Tag Archives: European Union

Andreas Raspotnik, The European Union and the Geopolitics of the Arctic (Cheltenham & Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2018)

Andreas Raspotnik, in his new book “The European Union and the Geopolitics of the Arctic”, critically scrutinizes the decade-long history of successes, failures and attempts of the European Union in constructing its own legitimacy and credibility in the multi-layered geopolitics of its “northern neighborhood”, the Arctic. In doing so, the author attempts to define this “unknown” but yet a “component of the Arctic geopolitics”, that is to say the EU, and to provides his own response to the long-standing matter of which role the EU has to play in the region.

One immediate question that arises in the mind of those who are more familiar with EU’s studies, especially with regards to the Arctic, is not if the EU has an influence in the Arctic region, but whether the EU holds the actual capacity to act as an international actor in the given geopolitical context. Regardless of EU’s formal acceptance as an observer to the Arctic Council – now a symbolic token, as the EU can de facto observe, taken by too many as the ultimate proof of EU’s extraneousness to the region – this politico-economic Union of 28 Member States has shown clearly over the years both its negative and positive influence, yet influence nonetheless; though the question remains in which capacity. Raspotnik raises this question in his introduction, and skillfully adds another layer to this already complex picture, by using his study to “question [EU’s] broader role as an international actor with evolving geopolitical identity”. The study won’t provide the reader with a clean-cut answer, as the very last sentence of the book suggests – “[u]ltimately, the European Union attempts to act as sui generis geopolitical actor in the Arctic” – but it is a classic example of research where the journey itself is more relevant than the destination.

The main text of the book is structured in 5 parts which, excluding “Introduction” and “Conclusions”, compose the title of the book: II) Geopolitics, III) The Arctic, and IV) The European Union. This structure underlines the choice and need of the author for excavating and critically analyzing each of these concepts before providing – in an almost Hegelian fashion – a final synthesis. This book is indeed very well researched, and combines a vast literature of classic “Arctic Geopolitics” scholars, interviews, official documents and speeches given by EU representatives. Under several aspects – e.g. the use of explanatory “boxes” within the text and the careful contextualization of each new term used – this book could be positively marked as a textbook for students in geopolitics or European studies or a vade mecum for scholars, without ever providing a superficial account of the issue it addresses.

Raspotnik’s sets the start of his journey in 2007/2008, when high-level representatives of the EU and its member states – J.M. Barroso (former president of the EU Commission), Angela Merkel and Romano Prodi – all visited in different moments the new “Mecca of climate change”, Greenland, to experience first-hand the ice-cap melting. The Arctic was, in the meanwhile, experiencing a new moment in the global media, with the Russian flag being planted more than 4000 m beneath the North Pole, or the new record low in the Arctic Ocean’s sea-ice extent in September 2007. In addition, climate change – which will quickly turn into one of the strongest leitmotifs of the European Union’s narrative in the Arctic – was also having a new impetus in the same years and made it to the top of the G8 Summit agenda in Bad Doberan/Heiligendamm (Germany). Therefore, climate change, (potential) availability of resources, environmental and social challenges turned into a potential security issue for the EU, which, with the strong encouragement of Finland, added the Arctic to its “neighborhood’s radar”. In 2008, the EU formally started developing its own Arctic Policy.

This process took about 10 years, many documents and speeches, and for many observers it is not even yet fully finalized. The chapter dealing with this “policy-in-the-making” process is actually one of the highlights of this book. An overview that too easily risks turning into a repetitive and pedantic mantra – given the nature itself of the EU’s structure where documents/proposal need to bounce among the EU Parliament, the Commission and the Council (and repeat this itinerary several times) – was given new life. The author alternates the description of each step taken toward the development of an EU Arctic Policy with an “external reading”, combining in this way facts with his analyses.

The formal analysis used in the book, while accomplishing the need for providing a deep understanding of the EU’s role in the Arctic, runs into the same negative underestimation made by the EU regarding the role of indigenous people in the Arctic geopolitics. Reading this book, likewise most of the narrative and approaches used by the EU itself, the feeling is that the indigenous peoples of the Arctic appear more as a cameo – or a political/formal duty to be discussed – rather than part of Arctic geopolitics. In the description of the Arctic’s layered geopolitics, for example, a good overview is provided with regards to the “issue of eight national identifies”, but no mention at all is given regarding Indigenous peoples’ visions for their own territories. The role of Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs) within the Arctic Council is only formally addressed and therefore minimized (“although the AC includes IPOs, decision making formally remains with its core members, the A8”), and the “seal-issue”, which ultimately costed the EU its formal acceptance as observer at the Arctic Council from 2009 to 2015 (then the Crimean crisis came into play) is dealt as a largely solved political issue, which formally and politically it is, but not in practice, at least for some of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room. My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment (London: The Bodley Head, 2017)

Henry Kissinger, an academic turned politician, is said to have quipped that academic disputes are extremely bitter because the stakes at universities are painfully low. The book reviewed hereby is authored by Yannis Varoufakis, another academic turned politician, and it suggests, in an entirely unintentional manner, that political disputes are fairly polite and verbally restrained even if the stakes are incredibly high, such as the livelihood of millions, e.g. the common people of Greece as of 2010.

Varoufakis’ book chronicles his turbulent and short time qua finance minister of the Hellenic Republic in 2015 (chapters 6 through 17) while adding a number of reasoned observations about the world’s, Europe’s and Greece’s economic sorrows since the annus horribilis 2008 (chapters 1 through 5). Finally, it informs the reader about some of the latest developments in Varoufakis’ own recent career as a Greek MP (Epilogue), including the launch of a new political party, called “Democracy in Europe Movement” (or “DiEM25”). The idea of founding a new political party matured several months after Varoufakis left his post in the Hellenic cabinet headed by Alexis Tsipras, the young leader of the initially broad leftist alliance Syriza, which came to power during the most painful years of Greece’s economic collapse (chapter 5).

Tsipras and a now much ‘thinner’ Syriza have recently celebrated the formal end of the nation’s subjection to its creditors’ representatives—the so-called “troika” aka the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB)—and their notorious Memorandum of Understanding (cf. especially chapters 8 and 9). Therein, the socially chilling and economically contractionary conditionalities of the debtor country are cast black on white in the pursuit of three bailout agreements that future European scholars, politicians and activists ought to retrieve, peruse and reflect upon whenever contemplating how nations should deal with their creditors. Latin American and African ones are likely to be familiar with the score at issue. The conditionalities accepted by three different Greek governments included repeated rounds of cuts to old-age pensions and public expenditures on healthcare, culture and education; mass dismissals of public-sector workers; reduced funds to tax-monitoring bodies; loss of State control over public bodies that must thereafter respond directly to the creditors (cf. especially chapter 2).

It transpires from the book’s accumulated evidence that many experts, especially within the IMF, knew perfectly well that such conditionalities would strangle Greece’s economy and make it incapable of generating the revenue whereby to repay its creditors, and that only the most creative economic modelling could buttress the official position of the troika (cf. Appendix 2). Nevertheless, the creditors pressed all the same such conditionalities onto the Greek State and particularly, despite growing signs of snowballing deterioration, onto the government led by Syriza, which many eggheads in Europe’s governing elite feared qua resurgence of the political left, evidently to be snuffed out in its cradle (chapter 9).

The first and the second bailout agreements were required to salvage German and French banks that had invested in Greek bonds and were now unwilling to oblige to market discipline, which John Kenneth Galbraith had once claimed to be praised by all market sycophants as long as it applies to people other than oneself (Tout savoir, ou presque, sur l’économie, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1978). The third one had a specific political mission to accomplish, whether the money involved in the process was going to be recovered by the creditors or not. Had the European authorities and the German leadership failed “to win Alexis [Tsipras] over to their side”, then they should “create such chaos that his government fell, allowing for its replacement with a compliant technocratic administration, just as they had in 2012.” (92).

Meeting by meeting, debate by debate, telephone call by telephone call, e-mail by e-mail, SMS by SMS, the actual exchanges between the protagonists of this intricate political saga come across as surprisingly civil under most circumstances and most carefully worded in public as well as in private conversations, even when great tension and palpable disagreement occur. Gallant propriety endures even when starkly opposed conceptions of the European unification project are voiced and debated, such as German conservative Wolfgang Schäuble’s plan to “ditch […Europe’s] welfare states” as no longer affordable vis-à-vis the competition of “places like India and China”, contra Varoufakis’ aspiration to the “globalization of welfare benefits and living wages” (212). Greece, in this debate, is revealed to be the starting point in Schäuble’s plan for the pauperisation of Europe’s middle class that also the IMF’s director, Christine Lagarde, seems de facto keen to facilitate, starting “with Greek pharmacies” (367).

Some nasty epithets did fly now and then, and the media’s recurrent, blatant and effective smearing campaigns are duly noted too, including a horrid “set up” scene in which an “irate businessman” attacked Varoufakis in July 2015 as the “former minister” who had ruined him (476). However, unlike the talks between Varoufakis and a long list of high-ranking European officials and politicians appearing in his book, these mucky incidents of character assassination are not worth being recalled with equal care and written all down for posterity to muse upon. Incidentally, we learn that “vulture fund” is regarded in high-level political circles as too crass a term, hence “hold-out” is preferred instead (508 n33). Apparently, strong language is not required in determining or merely discussing whether the wealthy creditors’ pecuniary concerns or the vulnerable people’s more immediate ones—shelter, food, health, survival—should be given precedence in a time of conspicuous recession. As the leading European institutions and the IMF are concerned, the former come obviously first.

Perhaps, as several passages of the book point to, the generally cautious politeness of the conversations can be explained by the way in which all these powerful individuals talking to each other seem generally aware, if not afraid, of being spied upon, recorded and/or leaked to the press. As a result, all these powerful individuals regularly hide their real meanings beneath layers of ambiguity and vagueness, which too blunt a language would impede. As an amusing account of a conversation between Varoufakis and the US economist Jeff Sachs discloses, some spies can show “no compunction whatsoever about revealing they were tapping [Varoufakis’] phone” (396).

Honest and constructive rational dialogue is thus one of the victims of the endless tactical games played by the powerful and frequently unscrupulous individuals paraded in the book. Lying is considered by many of them a sign of intelligence, deafness to argument a sensible stratagem, and the most political issues of all—who gets what, when and how—are couched dogmatically as technical matters. Time, energy, resources, decency and integrity, if not humanity itself, are sacrificed to strategies aimed at outsmarting and manipulating one another, until the point comes when a modicum of frank exchange is eventually permitted, almost as the last resort (cf. especially chapter 11).

As a scholar born and raised in Italy, this recurrent and over-intelligent lack of honesty reminds me of the (sub)culture of so-called furbizia (cunning), whereby each individual takes undue advantage of other people by way of selfish duplicity (e.g. skipping queues, double parking, giving backhanders, ignoring regulation). When this kind of seemingly smart individual behaviour is generalised, however, it results into inane collective inefficiency (e.g. delays, traffic jams, lost income, fire hazard). Game theory, in its neat complexity, confirms this simple realisation that so many southern Europeans, Greeks included, have to cope with on an almost daily basis (cf. Appendix 3).

Varoufakis’ chronicle is detailed, carefully reconstructed from personal diaries and, as a matter of fact, from recorded conversations (cf. the opening “Note on Quoted Speech”, ix). Also, it includes a substantial body of explanatory endnotes and appendixes, which remind the reader of its author’s background as a well-established university professor and an experienced economist who, in a Cassandra-like fashion, had foreseen the crisis to come because of “the bubble in American real estate and in the derivatives market” and feared a novel “Great Depression” (30).

Varoufakis’ declared and effectively “heroic” aim is to be nothing short than a “whistle-blower” and reveal the secretive workings of Europe’s top-level bureaucracy, the IMF, and the realm of transnational finance at large (12). The price to be paid for such a brazen act of defiance is quite straightforward. Varoufakis is bound to join the ranks of institutional “shooting stars” that will never again be allowed to be members of the international elite wishing—frequently in vain—to control world’s events, since in order to belong to this elite one must not let the outside know what goes on in the inside (12). Larry Summers, Jean-Claude Trichet and Mario Draghi would never write a book like the one reviewed hereby.

Once again in an unintentional manner, such a lengthy and sometimes fastidious chronicle of Euro-bureaucracy and cabinet meetings does more than what it sets itself to accomplish. Varoufakis’ book contains many informative elements allowing the reader to grasp the larger picture in which the Greek events have unfolded, namely “the myth of the ‘new economy’, popular around the turn of the millennium and centred on the claim that technological progress had made business cycles obsolete” (Jóhann P. Arnason, “Questioning Progress”, Social Imaginaries, 4(1): 180).

Specifically, the reader is reminded of how the deregulated and liberalised largest private banks and financial institutions of the world made a killing with the waves of privatisations, mergers and acquisitions kick-started by Thatcherite Britain and Reaganite US in the late 20thcentury (chapter 2). Unsupervised by State authorities and entrusted faithfully to the presumed providential invisible hand regulating the markets, these increasingly larger and larger private banks and financial institutions ended up believing themselves invincible, the true masters of the universe (chapter 1). Indeed, the best and brightest that they proudly employed thought themselves capable of such technical wizardry as to disperse risk once and for all in novel and most ingenious ways, securing at the same time further profits ad infinitum (chapter 1).

Alas, all this much-cherished and trumpeted financial genius—which John Kenneth Galbraith had famously claimed to be nothing but a rising market (The Economics of Innocent Fraud, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)—concocted bad products leading to bad investments, namely the now-forgotten “toxic American derivatives” monopolising the media’s attention in 2008 (31). This toxic kind of financial assets, which are still a threatening presence, annulled ten years ago the trust that the very same private banks and financial institutions had in themselves and in each other (cf. Michael Greenberger, “Too Big to Fail U.S. Banks’ Regulatory Alchemy“, Working Papwr No. 74, Institute for New Economic Thinking, 2018). Paralysed by the fear of massive losses, their lending came to a grinding halt and a global credit crunch took place. Money was no longer available to big- as well as to medium- and small banks, and to their customers too: from States themselves down to small businesses and individuals. The financial crisis became an economic crisis, causing enterprises to go bust, people to lose their jobs, demand to collapse, and the downward spiral of depression to materialise. Pace the widespread beliefs in the end of history and financial capitalism’s unstoppable triumph, 2008 was truly the new ominous “1929” and another Great Depression could not but ensue (125).

Libertarians, whom Varoufakis often compares himself with, would leave the spiral of depression free to destroy as much of the existing economic and social life as required before finding a new equilibrium, perhaps at a lower level of civilisation, in which creative new entrepreneurs could emerge and flourish; but such libertarians are a minority even in the US that, by and large, have been spawning them in great number (cf. chapters 7 and 13). Traditional socialists, whom Varoufakis collaborated with as finance minister, would seize the opportunity to skip the middle man, i.e. the private banks and financial institutions lending money that only the State can lawfully warrant, and replace them with public ones; but few such socialists can be found in the world after the end of the Cold War: not even within Syriza is the “Left Platform” at the helm (cf. chapters 10 and 17). Old and new Keynesians, whom Varoufakis is associated with, would let the State and its central banks step in and pour fresh money into the depressed economy by way of, inter alia, large-scale public works and public investments, but the ECB is prevented from doing so by its own charter and regulations, unlike, for example, “the Bank of England, which from the moment the City went through its 2008 credit convulsion had printed billions to refloat the banks and keep the economy ‘liquid’”. (35)

What happened in the European Union is that the governments of its member States, through the ECB, decided first of all to buy worthless paper belonging to the inept large private banks and financial institutions as though it was still the gods’ ambrosia. On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, not just in America, there were bankrupt conglomerates that, albeit culpable for their own toxic mess, were deemed “systemic” or “too big to fail” (138). At the same time, these bankrupt but unsinkable banks would buy the new debt issued by those States to keep funding part of the latter’s activities, i.e. saving the very same banks and institutions, while cutting other expenditures in order to pay for the rescue itself and avoid the inflation that huge emissions of new debt could engender (chapter 2).

Told suddenly that they had been living beyond their means, the citizens of Europe were imposed “austerity” measures, and their tax money was used along so-called “quantitative easing” (and “credit lifelines”, “liquidity injections”, etc.) to salvage the incompetent institutions bearing prime responsibility for the crisis (92). The burden of this crisis was shifted intentionally from the private sector to the public one: “taxpayers” from a vast rainbow of countries “were actually paying for the mistakes of French and German bankers” (27).

Soon after 2008, in a climate of growing economic precariousness for millions of Europeans, “banksters” and the “1%” were quickly forgotten as the object of general opprobrium. As the crisis’ burden got shifted from the private to the public sector, “PIIGS” and “profligate” States became the new target for media-fuelled public anger. Later still, it was the turn of foreign migrants coming from countries that had already been squeezed in previous decades by unsustainable debt, the IMF’s heavy-handed technical advice, and the dubious wisdom of currency unions (e.g. the French-Franc-tied CFA currencies in Central and Western Africa). In an eerie recurrence of the 1930s, “the deepening crisis would produce a xenophobic, illiberal, anti-Europeanist nationalist” reaction (482). To add scorn to injury, “it is one of history’s cruel ironies that Nazism is rearing its ugly head in Greece” with the electoral success of the ultra-right Golden Dawn party (215).

As a scholar and a citizen of Iceland, which despite its geographic isolation and economic peculiarities (e.g. energy security by geothermal power) experienced a complete financial collapse immediately after the 2008 credit crunch, Varoufakis’ account of the recent “Greek tragedy” flags out significant differences that are worth thinking about (49; Iceland’s woes have been covered extensively in Nordicum-Mediterraneum, especially issues 6(1), 7(1) and 8(1)).

  • Iceland, after a failed attempt at rescuing its national banks, opted essentially for letting them go bankrupt. Greece and the whole European Union committed themselves to saving them at any cost, even if it meant letting Greek pensioners starve, Greek citizens die because of unaffordable healthcare, and Greek homelessness explode (i.e. the “humanitarian crisis” denounced by Varoufakis, 37).
  • “[C]apital controls” were reintroduced in Iceland “in the wake of its own financial collapse in 2008” and kept in place for a decade in order to prevent capital flight and allow the Icelandic State to have a manageable monetary mass whereby to restart and reorganise the national economy (121). The European Union did nothing of the sort, and actually allowed financial speculation between member countries to take place as well as the continued siphoning of large amounts of money into non-EU countries and tax havens (cf. the recent Panama Papers and Paradise Papers scandals).
  • A new Icelandic government not tainted by collusion with the banking sector came eventually into power in 2009. Their role was to clean up the mess left by the conservative parties that had always claimed to be the business-savvy ones. The new Icelandic government proved genuinely disposed and overall adept to serve the common good, even if it meant conflicting with the IMF or pushing for what Rachael Lorna Johnstone and Aðalheiður Ámundadóttir call “progressive regressive measures”, i.e. austerity for the better off so as to pay for the welfare needed by the worse off in times of dwindling resources (“Defending Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Iceland’s Financial Crisis”, The Yearbook of Polar Law3, 2011: 454-77). Syriza’s new and largely untainted government in Greece, under its creditors’ enormous pressure, did much less to alter the regressive-regressive measures that the previous two governments had already enacted. Varoufakis regrets that his own achievements as finance minister were, in this respect, meaningful but scarce, given the extent of his country’s gruelling humanitarian crisis (e.g. the prepaid “plastic card[s]” providing for the needs of the poorest families, 476).
  • Iceland’s currency could be devaluated and was devaluated, first by sheer speculative pressure and then by central bank’s fiat, thus making the nation’s export goods and incoming tourism more attractive. Greece’s Euro, which is also the currency of its chief creditor countries with a very different set of post-2008 problems, could not and was not devaluated.
  • In Iceland, the new government, the central bank, the trade unions and the industrialists’ representatives participated in largely cooperative and constructive behaviour to keep unemployment in check and favour the nation’s recovery. In Greece, not to mention within the EU, bitter divisions affected all interest groups and prevented the same synergy from being firmly established. The pulverising atomism of selfish furbizia trumped comprehensive cooperation: the common good, consequently, agonised.
  • Debt bondage by foreign loan or so-called “rescue packages” became a likely outcome of the Icelandic crisis too. The international pressure towards this dubious solution was noteworthy, as epitomised by Gordon Brown’s Labour government invoking in 2008 the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation so as to freeze the assets of all Icelandic nationals and businesses based on British soil. Against all odds, the Icelandic nation rejected debt bondage, i.e. getting loans to repay other loans to repay other loans to repay other loans and so on ad nauseam (French economist Gérard de Bernis used to call it “the usury model” of State funding: cf. his 1999 essay “Globalization: History and Problems“). This refusal occurred via two referenda promoted by a president of the republic in search of lost popularity—this long-time president having been too vocal a cheerleader of the banks that, a mere five years after their privatisation, had brought the country to its knees. Only one allegedly ‘populist’ centre-right party supported the rejection of the “Icesave” agreement with the Dutch and British governments on both occasions (i.e. the Progressive Party), while the self-proclaimed “responsible” parties spoke favourably of it, on either occasion (e.g. the Left-Greens) or even on both occasions (e.g. the Independence Party). In 2015, the people of Greece voted by a sizeable majority against the third bailout agreement that the Syriza government had itself opposed but ended up accepting nonetheless—a U-turn that Varoufakis defines aptly as “the overthrowing of a people” (467).

Varoufakis’ new book is most interesting, well-written and, above all, it constitutes a political memoir that future scholars, politicians and activists should consult in order to be ready for the next major crisis that, sooner or later, will come to pass. On top of that, it is an apology, in at least two senses. First of all, it is a self-defence by a politician who, in the panic and confusion of the Greek depression, has been accused of all sorts of nasty schemes and treacherous actions, sometimes grotesquely. Secondly, it is a token of self-promotion, for Varoufakis has now a Europeanist party to sponsor, with the aim of making European institutions much more democratic and considerably less technocratic.

Apologetic partiality aside, there is no doubt that the conversations and the events reported in Varoufakis’ book did occur as we are told, or at least the vast majority of them, as the robust critical apparatus of the book can help confirm. Any person interested in current socio-political affairs should read them and meditate upon the astounding amount of deceitful cynicism, harmful cleverness and obtuse pride that they display. Every attempt at improving the world’s economic order and political praxes—and Varoufakis’ book spots good will, intelligent leadership and responsible policy too, in both Nordic and Mediterranean nations, as well as on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean—is bound to have to face and, hopefully, surmount such obstacles. Varoufakis, on his part, has been trying hard for years, but to no avail.

“Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas” (Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway, April 9th — 12th, 2015)

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains select proceedings from the third meeting of the Nordic Summer University research circle called “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas”, held April 9th — 12th, 2015 at the Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway. The circle’s research program runs from 2014 to 2016 and is aimed at examining the concept of crisis as it is used today in academia and public discussion. In this collection of papers from the symposium we present some of the different ways in which the topic of the study group was addressed.

Continue reading “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas” (Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway, April 9th — 12th, 2015)

Herman Salton, Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010)

Review by Aníta Einarsdóttir

In June 2002 the President of the People’s Republic of China went to Iceland for an official visit. Consequently, some practitioners of Falun Gong, among many others, booked flights to Iceland at the same time, with the airline Icelandair. Somehow, by means still unknown, since Falun Gong keeps no list of its members itself, the Icelandic government had a blacklist of all these actual and presumed Falun Gong members that they believed to be going to Iceland to protest against the Chinese president and the Chinese government’s alleged human rights violations. The people that were on this blacklist were either denied visas, embarkment onto their booked flight, or arrested at the international airport in Iceland and asked all kinds of questions about the purpose of their visit and their personal beliefs. Many of those eventually admitted into Iceland were then arrested and held in a school near the airport, not knowing what was going on and, like everybody else on the blacklist, wondering how their names got on such a list, which no one ever got to look at, except authorities and flight-personnel. The people that were kept in custody at the school were released after being forced to sign an agreement with the authorities about restricted areas and a peaceful stay in the country.

The people of Iceland do not seem to know very much about these events that in so many ways breach the rights of the people travelling, and if there is anything they know it is the little that the newspapers of Iceland, themselves much influenced by the Icelandic authorities at the time, chose to publish. This year, 2012, will be the tenth anniversary of these events in Iceland and it is therefore about time for the Icelandic people to consider and discuss what has been hidden from them and how such a limited access to public information has been inconsistent with the values of 21st century. The Icelandic government managed so extraordinarily to lower the dignity of Iceland and its international reputation, by bending over for the Chinese government, and the people of the country need to be informed of events of this nature.

The book Arctic Host, Icy Visit is about Falun Gong and various events that happened all over the world after the ban of the movement in China in 1999, but the main idea of the book came from the events in Iceland in June 2002. The book gives precise and detailed information, from the founding of Falun Gong until China’s massive campaigns to try to ban its exercise in the 20th and 21st century, both in China and elsewhere.

It took the author, Herman Salton, eight years to write and publish this book, i.e. from 2002, when he began his inquiries after the events in Iceland, until 2010, when the book was released. This has given him a very long time to gather a lot of sources, some of which very good and reliable. He uses old and recent newspaper articles, books written by Falun Gong members and founders, and judgments made by the Icelandic authorities, for instance the Ombudsman. However, despite all the effort put into the bibliography of the book, it is difficult to verify all sources, since Salton refers to a lot of interviews that he personally conducted with Falun Gong members who, for instance, are talking about what they have been through, either with the Chinese government or other governments and authorities. These sources might be valuable, but it can be hard for the reader to evaluate them, since they are made personally by the author. They also take only the side of Falun Gong members, leaving out any other side of the stories, like that of the Chinese and Icelandic authorities.

Given that Salton indicates in the beginning of the book that he writes it for the people of Iceland – “To The People of Iceland Whose Decency and Sense of Democracy Continue to Be a Source of Inspiration” – for them to be able to be informed about events that nobody has talked about or that have been suppressed by the government, it is written in a way that catches the reader’s attention right away from the first page. The author tells the reader a story, not like a novel but like a documentary. He also writes in an English that should be understandable for most people.

Still, even if the book gives good information written in a clear and understandable way, it is not written in a very critical way. The reader of the book should be aware of this and read it with an open mind and exercise caution regarding the author’s interpretation of the events. As mentioned before, he interviews many Falun Gong practitioners and therefore gets their side of all stories, that is, telling all the good things about the practicing of Falun Gong and insisting upon the “innocence” of their activities. He tries, even though he is struggling with it because of his opinion of the matters, to write somewhat from the governments’ side as well, but it is mostly in an ironic way, letting the reader know that despite excuses from the authorities, their actions are wrong. It might be because it is hard to get in touch with governments on these matters, because they know of their wrongs and are therefore not willing to discuss them. There might also be no excuses from the governments’ side and therefore the only information to give is that coming from the Falun Gong practitioners.

There is one chapter of the book that stands out from all the other good chapters, which is the legal chapter. The book might give a good idea of all the things that are wrong in the governments’ behavior, both the Icelandic government as well as any other government that has done similar things. But for a person that knows the law, especially European and International law, it is rather a confusing chapter. The author erroneously conflates European law and the European Convention on Human Rights throughout and the analysis is superficial, when not simply inaccurate.

This book gives good information but there is always, especially because the author almost only takes Falun Gong‘s side in these matters, more than meets the eye. It is obvious though that the Chinese government has an enormous impact on the whole world, and tries to ban Falun Gong everywhere. At the same time, other governments are aware of the influence that the Chinese government has, and may be aware that their own actions are unjustifiable and therefore try to avoid discussions about these matters. They hide the truth and give no comments on their behavior. Salton´s book takes the reader on a journey all around the world, informing them about the things that not many people seem to know of and digs up sources and information that seem to have been somewhat hidden.

 

 

Review by Tiantian Zhang

It was after an eight-year-long delay following the controversial event that the book Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland by Herman Salton was published. Salton was then an officer at the Icelandic Human Rights Center, among other roles. In this book, the author focuses on a 2002 event where a certain group of people, namely Falun Gong practitioners, were ordered by the Chinese government to be banned to enter Iceland before and during the visit of the Chinese President. In-depth research was made and opinions given by the author, along with a detailed review of the event.

The series of events that was thought to tarnish Iceland’s long and well-respected reputation in human rights history is briefly summarized in the foreword and introduction, and then further described in Chapters 3 and 4. It happened in early June 2002, when the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Jiang Zemin, planned to make his visit to Iceland. In the author’s description, what happened before and during the President’s visit was ”unforeseen,”and “bizarre, even burlesque.”. Practitioners of a Chinese “spiritual movement,” namely Falun Gong, were barred from Iceland with various methods. Those methods, including denial or withdrawal of their visas to Iceland, interrogation and refusal of entry at airports before boarding Iceland-bound planes, cancellation of their hotel room reservations and secret monitoring of their activities, are listed and submitted in evidence by the author as major breaches of human rights by the Chinese government and interference with Iceland’s sovereignty. What makes these actions stand out, however, is the fact that they were ordered by the Chinese government, but assisted and partly conducted by Icelandic government.

Being a Chinese citizen who has lived in Iceland for 3 years and majored in law for more than 5 years, I find it quite difficult to offer a conclusive evaluation of the events. In order to be able to give an objective opinion, I realize that a better understanding and in-depth investigation are required before I start judging the events, given my limited knowledge, which is probably colored by my experiences in both countries. After a comprehensive search for information from different media and publications, I would like to say that I have to hold a quite unique view on the Falun Gong movement, the 2002 event and its meaning, and the book as a whole.

By simply looking at the cover and reading the title of the book I sensed immediately a subtle hint of criticism in the main theme. The cover displays a picture of police cars under a gloomy semi-dark sky, giving an impression of heavy and solemn atmosphere along with the title “Arctic Host, Icy Visit.” I indiscreetly came to a conclusion that the book I was going to read could be categorized into a certain stereotype of books and publications, namely those typically critical publications dealing with human rights issues whenever the Chinese government is involved. Mere criticisms of the government’s well-known bad manners ignoring or infringing human rights are not the most outstanding characteristic of such publications. Instead, the criticisms and analysis always lead to the same conclusion, which is a routine of blaming the Chinese government for interference with other states’ sovereignty and abuse of its rising political and economic influence. However, the author manages to give some inspiring information and thoughtful conclusions after a careful examination of the 2002 event.

From what I know about the government by living more than 20 years under its regime, I have not much doubt in the truthfulness about their radical actions in Iceland as told in the book. Nor does it surprise me that the actions and orders were actually operated and carried out by the Icelandic government, whom I suppose to have quite some experience in barring foreigners from the country from my own experience. Information from various sources including newspaper reports, individual interviews of practitioners, witnesses and officials, reports from international human rights organizations, and letters by the Minister of Justice all support the story as reported by Salton. The author provides a considerable amount of information in chapters 3 and 4, covering important particulars and details.

However, one of the major flaws in this book lies in the characterization of Falun Gong. The author has made an attempt to give a concise and in some level accurate portrayal of Falun Gong in Chapter 2, but his view is apparently limited, if not totally biased, by the sources that he could access and lack of direct contact with of the innocently self-profiled organization. Appearing to be a “meditation exercise” in origin, Falun Gong is no longer merely a spiritual or religious group. The author makes a relatively objective introduction but fails in accuracy. It is not to be blamed because Falun Gong’s image is profiled drastically differently in international media compared with the Chinese domestic media as well as with what people have observed, not to mention inconsistency within the Falun Gong group itself.

I agree with the author about the anti-scientific and confrontational character of Falun Gong, which are pointed out in the book, but about their nature and non-violent history I have to hold a different opinion. On 23rd January 2001, some Falun Gong devotees committed self-immolation at the Tian’an Men Square. A similar incident took place once again in Beijing on 16th February of the same year. The incidents were reported by Chinese domestic media and were witnessed by Beijing’s citizens. Even though huge controversy emanated from these incidents and Falun Gong claimed that the tragedy was completely planned and manipulated by the Communist Party (CCP), the truth remains undiscovered. These two events came as a huge shock and had a widespread influence at that time, but were not mentioned at all in the book. It is valuable and important information to consider because it was just a year before the event in Iceland. If the incidents as reported in China were true, then the Chinese government’s concerns and bans would be viewed as more reasonable and understandable, even if of questionable legality.

Besides, as the author also noticed, the anti-government character of Falun Gong is obvious to the public. Radical criticisms and literal attacks towards the Chinese government, especially the CCP, are expressed explicitly in their books, official website, newspapers and flyers. As far as I know, almost every Chinese relative and friend of mine has received propaganda from Falun Gong anti-government movements, most commonly emails, mobile phone messages and home phone calls with recorded tape speeches. It is difficult to conclude that this organization is “peaceful in essence.” However, no matter how the nature of Falun Gong is and what the purpose of their movement is, there is inadequate justification for the Chinese government’s actions according to law. Human rights were breached and no excuses or attempts should be made to excuse their unlawfulness. Still, a crucial error is made when the author tries to analyze the legal challenges and legal assessment concerning this event: he refers to the European Convention on Human Rights as European Union law even though the former is under the auspices of the Council of Europe and is quite distinct from the European Union’s institutions. Further, Iceland has long been a party to the former treaty, but is not (yet) a member of the European Union at all.

When reaching its conclusion, the book approaches a routine of emphasizing freedom of association, speech, assembly and expression, and claims that the Chinese government used its political and economic influence to interfere with Iceland’s sovereignty. Meanwhile it also makes an interesting point that Western States are used to look at China’s human rights issues through colonial eyes, with a paternalistic attitude and teacher-pupil template, and try to use human rights as negotiation tools. But what I would like to add is that it is also important to realize that the fear of the West from the supposed threat from a rising power is usually attributable to lack of communication. China’s blockage of media is worsening the case.

With relatively satisfying accuracy and objectivity, this book gives the 2002 event and its background a through introduction and provides a reasonable conclusion. But throughout the whole book, it shows the typical Western superiority complex of a “peaceful, scarcely populated, proudly independent and highly civilized” state (juxtaposed against China) and the pity of its tainted reputation in human rights by the government and its “obedience” to another political power. But I would take a bold guess that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Icelandic government was aware of the consequences of potential protests, and was not completely unwilling or even forced, as the book has implied, to carry out and assist the actions reported. Welcoming hundreds of radical protestors to its soil to carry out their activities with unforeseen consequences, the Icelandic government, or any other government that cares about its peace and security, was not very likely to favor this idea. But being forced and having to obey another irresistible power to breach human rights unwillingly seems more forgivable. If that was the case, Iceland should really be concerned to protect its sovereignty and remain “one of the most liberal states” and “proudly independent,” but it must stand firmly on its position and take responsibility for its own decisions and actions.

P.S. The author of this book has provided a reply to the reviewers in issue 8(1) of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: http://nome.unak.is/nm-marzo-2012/vol-8-n-1-2013/51-book-review/351-review-response

Christian Joerges and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann (eds.), Constitutionalism: Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law (Hart Publishing: Studies in International Trade Law, 2011)

The overarching approach, as pioneered by the two editors, Christian Joerges and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, is to examine the practices of States and other international actors (principally the WTO) and explores these within the political and legal theory of constitutionalism. Where this work differs from much of the comparable scholarship on international economic law is the central place reserved for the individual as a key player (and beneficiary) of international economic relations. Much scholarship exists on international trade from States’ perspectives; and much has been devoted to exploring the contradictions and tensions between international economic law, individual rights and sustainable development. Recognizing that “human rights law and international trade law evolved as separate legal regimes” (p. 17) Constitutionalism, Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law makes a positive case for interpreting international economic law and international human rights as complimentary systems that ought to be brought closer together; indeed, to form a single, coherent system of law. It is an implicit response to concerns about the fragmentation of international law and reflects the classical principle of interpretation of treaties as codified in the Vienna Convention in the Law of Treaties 1969 that: “There shall be taken into account, together with the context, any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties” (article 31(3)(c)). With this in mind, international economic law is viewed as a tool to serve human interests, as opposed to the interests of States and multi-national corporations. Responding to the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call for a “human-rights approach to trade,” (p. 22) the book provides both an account of the normative basis that would legitimise such an approach by the WTO and makes proposals for how that process might evolve.

The introductory chapter (Petersmann) provides a theoretical framework for what follows, examining different forms of constitutions and constitutional ideas (democratic constitutionalism, rights-based constitutions, national and international constitutionalism, international constitutional democracy and federal and con-federal constitutions) (p7-8). Petersmann also distinguishes process-based constitutional democracies (most common law models) and substantive rights-based constitutional democracies (the continental approach) which provides the setting for much of what follows (pp. 13, 16).

The later edition contains 4 new chapters exploring conflicts-law as constitutional forum and the role that various doctrines in international private law might play in dispute settlement in international economic law (Christian Joerges); the World Trade Organisation and global administrative law (Richard Stewart and Michelle Ratton Sanchez Badin); the interrelationships between different layers of domestic and international governance as a “Five-Storey House” (Thomas Cottier); and a research agenda on the future developments of international economic law (Petersmann).

Petersmann concludes with four propositions based on the contributions as well as his own research. First, the legitimacy of international economic law pivots on its congruence with international human rights standards (p. 539). Second, there is a need for constitutional constraints on international institutions as there is within domestic States based upon “constitutional pluralism,” meaning that there is a range of acceptable constitutional arrangements and no single system that should be required of all players (p. 540). Third, in order to protect global public goods, such as the atmosphere and climate, a “paradigm shift” is required and this involves moving from a system of industry actors to the centralization of human subjects and Petersmann points to the European Union for leadership to this end (pp. 571-2). Fourth, international constitutionalism is necessary to guarantee global public goods in the same way that domestic constitutions have protected supply of public goods on a national scale. The international constitutional system must be rights-based, participatory and democratic (p. 575).

When the first edition of this text was published in 2006, mainstream commentators were not yet ready to question the bases of the international economic order and the priority of trade liberalism. Two years later, the rapid declines of the Nordic and Mediterranean economies of Iceland, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain were met with attacks on human rights and human security. Both the original crisis and the responses of international institutions to the same have led to much soul searching about the principles and priorities of international trade and this volume is a welcome contribution to that debate, sometimes controversial and always challenging. On the other hand, recent events within the Eurozone raise some questions regarding to the extent to which the European Union can be considered a model of international, constitutional, democratic, rights-based governance (compare p. 21) especially if one considers the means by which Iceland (outside of the European Union) has crawled back to economic growth while attempting to protect its most vulnerable residents compared with the demands placed on the Eurozone economies. Something more seems to be needed even within an international organization that positions fundamental individual rights at the heart of its formal constitution. Perhaps the answers are to be found in multilevel trade governance; perhaps they await further research, and one can only hope that the scholars involved in this project continue to devote their considerable talents to challenging the paradoxes and contradictions of the current international structures to develop a regime that remembers it is an instrument for human development, instead of viewing human beings as instruments for its own development.

Ernesto Kiza, Tödliche Grenzen – Die fatalen Auswirkungen europäischer Zuwanderungspolitik (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2008)

The author structured his work in four parts in order to offer a systematic analysis of the victimization of illegal immigrants. The first part gives an introduction to the theme of international migration, by providing an historical and empirical overview. The second part is dedicated to the theoretical explanation of the empirical facts presented in the first part. The third part examines the reason for international migration and the reaction to it in European countries. In the last part of his 410-page tome, Kiza discusses the impact of the European Union’s immigration policy, by emphasizing its effects on the migrants and, in particular, their victimization.

It is a pity that the author is hiding behind the abstruse jargon of much contemporary political science in order to do something very important: to understand the actions of the different actors in the European immigration policy and the very impact that this policy has on the refugees trying to enter Europe.  There is no necessity describing the fact that the nation-state is the actor in the international system with a phrase like: “Zum einen handelt es sich dabei um die Verfasstheit des internationalen Systems, die auf der Westfälischen Ordnung basiert und als zentrale Prämisse die Existenz souveräner Nationalstaaten postuliert. Somit ist der souveräne Nationalstaat der zentrale Akteur im internationalen System und nimmt daher eine zentrale Rolle bei der Beeinflussung und Formung internationaler Migrationsströme ein.” (p. 17) What has the Westfälische Ordnung to do with migration, except sounding very academic?

Neil Postmann pointed out that that “elite trades — physicians, lawyers, teachers, and scientists — protect their special status by creating vocabularies that are incomprehensible to the general public. This process prevents outsiders from understanding what the profession is doing and why.” Postmann himself did not really oppose this; he saw it as a necessity. In this case, unfortunately, does the “technical gobbledegook” (Postmann) prevent the very people who should be interested in reading about it from getting the message.

It is not understandable why the author is hiding behind a technical language that makes the text inaccessible.  It may be a sign of knowledge at the University of Kassel, where the author handed in his work, to be able to describe migration as an “ubiquitäres biologisches Phänomen” (p. 324), but for me as a reader it sounds just ridiculous. I still see the task of political science as to describe complex political phenomena in an understandable way, so as to provide politics with information and notions whereby to develop policy. It is a pity that the author did not make an effort to turn his PhD thesis into a readable text for its publication as a book. The topic and all the hard work invested into the research would have deserved it.