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Macron’s uphill struggle: What is the future of France and the EU?

It has been a long standing idea in Existentialist philosophy, rampant in France, that freedom is an encumbrance to humanity. People do not want to be free, because they incur a certain responsibility to lead their own lives of their own accord. People need to be told how to be happy. Keeping this in mind, the right-wing populist groups threatening to destroy the fabric of a federalist Europe, or even the EU as a whole, seem to be a testament to the idea that people don’t want freedom, they want to be ruled.

With just over 66% majority in the recent French presidential election, former banker and philosophy graduate, Emmanuel Macron can easily fall into ill-advised contentedness. It is also easy for his followers, in turn, to take it for granted that their Le Pen nightmares are a thing of the past. But how relaxed should they actually be considering National Assembly elections on the 11th and 18th June might turn into another Obama-esque stalemate? According to European news reports, no sooner had Macron been elected, that the mainstream conservative politicians vowed to take control essentially ending up with the new President having to pander to opposing politicians in parliament on every issue.

I mentioned Obama earlier because this was also the bane of his existence from 2011 until the regrettable end of his term. With a strong Republican congress to answer to, the former President had his work cut out for him time and time again when decisions were dragged out until the last possible second before disaster struck until they managed to strike a deal. While this was seemingly distant from Malta in terms of direct effects, the French situation might hit a little harder.

Granted it is highly implausible that we are looking at Frexit, but when considering the Républicains and their makeshift leader and short-lived economy minister under Sarkozy, François Baroin are ready to force Macron into choosing a conservative Prime Minister – preferably Baroin himself if they have anything to say about it. Who knows where the French are headed? The country has historically always been prone to dealing with political and cultural change like any other person deals with a feral cat living in an attic. They remove it, and fast.

France also recently came under fire by European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that, “The French spend too much money and spend it on the wrong things.” Juncker also went on to explain that 53%-57% of France’s GDP went on public spending adding that, “They can’t go well in the long run with relatively high debt … France is going to have to compromise with others.” As a reaction, Macron vowed to cut up to 120,000 public sector jobs which should reduce spending by up to €60b over a five year period.

On the other hand, the European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, was absolutely chuffed with the news of the election results saying that the populist scourge which gained momentum last year with Brexit and Trump has finally ended. With Macron being a self-professed Europhile, the word ‘reform’ has been echoing all around Europe with Tajani saying that, “We need to change it all together. France and Germany but also Italy and Spain have to give a contribution.”

And speaking of Germany, foreign affairs minister, Sigmar Gabriel has pointed out that Macron’s full commitment to the EU means that Germany will have to fight for its pole position on the European front. “It is also an order for us Germans,” Gabriel explained, “We will have to do more for Europe instead of just raising an index finger.”

On a local front, Macron has to deal with France’s economy, particularly passing domestic labour reforms as recommended by EU finance ministers; as well as ensuring that any coalition or agreement needs to be made before the potential Republican takeover of the National Assembly. On a European front, he wants specific Eurozone reform with new fiscal and social rules, a new parliamentary assembly, and a Eurozone finance minister. Regarding Brexit, he has said “An exit is an exit,” and doesn’t seem to want to show any mercy whatsoever; this going hand in hand with his harsh criticism of Hungary and Poland’s breaches to EU rules.

It will be an uphill struggle, and Macron has a lot on his plate with no slack whatsoever at any point, but the future of the EU seemingly rests on his shoulders at this point and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Are we seeing the first steps of a centrist European rebirth? Or is this simply a step in the right direction ready to be thwarted by the next Trump-style fiasco?

Mathias Mallia

A More Democratic Union for European Citizens

In a harsh Eurosceptic mind-set, it is a widely-accepted ‘fact’ that the EU is undemocratic, particularly considering the European Commission, seen as a group of unelected Eurocrats. This perception of an undemocratic union has also been pointed out, although in a more constructive manner by one of the most prominent federalists, Guy Verhofstadt, who proposed that the Commission President should be elected by the People.

For the sake of truth, since it seems we are living in a ‘Fake News’ era, let us do a bit of fact checking. The Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that when the Commission President is chosen by the EU, the European parliamentary election results need to be taken into consideration. The candidate is first nominated by the elected heads of states in the European Council and is then appointed by the elected deputies of the European Parliament. This makes the appointment of the President similar to that of the US elections since it is in a way an electoral college who chooses the President. Making the appointment to a certain extent democratic, however, there is that democratic deficit present in the system.

Nevertheless, it is high time that the people are given the power to choose who sets the agenda for the European Executive, and not the so-called Euro-Elites if only for the following three reasons:

Firstly, the Union’s reputation has been tarnished by the repetitive disasters since 2008. Many people who it sought to protect from war in the continent, now regard its institutions as a thing of the past which needs to be dismantled. This unpopularity among its citizens has given a lot of energy to the Eurosceptic movement. Moreover, this provides more publicity to the idea that the EU is undemocratic thus finding the excuse to get rid of the EU.

Secondly, ever since the Trump Administration has taken an antagonistic attitude towards the EU this has provided a fresh impetus for the federal movement. As the Big 4 seek to form a Multi-Speed Europe and create an organised EU army in response to Russia’s aggression and the possible scenario of Trumpian America abandoning the EU in favour of Russia and the Nation-State.

With the people being given the right to choose the Commission President, Eurosceptics would have to find another excuse to why the EU is a bad idea given the fact the adherents of the EU would have a legitimate argument to the sceptics’ claims. Given the fact that the Union will be much more federalist in structure which means that member states will continue to pool sovereignty. It would not be a bad idea if you include the people in the discussion on what the future of Europe should look like. At least once every five years.

That brings me to my third point about the connection between the union and the people. For too long the Union has been a sort of playground for European diplomats. It never really had that popular push except when a potential member voted in a referendum to join. A very different reality to the classical federalists like Altiero Spinelli. This problem has been touched upon by the Eurosceptics, in a negative manner. However, Joseph Muscat and MEP Marlene Mizzi have emphasised that this is a real problem and must be fixed if the Union is to continue.

A presidential election would compel the candidates to campaign all around Europe, as they would have to show their accountability not to parliament, but directly to the people who choose them. This would therefore involve the people in the debate. Moreover, a presidential election may not only encourage more people to vote, but it would provide the European Union the publicity it needs by the media for the people to become more aware about what the union is about and what it has strived for.

Furthermore, a Presidential election during the parliamentary elections would also bring about an end to the nationalist orentated rhetoric in the campaigns and give rise to a more European debate since a position of great influence would be directly determined in what box the people choose to mark in the ballot paper. Which may continue to give rise to a more European identity.

There is no denying that the people of Europe are craving for change. That is why 2019 should be the first time that Europeans are given the chance to determine a position of great influence their way. If the EU wishes to be the political revolution it was envisaged to be in the 1950s, a more democratic election is the way forward.

Thomas Cassar Ruggier

The Balkans – Europe’s Overlooked Blind-Spot

Although the Eastern European region has been shrouded in relative calm with the usual tinge of political instability, lack of ethnic diversity and territorial issues which threaten to wake up the restive region. It is only now, with the newly elected Serbian Prime-Minister Aleksandar Vučić, that European leaders are concerned.

Vučić’ electoral story is the usual liturgy – despite having won 55% of votes, Serbians still claim that the election was rigged. There is little to no evidence that proves this. Many voters, especially younger generations, are accusing Vučić of wanting to run a dictatorship. Nevertheless, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) has raised suspicion regarding media coverage and campaign financing ahead of the poll. Now, the sad reality is this; no matter what the final report by the OSCE says, which is expected in a couple of weeks, the public’s perception will still be the same — Vučić will still be accused of stealing the election.

The freshly elected Prime-Minister plans to deepen trade ties with the Western Balkans, after he is handed over the presidency in June. He is to work towards establishing a free-trade zone across much of what was formerly Yugoslavia. Vučić has also envisioned a highway linking between Belgrade and Sarajevo. Moreover, he has emphasised greatly on the fact that economic ties are to be strengthened, as according to Vučić, they are the only way forward – as well as the key to overcoming regional instability, particularly with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vučić also wants to establish a trading relationship with traditional ally, Russia. Nevertheless, he has made it a point to prioritise Serbia’s EU path.

Last month, it was Jean-Claude Juncker himself that had commented on the situation in the Balkans, and was quoted telling US Vice-President Mike Pence that “If we leave them alone – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Albania, all those countries – we will have war again.” The sad reality is this – ethnic tensions in the Balkans remain palpable. Just last week, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi, threatened to take Serbia to court for atrocities committed during the Kosovo conflict. Moreover, he has formulated the intention of creating a Kosovar army, without support from the country’s Serb minority. The latter plan was later withdrawn as Thaçi faced pressure from both NATO and Washington.

It is to no surprise that both Juncker and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel support Vučić; though, they too are not shy from criticism. Many accuse the EU, as well as the USA, of turning a blind eye towards Vučić’s authoritarian traits, to establish stability in the Balkan region. It seems to many as if stability is being given much more importance than democracy and rule of law, which is what may have resulted in many’s alienation from the Union.

Serbia’s path to EU membership is to come into fruition by 2020. However, the Serbs’ desire to be a part of the Union has fallen by more than 20% over the last few years – in 2009, want for European membership stood at 67%. Today, even with obvious economic benefits garnered after accession, want stands at 43%.

Emma Sammut

The Social Shift to Green: European Examples

Last March, JEF Malta organised a workshop and a debate focused on the social shift to green. During these two events participants discussed methods of going green, whether by focusing on renewable energy, reducing automobile dependency, constructing green buildings or by designating more natural land to remain free from development. Admittedly the focus of these issues was mostly local so let’s look at examples of sustainable green living from our European neighbours.

Whilst efforts to increase reliance on renewable energies and to increase green spaces deserve their spotlight, other sustainable means of living often go under the radar. One such method of sustainable living involves reducing food waste. As of early 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. This new law followed a campaign by French shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. This new law will allow growing families, students, the unemployed, homeless people and poor people to easily satisfy their most basic needs whilst effectively feeding more people with less. Even a 15% increase in food coming from supermarkets would now mean 10 million more meals being handed out each year.

This new law also bans supermarkets from deliberately dousing their food in bleach to prevent potential food poisoning by eating food from bins. Additionally, this reduces the burden on scavengers’ lives who would expose themselves to criminal liability by being charged with theft by police.

France had better not rest on its laurels however, because Denmark too is quickly catching up with France. Danish supermarkets, in increasing numbers, have “stop the food waste” areas, with food close to its expiration date sold at cheap prices. Reducing food waste does not stop at supermarkets however. Motivated by restaurants’ practices of throwing out good food, Danish start-up Too Good to Go has found an intelligent solution: an app that allows you to snap us a restaurant’s leftovers at bargain prices just before they close. Instead of throwing excess food into the bin, participating restaurants box up the food, which is then collected from the restaurant by the customer, at give-away prices of €2.50 per box.

Denmark’s efforts to reduce food waste were the results of Selina Juul, who single-handedly helped the country to reduce its food waste by an impressive 25% since 2010, with the help of her organisation Stop Wasting Food. Ms Juul started her efforts to reduce food waste after having moved to Denmark from post-communist Russia, where food shortages were the order of the day. Thrown into a world of abundance, she was shocked at the amount of food being thrown away and since then made strenuous efforts to bring awareness to this issue.

The following snippets of information show how various European countries and cities are striving towards a green future:

  • Germany: Besides being an industrial powerhouse, Germany also boasts a successful renewable energy sector. Germany has ramped up its renewable energy production, from 6.3% in 2000 up to 34% in 2016, sometimes higher when favourable conditions come together. This occurred in April 2014 when combined power generation from wind and solar reached an astonishing 74%. Yet this didn’t come close to the 99% power generated on Sunday 15th May 2016 at 2.00pm as wind and solar power peaked, helped through biomass and hydroelectric sources. Power tariffs that day actually dropped to negative values during several 15-minutes episodes. Now that certainly is a bright future for a cloudy country.
  • Scotland: WWF Scotland released figures showing that 2015 was a huge year for renewable energy, with wind power producing the equivalent of 97% of Scotland’s household electricity needs.
  • Copenhagen: With over 450km of bicycle lanes, this dynamic metropolis won European Green Capital of the year 2014. Their aim is to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, and promote cycling as a means to achieve this. Currently, 45% of people go to school or work by bicycle.
  • Vienna is well known for their initiatives in water usage and had robust water treatment policies and efficiency. Vienna collects a lot of its water from mountain springs and channels it down to the city using gravity and is also used to hone electricity generation.
  • Stockholm has reduced greenhouses gases by 25% since 1990. Most of its buses use renewable energy, hopefully saying goodbye to fossil fuels by 2020.

These initiatives taken up by our European neighbours demonstrate their slow but gradual commitment to build a better and healthier environment for us to live in, and quite frankly puts Malta’s efforts to shame, where runaway construction, polluting old vehicles and lack of green open spaces are the order of the day, along with little effort to reach out renewable energy targets of just 10% by 2020. That is a future so dark, that we might need night vision goggles to see.

Filing the Brexit Papers

Last Wednesday, 29th March, the British PM, Theresa May, enacted the infamous Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Which will formally begin the long awaited ‘divorce’ procedings between Britain and the E.U.

Many were shocked last summer when on the moring of the 24th of June they tuned in on their T.V. or social media and saw that when the British voted on a decisive referendum the day before, they had chosen to leave the European Union. A decision which not only sparked fear to the supporters of the European Dream, but also sent the EU on a long and deep moment of thought on what it has done wrong and how to fix it keeping the citizen’s best interests at heart.

In the referendum campaign, the Brexiteers had campaigned with the cry ‘Taking Back Control’. This means control over their borders, who gets in and who gets out, money (and for some reason the iconinc red brexit bus has to pop up in my mind) and control over jobs and trade. With the British having voted in favour of the Brexit camp. They had effectively expressed that Britain shall not take any part in sovereign sharing with any of its European counterparts; thus laws will only be made by the British parliament and no one should interfere with their country.

That sounds easy enough, I govern my own affairs while you govern yours. However, the situation gets complicated when we see the aims of the British government and of the EU. Apart from the total return of their soveriegnty, the British government is aiming for a free trade agreement and the end of freedom of movement. Whilst the EU wants a finacial settlement, an agreement on the rights of citizens living in the UK and EU member states, border issues with Northern Ireland, and free trade later. With the hot potatoes being the rights of residents and the €60b bill.

Moreover, the insistence of European diplomats that a free trade agreement will be reached later risks prolonging the Brexit talks, which will add further uncertainty as a great majority of British did vote for it. An odd stance given the fact that free trade is a rather globalist approach. However, the EU has the backing of the Lisbon Treaty since article 218 gives the Union the legal right to discuss free trade with non-EU members, and not Article 50 which focuses on exiting the Union.

Despite the chaos, the aim of the EU should be to keep Britain as close to the continent as possible. With Putin being more aggressive and Trump too busy in reaching a new low every day, it is vital that the EU has as much allies as possible who are prospering in order to ensure a secure future. There must be no push towards a hard Brexit, but as agreeable a Brexit as possible for both sides. When Britain eventually does leave, the hand of friendship must always be offered to the UK, because if your neigbhour’s house is on fire, then your house is too.

Thomas Cassar Ruggier

Sturgeon Proposes, May Disposes

With BREXIT so close and Article 50 to be triggered on the 29th of March — the Scots are back at it again. Let us recap; in June 2016, 62% of the Scots voted to stay within the European Union. Scotland’s first Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Nicola Sturgeon, is pushing for yet another referendum — hopefully one which would take place in autumn 2018, before the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Sturgeon is currently trying to negotiate a “Section 30” order which would allow the Scottish parliament to legislate for an independence referendum on its own terms. Meanwhile, UK Prime-minister Theresa May is prohibiting the Scots from doing this and has been quoted saying that “it is not the time”. She instead believes that the focus should be placed on getting the best deal possible for the UK. Speaking ahead of the Holyrood debate, Sturgeon yet again believes that it would be “democratically indefensible” for May to block the Scottish parliament’s wishes.

This brings us to the elephant in the room: should Westminster legislate for the entirety of Scotland? There is not a doubt in mind that May’s refusal of a second Scottish independence referendum is infringing Scottish constitutional rights. Nevertheless, BREXIT is a game-changer for the entirety of the United Kingdom. This is not a case of big-fish-little-fish. The English should not be in control of Scotland’s fate. Back in 2014, when the first independence referendum was held, exit from the United Kingdom was only at a 10% crossroad. Today, with BREXIT and probable inaccessibility to the EU’s Single Market, the Scots might want to rethink the decision to stick to their three-century old union with the UK.

Nevertheless, Sturgeon is to receive backing from the Scottish Greens. The first minister is expected to move forward with her proposal, despite hostility from the Tories, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, opposes the idea of another referendum. She believes that the SNP doesn’t speak for the whole of Scotland. More so, conservatives have even tabled an amendment calling for Westminster to rule-out a referendum before April 2019 (the UK will supposedly have left the EU by then).

This being said, it is irresponsible of Sturgeon to propose a second independence referendum without consolidating the facts. Once Scotland leaves the UK, negotiations for European Union membership are to be prompted. There are several aspects to EU membership that need to be met — and economic welfare is one of them.

North Sea contributes about £10b to the Scottish economy and oil reserves are dying out. If Scotland was to depend on its own economy post-independence, the downfall of oil industry would simply make their situation worse. There is also no guarantee that companies within its vibrant professional services sector will relocate or remain in Scotland.

In 2014, former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that it would be a near impossible conquest for an independent Scotland to join the EU (consider the Spanish not recognising Kosovo as an example). The future for Scotland is just as uncertain as the UK’s.

Emma Sammut

A Comparison on Europe’s most ‘Luxurious’ Prisons

In my previous article regarding the right of life sentenced prisoners to have their sentences reviewed periodically, it was mentioned that rehabilitation is a vital part of the process that an inmate must go through in order to come out of prison on his best behaviour and start contributing to society without committing any more misdeeds.

Although easier said than done, rehabilitation involves the prisoner admitting his wrongs and striving towards changing himself for the better with the help of prison educators, mental health professionals and sheer self-will. Of course though, living in a positive environment that simulates the outside world as much as possible helps work towards this final aim. The following European prisons and half-way houses are the best examples of how this can be achieved.

Norway is considered to be the leading country in this regard, boasting several half-way houses and small prisons that put other countries’ incarceration systems to shame. Welcome to Bastoy Prison, a low security prison colony located in the middle of the Oslofjord, accessible by ferry. The 100 inmates live in small cottages and work on the prison farm. In addition to education, leisure activities include sunbathing, tennis and fishing. Only the best-behaved prisoners live here, and are transferred here from normal prisons to serve the last years of their sentence.

Another renowned Norwegian prison is Halden Prison, Norway’s second largest. Like Bastoy, its design simulates outside life as much as possible. It doesn’t have several of the conventional security devices, such as barbed wire, electric fences, watch towers or snipers and in 2010 the prison received an award for its interior design. Some hallways are tiled with Moroccan tiles or have large scale photographs of Parisian streets or greenery. Exterior walls are not composed of bare concrete, but bricks, galvanised steel and larch wood; as well as birch trees and pine trees flooding the prison grounds which also contribute towards rehabilitation.

Each inmate has his own cell complete with a television, mini-fridge and en suite shower. Prisoners share a common kitchen replete with stainless steel cutlery. In addition to an “Activities House”, the prison offers wood work training and has a mixing studio where inmates can take music classes. Residents even receive questionnaires asking how their prison experience can be improved, exactly like out of a five-star hotel! It is thus not surprising that Halden has been criticised for being too liberal. Despite these cushy conditions, Norway boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world. Norway takes corrections seriously, and recruit wardens have to study various subjects for two years, in addition to work placements.

Moving away from Norway, HMP Addiewell in Scotland is a learning prison, where inmates can address their offending behaviour and the circumstances that led to their imprisonment. Moreover, inmates are given 40 hours a week of purposeful activity aimed at building job skills to allow for a transition back to civilian life.

Whilst Norway builds pleasant looking prisons to aid rehabilitation efforts, a particular prison in Spain takes an innovative approach by creating a family environment within prison walls, literally. Aranjuez Prison has cells specially built to contain small families inside, so that inmates can live with their children, thus preserving the parent-child bond, crucial for growing kids. However, the children may only live there until aged three. Dubbed to be “five star cells”, they come complete with cribs and Disney characters on the walls. There is even a playground for the children. The idea is for children to bond with their parents while young enough not to fully understand the reality of imprisonment, and for inmates seeking rehabilitation to learn parenting skills. Some people think that this is not the most ideal situation and criticise it, saying that the child too is behind bars continuously, and doesn’t get to see animals, nature and the outside stimulation needed to grow. However, others say that it is better than the pains of separation.

The Bear’s Gamble

In the past few months after Trump’s stupefying electoral win in the U.S. elections, The Liberal Order, and with that the EU, has gone into a time of reflection; analysing what it is doing wrong and how it can prevent another shock win from the surging far-right movement as to not kill the European Dream. This has led to a lot of high profile officials within the EU calling for more integration, something which has led to the development of the ‘multi-speed’ Europe proposal and also the approval of a European Military HQ. This shows that federalism is not a dead idea despite Brexit and the populist uprising.

However, one would say that this need to continue the unification process is due to the threat being posed by Russia behind the scenes. Naturally, ‘anti-establishment’ supporters, who show Russian sympathies would rebuff this statement as putting the blame of Europe’s ills on Russia. So the question lies, “Does Russia (Putin) really stand to gain from a divided Europe? And if so, how can Europe properly defend itself from this slippery slope?”

If I were to ask the first part of the question to someone who regularly watches the news, that person would most probably answer me with a definitive yes. No surprise since the media has had Russia in its sights given the fact that there have been claims of Putin having an ‘army’ of hackers, and Trump’s seeming infatuation. Moreover, there have been reports on the news that the Kremlin has been funding populists. Our latest example being Le Pen, the French presidential candidate who wants an end to the institution, the EU, proclaimed that Europe should make peace with Russia, and that the Crimea voted democratically, whatever that word means to them, to join with Russia. Surprise surprise, Le Pen funding her campaign with a loan given to her by a Russian Bank. I wonder why? Furthermore, Macron, the independent candidate expected to win the French election, has had his crowd funding website attacked by hackers and accused by Sputnik, a Russian news outlet, of being a US agent for big business.

Yes, we have news saying that until now Putin is getting the results he wanted through Trump, to a certain extent, whose chief of staff Bannon is strongly against the EU. Yet, why go through of all the effort in diverting financial, technological and human resources in undermining the Liberal Order when you can just work with it through the economic dimension and go about your business? Which is the question the media never seem to explain to its audience but spin things round and say Russia did this, Russia did that. There has to be some kind of motive.

It all boils down to the kleptocracy which this has created. There is no doubt that Russia under Putin lacks the democratic atmosphere and political accountability which, to a certain extent, we Europeans enjoy in the EU. Due to the Russian President’s actions, the west has had to impose sanctions against Russia which has wreaked havoc on its economy and it now needs a way to turn the tables and not only reassert his will on what he has gained, but to re-establish Russian like never before in the global platform. So yes, Russia stands to gain A LOT from a sinking EU ship. What is interesting is that he aims to achieve this by not firing a single shot and this, in every sense of the word, is a Cyber World War.

So now that Europe is aware that Russia is meddling with it through hacking, fake-news and money. This takes us to what kind of counter-measures need to be taken to face off this threat. Macron has stayed resilient to Russia and still rides high in the polls, his victory would be a blow to Putin’s efforts and hopes. The EU has now taken a more federalist approach in the political and military arena, all we need are the fruits of this sorely secretive venture, if only for the good publicity. In the end, the only way this will come to be is if the member states need pool resources for the formation of a federal central intelligence agency and take the fight back to Russia and any other threats to the European ideals which the Union holds so close to its heart.

Thomas Cassar Ruggier

A Case of Great Expectations

I am sure that it is to no one’s surprise that BREXIT has inevitably had a huge impact on Union dynamics. The majority of MEPs are at Britain’s throat for opting out of membership with the EU and still wanting access to the single-market on their own terms— but this should be a fact by now. Moreover, anti-EU sentiment on Capitol Hill has not helped the situation at all.

While the 12 Stars of Harmony blundered across the continent in a wild frenzy of confusion and anti-immigration sentiment, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was busy drafting up white-papers. Or, ‘White-Book’, as many have put it. A document on Europe’s post-BREXIT future has been released to the public. And, in accordance with POLITICO’s latest article about it, there are five major scenarios;

1. Carrying on

This assumes that smooth-sailing of the Union policies will be ensured by economic overhauls; a deepening of the single-market has been proposed along with the pooling of resources and capital for military expenditure. In other words, the Common Foreign Defence and Security Policy will have to be further amended (or completely overthrown). Border controls, as has been the norm, will be up to the national governments.

This begs a question — what of the Schengen Agreement? And, from a legal perspective, provisions in the Treaty of Lisbon (TFEU) have to be revised.

2. Nothing but the Single-Market

Not favoured by the Commission, it has nevertheless been proposed that heavy emphasis on the Single-Market should be put forward. Drafting of policy and “acting collectively”, according to Commissioners, are distinct motions. This scenario is not optimal for economic aspects, especially in terms of the Eurozone. A heightened threat towards the euro will not just make Member States more vulnerable to economic crises — if fervid focus is to be placed upon the Single-Market, the failure to establish the eurozone’s economic governance would condemn the Union. Moreover, companies would be susceptible to stricter border checks, and this in itself, would prove trading waters unideal.

3. Those who want more do more

The CFDSP is under-attack again. This scenario, however, calls for Union wide coalition. Apart from defence and internal security, matters such as taxation and social issues are also considered. The Commission, here, assumes that all member states are to make an orchestrated effort to deepen the Single-Market. In relation to Scenario 2, the Commission remains adamant. Concerns about a differentiation in citizen’s rights have been raised. Even with this scenario, the Commission is not certain that complete eurozone governance will come into fruition. Nonetheless, aspects such as a unified legal business code and individual national advancements in militarisation are possible.

4. Doing less more efficiently

This proviso assumes the success of a well-established European Border and Coast Guard, as well as one authoritative voice on foreign policy and, of course, the creation of a European Defence Union. The Commission acknowledged the fact that other areas such as innovation, trade and security should be given priority. Research should also be aimed towards the bettering of modern progress, such as that of digitisation and decarbonisation of the economy. The elephant in the room is this; member states will inevitably have to decide amongst themselves on the areas they want to work on.

5. Doing much more together

The Union, in this scenario, is to speak for all member states on areas such as foreign-policy and trade. It would also assume environmental and humanitarian responsibilities, such as those of combatting climate change and ensuring fair treatment of individuals. Undeniably, Europe would develop quicker decision making tactics; problem solving becomes more efficient and citizens would stop looking at the European Institutions as redundant. However, this scenario nevertheless assumes total power of international relations. It would, of course, be a step towards a more federalised Europe. Back in 2004, the attempt to draft up one sole constitution for all member states was made. It was of course never ratified. Juncker and the Commission continue to assume that member states, despite the rise of the far-right parties and in turn, their vigorous following, would be readily willing to conform to one single ‘code for a federal EU’.

There is much to be done in Europe to ensure unity amongst the EU-27. These white-papers, although a good attempt on behalf of the Commission, are idealistic. In my opinion, domestic social situations must be tackled above and beyond the economy and foreign policies. The Union will advance, no doubt, but it can only do so if it acknowledges the needs and concerns of its citizens.

Emma Sammut

Should Life sentenced prisoners ever be released? A European Perspective

Late in the year of 1984, English man Erwin James stood in the accused’s dock in a criminal court, where after an eight-day trial, he was found guilty of the murder of two men. The judge described James as “brutal, vicious and callous” and sentenced him to life imprisonment, having to serve at least 25 years before release. Even prior to the murders he already had a long rap-sheet, with 51 criminal convictions.

After periods of loathing and guilt, Mr Erwin met a prison psychologist, who would change his life forever. After years of care, encouragement and reflection, Erwin James was released from prison, and today works with the Guardian newspaper and brings awareness on prison reform.

This story conjures up many emotions, from anger at the wrongs committed, to satisfaction knowing that such a “bad” person could turn his life around. This leads to the question of whether those who commit heinous murder should be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole, or whether convicts should be rehabilitated as much as possible whilst on the inside to give that person a second chance. This has been the subject of contention brought forward numerous times before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In the landmark judgement ‘Vinter & Others v. UK’ in 2013, the European Court ruled that a life-without-parole sentence runs contrary to human rights and that inmates must have some opportunity for their sentences to be reviewed by a proper parole board, with some prospect for release. This, therefore, included Vinter and two others, serving a whole life sentence for murder.

The court commenced its argument by stating that a prisoner cannot be detained unless there are proper legitimate grounds, which are: punishment, deterrence, public protection and rehabilitation. These factors may not remain fixed throughout a prison sentence, but vary throughout. Thus, it is only by carrying out periodic reviews throughout the sentence that these factors can be evaluated, in order for continuous detention to be justified.

The court noted that without the possibility of a whole life sentence being reviewed, a prisoner may never be encouraged to atone for his offence, and that even if a prisoner does make exceptional strides towards rehabilitation, his punishment remains fixed, thus negating his rehabilitative efforts. It is on this basis that the court concluded that it would be incompatible with human dignity to deprive a person of his freedom without at least providing him with the chance to someday regain liberty.

What is crucial to note here is that the court is not prohibiting whole life sentences per se, but rather prohibiting life sentences where there is no clarity under these conditions and when there is the possibility of reducing the sentence, if at all. On the contrary, if a parole board at a review establishes that the prisoner serving a life sentence is still a danger to society and has made no efforts towards his rehabilitation, then an order of continued detention is perfectly legitimate, but at least there is a proper review.

While this judgement changed the playing field in the legal sense, its reasoning was not completely innovative. Judgements in other European and South American countries had already employed such reasoning and is reflected in their criminal law. In fact, numerous European states such as Austria, France, Belgium and Denmark already provide for a release mechanism for life sentences after a minimum number of years.

Norway only provides for maximum of 21 years imprisonment for any crime, however has a special law which states that in exceptional cases inmates can be kept in continued detention on the basis of public protection. Many think that it is on this basis that Anders Breivik, a Norwegian mass murderer, will be kept behind bars. A few states even went a step further and abolished life sentences, such as Portugal and Croatia.

Malta on the other hand has no review mechanism, so life means life. However, this has not gone unchallenged. In November 2016, Tunisian man Ben Ali Wahid Ben Hassine, a convicted murderer, successfully won a case in our Constitutional Court to declare a whole life sentence as inhumane and to compel the government to introduce a review mechanism with a new law. It is yet to be seen how this will pan out.

I agree with the theoretical stance held by the European court, as it not only allows a wrongdoer to atone for his offences whilst serving an appropriate punishment, but at the same time it also allows a parole board, at a review, to order continued detention for the truly dangerous.

Richard Gambin