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>Old PUPS, new tricks

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Any Francophones out there interested in minor political parties may be interested to know of a short piece on pensioners’ parties in the newsmagazine Alternatives internationales,  which, roughtly speaking, seems to a cross channel version of the New Internationalist. I did want to offer something centring on Slovenia’s Democratic Party of Pensioners (DeSUS)- currently undergoing various ructions and splits in the centre-left Slovene coalition government – but they felt that Serbia’s Party of United Pensioners (PUPS) was a bit sexier, so as Research Impact is the now  new rock ‘n’ roll  for academic hese days, I pnaturally obliged and pulled together what I know about PUPS. Should you cher ami not be a Alternatives internationales subscriber and want an electronic offprint, do drop me a line,

>A Young Generation Under Pressure?

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A Young Generation Under Pressure? a new collection on generational politics and the politics of aging societies appears, perhaps not enirely co-incidently brought out by the German publisher Spring – ‘grey’ politics looms incredibly large in German academia. There is a short concluding chapter on pensioners’ parties in Europe. Who do you suppose could have such esoteric interests to write such stuff, I hear you ask. Can’t imagine.

And as a member of middle of the ‘rush hour’ generation caught between work, kids and life in general, how the hell did I find time to write it?


>Norewgian ‘greys’ get e-thumbs down

>A Norwegain website presents a ‘semiotic analysis of a political website’ – some of kind of university or high school assignment – about the web presence of that country’s tiny obscure Pensioners’ Party (do Norway’s pensioners have that much be disgruntled about?). The site gets the thumbs down for not running Obama style social networking, although it is a masterpiece compared to the websites of many minor parties and one wonders how web savvy even Scandinavian seniors are. I expect they prefer old fashioned communications techniques like email.

>Greying democracies

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As Facebook and other contacts may know, I have research interest in interest-group politics and ageing societies in CEE, so it was a pleasure to review Achim Goerres’s recent book The Political Participation of Older People in Europe: The Greying of Our Democracies. (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2009). In the book, Goerres, who has been one of the pioneers in comparatively exploring the political consequences of population ageing in European democracies offers a characteristically empirically thoroughly comparative study of the political participation of older people in 21 European democracies, including the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia.



The book skilfully unpacks the notion of ‘old age’ into a series of age-related factors, which Georres argues fall into three broad categories: 1) life cycle effects such as the transition to retirement; 2) political generational effects linked to political socialization in youth; and 3) socio-economic cohort effects linked to (post-) modernization trends affecting successive (rising educational levels; and individual ageing effects such as the tendency to habituate to social norms with age. After presenting an ‘age-related model of political participation’ which basically integrates these factors into a modified resource perspective, the book considers older people’s electoral turnout; party choice; membership in parties and interest groups; and involvement in unconventional direct forms of participation.



Goerres relies mainly on number crunching quantitative techniques usually examining individual level survey data to gauge age-related effects which he them statistically interacts these findings with country-specific factors to account for further variation. The chapter on party choice, however, uses a paired country comparison of Germany UK), while quantitative findings on unconventional participation are supplemented by a chapter based on interviews with British pensioner activists protesting the impact of local property taxes.



The book’s findings are rich and complex, but the overall picture they present is one of a shifting complex of age-related factors shaping older people’s participation, sometimes working against one, sometimes important only in combination with country-specific factors, but always varying in significance according to the specific form of participation under review. Interesting general findings running through the book include the role played by life experience in substituting for formal education as an influence on participation and tendency of younger citizens to participate more in societies with higher proportions of pensioners or more strongly pro-senior public opinion. There’s not much on institutions and limited cross country comparison, but overall, it’s clearly written, thorough and original book offers a corrective to superficial notions that population ageing is turning Western democracies into gerontocracies subject to a growing monolithic ‘grey vote’ or a war of generations– see this week’s Economist on David Willets- and offers an excellent springboard for the development of the more sophisticated political science agenda on ‘greying democracies’ Goerres calls for.

>Germany’s many shades of grey

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A predictable article in Earth Times about the crucial nature of the ‘grey vote’ in Germany’s forthcoming elections. Crucial in the sense there are lot of pensioner voters, but not in the sense of any distinct bloc of pensioner votes. But wait. At the end, we read that Germany now has three pernsioners’ parties, who hauled in 1.4 per cent of the vote in June’s Euro-elections (quite good in by historic standards). Seems I am behind the times.

>Croatian greys quit government

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Javno.com reports that the Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU) have quit the ruling coalition. As they have one deputy that may not make much immediate different but seems is an interesting and direct impact of financial crunch, which has moved down the headlines recently – at least in relation to Eastern Europe.
“ZAGREB, CROATIA 24 July 2009 – The president of the Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU) Silvano Hrelja announced today that the party was leaving the leading coalition.
In a conversation for Javno.com, Hrelja revealed that HSU will now join the opposition parties in a battle against the Cabinet’s tricks.
HSU reminds that on Thursday they sent a clear message to the Cabinet that they will not accept a larger tax than the one agreed upon, and that they accept the Cabinet taxing only the difference for amounts over three thousand kuna, at a maximum rate of three percent.
“Considering that the Cabinet did not find the calculation to plug the hole in the budget, they later said that they need to tax the entire amount of all of the salaries and pensions that surpass three thousand kuna, we considered the negotiations over. This sort of burden would mean nearly a four times larger burden for workers and pensioners” say sources from HSU. They consider that the latest Cabinet proposal to also be unacceptable, considering that it is considerable less favourable than the one they had already agreed upon.
“Considering that the Cabinet was at least nine months late to react, and considering that the Minister of Finance Ivan Suker has been deceiving not only the media, and coalition partners, but the whole Croatian public, HSU has brought the unanimous decision to leave the coalition, defending our reputation and continuing the fight for the rights of Croatian pensioners” it says in the report by the central HSU committee, which also seeks the resignation of the Minister of Finance.”

>Clientelism to lead to pension protest in Romania?

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Romanian English language newspaper Nine O’Clock carries the following reflection on the country’s clientelistic and fragmented pension provisions, which seems to have shades of the Italian pattern. I rather doubt the apocalyptic predictions of ‘massive pensioner protestst’ which
uch sectoral divisions strikes me as likely to diffuse unless there is an obviously neglected majority group capable of taking collective actionand/or a highly unpopular priveged special group – in which case one would perhaps expense more generalized anti-political populist protest, if any.

“Pensioner fairytale law

published in issue 4460 page 1 at 2009-06-29

Among the imagines to shock Romania’s future are massive pensioner protests, government and prefecture picketing turned not once into street fights with police forces’ brutal intervention to restore the ‘rule of law’, which rule of law does not stand when it comes to daily life and the
4.6 million-strong pensioners, nearly half of whom have pensions below the minimum wage in the economy and 200,000 benefit from ‘specialpensions’, 70-80 to even 100 times the minimum one, which the governmentin office raised to RON 300 recently.

Romania has several pension laws, the majority of which are drafted in such a way as to unnaturally and immorally favour various categories of political clientele.

Justice, defence, home and foreign affairs and a few other fields benefit from ‘special’ pension laws.

The decisive factor for the pension amount is not the tax paid on it throughout the years, but the way in which a party president, government head or parliamentary group identified themselves with the interests of the said ‘special categories’. Since in Romania, all but every government
official, party head or lawmaker exercise their authority at the expense of the national interest, which results in the bulk of pensioners suffering the most from it.

Such contradictions led to the international financial and political community to ask Romania on and on to sort the salary and pension laws out. The most recent such request was occasioned by the financial loan Romania has taken, with the Boc government pledging to collaborate at the
oonest towards a blanket salary and pension laws. The latter was the subject of long and contradicting talks between government officials, trade unions, employers’ associations, heads of Parliament-represented parties. Yet, only occasionally and by means of mass-media only are
pensioners’ voices heard. Should this be a mere accident?”

It isn’t, as it stands testimony again to blanket pension talks ducking the core of the matter and seeking collateral interest instead. This is why the future pension law doesn’t take into count a fair ration between minimum and maximum pensions, a key lawful and fairness principle that
doesn’t apply to the overall pension law, unlike its salary counterpart.

Moreover, the current or past opposition has often clamoured about the collapse of the pension fund or payment default. Yet none of them refer to the huge ‘special pensions’ as the root of the pension fund being likely to enter collapse. Most of them speak of either the large number of
pensioners and the high unemployment rate, the decline in Gross Domestic Product and the 16 per cent rise in salaries over the past 12 months. Yet, it is exactly such aspects of the ongoing economic crisis that call for cutting special pensions down, as they threaten to bring the pension fundinto collapse. How come this reticence?

Because of the clan spirit, since both in civilian, and political-parliamentary life especially, there is a strong clan spirit with the most contradicting results. ‘Special pensions’ are therefore held
to be a ‘legally earned right’ that cannot be touched by any new law. The fiercest I this respect are the magistrates, whose views drastically change when it comes to the apartments that quite a few Romanians purchase legally from the state. When such properties purchased both legally and in good faith have been claimed by the so-called descendants of the former owners, court rulings are handed down in their favour more often than not.In this instance, there is no such thing as the ‘won asset’ law , as if the Romanian state of 1996 is not the same with that nowadays.

Further more: many at the high end of the rank and file are rushing to retire under the old laws, still in force, which favour them. And ‘special pension; recipients are advised, rank and file wise too, to get their pensions on cards, so that they remain ‘secret’. On the other hand, there
is a trend for decision makers to step in so that the value of the pension fund is no longer tied to the average salary in the economy, so its increase will no longer reflect on pensions too, which are to be frozen indefinitely. Other call for special pensions to be frozen at their current level, until the new ones catch up with them. Yet, since such aspiration is estimated to take about 15 years to come true, its perfidious intention is plain to see, as 15 years from now most of the
pensioners will no longer be among the living, which makes the blanket pension law into a ‘pensioner fairytale’.

by Mihai Iordanescu”

>Grey politics in England’s wild West

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A regional website in the South West of England carries a short report about the English Pensioners’ Party, which is based in this region where it polled a-not-altogether-awful 2.4% in the recent Euro-elections. It didn’t field candidates in any other regions, presumably due to cash shortage as the article is mainly about efforts by the party’s founder to raise cash. If they had it, it the nascent English Greys might be on the theshold of becoming a viable minor party – roughly,where the populist English Democrats are today (Is English nationalism perhaps an up-and-coming political force of the next few decades, if and when Scottish independence comes into view). On the other hand, the English West Country does seem a rather unusual kind of place politically and something of a minor party shangri-la: a historic bastion of the Liberals and the UK Indepedence Party where the Greens polled well and the Cornish nationalists managed to beat the Labour Party in their home county/country.

>Ljubljana diary 2

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I am on the early flight to Ljubljana. The plane is packed with holidaymakers going on half-term ski trips, so I find myself in business class (free Adria Airways bottle of mineral water + sweet). I also get to read a three day old copy of the Wall Street Journal – on the op-ed page former Estonia PM Mart Laar recommends continued free market reform as the best possible anti-crisis package but the news pages suggest that if Austrian banks get cold feet the whole of the region could be brutally credit-crunched, not just the current problems cases of Latvia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
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As we land I get a glimpse of alpine scenery and half an hour later I am standing outside the terminal looking for way to get the 25km from Brnik to central Ljubljana. There aren’t any buses for an hour or so, having narrowly avoided getting onto a tour bus to a ski resort, I opt for the minibus shuttle. I’m the only passenger , so the driver want to wait half an hour for some more flights to come into. I sit in the minibus sleepily reading a Swedish crime novel, while two flights land and various prosperous looking locals walk past heading for the small multi-storey car park. In the end the driver gives up and takes me on a loss-,mking journey into town, kindly dropping me off at my hotel.

***
The Slovene Democratic Party’s headquarters is a large villa just outside the city centre with party, national and EU flag on large flagpoles in the front garden. They’re busy, but in the limited time my interviewees make it clear that – as one would expect of the country’s main party of the centre-right – they don’t share the loose centre-left consensus and unfussed attitude towards the communist that pervades much of the rest of the Slovene political and social scene. They don’t quite match the confrontational free market élan that might mark conversation with Czech equivalents, but (Mart Laar aside) who has much free market élan left these days?

***
Slovenia’s Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs is on a top floor of a rather drab, square white gloomy socialist era shopping centre. Teenagers from a nearby school are hanging around outside smoking and gossiping. In the Ministry’s reception area, there’s an overpowering smell of varnish as the parquet floors are being resurfaced. The security guards, who seem to be from a private agency, ring around and having established that I am expected, take me through.without demanding any ID. The Ministry’s offices have the look and feel of a medium-sized company HQ.

My interviewees’ previous meeting is overrunning, so I have to waut. I look through my notes and study the childrens’ paintings on the wall. I don’t, have to wait too long however, and my interviewees turn out to be extremely open and helpful. One of the most interesting interviews , I’ve done in fact. “Tell our boss, we speak excellent English,” one of the officials jokes at the end (and, of course, they all do). The Slovene civil service may lack clockwork timing and bureaucratic punctiliousness of Czech official, but exudes an underlying efficiency and competence.

***
The weather’s still cold and but bright and sunny. Sitting in my heavily discounted hotel room opposite the main police station, I read through part of the statutes of Slovenia’s two main left-wing party with the helped of dictionary and some guesswork and look over the front page of Delo. Mainstream parties are desperate to stymie a referendum initiative to block Croatia’s accession to NATO, because of an unresolved Slovene-Croat dispute over seaways and border demarcation. There are some issues with big Slovene companies with unemployment and retenchment, but I can’t quite follow the details., but I do understand that unemployment is over 10%. My left-wing interviewees tell me that Slovenia iswell placed to weather the storm, as it wisely avoided the perils of excessive foreign ownership and carried off many of the high social standards of the socialist period. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Slovenia again, so oater that afternoon on my final visit – to the University – I stock up on cheap and free books on Slovene politics.
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Early morning service at the airport has improved: the coffee bars in the departure lounge are opening up before flights depart. I stand grumpily in line with travellers going to Prague while the expresso machine gets a final polish. “Do you take crowns?” a grey-haired American with a pony-tail and a wad of Czech currency in his hand asks. Unsurprisingly, the answer is ‘no’. At last I get a my hands on a bela kava. It keeps me awake just long enough to take a look out the window at the clouds over Julian Alps as we fly out. My next sight is the M23 motorway near London Gatwick airport.

>Israelis seek winning formula for interest parties

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Ha’aretz carries an interesting report about how various Israeli politicians are trying to repeat the success (unlikely to be repeated) of the Israeli pensioners’ party GIL in 2006 with a formula by combining interest politics with a dash of populist razzmatazz. This time a disabled people’s party and a couple of constitutional reform cum clean government parties seem to be taking the field. The conflict in Gaza, however, seems to have dampened the Israeli electorate’s appetite for novel micro-parties this time, howoever
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