Department of Politics

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Former European Commission Vice-President opens SEI anniversary conference

Professor Aleks Szczerbiak (left) chairs the keynote address by Lord (Leon) Brittan

A former Vice-President of the European Commission opened the 20th-anniversary conference of the Sussex European Institute (SEI), which was held on campus last week.

Addressing a packed audience, Lord (Leon) Brittan gave a wide-ranging talk on the European Union, asking: ‘Is there life after the Eurocrisis?’.

He drew on his ten years of experience as a European Commissioner (1989-99) responsible for competition policy, financial institutions, external economic affairs and trade policy, to analyse the current Eurozone crisis and set out his prognosis for the future of the European political and economic integration project.

The two-day conference on 27-28 September - which was sponsored by the Higher Education Innovation Fund and European Commission Representation in the UK - also included sessions on European values, identity and citizenship; the Eurozone crisis; the future of the European economy; and the position of Europe in the world.

In these sessions, delegates listened to presentations from, and participated in debates with, leading international experts in these fields including all three former SEI directors: Professors Jörg Monar, Jim Rollo and Dame Helen Wallace.

Apart from current SEI-linked faculty, researchers and postgraduate students, the 100 conference delegates included many from among the more than 600 students who have taken SEI Masters courses and 70 PhDs who have graduated at SEI during the past 20 years.

The conference was also attended by many of the SEI’s long-standing academic visiting fellows and its network of ‘practitioner fellows’ - senior non-academic specialists whose work has brought them into contact with the European integration process - as well from the 140-strong undergraduate EU Society.

SEI Co-Director Professor Aleks Szczerbiak commented: “The conference took place at a time when the European integration project faces momentous challenges – indeed, a potentially existential Eurozone crisis that represents the greatest challenge in its history.

“Nonetheless, conference participants approached these questions in a spirit of critical engagement and sober reflection. I’m confident that they came away with a very much clearer understanding of the challenges that Europe currently faces.”

SEI Co-Director Professor Sue Millns added: “The conference generated a series of extremely high-quality debates about the future of Europe, the European Union and the Eurozone.

“Reflections were sometimes pessimistic, occasionally optimistic but above all realistic about the prospects of European integration and the European project.

The conference is the first of a series of SEI events sponsored by the European Commission and will be followed up by four, more focused workshops that will build and expand upon the themes discussed last week.

These will run from November through to June 2013 and will cover issues such as challenging financial times in Europe; social citizenship and migration in Europe; EU foreign policy making and the external action service; and Euroscepticism in the UK and reconnecting the UK public with the EU.

Undergraduate Trip to Paris, March 13th – 15th, 2012.

 In week 10 of the Spring Term I took 10 students on a three day / two night study trip to Paris: six 2nd years following my course in ‘The Politics of Governance: France’, and four 3rd years taking my special option on ‘France in the Mitterrand Years’.  We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather which meant I was able to take them on a mega walking tour of some of the capital’s most significant sites that give a sense of how the turbulence of French history, marked by ‘Franco-French wars’, continues to impact on its politics today. We were there at an exciting time given that the presidential election (the centre piece of French politics) will be taking place in two rounds on April 22nd & May 6th, and we kept a close eye on the billposting across the city: the hard Left were definitely the most visible in this respect, and after an interesting encounter with some militants from the ‘Front de Gauche’ (alliance of communist and hard Left) late one evening, we were given some posters and flyers to bring home ‘to spread the word’ in the UK about the evils of social democracy!

Front de Gauche

The down side of the election season meant that no politicians could spare any time away from the campaign trail to speak to us, and the National Assembly had already ended its last session, but that also meant that we were able to get a much closer look (and feel!) of the semi-circular debating chamber which perpetuates the seating distribution for deputies of the Left and Right that began with opposition to, or support of, the king.

Students at National Assembly 

Students getting a feel for the National Assembly.

Students noted how republican France has ironically perpetuated monarchical practices by housing of all its political activities in monumental palaces and by bestowing upon its highest representatives significant privileges in kind, such as the official residence of the President of the National Assembly (roughly equivalent to the British Speaker in the House of Commons), in the magnificent Hotel de  Lassay.

They also saw how France’s attitude towards its difficult past can be traced through various statues and monuments which indicate how it ‘remembers’ its heroes and villains: the impressive Panthéon (see photo) houses tombs of Great French Men (and one or two women) since the Revolution of 1789, Napoleon Bonaparte’s magnificent tomb lies in great pomp at Les Invalides (though there is controversy as to whether it is actually his body inside!), but the elaborate marble recumbent statues of all French monarchs in the Basilica at St Denis are but empty tombs, since all the bodies were dug up during the Revolution and thrown into a communal pit simply marked with a plaque in the garden. Only the tombs of Louis XVI & XVII (thanks to the Restoration) are the real thing.

Students at Pantheon of Great Men

Students in the shadow of France’s ‘Pantheon’ of  Great Men.

I also showed them how the use of public space is also highly significant in Paris, and the strong contrasts between the different parts of the old historic centre, the modern business district at La Défense, and the suburb of St Denis hopefully brought this home to them. They also got several opportunities to see the reality of the ‘oppressive state’ that we had discussed in seminars: we identified five different types of police and noted a strong army presence (with machine guns), and were unable to get to the Prime Minister’s ‘palace’ (Hôtel Matignon) because the street was cut off due to a student protest.

Street protest

So although we didn’t get to meet any politicians, I hope the trip will have given the students some insights into what drives French politics, and helped them to get a better grasp of the background to the presidential elections.

Sue Collard, March 2012.

Seventh Annual Undergraduate trip to Berlin an Unbridled Success        

Brandenburg Gates, BerlinPolitics students at the Brandenburg Gates, Berlin.

The first week in March once again saw Dan Hough lead a group of intrepid Sussex undergraduates to Berlin for three days.  As in previous years, the trip involved discussions with politicians from a range of political parties, a visit to the British Embassy to talk Anglo-German relations, a tour around the infamous Stasi remand prison in East Berlin and trips to the Holocaust Memorial and what’s left of the Berlin Wall. 

Three days is not long, so the students – all participants on the second year UG governance course on Modern Germany – found themselves congregating at Brighton station at the unseemly time of 04h45 on Tuesday morning in order to catch the early flight over to Berlin Schoenefeld.  Once that particular challenge had been safely negotiated, the group headed out to see one of the most fearsome institutions in the now defunct GDR; the Stasi’s remand prison in Hohenschönhausen.  The sight of interrogation rooms and torture cells, coupled with descriptions of the Stasi’s methods as well as the experiences of inmates, certainly opened a few eyes, and made everyone anywhere of the lengths that the East German secret police would go to get people to behave as they wanted.

Following a free evening, Wednesday saw the first of the group’s meetings with prominent politicians, namely Dagmar Enkelmann, the chief whip of the Left Party.  Ms Enkelmann was very open in elaborating both on her experiences during the unification period, as well as what her party perceived as Germany’s ineffective handling of the current Eurocrisis.  Indeed, the Eurocrisis was a regular topic of interest in of all the discussions, with Lisa Paus (Greens) and Petra Merkel (SPD) largely agreeing with Enkelmann that Germany needed to do more to help Greece in particular back on the path to economic growth.  Other topics did, however, also make an appearance; Zachary Schubert tested Lisa Paus on Germany’s position on the current Iran/Israel standoff, for example, whilst Luke Williams grilled Petra Merkel on Germany’s attitudes to the UK.  Andrew Noble from the British Embassy rounded off the discussions with an entertaining tour de force on the Embassy’s role in getting the UK message across to German politicians and public alike.  Again, the topics discussed were certainly wide-ranging, with the UK’s veto at the December 2011 European Council being discussed as well as how one might look to pursue a career in the diplomatic service.

As ever, though, it was not all work, work, work.  Indeed, the trip enjoyed a couple of firsts; it had its very first birthday boy, with the group helping Andy Horrell celebrate his 20th birthday on Wednesday, whilst Luke Williams gained the (in)auspicious honour of becoming the first student in the trip’s seven year history to be told that he’d eaten enough at the hostel’s ‘all you can eat’ breakfast!  Work that one out if you can!

SEI Co-Director visits Croatia ahead of EU referendum

 Prof Aleks Szczerbiak and Sussex graduate Andrea Covic at a meeting at the EU delegation office, held as part of Prof Szczerbiak's visit to Croatia.           

A Sussex specialist on European referendums and East European politics visited Croatia last week just days before Croatians voted to join the European Union.

During his two-day visit from 19-20 January, Professor Aleks Szczerbiak - Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies and Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute (SEI) - was involved in a number of meetings with academics, policy makers, journalists and business leaders to present and discuss his research on EU referendums.

With his SEI colleague Professor Paul Taggart, in 2009 Professor Szczerbiak co-authored a book on EU Enlargement and Referendums, analysing the outcomes of the 2003 referendums in the former communist states of central and eastern Europe on whether to join the EU.

The two Sussex scholars also co-convene the European Parties Elections and Referendums Network (EPERN), which was set up in 2000 originally to research Euroscepticism but subsequently expanded its brief to look at European referendums and the impact of the European issue on electoral and party politics

Commenting on his visit, Professor Szczerbiak said: “This was a tremendously exciting time to be visiting Croatia and an excellent opportunity for me to share the findings of the research that Paul and I carried out on EU referendums.

“I’ve learnt a great deal that I can put to good use both in further research on this topic but also in the Sussex courses that I teach on East European politics.”

Professor Szczerbiak gave the keynote address at a major academic conference hosted by the Zagreb University Political Science Institute and attended by the Croatian foreign minister.

He also spoke to 60 young professionals (including more than 20 SEI graduates) at a meeting sponsored by the British Council in Croatia.

Since 1999 the Croatian government has been sending young people to Sussex to take the SEI’s MA in Contemporary European Studies - in return for working for them for up to five years after returning home. As a result, SEI has now trained nearly 100 Croatian graduates.

Professor Szczerbiak said: “I was particularly pleased to meet up with so many SEI alumni who are now having a huge, positive impact on public life in their country. It was really gratifying to hear them talk about their positive experiences at Sussex and how helpful this has been to them in their professional careers.”

Professor Szczerbiak’s visit was organised by the Academy of Political Development, a Croatian NGO aimed at developing democratic political culture and promoting dialogue and co-operation among future leaders in Croatia.

The Academy is headed by Ana Brncic, who graduated from the MA in Contemporary European Studies in 2002 and is now head of communications in the EU delegation in Croatia, having previously been a senior official in the Croatian ministries of foreign affairs and European integration.

Bale receives book prize

Tim Bale receives book prizeProf Tim Bale (right) receives a prestigious PSA book prize from journalist Dominic Lawson (middle) at an awards ceremony compered by broadcaster Jon Snow (left).

A politics professor was in Westminster (where else?) last night (Tuesday 29 November) to receive a major book prize for his study of the modern Conservative Party.

Journalist Dominic Lawson presented Professor Tim Bale with the W.J.M. Mackenzie Book Prize for the year's best book in political science at the annual awards dinner of the Political Studies Association (PSA).

"Tim Bale has composed a thoughtful, perceptive and exhaustively researched study," said the prize judges. "An enjoyable, well-written and substantial contribution to the study of political parties" is how they described Professor Bale's book, The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron.

"It covers all aspects of the Conservative party - organisation, policy, ideology, and political strategy - in a finely researched and meticulous way."

This assessment of the book was shared by former Cabinet Minister, Baroness (Gillian) Shephard, one of many senior Tory politicians who have published glowing reviews.

She wrote: "Tim Bale has succeeded in combining an accurate overview of the Conservative Party's history from Thatcher to Cameron with a wealth of intimate detail. The combination makes the book a riveting read, and a must for all devotees of modern politics."

Another former Conservative Minister, Edwina Currie, was similarly glowing in her review in The Times, describing it as "a simply brilliant book" and declaring, "His judgments are spot-on."

This is an aspect of the book that was also picked up the PSA judges, who said: "Full of shrewd and astute judgments, it offers a mine of factual information and will for years be an indispensable source of understanding of the contemporary Conservative party."

Another thing that impressed them was Professor Bale's source material: "He has managed to secure a remarkable degree of access to key figures within the Conservative party and has obtained a formidable amount of primary material (often quite candid and on-the-record)."

Most importantly, perhaps, the book is "thoroughly readable", as former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd put it. The PSA judges agreed: "This book is written in a fluent, highly accessible and often witty style and demonstrates impressive narrative skills.

"It makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Conservative party and hence of modern British politics," they concluded.

The PSA awards event, which marked the achievements of politicians, academics and journalists, was compered by Jon Snow from 'Channel 4 News' and will be televised on BBC Parliament at 9pm on Saturday (3 December) and repeated at 10.30am on Monday (5 December).

Serena Verdenicci, a Politics undergraduate, talks about her Study India trip Serena being shown around a village


In the Summer of 2011 after my first year of studying at Sussex, my application to participate in the Study India programme was accepted. This meant that I flew to Delhi, along with 79 other lucky students, to participate in 3 weeks of cultural exchange which included lectures, work placements and, of course, more touristy sight-seeing. This programme is predominately funded by the British Council in India, and I received further help with the additional costs following an award from the Sussex Travel Bursary.

Many people tell you that to experience Delhi is not to experience India. The generosity of spirit so often reminisced about by visits to India appears diminished through poverty and the direct contact between those who have and have not, which exacerbates the divide in personal situations. This translates into a visitor's immediate experience of Delhi, primarily due to the scams in which all taxi drivers seem to engage. The Delhi I experienced however is much richer. This was aided by the programme which provided an opportunity to engage in 3 distinct experiences; firstly orientating ourselves with the city through visits to awe-inspiring places of interest, and a lecture series which offered a dynamic presentation of India. This was followed by a week's internship within an organisation related to your degree, in my case Politics and Development. The final week consisted of a cultural exchange and study programme at Delhi University.

One of the strongest impressions of Indian people is their innovative excellence. This was highlighted during the second week of the programme when I was assigned a placement with Hole in the Wall Education Ltd. This organisation provides children form under-served areas, like the slums across Delhi, with unconditional, unaided, public access to computers. The concept challenges how, and from whom, children learn. Teachers aren't needed. Children learn through collaborative behaviour and trial and error: the results are impressive!

Away from the programme, the ability of people to challenge long-accepted norms provided a glimpse of the diversity associated with India, while maintaining a strong concept of tradition. The indefinite fast by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare which commenced on the 16th August, combined a very contempory issue with a traditional method of raising awareness and generating support. I attended the protests and witnessed something vastly different from the London riots a few weeks earlier, instead consisting of cheering, chanting and celebration. The solidarity and passion of the people occurred despite entrenched beliefs concerning caste and class. This is something from which we should learn. Serena Verdenicci

My stay in India was extended beyond the Study India programme due to an opportunity offered by the Institute of Development Studies, based  at Sussex University, to observe participatory development at a community led rural sanitation project. This offered vast insight and experience into field research and provided me with contacts for future research. This experience has opened, and made tangible the idea of working in India.
I can attribute this to the people whom I met, both Indians and fellow participants on the programme, who made this experience outstanding.  

Students quiz former Foreign Secretary on world affairs

‘Hundreds of staff and students filled a campus lecture theatre to capacity on Tuesday 3 May 2011 to take part in a question-and-answer session with Labour MP David Miliband. David MilibandThe former Foreign Secretary talked about world affairs, including the fatal shooting the day before of Osama Bin Laden, which he said should be "rejoiced". He then moved on to take questions from the floor, which covered topics such as university tuition fees, Libya, unpaid internships and the UK's coalition government.

Mr Miliband, addressing a question from David Cichon, President-elect of the Students' Union, said that he thought the raising of university tuition fees to £9,000 a year was "pretty dangerous". The Oxford graduate said: "I think it's right that graduates pay towards some of the cost of their education. But it's in the national interest that we have a strong higher education sector and the proposed fee is being driven by the obliteration of the teaching grant." When asked about the future of the coalition government, Mr Miliband predicted the coalition "will last another four years". He added: "The thing about the coalition is that the internal divisions have overshadowed the discussion of real issues. There are plenty of other places to get soap opera." Mr Miliband also discussed the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), which took place on Thursday 5 May 2011. Alluding to his defeat under the AV system to brother Ed in the Labour leadership contest in 2010, he said: "I've got more reason than most to be sceptical of some of the drawbacks of AV, but I think a Yes vote is the right thing. AV allows you to vote with your heart and your head." More than 200 people packed into Asa Briggs 1 lecture theatre in Arts A to listen to the discussion, which was chaired by Professor of Politics, Tim Bale. The large turnout proved, said Mr Miliband, that the British public is passionate about politics. He said: "Enthusiasm in politics is alive and kicking at Sussex."

View the video of David Miliband in conversation with Tim Bale

Mr Miliband's talk was reported in 'The Badger', the University of Sussex Student Union newspaper. 

Blackouts, Strikes … and Militant Chickens;
Sussex Students deal with all life can throw at them on 2011 Berlin Trip!

PolCES students at the Bundestag, Berlin   PolCES students at the
   Bundestag,  Berlin.

The 6th annual ‘Berlin Trip’ for PolCES undergraduates took place from 8th – 10th March.  Previous years have always seen intrepid Sussex students – all of whom take the second year ‘Political Governance: Germany’ Course – cope with early start times (n.b. 04h45 meet at Brighton station!), diary malfunctions on the part of politicians they were due to meet and a wide variety of other challenges and obstacles.  The 2011 version will nonetheless go down as the trip where Berlin did all it could to derail proceedings, but PolCES staff (Dan Hough, Kai Oppermann and Martine Huberty) and the 23 students refused to be beaten!

Things started off brightly, as the 26 strong group all set their alarm clocks correctly and safely got on the 06h50 flight from Gatwick to Berlin Schoenefeld.  Touching down promptly in Berlin ensured that bags were duly dropped off at the hotel and the group made excellent time in getting to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, for their three meetings on Tuesday afternoon.  The Sussex students had planned to meet politicians from the Free Democrats, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats – but no one (politicians included) had reckoned with the incompetence of Berlin’s electricians, one of whom managed to cut through three cables and send the parliament plunging into darkness.  With the Bundestag well and truly blacked out, all appointments were cancelled and, indeed, the place went into lockdown as everyone working there was sent home!  Not the ideal start to the three day trip …

Unperturbed, the troika of Sussex staff quickly settled on a Plan B that included visits to the Holocaust Memorial, the museum at Checkpoint Charlie (the most famous crossing between the American and Soviet sectors in central Berlin) as well as a trip to see the remnants of the Berlin Wall.  It wasn’t quite the way things were planned, but it seemed to work nonetheless – and this despite a 6ft rogue fancy-dressed chicken accosting the group (and particularly Dan Hough) at the Brandenburg Gate demanding money.  Only when Hough threatened to get Bernard Matthews in to sort him out did the chicken’s militancy abate.

Day two again started well, as the group spent 90 minutes talking to the chief whip of the post-communist Left Party (Die Linke), Dagmar Enkelmann.  As ever, Enkelmann was both enterprising and entertaining, as the topics for discussion ranged from how to get people more interested in politics to analysis of Germany’s role in Afghanistan (see http://www.dagmar-enkelmann.de/index.php?id=34).  Louise Everett pushed Enkelmann on what precisely the LP would do differently if they were in power, whilst Felicity Herrmann was particularly interested in how politics could be made more attractive for those who currently felt disenfranchised. 

Following a tour through the Bundestag the group moved to East Berlin and to the Stasi’s (the East German Secret Service) former remand prison.  A marvellously entertaining tour guide took the group around the prison (torture chambers included), describing how the Stasi tortured and manipulated prisoners.  The day finished with a trip back into the centre of Berlin to see the British consul general in the UK embassy, Andrew Noble, only to find that Mr Noble had been called away to deal with an urgent crisis.  His (very late) replacement, Martin Harvey, nonetheless did an admirable job of explaining what the embassy did and how it represented UK interests abroad.  Questions ranged from how the embassy deals with changes of government to whether the forthcoming royal wedding was likely to impact much on its work.

The third and final day saw another mini-crisis; Berlin’s cross-city train drivers had decided to go on strike!  The ubiquitous ‘S’ trains therefore weren’t running, and getting to the Bundestag to spend 90 minutes with Green MP Lisa Paus suddenly looked a challenging task!  Unabated, the group made good use of Berlin’s tram network and a walk along the Spree river to just about make it in time.  Ms Paus was candid in her analysis both of Germany’s economic dilemmas as well as its foreign policy entanglements, and she found herself deflecting robust questions from Mike Williams on whether the Greens were still too associated with the environment and climate change and Rishi Moulton on how smaller parties deal with the problem of profiling themselves in government.  The formal part of the trip then closed with lunch in ‘Tucher’, a restaurant where George W. Bush and Gerhard Schroeder dined in 2002. 

Even though the 2011 trip won’t go down as the smoothest of its type, all involved were nevertheless happily weary as they boarded the plane back to Gatwick.  The group had certainly enriched its understanding of how modern Germany ‘works’, as well as how modern Germany plays!  Indeed, the 7th instalment in March 2012 already has a lot to live up to!

Dan Hough, PolCES

The Berlin Trip

The 'Berlin Trip' has become a regular part of the syllabus for undergraduate students taking one of the two courses on German politics that PolCES offers.  Every year in March around 25 undergraduates set out from Brighton with Dr Dan Hough to spend three days in the German capital.  The students normally meet high-ranking officials (including, in recent years, former foreign minister Joschka Fisher and former environment minister Juergen Trittin), visit the Bundestag, the Holocaust Memorial and spend a morning touring the infamous Stasi (East Germany's secret police) remand prison.  Although the timetable is jam-packed, students still have plenty of time to enjoy themselves socially in Berlin - and the fact that the hotel also happens to have a karoake bar in the basement does not normally go unnoticed!  All in all, the trip is a great mix of genuinely interesting meetings with politicians and an opportunity to get out and about in a super city like Berlin.

Beatrice’s perspective on the Belfast trip

Beatrice Symington

‘When organising the Belfast trip, those of us on the Politics Society committee had no idea of the whirlwind time we were arranging. We were very lucky to have a contact in Northern Ireland who arranged for us to meet with politicians from both sides within the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. We also met the Mayor of Belfast, who serenaded a man whose birthday it was! We arranged tours of Stormont itself and Long Kesh (sometimes known as The Maze) prison, and went on guided tours along the Shankhill Road (the unionist area) and Falls Road (the Republican area), which included visiting a museum and the cemetery.

‘The youth hostel we stayed at was pleasant and also self catering, so we were able to have cheap communal meals together and save our money for the lovely pubs (and slightly less lovely clubs!) in the city. We also went to an Irish music night.

‘I really enjoyed both organising and going on the Belfast trip; it was a really interesting way to gain amazing insight into to a long-running conflict that is so close to home but, especially now the peace process seems thankfully to have taken hold, is also so easily forgotten.’

Beatrice Symington