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The TransAtlantic Assembly

Blog of American and European Practitioners and Academics on International Law, Theory and Politics, Comparative Constitutional Law, European Law and Politics, Law and Philosophy.

Updated: 2018-03-05T10:37:39.538-05:00


Italy's tragic future


Silvio Berlusconi is a modern dictator. He controls all the most important functions of the state and is THE key player in the private sphere. Modern dictators are characterized by an ability to disguise their authoritarianism through subtle strategies of marketing and communication. Mr B is unusually suited for this role. Since 1994 he poisoned Italian political life, after having wrecked the italian cultural environment with its commercial televisions. Its legacy, unfortunately, will be massive both culturally and politically. But not in a positive sense.

Thankfully, in the last six months or so the international community begun to realize how deeply corrupt and unacceptable Mr B is. But one should not focus on one single aspect of his public or private life. His holistic philosophy of power and his (lack of) vision for Italy make him a very dangerous client. First of all his philosophy is a new enhanced form of demagogy. Everything is geared to please the crowds and to enhance the god of Audience, interrogated through polls.

His philosophy of action is pragmatic in the worse sense. It is always geared to increase wealth in the private sphere and increase power in the public sphere. Now, I am sure that some may see the former as a good thing. But power for the sake of power is certainly not desirable. The reason why power for power is bad is that it does not follow any coherent design on how to improve on Italian welfare. Pragmatism in Mr B's sense is highly volatile follows the fads and moods of the population far too closely. In the short run, its pay-offs are clear in terms of electoral results and popularity. But the country suffers, and suffers greatly.

Italy's constantly on the brink of a nerve crisis. More of Mr. B will only exacerbate this situation.
The problem is that at the moment Mr B succesfully wiped away any form of political opposition and there are no signs of renaissance on the left. When Mr B will disappear, he may take with him what's left of Italy.

No to Barroso


Does anyone out there know who Barroso is? More importantly does anybody know what was his best achievement during his four years as President of the European Commission, the highest institution within the EU?

Very few will be able to answer those questions. And even those 'in the know' will have trouble chanting the praise of a strawman.

Here comes the most important question? Why do European Member States want to re-elect him as President?

Sadly, the only possible answer is that Barroso does not do any harm to anyone. That is, he does do nothing except enjoying his relatively privileged position. This is a good reason enough to say NO to Barroso.

Obama's Transatlantic Speech


Berlin was like a honeymoon between America and Europe. But Obama's honey words, were a little too sweet:

That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads, and people to assemble where we stand today. And this is the moment when our nations – and all nations – must summon that spirit anew.

Nothing wrong with that, but where does it really lead us in practice?
Obama offered a long list of to-do things:

This is the moment:
- when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday.
- when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably.
- for trade that is free and fair for all.
-we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East.

-when we must come together to save this planet.
-to stand as one.
-And this is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world.

I am not sure that THIS is the moment as it has been so for so many years before. Moreover, it will probably be better to say a little about THIS IS HOW we are going to deal with those problems.

The conclusion leaves it all open:

People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

ITALY: the neverending crisis


Italy is once again in trouble. After Prodi's descent to hell, with the crisis of his government,
we are now deciding on what to do. Here we face a dilemma: either we do the impossible, that is bring together parties that have conflicting interests in order to draft new rules of the political game (in particular bad shape is the electoral law); or we go to elections immediately thereby jettisoning any hope of a stable and efficacious government. It may be stable but not the two at the same time which is what the italian political system is badly in need of.

What will happen? Nothing much. The (bad) news is that Italy will remain unstable and ungovernable.

Secular Europe? Think twice


On 21st of Dember, Tony Blair converted to Catholicism: see here;

On the same day, Sarkozy held a speech in front of the Catholic bishops in Rome arguing that religion should play a more important role in the french public sphere: see here;

The time is high to engage in a more robust conversation on the place of religion in the european
public sphere.

A good place to start is The Immanent Frame, an SSRC blog that deals with issues of secularism, religion ant the public sphere

The Still Born God


is a great new book on religion and politics in the West.
Its author, Mark Lilla, is a fantastic scholar in the history of ideas.

The book argues that the West (Europe) was marked by a Great Separation
between political theology and political philosophy. Before Hobbes, European
politics was essentially framed in religious terms. After Hobbes, politics
becomes free from religion. Religious scholarship, as a result, is also profoundly changed.
Instead of focusing on God, it focuses on why men need religion. It is not anymore
about what exist out there, but what we need from inside us.

The book does not attempt to engage on present heated controversies on the role of religion in the public sphere and other such issues. Instead it calmly takes us through a rewarding jouney from the middle-age to the XX century illuminating the relationship between religious and political scholarship.

Highly recommended

Peace studies in Spain and Latinamerica


I have recently been teaching a master course on Development and Human Rights at the International Master on Peace Conflict and Development in Castellon, University Jaume I. During my stay in Castellón I have the chance to meet a group of people from Spain and Argentina that are actively working in the field of peace studies. This area has developed extensively in Spain in Latin America in the last decades and it constitute an intesting and expansive field of research.

In Granada we have Francisco A. Muñoz at the Instituto de la Paz y los conflictos. More information on this area quite be obtained at his blog titled: naúfragos y navengantes de paz y conflictos . Angeles Arjona works at the University of Almeria. She is sociologist and she is doing and interesting work on interculturaliry and inmigration in Andalucia. You can check Laboratorio de antropologia social y cultural. Alicia Cabezudo has been working for more that two decades on issues on education on human rights and education for in different places in the world. She is also lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires and Rosario in Argentina.

Berlusconi launches a new Party


Changer tout, pour ne changer rien. To Change everything in order to change nothing.

This is sometimes used to describe the French revolution, but it would apply equally well to Italy in the last few centuries.

At the next elections--which will probably happen in 2008-- we will have two new major parties. The Democratic party representing a centre-left coalition.

And the Party of the People of Liberty. A rather clumsy name for Berlusconi's new party. The move is easy to understand. Berlusconi wants to anticipate any move of his allies who are trying to dethrone him.

Berlusconi, as a result, is launching a coalition of the willing in order to run alone with his new party at the next elections.

These changes, needless to say, are only cosmetic. All remain the same in Italy

A Secular Age


For all of you who are interested in issues of law, religion and politics in the Transatlantic world (and beyond)., I can warmly recommend Charles Taylor's new book 'A secular age.'

Taylor distinguished three possible meanings of secular, which I would classify as follows:

1-Political secularity: when religious belief is removed from the public sphere to the private sphere as a result of a political compromise

2- Social secularity: when belief fades away from our daily life and does not provide anymore a benchmark for our behaviour

3-Historico-philosophical secularity: it is interested in the evolution of the intellectual framework within which religious belief is understood.

Taylor focuses on the third meaning and explores in an open way what made us move from 1500, when believing was not an option, to 2000 when believing is but an option.

To explain such a paradigm shift, Taylor engages in a story-telling exercise which attempts to unravel the changing conditions of our own religious practices. Pivotal to his story is the emergence of 'exclusive humanism', a way of conceiving human flourishing as an end in itself. According to exclusive humanism each individual is master of his destiny and is empowered to give full meaning to his own life.

This new understanding of human flourishing replaces the Christian one that understood human flourishing as a consequence of god's love, agape. Each individual would therefore have to abandon himself in the hands of god in order to let his life flourish.

To go back to the central question then: what made the shift from 1500 to 2000 possible? the answer is in the book...

When the Church truly and definitely concern with spiritual matters


A couple of days ago, the Catholic Church beatified 498 Catholics murdered between 1934, 1936-1939 in the course of the Spanish Civil War. This event would not be so controversial if the whole amount of people beatified would not have belonged to one side, the Francoist one . It is curious. All these 498 persons have in common that they were murdered by Republican forces that at that time were the democratic and legitimated government in Spain. Franco imposed his rule against the will of the majority of the people in Spain, but the Catholic Church approved that. During the first years of the dictatorship, cardinal Isidro Goma said that the military coup launched by Franco was " una cruzada cristiana" ( (Christian crusader).
Some persons in Spain think that it is time for the Catholic Church to apologize for this horrible historical mistake. Some persons think that the role of the Catholic Church in Spain was the one of a victim and tyrant. According to the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, in Spain there are more than 30,000 persons buried in common graves ( and these are not precisely victims of the Republicans forces). If the beatification process of these 498 persons considered as " martyrs of the twenty century" is non-partisan and political, Why we do not have among these "beatos" any person murdered by the Francoist forces? The official posture of the Catholic Church is because nobody has started the process. Many of these persons have name and surname, their cases have been extensively reported, but some sectors of the Catholic Church remain silent. In this regard, I do not necessarily agree with Lorenzo that the Church should strictly care about spiritual matters, mainly because when they try to do it, there is most of the times a strong ideology behind.

Why the Catholic Church should mind its business


The Catholic Church tries to conquer the hearts of some people by raising its voice on social issues such as housing and employment. In Italy, this move has been greated with appreciation by the moderate and extreme left wing parties. Here's a report.

But the political position of the Church remains deeply ambiguos: "The essential point is again made by Benedict XVI: from Jesus there comes “full respect for the distinction between, and independence of, what is Caesar’s and what belongs to God”. The Church has a “mediated” task while the “immediate” one falls to the lay faithful. Thus “if on the one hand it acknowledges it is not a political actor”, on the other “it cannot avoid taking an interest in the good of the entire civil community” by “forming in the political and entrepreneurial classes a genuine spirit of truth and honesty”.

In many ways, this position is not healthy at all in a secular democracy. The Church has the luxury of taking strong positions on very controversial issues without ever having to be accountable for them. In short, this is the worst form of demagogy.

Of course, it is very nice to say permanent jobs for everyone and housing for everyone. But unfortunately there is shortage. Political institutions make hard choices between job protection and enhancement of the market. But the problem is: if the job protection is too strong, then it wil be much more difficult to create new jobs. So what looks like a nice ideal, may turn out to be a damning precept.

What is worse is that the Church can say whatever it pleases anyhow it will never have to do the job. That is the reason why, the Church should truly and definetely concern itself only with spiritual matters. It can intervene, as it does, to improve social conditions on a daily basis. But it cannot engage in sweeping policy debates as this is totally outside of its realm, and makes hard choices even more unpalatable for governments which are already facing tough enough social dilemmas.

Brown and the EU Treaty


Gordon Brown and the EU are two distant planets. But Brown should speak more clearly about it. Recently asked about the new treaty he defined it as a modest piece of housekeeping.

This is not correct. The treaty born out of the abortion of the more pompous sounding constitutional treaty keeps intact most of the institutional and procedural reforms of the previous treaty minus the symbolic constitutional talk.

But the promised reforms are still beefy and certainly not modest as Gordon claims.

The explanation is the following: Brown is not an EU supporter. But he fears even more the possibility of a referendum, which he would very probably lose as the british are hard to convince on EU matters and also because Brown does not believe in it anyhow.

Brown should speak up more clearly and take a clear position vis-a-vis Europe (and regarding his grand political views). Otherwise, he will always sound false.

New Blog on International Law


Have a look at this new blog on International law. It is called International Law Observer and covers a fairly broad ground!

UNESCO study on the Migrant Workers Convention (ICRMW) in Europe


While I am on the subject of shamelessly plugging my own work, I might as well mention this report, commissioned by UNESCO and co-authored by myself and Ryszard Cholewinski, on the prospects for ratification of the ICRMW. Here's the blurb:

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the most important international treaty on the rights of migrants, has not yet been ratified by any European country. This report analyzes the reasons behind the non-ratification. It presents the findings of detailed, UNESCO-commissioned reports into the status of the Convention in seven countries: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom and Norway. Based in part upon interviews with major migration stakeholders in each country, this study addresses issues such as general awareness of the Convention, political or parliamentary action with regards to it, and the main obstacles to its ratification. It also examines the Convention in relation to the highly developed legal and political system of the European Union overall. Finally, it offers recommendations for future action to increase support for the ratification of the Convention.

Any and all constructive comments welcome!

New volume on international migration law


This volume, International Migration Law: Developing Paradigms and Key Challenges, edited by Ryszard Cholewinski, Richard Perruchoud and myself, has just been published by Asser Press, and was launched last Thursday at the Georgetown University Law Center.

The volume looks to provide a comprehensive overview of the "field" of international migration law, developing some key themes identified in a 2003 collection edited by Chetail and Aleinikoff, entitled Migration and International Legal Norms, and also indentifying some areas of emerging significance. It consists in six broad sections: state sovereignty and responsibility (including chapters on migration-related aspects of terrorism legislation, detention, and multiple nationality); trade and labour migration (with contributions on, amongst others, GATS Mode 4 and remittances); forced migration (looking at the law relating to refugees and internally displaced persons, and the compensation claims tribunals); human rights (with chapters on migrant workers, migrant women, trafficking and statelessness); regional free movement regimes (in Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean); and emerging issues (informal cooperation mechanisms, biometrics and the new EU Borders Code). It brings together works both by established academics, practitioners and younger scholars who have already made a contribution in their respective fields. It will, we hope, be both accessible to students and non-lawyers alike, whilst also being substantial enough to be of use to academics and practitioners already expert in their fields.

Available now in all good bookshops! Well, on Amazon, anyway...

Should the Peace Nobel prize go to politicians?


I do not think so. To select a man that represents a party is never a good idea. Al Gore, some may say, defends an environmentalist agenda, not a party.

First that agenda is not based on rock but on sand. It may turn out to be solid sand or friable rock, but we do not really know for sure.

Second, Gore is still eligible to run for the US presidency. This may not be realistic, but a small window remains open. I find it less than desirable to openly support someone who may still have big personal/political interests.

Finally, it is unclear what are the real merits of Al Gore. Is he a good movie director/actor? Well then, he already got an Oscar for that. Is he making ground-breaking scientific discoveries? No we can set this aside. Is he communiticating efficaciously an important political message? Yes! And so what? That is the bread and butter of all good politicians. It does not follow that they deserve a Nobel prize for that reason

Natalia Alvarez, fields of work and research interests


I would like to introduce myself to the bloggers. My name is Natalia Alvarez and I am currently working as lecturer at University of Aberdeen, Scotland. My field of interest are international law, legal theory and human rights. I am researching in the field of violence, legal subject and international law, and I am also participating in a research project on indigenous peoples in Latin- America. My approach to international law is "critical" in the sense of focusing in the unnamed angles of the discipline. These elements can be concepts (violence) peoples (indigenous peoples, women) or places ( Latin-America, Africa) If you are currently working in any of these aspects, I will be happy to hear from you.

Me gustaría presentarme a todos y todas los que participáis de una u otra manera en este blog. Mi nombre es Natalia Alvarez y trabajo como profesora en la Universidad de Aberdeen, Escocia. Estoy interesada en el ámbito del derecho internacional, teoría jurídica y derechos humanos. Mi trabajo de investigación se centra en los aspectos de subjetividad jurídica, violencia y derecho internacional, y en estos momentos estoy colaborando en un proyecto de investigación sobre pueblos indígenas en América Latina. Mi aproximación al derecho internacional es "critica" en el sentido en el que implica una referencia a los aspectos no-nombrados (o anónimos, si lo preferís) de la disciplina. Estos aspectos pueden ser conceptos ( violencia) personas ( pueblos indígenas o mujeres) o lugares ( América- Latina o África) Si estas trabajando en estas áreas, tus sugerencias o aportaciones son bienvenidas.

Welcome to Natalia Alvarez, our new blogger!


Natalia is Lecturer in Law at Aberdeen University, Scotland, UK.

She specializes in International Legal Theory and is particularly interested in Human Rights issues in South America.

She brings a wider perspectives on the Americas than we previously had. In addition, she brings linguistic diversity as she will contribute both in English and Spanish.

New Vest for Old Blog


Hope you like this new vest for our blog. Any feedback is welcome!



... is a blog on Jurisprudence based in Scotland.
Worth having a look for those of you who are interested in legal theory and various
other scholarly issues.

Gordon Brown's New Clothes


Apologies to all our readers for the long summer break due to logistic problems for most of us.

Let's go back to business with a very interesting piece on Gordon Brown's real identity as a politician by Jonathan Freedland on the NYRB.

Gordon, after his first 100 days in power, emerges as a skillfull prime minister who has grand plans on domestic and International politics.

Personally, I have no doubt about his policy skills. The open question which is tellingly not addressed concerns the place of the UK in Europe. More to come on GB's views on Europe...

Constitutional Dilemmas


(image) is now available in the best bookshops

Brave Serbian Judges!


Nata Mesarovic and Radmila Dicic Dragicevic, Serbian judges, sentenced the organizers and assassins of the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. These men, members of Milosevic’s secret service death squads and criminal gangs, were sentenced to maximal sentences of 40 years of imprisonment. Despite enormous pressure from the underworld and retrograde political forces in Serbia the judges carried on with the process and pronounced their verdict. In this way many argue that the Serbian judiciary passed the test and managed to impose itself as a true and independent third branch of government. For more on this sentence see here, here and here.

Milan on Top


Three finals and 2 cups in five years: you can hardly do better than that!!