Category Archives: EU politics

What can Italians expect from the new populist government?


Italy’s prospective PM, Giuseppe Conte, is a 54-year-old university professor with little political experience [Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]

I was interviewed by South African public radio SAfm this morning on the prospects of Italy’s new populist government.

You can listen to the audio clip here.


Italy’s populist alliance and the national anti-migrant consensus


The League’s Matteo Salvini and the Five Star’s Luigi Di Maio have entered into coalition to form a government in Italy [AP]

You can read my latest piece for Al Jazeera English on the newly formed populist alliance between the far right League and post-ideological Five Star Movement.

Here is an extract:

‘On the surface, the Five Star Movement and the League don’t have much in common. One was founded by an Italian comedian who talked of direct democracy, anti-corruption policies and a green economy. The other has its roots in a secessionist movement, calling for the wealthier north to separate from the “underdeveloped” south, and is currently pursuing an anti-migrant agenda.

In reality, the two parties have never been that different, and their recent convergence is not accidental. Both focused their election campaigns on the grievances of the “white Italian majority” which is afraid of being sidelined by liberal elites and migrants and losing their middle-class privileges.’

United against Trump

Donald Trump

The poor showing at Trump’s inauguration, and the massive turnout at the Women’s Marches, together with Trump’s popular vote defeat by nearly 3 million votes, prove that chasing Trump supporters is not only ethically problematic, but also strategically wrong. Trump did not win. He got into power thanks to the increasing fragmentation and disunity of its opposition, caused in no minor part by decades of neoliberalism and its co-option of large sections of the left.

The way to fight Trump and the rise of Euro-American fascism is unity, that much is clear.  We need a vision that rejects the unbridled rule of corporations and imperialist states over people’s lives, and the systemic racism and sexism that underpins the current world order. We should strive for models that preserve the planet from the threat of climate change, and stop the pillaging of natural resources and destruction of local livelihoods carried out to fuel an unsustainable and unequal global economy.

We should build on the contribution of queer, feminist and Black activists that showed us that this movement can only be intersectional, taking into account how all forms of oppression and discrimination interact with each other in complex and non-obvious ways. Class is not a primary reality of capital that precedes all other identities, rather it intersects with them in a non-hierarchical fashion. But disagreement with those who continue to believe in the “primacy of class” should not lead to disunity in struggle. We can work together and map a common ground. 

We are led by those who have borne the worst effects of centuries of exploitation and discrimination, well before aggressive neoliberalism eroded the livelihoods of the Western middle classes: people of colour, queer and non-binary people, women, migrants, refugees, indigenous people, people with disabilities, low-income and precarious workers, the unemployed and the underemployed, and other oppressed groups, in no hierarchical order.

We should engage in tough and frank dialogue with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They have in different ways softened their stances against nationalist and racist arguments for economic protectionism, in the hope that a compromise would be possible to steer some of the voters who support Trump and the far right towards a progressive alternative. Sanders and Corbyn are mistaken, but we want them to understand this, reverse their positions, and contribute to the emerging anti-Trump movement.

There are a few things we don’t need to do: we don’t need to empathise with Trump supporters and far right voters in Europe; we don’t need to reach to them; we don’t need to give more airtime to their views. It’s up to us. We can claim the democratic right to express our firm rejection of xenophobic and racist nationalism, or let people like Trump and Farage call the shots. We don’t need their voters to win in the ballot box, but they will be welcome if and when they realise they were wrong.

In the world we want to live in, there is space for everybody, including those who voted for Trump. Like everybody else, they will benefit from the progressive policies and collective actions we will deploy in the fight against Trump and his allies.

UK should Remain in the EU to stop the global advance of the far right


Tomorrow the British will go to the polls to decide whether UK should stay within the European Union or not. I truly hope that the majority will vote to Remain.

Whatever the final result, the referendum debate has shown there is a worrying rise of xenophobia across all sectors of British society, in a country where migrants have always been welcomed and that has featured among the most cosmopolitan in the world. Many on the Leave side have openly campaigned against migrants and for national chauvinism, spreading incorrect information and unfounded arguments to fuel hate and resentment.

Even more worrying, the debate on immigration around the EU referendum saw many on the left opening the way for the legitimisation of the widespread resentment against migrants. Several prominent figures – including union leaders, intellectuals and Labour party members – have stressed the need for “controlled immigration” and the protection of British workers vis-a-vis all other workers.

Admirably, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his principles and insisted on his pro-immigration stance. The priority should be solidarity across all those hit by the crisis to fight the devastations of neoliberalism and austerity. Migrants are a convenient scapegoat to divert the public’s attention from the real cause of their plight: the drastic reduction of state welfare, widespread privatisations and a wholesale attack on workers’ rights.

Other sectors of the radical left have maintained their commitment to internationalism and inclusion, but campaigned for Leave, hoping that a Leave victory would open a crisis within the Tories from which the left might emerge victorious. Like sectors of the Sanders’ base in the US, and leftists across Europe, they are unwittingly paving the way for the rise of the far right, in the hope that this pragmatic short-term convergence of interests will topple neoliberal technocracy and lead to systemic change.

The reality is that the Tory right and the far right UKIP are much better positioned to capitalise on UK exiting the EU, and they have been the real protagonists of the Leave campaign. Brexit would be one major step towards a global advance of far right populism. It could be followed by a Trump victory in the US presidential election in November, a Le Pen victory in the 2017 French presidential elections, and a victory of the left/right populist 5 Star movement in Italy in 2018.

The EU is in deep crisis and British PM Cameron’s EU deal means that if Britain votes to Remain, the way will be opened for a technocratic curtailing of freedom of movement – all member countries would be allowed to put a temporary break on migration from other EU countries, if they can prove that their state budgets are under substantial pressure. This would be no victory either. But handing the UK to a right-wing alliance that thrives on hate and xenophobia is undoubtedly far worse.

A left vision for basic income


Today Swiss people are voting in a referendum that will determine whether to include a universal basic income in the federal constitution. The constitutional amendment proposes the institution of a basic income to be given for life to the whole population unconditionally, that is, without any specific requirement like income assessment or job status. The basic income should be set at a level that guarantees human dignity and meaningful participation in public life.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is a major achievement that the discussion has gone so far in a country like Switzerland that is at the centre of global capitalism.

It is also time however to reflect more critically about the wave of interest basic income has spurred around the world. We need to avoid the misuse of basic income as a tool to dismantle the welfare state in the global North, and legitimise the advance of austerity and free market capitalism. In the global South, the danger is that previous pilots have set basic income at very low levels, reinforcing double standards about what a decent livelihood should be for Southern citizens vis-a-vis people in the North. Here too, the danger is that a low payment that does not cover the basics would be used as a way to avoid building strong states that deliver decent public services to their citizens.

These risks are real. We need more engagement from the left, to make sure that we push for a basic income that complements a strong welfare state. This also means that we can’t uncritically endorse any move towards basic income just on the basis that “it is good for the movement”. Let’s keep our critical minds switched on, and contribute constructively to make sure that basic income works for people, and not against them.

The original vision of the concept stresses the need for a safety net that guarantees a decent living to all. Pushing for a modest cash check as a substitute for welfare provisions and labour rights would work in the opposite direction.

IMF plots “credit event” to push Greece to the brink of default


Even though other international events have largely pushed it in the background, the Greek debt drama continues. The IMF and the EU institutions cannot agree on the terms of the next stage of the bailout. The IMF wants debt relief, while Germany is opposed to it; the IMF also disagrees with the numbers given both by Greece and the Eurogroup to achieve savings and repayments.

The differences from the perspective of Greek people and the state’s bondage to creditors are rather cosmetic, but the discussion of “debt relief” and repayment terms is central to how the Greek crisis has been managed by technocrats and politicians in northern European countries.

A leaked transcript of a recent IMF teleconference suggests that the IMF technocrats have considered creating a “credit event” that would force Greece and Europe to accept their terms – something that would push the Greek state to the brink of default, so as to leave them no choice but capitulate to the IMF demands.

Paul Mason explains what the IMF technocrats mean by “credit event” and what is at stake:

“So let me decode. An ‘event’ is a financial crisis bringing Greece close to default. Just like last year, when the banks closed, millions of people faced economic and psychological catastrophe.

Only this time, the IMF wants to inflict that catastrophe on a nation holding tens of thousands of refugees and tasked with one of the most complex and legally dubious international border policing missions in modern history.”

Let’s not forget that the Greek government and the new incarnation of Syriza still led by Tsipras share responsibility for the devastation brought about on Greeks, and are not mere “victims” of IMF and EU plots. Tsipras betrayed Greek citizens when in July last year he signed the bailout, disregarding overwhelming support against it in the referendum and Syriza’s original mandate.

More recently, he also betrayed migrants and refugees by accepting the EU-Turkey deal which will see new arrivals in Greece being sent back to Turkey, if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

My top 5 trends of 2015 – and some predictions for 2016


With best wishes for a healthy and productive 2016!


Debates and struggles around race have taken centre-stage in 2015, with an intensity reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s struggles around civil rights and black power in the US, and the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in 1970s and 1980s in South Africa.

Episodes of blatant racial discrimination and police brutality against black people have been uncovered and exposed like never before in the US. But the debate radically shifted when these concerns have been brought at the heart of the ideological centres of white privilege: wealthy universities in global centres of capital. In April, South African students obtained the removal of the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. In October, university students joined mass protests to widen access to higher education and radically transform historically white universities in decolonised places of learning.

Race was also at the centre of various protests erupted across the US towards the end of the year. Finally, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford is gaining momentum, calling for the removal of a Rhodes statue in Oriel College. The struggle is about much more than a sculpture. The movement wants to open a debate about the legacy of colonialism in Britain, a history that the country has never faced up to in the way Germany and Italy had to deal with the horrors of fascist dictatorships.

It is just the beginning. These struggles are likely to intensify in 2016. Predictions about outcomes would be premature, but there is no doubt that once the issue is on the table, it won’t disappear quite as easily as it resurfaced after decades of denial.


The refugee crisis clearly exposed the injustices and violence of the global capitalist system, with razor wire fences erected across Europe uncannily evoking the dark past of Nazi concentration camps. We’ve been hit by a constant stream of news reporting thousands of deaths of refugees fleeing their homes in the Middle East and other parts of Asia and Africa. The Mediterranean Sea is now the geographic symbol of the catastrophe.

Europe has been at the forefront of waging war and producing mass deaths and displacement in the Middle East and elsewhere, but reacted in brutal self-defence when it came to help those in need. A pan-European wave of xenophobic nationalism dictated policy, with border closures resulting in the killing of people desperately searching for safety. A few decades from now, this will be remembered as another genocide by Europeans on people outside their borders marked as cultural and racial others.

In 2015 the idea that Europeans should “come first” in Europe has regained legitimacy for the first time since the conscious rejection of racism in the aftermath of WWII. Far right populist movements are advancing nearly everywhere in Europe – a case in point is the Front National becoming first party in France in the regional elections in early December. Meanwhile, many left-wing leaders and cynical technocrats try to counter xenophobic revolts by giving in to their demands.

More war in the Middle East is justified by ill-conceived plans to quash the much feared Islamic State, an enemy that nobody really understands or knows how to fight. War is used as a diversion to prop up technocratic governments about to be swallowed by the rise of the far right.

The crisis is likely to intensify. We should expect more border closures and more wars. Large parts of the globe are entering a state of semi-permanent conflict, fuelled by the declining hegemony of a Western bloc that is unwilling to accept that its time in history has passed. Within Europe and the US, xenophobic nationalism and white supremacy will continue to rise among the middle classes, turning renegade ideologies into acceptable mainstream.


The African continent has been hard hit by the slow down of the global commodity markets, caused by an ongoing oil war between US and OPEC, declining growth in China, and the lack of a strong recovery in Europe and the US.

After a boom that lasted more than a decade across Africa, the harsh reality is laid bare. High growth levels have not been accompanied by strong infrastructure development and investment in key public goods like health and education. Profits ended in the hands of multinational capital and tiny local elites. States acted as cartels owned by a few multinationals, and negotiated unfavourable deals with various foreign superpowers.

In 2016 the full weight of the economic downturn will unfold, and the convergence of multiple crises – political, economic, social and environmental – is likely to bring major waves of mass unrest across the continent, and more instability in areas already marred by civil conflict and war.

The key issue for African governments, foreign investors and development agencies will be how to deal with masses of discontented and hungry people, calling for radical change and immediate action to address their suffering.


Aside from the refugee crisis, in Europe 2015 was the year the rule of technocracy came under attack by popular anti-austerity movements. Greek people led the charge, with the historic election victory in January of Syriza, running on an anti-austerity left agenda.

Pressed into a corner by international creditors who punished Greece for its refusal to comply, Syriza’s leader and Greek PM Tsipras did his best to deflate one of the most promising anti-austerity movements in recent times. He betrayed the mandate of the January election, and of a national referendum in July that saw a landslide “no” vote against the draconian bailout terms offered by Brussels. With Tsipras’ approval, the much hated bailout was imposed over Greece.

After fresh elections in September, Syriza completed its transformation into a centrist formation talking left and walking right. The new government enforced the worst bailout conditions in the history of Greece, passing laws stripping the country of its assets, imposing further cuts to an already crumbling welfare state, and diminishing protection for home owners unable to pay their mortgages. Harsh pension and labour market reforms are yet to come.

Tsipras’ U-turn had a devastating effect on the morale and prospects of new left movements across Europe, especially in southern countries. New anti-austerity left movement Podemos in Spain did well in the December general election, but lowered expectations by reiterating their support for Tsipras’ transition from radical leftist to austerity technocrat. In Portugal, a shaky alliance between pro-austerity centre-left and the anti-austerity left came to power a few weeks ago, and is already showing major signs of crisis.

A hopeful counterpoint to Syriza’s disappointing trajectory was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour leader in September. He is in favour of wealth redistribution from corporations and the upper-middle classes to the vast majority of people, and opposes a senseless and costly British war in Syria. His popular policy positions have made him into the main target of attacks by mainstream politicians and big capital. His worst enemies sit in his own party: the ever-green Blairites have no consensus among the wider public, but continue to occupy some of the most influential positions within Labour.

Despite the challenges, there’s still some hope for the European left. 2016 will be the year when new left movements will show their true worth. Corbyn is heading towards a stand-off with the Blairites; the popular anti-technocracy former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis will launch his own pan-European movement to “democratise the EU”; and Podemos might be able to gain ground with the strategic openings offered by the Spanish political crisis opened by an indecisive election.

We will see whether a new brand of left populism will be able to rally mass discontent against technocracy, and counter the advance of the far right. If Corbyn and Podemos end up like Tsipras, it could be a deadly blow for a viable left alternative to the devastating mix of austerity and war imposed by European technocrats.


If 2014 was the year of inequality – remember Piketty? – 2015 was marked by the increasing realisation that unemployment and precarious work have become a permanent feature of the current capitalist system. With stuttering growth across the global North, the few countries that are experiencing significant GDP expansion like Britain and Spain have seen no improvement for the vast majority of people. In the global South, there is a growing awareness that there is no magical “trickle down” effect that will lift people out of poverty.

Basic income was until recently a niche concept developed in the 1980s by a small group of enlightened philosophers and political scientists with the rare gift of foresight. In 2015 it hit the mainstream, raising hopes across many quarters that it could become an effective policy tool to counter the structural decline of formal employment across the globe. In its “pure” form, a basic income is a grant given to everybody for life, should cover the basics for decent living, and comes with no conditions attached – it’s not means-tested, and you receive it even if you are not unemployed, or you don’t fit in other conventional categories of welfare recipients like children or the elderly.

In practice, the increasing attention by mainstream political parties and technocrats means that the concept has already been changed and adapted to suit disparate agendas, and sometimes conflicting views of the economy. The right likes the idea as a potential quick fix to escalating welfare costs, i.e. give everybody a low basic income, and cut all other benefits. Sections of the left which are more attuned to the changing configurations of capitalism, see it as a necessary measure to guarantee livelihoods and individual freedom in a world marked by exploitative work and rising unemployment.

Europe is leading the conversation: a national basic income pilot was announced by the new centre-right government in Finland; the possibility of city-level experiments is under discussion in several Dutch municipalities; and a national referendum in Switzerland will be held in June 2016, when Swiss people will decide whether an unconditional basic income should be enshrined in the federal constitution.

The debate has also advanced further elsewhere, with Namibia leading the flock in the global South: after a successful pilot carried out between 2008 and 2009, the government has unleashed new plans for some form of basic income grant rolled out at national level as part of an ambitious poverty eradication strategy.

2016 will no doubt puts to the test the potential of this far-reaching measure and its nascent grassroots movement of supporters. With enthusiastic endorsements across the political spectrum, from the free market libertarians of the Adam Smith Institute, to left-leaning thinker and activist David Graeber, the idea has the potential to explode in a global social movement with mass support. It catches the public imagination with its visionary simplicity and pragmatism, and could become one of the essential tools to counter poverty, and free up human resources and social creativity at a time of deep material and existential crisis.