Migrations and refugees: the EU’s contradictions

Migrations are a big unsolved issue in the EU. The attitude of the European Union is not always coherent with its guiding principles.

World Refugees Day was celebrated on 20th June, originally called by the United Nations to commemorate the approval of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees. Between current news and official speeches given by politicians for the occasion, I accidentally came across Erri De Luca’s poem “Nota di Geografia”, which I did not know but which struck me immediately, especially the excerpt      “touch Italy fewer lives than      those who got on board (…) yet Italy is an open word, full of air”.  A few lines but so intense and full of meaning that I was unconsciously led      to a bittersweet reflection on the very concept of immigration policies and hospitality. We live in a time of migrations, where each migration is a story in itself, because it originates from wars and persecutions, growing social inequalities, the search for a job, family reunifications, study and research reasons. Man, as the anthropologist Giulio Angioni says, is a “migratory animal” and, as such, the disposition to move constitutes one of the main constants of humanity over the millennia, from the great empires of the past to modern globalization; the journey allowed geographically distant cultures to meet in their incredible variety.[1] From the mid-nineteenth century, through the whole of the twentieth century, migratory experiences have constantly changed and transformed, between short and long-term projects, single individuals and entire families. At the same time, migrations of refugees and asylum seekers have also taken on new peculiarities compared to the post-war period: due to ethnic conflicts in the African continent, the Arab springs in the Mediterranean, the war in Syria, entire peoples have been tragically forced to flee, in search of a new home, looking for salvation and better living conditions.[2] 

Migrations _ mediterranean

Although protection towards foreigners would seem an inherent tradition, not only in our human beings but in our own European and Mediterranean civilization, the sad perception, constantly confirmed by the news, is that Europe is gradually losing memory of its past of great overseas migrations.[3] Many measures adopted by the countries of the EU in recent years have been conceived following the trail of biased information showing the migrant as a danger, a potential criminal, a person to be rejected; measures favored both by legislative weaknesses and by international agreements that silently grant the management of migratory flows to dictatorships like Turkey or military regimes like Libya. The “migration crisis” – as it is called – that has affected the European continent in recent years, has highlighted the difficulties and contradictions of the Union itself in adopting univocal measures among member states. Above all, it leads us to reflect and reconsider the very concept of “border”, no longer understood only as a territorial boundary but, in a broader sense, as a clear separation between “us” and “them”, as a limit towards the construction of truly inclusive societies. Is there a balance between human solidarity and the obligation that states have to protect their borders? Faced with the immense suffering and fatigue of those who undertake such a migratory path, is there a duty for states to welcome?[4]

On the one hand, there is no doubt that World Refugees Day is considered an achievement, the result of the collective capacity and strength of all the people forced to leave their land. An act, which requires extraordinary courage and huge sacrifices, the ability to face one’s own destiny is a characteristic of the most courageous. The merit of the aforementioned Geneva Convention, based on the principle of non-refoulment[5], was precisely the creation of a common international approach for an institution previously regulated at the state level. Following this trend, there was a strong expectation that the new EU would also play a proactive role in terms of political asylum: the idea that a free space without internal borders would make use of a single approach to this matter has, in the long-run, led to the introduction of common standards for ​​the procedures for requesting, evaluating and issuing the right to asylum, as well as the reception, integration, treatment and management of migrants for political reasons. At the time of attributing competence in the field of political asylum to the Union, however, the Member States were already bound by obligations deriving from international law, showing considerable divergences on the subject at the national level. If on the one hand, therefore, European law has allowed the codification of an already operative corpus of legislation, at the same time, it has sharpened the differences within the individual countries. In regulatory terms, the EU has made clear progress: inspired by the key principle of loyal cooperation, it has sought to provide Member States with a common set of tools to meet their daily and operational needs (introduction of a single procedure for reviewing the questions, common database of information on all countries of origin of asylum seekers, creation of a single common way to address specific reception problems).[6]

However, it is not the regulatory environment that I want to focus on here; I believe, in fact, that it often does not offer an exhaustive interpretation on the subject of refugees and political asylum. Looking beyond international treaties and declarations, we can realize how the European response has often proved inadequate, reacting to the increase in migratory flows with a dialectic deeply rooted into fear and perceived security. The notions of asylum or refugee have moved further and further away from the ideals of solidarity and hospitality, approaching that of personal protection. The prevailing approach, namely that of containing arrivals, demonstrates how an area that should be dominated by choices made for humanitarian and ethical reasons has become the prerogative of politics and wrong migration practices that perpetually violate human rights leading to the death of thousands of people. In an attempt to regulate and reduce the presence of foreigners in their territory, individual States have increasingly turned towards a reduction of European legislative standards in favor of their own national laws, often much more restrictive[7] – national procedures, in fact, also vary according to the countries of origin of the refugees and on the relationship they have with the host territory (Sweden, for example, welcomes 80% of Iraqi refugees while Great Britain, while in the EU, only 13%).[8] The inability to define coherent and coordinated measures has led national governments to relaunch cooperation with countries of origin and transit countries to contain flows: the beneficiary of this new strategy was Turkey[9], which has become the key country to contain the exodus of Syrian citizens to the Greek islands. The significant reduction in arrivals has turned it into a reference model for relations with the countries of origin and transit of the central Mediterranean route, in particular with Niger and Libya.[10] Also with regard to the work of NGOs, the prevailing approach seems to be to limit their work rather than considering them as a resource. Although in September 2020 the European Commission had asked Member States for greater coordination and support, rescue and search activities continued to be hindered by administrative or criminal proceedings, by obstructive actions such as preventing rescue operations; as well as deploying no additional ships or resources for rescue activities along the main migratory routes. The spread of the pandemic and the resulting restrictive measures have further blocked, if not called off, the deployment of ships.[11] The general situation is still extremely condemnable: in 2020 alone, more than 2600 deaths were recorded on the Central Mediterranean route: the progressive withdrawal of ships from the Mediterranean, the growing obstacles to the rescue activities of NGOs, the decisions to delay the disembarkment and the failure to assign safe harbors clearly questioned the integrity and effectiveness of the rescue system

We are witnessing, quoting Don Luigi Ciotti, a real hemorrhage of humanity, deplorable actions that Europe – the cradle of human rights and democracy – will one day have to deal with.[12] The very immediate European imperative must be to protect people in need, using a corpus of coherent measures and policies as a useful tool for fulfilling their international obligations and ethical duties. Only by working in compliance with the principles of solidarity and shared responsibility the EU can still symbolize a solid refuge for those who fear persecution and an attractive destination for the talent and resourcefulness of workers, students and researchers.[13] For the exercise of this international responsibility to be effective, it is first of all essential to modify the dialectic through which we read the world: the immigrant is not the enemy, but the victim. If it is true that migration has always existed in human history, it is also true that the peaks occurred in recent years have been responsibility of a political and economic system generating lacerating inequalities, exploitation of entire regions of the planet, wars for the exclusive appropriation of raw materials, consequently forcing millions of people to flee. What must be contained is the logic of profit implicitly underlying an unjust economic and political system. Forced migrations caused by environmental deterioration, extraction of local resources, the devastating effects of global warming, constitute forms of human rights violations and centralization of power. These aspects are not only closely related to each other but promoters of a development model that dangerously violates the ecological limits of the planet as well as those of human and social justice.[14] Consider, for example, the sadly know phenomenon of water grabbing, through which powerful economic and political actors control or divert precious water resources to their advantage, stealing them from local communities or entire nations whose livelihood is based precisely on those same plundered ecosystems; currently, 1 billion people do not have access to drinking water in the world, while 70% of the land is now at risk of desertification. Equally important is the impact of the agri-food industry in terms of exploitation of water resources and subtraction of land to the detriment of small crops. Conflicts over natural resources and precious minerals in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or over oil in Nigeria and South Sudan are responsible for the largest migratory waves in the region.[15]

To pay the price of these subordinate power relations and the consequent damage to the ecosystem clearly are the poorest populations, whose survival, more closely connected to the free services of nature, is more exposed to vulnerability, deprivation, and inequality. This logic clearly shows how the main structural crises of the modern era, migration on the front line, are the historical product of highly unfair and incorrect relations of production, consumption, and power; dynamics to which states react by making use of policies that can be interpreted mainly as a retrospective and non-preventive response, which only facilitate an inhuman war against those fleeing wars or unacceptable living conditions. Walls, and fortified borders are not only extremely inhumane but above all useless: what should be done is thinking and analyzing migration from a global perspective, really reducing inequalities and injustices, social and climatic imbalances, making sure that every person, at every latitude and part of the globe, can live a free and dignified life.

Antonella Iavazzo


[1]  https://www.iltascabile.com/societa/viaggio-migrante/

[2]  https://legale.savethechildren.it/diritti-oltre-frontiera-riflessioni-tema-migrazioni-accoglienza-integrazione-stati-nazionali-unione-europea/

[3]  https://rm.coe.int/una-richiesta-di-aiuto-per-i-diritti-umani-il-crescente-divario-nella-/1680a1dd0f

[4]  https://legale.savethechildren.it/diritti-oltre-frontiera-riflessioni-tema-migrazioni-accoglienza-integrazione-stati-nazionali-unione-europea/

[5] According to Article 33, a refugee cannot be prevented from entering the territory nor can he be deported, expelled or transferred to territories where his life or freedom would be threatened

[6]  https://www.assemblea.emr.it/europedirect/pace-e-diritti/archivio/i-diritti-umani-e-leuropa/2008/diritto-dasilo-come-funziona-nellue

[7] Consider the package of “Asylpaket” measures introduced in Germany in 2015 and responsible for a worsening of the condition of asylum seekers at the national level: countries such as Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo have been included in the list of “safe countries”, resulting in the impossibility of request international protection for those who come from it; monetary transfers were requested from the applicants and the spaces intended for the reception were reduced. In 2019, France also exerted an important squeeze on the assistance offered to refugees and asylum seekers, again requiring certification on the visa health certificate and the eviction of migrant camps in Paris.

[8] https://www.assemblea.emr.it/europedirect/pace-e-diritti/archivio/i-diritti-umani-e-leuropa/2008/diritto-dasilo-come-funziona-nellue

[9] Turkey has pledged to provide shelter and protection for some three million Syrian citizens, in exchange for substantial EU funding from member states and for unlocking negotiations on the visa liberalization agreement for Turkish citizens.

[10] According to IOM data (international organization for migration), in the period 2019-2020, there were more than 20,000 repatriations to Libya despite the undeniable evidence of violations of human rights and the absence of guarantees on the subject and transparency and responsibility

[11]  http://documenti.camera.it/leg18/dossier/pdf/AT029.pdf

[12]  https://www.libera.it/schede-666-immigrati_e_accoglienza_non_e_questione_di_sicurezza_o_di_ordine_pubblico

[13] https://unipd-centrodirittiumani.it/it/schede/I-presupposti-per-la-creazione-del-Sistema-Comune-Europeo-di-Asilo/237#:~:text=Sebbene%20i%20trattati%20sull’Unione,28%2D38)


[15] Ibid

Erasmus as a non-European: absurd and existentialist

It’s 5:30 AM and I have about fifteen minutes to get myself out the door. My Czech student visa was expiring, and I had to leave France to have its validity extended. However, since Covid has made it so that inter-city connections in France are few and far between, I had to catch the 6:30 AM train from Grenoble to Lyon so that I could get on my flight to Frankfurt at 6:10 PM. Buses were no better, as they quit operating on the weekends- full stop. From Frankfurt, I would then fly to Vienna to catch the train that gets me to Brno, Czech Republic, where my home university is.

It’s all needlessly complicated because two weeks before my initially scheduled flight to the Czech Republic, new rules came into place stating that people coming from France had to isolate on arrival. I had to reschedule everything to factor in this mandatory isolation period before my appointment with the Foreign Ministry. And so, what would have normally taken 2 hours by plane, was now a hastily planned 30-hour journey. Halfway through my Erasmus semester in France, I found myself needing to go back to the Czech Republic to claim an extension to the visa that allowed me to stay in Europe. Halfway through being uprooted from a newfound home, I am uprooted once more. As a third-country national, this is what Erasmus is like.

Even if it is just for a semester, the disorientation that happens is very real. From collecting all the documents, the insurances, and the permits, preparing for Erasmus and getting settled in a new city is complicated enough as it is. Factor in the covid restrictions of where you’re coming from and where you’re going, plus the intricacies that come with being a non-European trying to exercise your rights as a European student, you’ll find yourself stuck with some 20 tabs open on your browser figuring out which documents to have and where to present them. This unprecedented overlap of circumstances has imbued me with a certain numbness to the fast-changing regulations, and the ability to absorb information the amount of which is not unlike trying to drink from a firehose.

I arrive at the airport by 7:20, just about an hour before the Covid testing site opens up. I realize that in my hurry, I threw away the food I have prepared the night before along with the trash earlier in the day. I was hungry, tired, and 10 hours away from being anywhere close to starting this trip. I fall in line for testing and knew I had to get tested twice: An antigen test with quick results that would let me get on my flight to Frankfurt that day, and a Czech-mandated PCR test for when I cross the border from Vienna on the day after that.

erasmus is flying

After I got my results, I proceed to the gate where my flight was boarding and came up to the border control booth. I present my passport and my test results. The agent hands me back the results, opens my passport, and asks me why I’m in France. I tell him I’m here to study. He matter-of-factly tells me no I was not as my visa was clearly Czech. As this happens, it does not get lost on me that he’s asking me these questions in French, and I respond in English. I explain to him that I’m on Erasmus. It took a few times, and a brave attempt on my part to pronounce ‘Erasmus’ in the most French accent I could muster before he understood. Just as soon as I thought I was in the clear, he shows me the front side of my passport and asks me how I could possibly be on Erasmus if I was not from Europe. I think about all the other third-country nationals who have gone to Erasmus before me and wonder if this was a shared experience between all of us. Do we count ourselves lucky if we do not get stopped and asked? Or do we all fall between the cracks?

I did not get to the airport half a day early just to get sent home. Coming from the Philippines, I was painfully well-versed in inane bureaucracy. The Erasmus experience as a third-country national is no different. You prepare more, even if more is not asked from you, because you never feel comfortable declaring your right to stay in and move around Europe. You print out documents when all your EU contemporaries have nothing but their phone with them. Thirty minutes, two additional personnel, a load of printed paperwork, and several calls to a superior later, they let me through. Needlessly complex and comically cumbersome, I smile as I find myself thrown headfirst into an absurd Kafkaesque situation.

Finally being on the other side of border control gave me some time to think about what just happened. I think further about Kafka. Specifically, his work Metamorphosis and how it would play out if it were written today. In 2021, should Gregor Samsa once again wake up from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect, will he have noticed? With the longevity of the pandemic beating us down to submission, will he have cared? Halfway through my mandatory isolation, I would have been glad to have randomly sprouted extra legs and feet. All the more to feel with, I suppose. Plus, it probably would have helped with all the anxious walking around as well. More realistically, he would have kept on this existential slog: going on Zoom calls with his microphone muted and his camera turned off, his colleagues being none the wiser. The absurd is contextual it would seem.

I got on the flight and landed in Frankfurt where I would end up attending a virtual meeting and taking two final exams during my nearly-15-hour layover. From there, I flew to Vienna and arrived at an airport with no border control. The absurdity of being compelled to get tested twice for Covid on the same day and never need to present the results is infuriating and anxiety-inducing. I could think of no definition more accurate than Kierkegaard’s contention of anxiety as the “dizziness of freedom”[1]. Having been told to present your negative test results to authorities on arrival, and not having any authorities to present them to, quickly forces in you a level of self-policing only people who have been in that situation can relate to. This dizziness went with me as I crossed the border to Brno where again, I arrive with zero stops from any authority.

Coming back to the city of Brno, I feel like a stranger in the place I’ve called home for two years. Having only been gone for three months, I feel weird calling myself a foreigner. Even weirder was remembering that I am a foreigner. A third-country national afforded the same opportunity as European students. Lucky to have taken part in this semester exchange at all. See, notions of home and identity are challenged when we go on Erasmus. Inevitably, wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. We figure ourselves out relative to where we are. Therein lies the situation: Erasmus is an exercise in existentialist thought. A conversation between yourself and society about what makes you, you: the values you uphold, and the type of good you want to push for.

So, when asked about what the Erasmus experience is, how should one respond? Should it be an answer based on classes taken and credits gained? On relationships formed and relationships ruined? In defining the essence of a thing, Husserl tells us to consider what is both necessary and invariable to its being[2]. The program has very specific definitions that outline your participation in it but does not presuppose what you gain aside from the grades you’re supposed to take with you. And so, while there is the definition, there is no meaning. At least, no pre-determined meaning, that is. What is necessary and invariable to your Erasmus experience is your involvement in it. It, like life, is what you make of it.

The unbearable lightness of Erasmus

Is the Erasmus light or heavy? “Over the town,” Marc Chagall, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow The title of this brief piece that I am about to write is inspired by the masterpiece

For me, Erasmus was a chance to stare into the abyss- the uncertainty of what’s to come. The chance to pit all the values I’ve formed over time, against integration and globalization made manifest. More than a gloomy prognosis, the absence of meaning is an invitation: For an undoubtedly great opportunity for personal growth. A chapter to look back on, hopefully, to say that it has made us more resolute in our attempt to be good for the world and for the people around us. An opportunity to live authentically, in the existentialist sense. To accept the weight of understanding that your experience will be the conglomeration of how you practiced this freedom which the Erasmus program has afforded to you. We come to university ready to learn and to put our beliefs to the test. Erasmus takes that premise and magnifies it.

A month later, having secured my residence permit, I finally get on my flight back to France where I will spend the remainder of my semester. This trip a lot less finicky than the previous one. I come back to my room- my body tired, and my head still dizzy at the freedom I find myself in. I try to find my bearings and I press however many feet I have, on the floor.

The Erasmus experience will hand you an unprecedented amount of accountability. Your experience is what you will it to be, and in turn, it will be uniquely yours. As Camus writes: “We are all exceptional cases”[3]; our Erasmus gives us the reins to make our cases exceptional.

Jerry Yao


[1] The Concept of Anxiety –  Søren Kierkegaard 

[2] Logical Investigations – Edmund Husserl

[3] The Fall – Albert Camus

The twin transition challenges

Twin transition (green and digital) will affect the world as we know it. Will this change be beneficial for everyone? Are there risks?

An example from the recent past

Trade liberalisation over the last 30 years has impoverished some well-defined groups of the population in advanced countries. While most economists kept repeating how good it was to lower tariffs and customs barriers in order to open up to the whole world, they underestimated the impact this would have on those affected. Autorn, Dorn and Hanson – for example – analysed government aid programmes in the areas of the US most affected by trade with China. Their study indicates that even though people in the affected areas received subsidies, these were not sufficient to cover the loss of income. The authors estimate an annual loss per adult of $549, compared to government subsidies of just $58 [1], [2].  Moreover, it is clear that purely financial aid cannot really compensate for the human and psychological difficulties caused by a job loss, especially late in someone’s working life.

The situation is different in developing countries, many of which have benefited greatly from globalisation. Countries such as Mexico, China, Colombia, India and Argentina have become richer in the last 30 years. Although the proportion of the population in extreme poverty in these countries has decreased, inequality on the other hand  increased, indicating that this new wealth has not been distributed evenly. Some economists (including the two recent Nobel laureates Banerjee and Duflo) suspect a causal link between the growth of inequality in these countries and their trade liberalisation policies [3],[4]  .

However, tariffs cannot be the solution: most supply chains nowadays are international, introducing tariffs has repercussions on the cost of materials used by companies. Moreover, trying to impose an industrial strategy based on old standards has a negative effect on productivity and gross domestic product. Finally, new tariffs imply higher prices of imported goods, with a consequent negative impact on the purchasing power of citizens. [5]

International trade has helped global growth, contributing to an increase in the standard of living of many citizens in developing countries and increasing the purchasing power of those in advanced countries (especially small ones). However, one cannot overlook the suffering of those who have been personally affected by the transition from certain types of economic activity (such as steel or textile) to others (e.g. business and financial consulting). Ignoring the suffering of these people – often living in production clusters – could have been one of the causes behind the radicalisation of the electorate in the West, which led to phenomena such as Trump and Brexit.

Learning from your mistakes

Today it is important not to make the same mistake with the economic recovery packages in the advanced economies. It is vital to implement them, just as it was right to open up to trade thirty years ago. This time, however, we have to make sure that no one is left behind, or further discontent will rise. It is important to think in these terms of the twin transition – green and digital – promoted by the EU Commission. These changes are already underway and will be accelerated by the €750 billion from the Next Generation EU package. Like all revolutions, this one will bring about epochal changes that have winners and losers.

Everything below is an extract – with some additions – of page 6 of the European Policy Centre’s report “National Recovery and Resilience Plans: Empowering the green and digital transitions?”, written by Marta Pilati and available here.

While there is a common goal for these transformations – reaching a sustainable and inclusive society, economy and model of growth –, the scale of the required change is not the same for everyone involved. To be successful, the sustainable and digital transitions will require adaptations in production processes, public administration and services, education, the labour market, skill base, energy mix and infrastructure, and more. There is large heterogeneity across the EU regarding these policy fields, implying that the transformation towards the common objectives will require different, tailored efforts.

From a geographical perspective, EU regions that are less developed and/or underperform economically are also less equipped to successfully engage in the twin transitions. A

recent EPC study[6] puts forward the following conclusions:

  • The twin transitions may force some occupations to transform significantly or disappear completely. While they are expected to create new jobs, an issue arises if the jobs created and lost are not located in the same area and to the same workers. This is notably the case

for regions whose labour market is heavily reliant on energy-intensive industries (e.g. extraction and processing of fossil fuels). As large workforce mobility cannot be assumed, labour repurposing and retraining will be necessary to avoid higher localised unemployment. With this in mind the EU Commission launched the REACT-EU package[7].

  • All economic sectors will demand more (and new) skilled job profiles with more knowledge and technology intensity. Areas where the skill base is less advanced and/or there is less capacity to support in-work training will be less successful in engaging with the transitions quickly. This could result in negative effects on prosperity in the long term.
  • In order to reap the benefits of the digital transition and improved connectivity, digital infrastructure remains crucial. The ‘digital divide’ across EU regions is a cause for concern, as the lack of appropriate (digital) infrastructure can exclude entire areas from high-value

activities. It can also challenge existing activities, which might move elsewhere and therefore lead to economic decline. Similarly, it can prevent some areas from benefitting from digital public services. This is why the Commission has called for digital infrastructure to be put at the heart of recovery and resilience plans.

Copyright ©️ Bruegel 2015: European Union countries’ recovery and resilience plan
Copyright ©️ Bruegel 2015: European Union countries’ recovery and resilience plan

Social aspects must be a central focus when planning structural changes. Social cohesion will be the key determinant of the success or failure of the twin transitions. If these major transformations are perceived as leaving individuals, vulnerable groups or regions behind and/or forcing them to shoulder most of the burden, public support for these structural transitions will diminish. This would risk their overall success and thereby reduce the resilience of the EU economy. Some potential social effects of the twin transitions that are worth mentioning are listed below.

  • The impact of technological change on the labour market. For example, new forms of work linked directly to digitalisation, notably platform work, have recently emerged. Social protection systems have not always been able to adapt to these labour developments, resulting in protection gaps. [8]
  • The employment risk of automation. One in five low-income jobs is at risk of automation. This is one in six for middle-income jobs and only one in ten for high-income work[9]. Job disruption caused by automation represents a real concern of increased inequality and new instability.
  • The symbiotic relationship between social exclusion and digital exclusion. Vulnerable and socially excluded groups use the internet and technological tools less than the rest of the population, as they tend to have fewer digital skills and access. This digital exclusion also prevents them from reaping the benefits of new technologies, leading to poor educational attainment, for example. This exacerbates their social exclusion further[10].
  • Low-income groups’ vulnerability to price increases. If the ecological transition leads to higher energy or mobility prices, this will be problematic for low-income groups (at least in the short term) and affect the poor disproportionately[11].
  • The digital transition’s gender dimension. As STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics) skills and occupations become more important and requested in the labour market, there is a risk of women being left out of the gains and the gender gap increasing, as they tend to be less present in these areas.

Outlining these risks of inequality is by no means to undermine the need for the twin transitions. Rather, it is to ensure that the transitions are successful and just. The transitions can lead to a digital and sustainable economy and more cohesive society, as long as their benefits reach the more vulnerable. For example, digitalisation and teleworking can bring jobs and economic activities to areas where it is not physically feasible. Speeding through structural transformations without a strategy to prevent distortive effects and counterbalance costs dooms the effort to failure. There is increasing recognition that Europe’s social and territorial cohesion must be protected.

Marta Pilati

Giovanni Sgaravatti


[1] Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo (2019), Chapter 3, “Good Economics for Hard Times”.

[2] Autorn, Dorn, Hanson, American Economic Review (2013) “The China Syndrome: Local Labor Market Effects of Import Competition in the United States”

[3] Ibid

[4] Goldberg, Pavcnik (2007), Distributional Effects of Globalization in Developing Countries, American Economic Association

[5] John K. Ferraro and Eva Van Leemput (2019) Long-Run Effects on Chinese GDP from U.S.-China Tariff Hikes, Federal Reserve

[6] Pilati, Marta and Alison Hunter (2020), EU lagging regions: state of play and future challenges“, Brussels: European Parliament.

[7] La quota del react eu dovrebbe essere diretta proprio a contenere squilibri territoriali e a supportare le aree più in difficoltà. REACT-EU – Regional Policy – European Commission

[8] Dhéret, Claire, Simona Guagliardo and Mihai Palimariciuc (2019), “The future of work: Towards a progressive agenda for all”, Brussels: European Policy Centre.

[9] OECD (2019), “Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class”, Paris: OECD Publishing.

[10] Martin, Chris et al. (2016), “The role of digital exclusion in social exclusion”, CarnegieUK Trust.

[11] López Piqueres, Sofia and Sara Viitanen (2020), “On the road to sustainable mobility: How to ensure a just transition?”, Brussels: European Policy Centre.

Information and the media: how do they influence our opinions?

When talking of media and information we cannot keep out of our consideration the deep mutations of technology and society. These mutations have been accelerating like never before in human history in the last thirty years. If we make a quick excursus of the history of information during the last two centuries, we can notice that the way this has been vehiculated has changed over time by following the pace of technology and society. In this imaginary time travel, we would start with newspapers (that initially were published once every second week[1]). We would continue with radio and newsreels – that in Italy were under governmental control[2]. Then, we would get to television and see a proliferation of sources of information thanks to private radio and television broadcasts. Finally, we would arrive to our days with information vehiculated through the internet and social media accessible at any time from our phones.

As we can see, there are at least two types of radical change in the fruition of information: the first refers to the speed and to the increasing number of sources and media (from a newspaper published once every second week to many online news sites publishing news constantly), the second refers to the access to information: before, users had to reach it by going to the newsstand or tuning in to a specific radio or television channel at a given time, now this relationship has been reversed as it is the information that reaches users that are always connected. The result of these two factors is that users nowadays are bombed by many different stimuli competing to grab attention.

How do we face this kind of information in the media?

To say that we are at the mercy of information might sound banal and, after all, it is not that true. This evolution did not happen overnight, even though it is true that it has been really fast and that it is easier to face it for digital natives than for the elderly who had to adapt to a world in constant evolution. In the same way, it is also true that we do not control our reactions to information: how do we form our opinions? Why do we select specific information and open a particular link instead of another? How is it possible that there are people defending so strongly opinions that sound absurd to our ears? How to explain some reactions to the current pandemic? I will try to give some explanations here, although we have to bear in mind that the topic is much complex and full of facets and aspects embracing different disciplines such as communication science, sociology, psychology of groups, and psychology of persuasion that cannot be summarized and set in order in just one article.

The research on how we process information got along with the development of information technology and social psychology in general. The question social psychologists tried to answer is: how does a message become persuasive?

Among predominant theories, there is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) by Petty and Cacioppo (1981) and the heuristic-systematic model by Eagly and Chaiken (1984). These models have in common the fact of forecasting that the change of attitude in front of a piece of information can be the result of two different kinds of processes[3].

According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), when receiving a piece of information, the user starts an elaboration process placed in a continuum having on opposite poles a central path and a peripheric path. To elaborate via the central path, the recipient needs to activate a set of attentional skills and resources for active reflection on the arguments of the message, which in turn also requires to activate the previous knowledge s-/he owns on the matter in order to get to a final evaluation of the message. Instead, the peripheral path does not require considering the content of the message to elaborate the information but the way it is presented (let’s think of the background music on TV reports having the function of “helping” the audience classifying the info as positive or negative). Hence, the central path is a more demanding process requiring motivation (the message has to be relevant for the user in order for him to invest resources), cognitive skills, and previous knowledge, while the peripheral one does not require any effort[4].

Similarly to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the heuristic-systematic model states that there are two types of processes to elaborate information: a systematic process – corresponding to the central path of the ELM (so with the investment of resources for a deep elaboration of the message) – and a heuristic process leading to the formation of an opinion through the simple application of a heuristic, a rule for judgment certifying the validity of the message (e.g.: the message comes from a person I trust, the message should be valid)[5].

According to both models then, in order to elaborate on information with accuracy, it is necessary for the recipient to use a set of resources. First of all, this requires the motivation to use such resources and to make the effort of reasoning, then it requires to use cognitive skills and to activate counterarguments to validate or to refute the thesis as well as the presence of previous knowledge on the matter to do it. Now, it looks clear that such central-systematic elaboration requires time and resources: all things that modern hectic life, television pace and the abundance of stimuli make hard to use.

How do we respond to these stimuli?

The way we face information nowadays has much to do with our reactions to these stimuli. In other words, we need to recognize and respond quickly to many stimuli without the chance of deepening and elaborating, something that – as said – would require time and effort.

When it comes to catalogue news as true or false or even just worthy of our attention, some clues we use more or less consciously come into play.

Above all, we need to consider the fact that news mould the way we conceive reality. According to the cultivation theory by Gerbner[6], the information provided by the media has on one hand the effect of creating a common interpretation of an event (the so-called mainstreaming effect), on the other hand to amplify reality: by emphasising the event, it assigns to this a greater frequency than the actual one just because of speaking about it on the media (the resonance effect). In his experiments on the relationship between violence in the media and actual violence in real life, Gerbner could note that the participants believing that in their neighbourhood there was a higher level of violence than the actual one were the same having the habit of watching more violence scenes on television[7].

It seems clear that the media play a key role in shaping the perception of reality (and how we mould our opinions and, in turn, behave). The agendasetting theory goes in the same way. According to this theory, the media establish which topics are relevant to society by giving each matter more or less emphasis[8]. Therefore, they do not directly suggest to the audience how to think about something but rather what to think of. So, the importance and relevance of an event are not specific characteristics of the event itself, but they are assigned by the emphasis the media use when talking about it and, therefore, by the relevance they give to that event.

To make a few concrete examples of the impact of this in real life, we can think of the case of the volunteer for the trial covid-vaccination programme who died a few months ago in Brazil, a case that had great resonance all over the world with extraordinary coverage on the media, still – after the news was given – it was discovered that the volunteer never got subministrated the jab[9]. Another clear evidence of this is provided by the recent case of the fear that the media generated by the great emphasis they gave to the blood clot cases on people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine. A fear having no scientific foundation and – therefore – no reason to be: if we look at actual data[10], we discover that this event is way rarer than what the coverage on the media lets us think.

“They do not tell us!!”: dissidents and sub-cultures

However, as said, we need to consider the fact that nowadays information is fast and plural. On the one hand, this is certainly something good as it allows to defend the freedom of speech – and so democracy -, on the other hand, the proliferation of news sites competing to get the users’ clicks (see the phenomenon of the “clickbait”[11] ) leads to the risk of fake news and makes it hard for the user to recognize the authority of a source and of an opinion dividing it from the mass of comments and news.

What pushes a person to look for a specific kind of information and defend so strongly opinions that look absurd to us? According to the uses and gratifications theory[12], the information received is not a passive actor, but s-/he selects the information that gives them more gratifications. S-/he addresses the choice and invests attention and time resources in those programs and information channels that satisfy his/her needs. What needs are we talking of? The need to get useful information helps not only in the management of his/her actions but also with emotional needs and the need to define one’s own identity[13]. This takes us back to what stated here above: we dedicate more time to information channels in which we recognize ourselves and – at the same time – we tend to catalog stimuli quickly by assigning them attributes of authority or non-authority according to the kind of stimuli (e.g. the source) and not after a deep elaboration of the message. This leads information to be part of ingroup-outgroup dynamics. Users will seek and give more attention to that information corresponding to their own group as they recognize themselves in that group having a common key to read reality. At the same time, they will not give attention and will be very hasty in dismissing those information and thesis belonging to outgroups. As we can guess, this does not help the debate and boosts polarization within each group. In this way, groups will shift more and more towards extreme positions. Let’s think, for instance – beyond what one thinks about – at the dualism between anti-vax and pro-vax during the pandemic or the role of the social media on Capitol Hill’s assault in the US.

Social media do not help with this. As their scope is to keep users’ engagement high[14], they tend to display thesis and information reflecting the ideas in which the user can recognize himself because it is thanks to these that s-/he will stay connected on the social. If we close our eyes and – for example – imagine to be firmly convinced about the fact that vaccines are good and suddenly discover that our Facebook or Twitter walls are invaded by news coming from anti-vax news sites, we can guess that probably we would not click on those links and that we would quit the social media way before what we usually – unfortunately – do. 

The docu-movie the social dilemma produced by Netflix is very informative on the matter. “Try to type on Google ‘ climate change is ‘ , you are going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things Google knows about your interests

In light of the impact that these mechanisms in the social media have had on people – that then turned into actions and political decisions (see the Russiagate and the Cambridge Analytica scandal[15]), Facebook is taking countermeasures aimed to increase the plurality of information displayed to users, with the aim of stopping the spread of fake news[16][17], although it looks like there is still a lot to do[18].

Media and information: what to do then?

Nowadays, the media are in the tricky situation of being forced to inform people by summing up in a very short time the news from a world that is complex and constantly changing. Dedicating the time required to deepen and elaborate the diverse thesis is just not an option as it would require the recipient to use time and attention and – at that point – one would most likely switch to another channel. What to do then?

Above all, we should ask ourselves why a person moves towards a specific thesis, running the risk of getting involved in that ingroup-outgroup vicious circle described above that leads to label information without elaborating them. So to say, we should check what is there at the root of a person’s reaction in front of a message, seeking what leads a person to acknowledge a piece of information as more authoritative than another.

It is awe-inspiring to look at the studies of the early ‘50s of the past century – studies looking more actual than ever – on that peculiar persuasion strategy that Hovland and his colleagues at Yale’s university called fear appeal[19]. In their experiments, Janis and Fisherbach – colleagues of Hovland – exposed participants to messages regarding dental illnesses and what behaviours to adopt in order to avoid them, dividing participants into groups according to the intensity of fear of the message which they had been subministrated. Differently to what they could expect, those who – after a few weeks – had actually changed behaviour in a more relevant manner were not those who had received the scarier message but those whose message had a weak fear appeal.

According to researchers, this should be due to the recipient’s reaction to messages threatening the se. The recipient, feeling threatened, would reduce such distress by seeking answers able to loosen the tension. To do that and feel safe, the user is in front of an (unconscious) choice: s-/he can go for using the behaviours suggested by the message or can activate defensive answers such as denial[20] or discrediting the message itself and the envisaged consequences of the dangerous behaviour. In this case, the users will think something like “well, maybe the message was a bit exaggerating, this behaviour is not that dangerous”.

Then, we can see that when it comes to face fear situations such as the pandemic, the presence of people denying the virus may be partially caused by an unconscious defence mechanism used by some people. These persons might have moved towards negationism because they feel reassured by denying the situation. Their reassurance is then strengthened by the fact that other people share the same view and create in this way a group that legitimates and reinforces these theses, sometimes polarising positions.

One of the developments of these thesis refers to the motivation protection theory by Maddus and Rogers (1983)[21]. According to this theory, a threat represents distress for the individual that then needs to put in place resources to use a specific behaviour. If s-/he perceives risks as relevant or if s-/he feels to be able to cope with that behaviour, the user will feel motivated to respond with the desired adaptive behaviour; if instead, the situation requires resources that are too onerous compared to the ones at disposal, s-/he will use another behaviour to deal with the situation, but not always will go for adaptive behaviour.

By knowing this, we see that the recipient of the information is not a passive subject and that much depends on the characteristics of the person and on the relevance that the message has for him/her. The media should focus on the importance of the light under which they expose information, then, being aware that fear is not always the best weapon to broadcast effective messages. If it is not accompanied by positive messages and specific and clear indications about what behaviours to use, it can have detrimental effects as it could activate defensive reactions (denial, discreditation, etc).

On the contrary, the media would better use clear information avoiding rhetoric, focusing on positive aspects of behaviours to put in place (e.g. highlighting the positive effects of lockdown on reducing the curve of cases and deaths, rather than constantly focusing on – supposed – negative effects of outdoor walks…), and providing clear information about behaviours to adopt. This would help people to cope with the situation and reduce the distress and the uncertainty related to the situation, it would enable the audience to elaborate information in a clearer way, reducing the need for the seek of alternative answers and non-adaptive behaviours.

Filippo Paggiarin

Sources & References

[1] https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giornale

[2] https://www.archivioluce.com/cinegiornali/

[3] ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[4] ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[5]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[6] https://www.coris.uniroma1.it/sites/default/files/11.%20Teoria%20della%20Coltivazione.pdf

[7]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.151 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[8]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.151 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/10/21/volunteer-in-astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine-trial-reportedly-dies-in-brazil/?sh=77580fb42516

[10] https://www.fondazioneveronesi.it/magazine/articoli/da-non-perdere/vaccino-astrazeneca-e-rischio-trombosi-facciamo-chiarezza

[11]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickbait

[12]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.155 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[13] On the matter, i suggest to listen to the TED talk by Guadalupe Nogués (it is in spanish language)

[14]  The docu-movie the social dilemma produced by Netflix is very informative on the matter. “Try to type on Google ‘ climate change is ‘ , you are going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things Google knows about your interests” . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaaC57tcci0 

[15] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/us/cambridge-analytica-facebook-privacy-data.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

[16] https://www.repubblica.it/tecnologia/social-network/2018/10/29/news/facebook_ora_puoi_saperne_di_piu_su_fonti_e_testate-210316647/

[17] https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/stretta-facebook-inserzioni-politiche-sapremo-chi-paga-e-dove-arrivano-AEv4YZUE?refresh_ce=1

[18] https://it.mashable.com/coronavirus-1/4089/covid19-fake-news-facebook-avaaz

[19]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.86 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

[20] this does not happen only with health-related topics like damages caused by smoking or by junk food or the need for anti-covid measures but also with many other topics such as the climate change

[21]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.87 https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815245854

Nüshu: the silent voice of women

“Every time I get on the bus from Guilin to Jiangyong, I look out the window and think of the power of the yuánfèn 缘分 (“fateful coincidence”) that led me to feel at home in such a remote and unexplored place.”

Thus, began my “physical” journey to discover that corner of the world which, without knowing it, represented precisely that piece of the puzzle I had been looking for for some time. Jiangyong, and in particular the village of Puwei, represented a perfect combination of my love for China, for Chinese people and for its millenary culture: the sublimation of ideals that I have admired for years but which I have rarely found enclosed in one place.

My “spiritual” journey started in a university classroom, that place that we often consider only a container of abstract notions, that room from which we can’t wait to escape to give concreteness to the words of the study manuals. Thanks to the passionate stories about China that the Professor told us, it is precisely within those classes that I had the great fortune to be able to start traveling with the mind and fall in love with a country even before seeing it live. Moreover, it is precisely within those walls that I heard about nüshu 女书 for the first time, when my mind immediately decided that I should further explore that topic and that I would be passionate about it. And so it was.

“Nüshu: the writing that gave women a voice” was another great adventure, which, looking back, allowed me to reflect on many details of my experiences, to deepen the details of this splendid cultural phenomenon and to realize the beauty of many places and many people. The idea of this book was born about two years ago, when in summer 2018 I talked about nüshu with Professor Zhao Liming, inside her study at the Tsinghua University of Beijing: I immediately thought that those wonderful stories could not remain just for me.

“the Nüshu – the script that gave voice to women”, by Giulia Falcini, CSA Editrice


Nüshu literally means “women’s writing” in Chinese. Its pronunciation is based on the local dialect of the villages located around the county of Jiangyong, in the province of Hunan, in southern China. The female characters are around 396, each of which corresponds to a syllable of the dialect. Unlike Chinese, therefore, these ideograms transcribe sounds, not meanings and to each of them correspond to many Chinese characters. Therefore, the importance of the context to understand its meaning is evident. It’s difficult to establish a precise date for the creation of nüshu (which most probably occurred around 1700) this issue on its own is the subject of constant debate among scholars. Female writing was certainly born in response to the patriarchal society of the time, which inevitably placed women in condition of submission. A fundamental aspect that led to the birth of this language is the fact that the girls could not attend school, therefore, to stay in touch with each other, especially once they got married, they invented their own system for communicating. Nüshu also represented a way to escape from the overwhelming everyday life, a parallel world in which women took refuge, where they could find understanding and where they could externalize their suffering in some way. It is no coincidence that, according to the legend, nüshu was created by a girl from the village of Jingtian who was chosen as emperor’s concubine. The woman was not well received in the court and loneliness, and nostalgia for her relatives led her to create a new writing, different from that of men, to give vent to their thoughts and make them reach their families.

Nüshu is “a language of women and for women” because it was from them that it was conceived and brought into the world. However, it is important to emphasize that the female language was never a secret script, rather it was men who were not interested in it because they thought that everything that was created by women was not something appreciable.

In fact, if we consider the very small places in which nüshu culture was born, lived and continues to be handed down, it is unthinkable that the male part of society had never noticed those rhomboid characters that covered the objects made by the ladies ; and it is impossible to believe that men had never heard the melodies that echoed in the alleys of the villages. Historical and social events have led to a great change in the importance attributed to the female writing: men became interested in nüshu, in the county they speak proudly of it as a symbol that characterizes their city and many of them are directly involved in promoting this phenomenon. And it is no coincidence that today, in the villages, as soon as women start singing, everyone stops to listen to them, including men: they do not do this out of duty or reverence, but because they are really captured by these beautiful sounds.

And it is precisely the songs that act as vectors of the most intimate, deep and confidential female feelings: they deal with every type of theme, from happy moments to the most disheartening ones.


“The places of nüshu have taught me that you can be rich even without running water at home and that humility and goodness are the basis of every great person.”

Although the characters represent the most fascinating aspect of this culture, it is only by visiting and experiencing the villages that orbit around Jiangyong that one can realize a great truth: nüshu is not only a language, but a cultural phenomenon. In fact, its existence is closely linked to that of local traditions, popular festivities and local people.

In my book there are many characters who have lived and handed down nüshu: Chen Xinfeng and Hu Yanyu are certainly among the names that the reader will not be able to forget. The great welcome they give me every time in their home in the village of Puwei, has allowed me to get to the heart of their culture, to perceive how it is lived nowadays, to listen to many stories, to register the colors , the sounds and gestures of what is not just a language, but much, much more. The two – mother and daughter – retain the typical traits of women who over three centuries ago had the strength to create a world parallel to the one that was destroying them. It is difficult to express in words the goodness that characterizes them, but it is their complicity that most impresses anyone who observes them while intoning the nüshu songs or when, delicately, they trace the ideograms -symbols of female resilience.

They always welcome me very warmly in their home in the village of Puwei, and thanks to them I was able to get to the very heart of the nüshu culture, seeing how this culture is experienced today;  I also listened to many stories, I recorded many colors, sounds and gestures of what is not only a language, but much more. The two ladies- mother and daughter – have the same traits typical of women who over three centuries ago had the strength to create a world parallel to the one that was destroying them. It is difficult to put into words the goodness that characterizes the two women, but it is their complicity that most astonishes anyone who observes them while intoning the nüshu songs or when, delicately, they trace the ideograms that are the symbol of female resilience.

A friend once told me that “we are born in a place, but in the course of life we find our places of the heart where we know we can always return”. I believe I have found mine, what I miss every time I’m not there.

Giulia Falcini

Will we emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis?

While China is just getting back on its feet from what was and still is one of the biggest sanitary crisis and epidemic of its history, the virus prettily-named Covid-19 has now found a new outbreak in Europe. We did not think that this situation could be possible in our democratic and developed societies and yet, this is happening. We feel like we are living inside a futuristic novel, or even a dystopia. What we, young Europeans, didn’t think would ever happen during our lifetime, is yet happening: freedom, the main feature of our societies, is now deeply restricted; the borders our parents and grand parents abolished are now closed again; forces of order are in the streets to control our every move; but, most of all, science, which we thought was more developed than ever at this point of the history of mankind, is actually failing us. This crisis is therefore way more than just a sanitary crisis. It is also an economic, political, and social crisis – all in all, a human crisis. Apart from being rightly anxious, it is interesting for us now to observe our societies. The Occident seems to be facing a wall, that would have appeared suddenly and which, in the hurry, is forcing it to rethink its whole way of working, of existing.

The first characteristic of the globalized societies that the Covid-19 has put into question is the economic model, both capitalist and global. When the sanitary crisis first struck the “factory of the world”, but also one of the most powerful economies of the planet, it is not only a city, not even a country, but the whole world which suffered the consequences. Trade and production were slowed down, sometimes even to a critical point. Then, when Europe and other important actors of the global economy, like the USA or Iran, were touched in turn, what has been observed in China happened to them too, but on an even bigger scale. Up to that moment, the world’s most important stock markets had already been weakened in February, before crashing  repeatedly as the virus outbroke in Europe and US. There was a “black Monday” the 9th of March; and another crash on the 12th of March. On March, the 9th, The European and American stock markets recorded their worse performance since the economic crisis of 2008. On March, the 12th, the Paris stock market index, the “CAC 40”, and the Milan FTSE MIB recorded the worst decline of their history, respectively -12.3% and -16.92% The German index, “DAX”, followed closely (-11.4%). The Wall Street Stock Exchange stopped twice for fifteen minutes, before reaching on the 16th of March its worst day since 1987. The financial crisis has required the intervention of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank which announced extraordinary plans to provide liquidity to the financial system and to appease the markets. However, the financial instability persists and further economic measures from US government, EU and the other European countries will soon follow. All of that added to disagreements between Russia and Iran on the oil prices, created a very strained and anxious atmosphere in the whole world. The question we are now facing in this economic crisis (which is probably only beginning), is about the legitimacy of this system, in which we live and on which we rely. How can we keep providing each individual with the bare necessities, when we rely on a worldwide trading system that is temporarily amputated? The lack of national, or even continental resources and the inability of States to produce some materials without relying on other countries ; added to a consumer society that is used to have access to any existing food or object within easy reach, underlines clearly the limits of our current economic system. Numerous factories had to convert themselves in order to keep providing with the bare necessities that were lacking. This is the case of LVMH which turned many of its French sites into a fabric of production of hydroalcoholic gel, in short supply in France. But LVMH could do this only because it had the practical and financial resources to do it. In spite of everything, this whole situation demonstrates that, because we do not have any system of local production, trade or consumption, we are now stuck in a worrying situation, provoked by an international crisis. The partial failure of the current system is even more blatant that the very idea of producing and consuming locally has been promoted for a while now by ecologists and environment activists. It thus took a consequent sanitary crisis to put into question our global system and underline its limits – without putting an end to it. We can only hope to emerge from this crisis aware of those limits and ready to change them, or even to give it up if that is necessary.


Naturally, democracy is also suffering from the Covid-19 epidemic. This model of society, which highlights personal freedom, is now facing obvious difficulties. When the time came to count on civic-mindedness and individual responsibility to face this sanitary crisis, problems started. It was the case for Italians and Spanish, peoples so “external”, who were forced to stay stuck indoors – at first reluctantly resigning themselves to do so, thanks sometimes to preventive penitential measures. It was also the case in France, which tried to put back the confinement measures up to the last minute. But it finally came to it, when facing a crowd of French people who were sure they had all the rights to keep on moving freely. If we compare this situation to the one that took place a couple of months ago in China, an authoritarian country, we highlight the difficulties faced by the modern democracies to implement such drastic measures, which go against their values. Besides, in France, which was suffering since a few months from a crisis in its hospitals, this unprecedented epidemic is allowing doctors and hospital staff to finally be heard. Indeed, the epidemic is pointing out all the problems they were already reporting. They are now finally granted all of the government’s attention and we can only hope that this country will emerge stronger from this crisis: with a government which would have finally understood the importance of taking care of its health system; and which would have understood that a democratic society worthy of the name can not work if its doctors, nurses and nursing assistants are suffering.

The third distinctive element of modern societies that is put into question because of this historical sanitary crisis, is, of course, scientific progress. The occidental Man from the 21st century, who comes from a society built on technological and scientific advances, probably had a too strong tendency to think he/she is invincible. Reinforced by medical advances and born in a complete comfort thanks to technological advances, he/she is now like violently slapped on the face. What he/she thought was possible only in Africa (still at war against Ebola) or in Asia – all in all, only in developing countries – has eventually come to him/her as well: a pandemic that may kill him/her. Let him/her be reassured: this generation won’t be the last, and most of us will get by fine, safe and sound. But this is an ancestral fear that springs back up, that of a combat against an invisible enemy, against which we cannot fight because we do not have the right weapons. It is the fear to die, or to see our loved ones die, and not to be able to do anything against it. Feeling immensely helpless. Finally, it is about feeling ourselves as bodies before anything else, even though we try so hard to convince ourselves that we are only made of souls. This is about feeling ourselves as bodies, and being aware more than ever of our bodies’ limits and weaknesses. The occidental Man of the 21st century should thus emerge from that epidemic as a reborn Man, will it be regarding his/her relationship to Science, but also to his/her own identity.

Eventually, last but not least element challenged by the pandemic is free movement. That principle is at the core of the European Union’s values. It has already been jeopardized those past few years by the migration crisis, true challenge of modern Europe and USA, and by the resurgence of nationalisms. However, it is now completely call into question, as many States are barricading themselves. This will be one of the biggest challenge of this sanitary crisis for the “Old Continent”: prove that closing the borders is not a long-term solution, and that it should not, under no circumstances, divide us – on the contrary, we should unite to fight against this common enemy.

Laura Poiret

Are Electric Vehicles Beneficial Over Internal Combustion Vehicles?

In recent years the sales of electric vehicles have been rising exponentially. This has caused various car manufactures to reconsider their vehicle lines from internal combustion to the development of electric vehicles. The development of electric vehicle batteries, motors and motor control technologies can be seen in big manufactures such as BMW, Mercedes and VW. The main player who kicked off the electric vehicle race is Tesla who have expanded into developing their own battery technologies. Furthermore, non-traditional vehicle companies such a Dyson have joined in developing their own electric vehicle. This asks the question why are electric vehicles better? The following points out the main reasons. 

Image result for electric vehicle





1. Air Quality and Emissions of Electric Vehicles

In 2040 the UK government has decided to ban the sale of combustion vehicles. This is in line with the UKs clean air initiatives. The main reasons behind the ban is that combustion vehicles pollute the air around them, especially in dense cities. Air pollution has been proven to be linked to various respiratory issues in people, with higher levels of asthma in cities with air quality problems linked to traffic pollution. 

Electric cars produce no emissions directly, therefore the immediate environment they function in will remain pollutant free. This will provide health benefits to resident’s whole live near busy streets.

Image result for air quality electric vehicles


2. Instant Torque

One of the best notable performance characteristics by electric vehicle enthusiasts is that electric cars provides instant torque throughout the RPM range meaning that electric vehicles do not require a traditional transmission. This allows electric vehicles to accelerate much faster than combustion cars.  See the video demonstrating the level of acceleration the new tesla roadster contains.


3. Regenerative Braking 

Electric vehicles can regenerate the energy that is used as kinetic energy when the car is moving. In traditional combustion braking systems, the vehicle is slowed using friction breaking this waste valuable energy as heat. Electric Vehicles can brake using the electric motor and regenerate the energy into the battery pack of the car. This allows a more efficient journey as the braking energy will be used again for driving the car again. 

Video demonstration:

4. Electric Vehicles Efficiency 

Image result for electric vehicle efficiency

Electric motors are highly efficient at converting electrical energy to rotational kinetic energy at approximately 90% to which internal combustion vehicles have efficiencies around 30%. This means that electric vehicles have lower energy costs and have less energy demands for similar usage. Electric cars would have a lower carbon footprint per mile comparison to combustion vehicles. 

However! Also with Electric Vehicles, it’s not all smooth driving!

Electric cars will have some disadvantages comparted to internal combustion. Many of these issues are surrounded around the battery pack contained in the vehicle. 

1. How to charge Electric vehicles? 

Typically, people will charge their car on their driveways with their residential electrical supply. The main concern with people is that they will run out of charge, or it takes too long. This is because people are too used to filling up at petrol stations within 15 minutes.

However, this isn’t the case with electric cars, this requires a behavioural change. This could be in a similar manner to which people charge their smartphones, such as charging overnight or plugging in as soon as you get home. If a long journey is needed some planning should be done at which place you should stop and charge the car. Newer electric cars can be charged to 80% within 45mins with a 100KW charger. 

The main issue is for electric vehicles owners without a driveway or a local charging point. Considerations of charging availability for each electric vehicles buyer must undertake before purchasing an electric vehicle. It must be noted that thousands of charging points are added each year, increasing availability could make it possible for electric vehicles owners without a driveway.

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2. Li-ion Battery packs in Electric Vehicles have a limited number of charge cycles.

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Most Smartphone users have felt the health of their batteries decrease. This is a similar case with electric cars. The driver will need to monitor the state of health of their battery pack to get an accurate range. At the end of the battery pack life the cells within the pack are no longer good enough for electric vehicles but can be re-used in second life applications such as energy storage. 

3. The Electricity Grid.

Currently the electricity grid cannot cope with all the homes in the UK charging their electric vehicle. This problem has been worked on by national grid and current plans say that electricity costs will change depending on when you charge your electric car, peak times will be charged at a higher price. Secondly the environmental benefits that electric cars provide can be removed when the electrical supply is generated in through coal or gas generation. For a smaller carbon footprint, it must be ensured that renewable sources are a large percentage of the energy mix that is used to charge the vehicle. See below for the current energy mix in the UK. 







In conclusion the benefits electric cars provide are highly beneficial to the environment and the users of the vehicle in comparison to internal combustion. The combustion engine in mainstream vehicle applications will be obsolete. The electric vehicle revolution is near, are you ready? 


Hitendra Pandya













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