as these were “only progressing in an ad-hoc manner”. 

The EU framework for CSDP missions as outlined by “Elements for an EU-wide strategic framework to support security sector reform” does not rule out non-state actors: the document fosters inclusive societal participation across all relevant stakeholders including, most notably, non-state security actors, guerrilla movements, informal providers of security, etc. On the contrary, EUBAM’s mandate forces the mission to deal with Government of National Accord (GNA) representatives as the sole internationally recognized authority responsible for security sector reform.

These developments could lead to a serious gap in the humanitarian response to this crisis. Controversy about the abuses perpetrated on migrants and asylum-seekers in Libyan detention centers offers a clear illustration of this. Through the externalization of border controls, the EU has indirectly promoted the massive resort to unsafe detention schemes for the management of irregular migration in Libya, prompting allegations that the EU crisis response brought about a “policy-made humanitarian crisis”.

“No one has a real understanding of what happens on the ground”

Moreover, international organizations and staff still work by remote management – brought about by security concerns and strict EU regulations – which is far from ideal in terms of monitoring, evaluation, and accountability. Apart from daily visits to a limited area in Tripoli, EU staff are prevented from accessing Libya and the main areas where EU-funded projects are carried out. Similar constraints apply to other Tunis-based humanitarian actors, who are skeptical about the accuracy of their own and external needs assessment and claim that independent oversight is limited by stricter security regulations. The opinion is well summarized in the idea that “We are all in the same fog, no one has a real understanding of what happens on the ground”. At the same time, INGOs perceive to have little room to influence and renegotiate EUTF strategies, and that, due to rigid bureaucracy, their interventions risk being more politically-driven than needs-driven, with a slightly uncontrolled flow of money disbursed for the sake of EU single MSs stability and constituencies’ satisfaction. 

In conclusion, our study not only confirms that EU-sponsored crises response programmes in Libya are often subject to high politicization and pressure from Brussels, it also highlights how by securitizing migration, EU leaders have appeared to address the needs of European audiences more than those of Libyan stakeholders and local vulnerable groups. The intention-implementation gap of EU crisis response in Libya has high reputational costs, which in turn may bear political consequences against political reconciliation in the longer run.

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