Where Now For European Political Parties?

Political parties perform important roles in European societies. Parties are institutions in which citizens with similar political views organise, develop political programmes and actively participate in the political process. They are vital for democracy because parties offer the most clear-cut political choices that are put to the electorate. Parties are also recruitment organisations, through which parliamentarians and members of government are sourced. Even though the latter functions are important, the general effectiveness of parties is closely linked to the first characteristic: their societal embeddedness – the main channel between a party and citizens. And in this respect, political parties have been declining dramatically.

The demise of political parties is not a new phenomenon. Since at least the 1980s, parties in all established European democracies have suffered massive membership losses to the point where they only retain a very limited capacity to engage citizens. The societal anchor of political parties is seriously threatened. Vernon Bogdanor wrote in 2006 that ‘the story of the rise and fall of the mass political party is one of the great unwritten books of our time’. So why do I pick this rather old problem up again in 2009? Not because I want to write the obituary of the mass political party but because we can now see where the development of political parties might lead us. This potential new future became apparent during the US Presidential campaign.

Additionally to his remarkable personal qualities, Barack Obama – during the Democratic primaries, the Presidential campaign and now even as sitting President – has been extremely successful in using new communication technologies to connect directly with citizens. Through the use of social networking tools, online video messaging and almost real time updates on what was happening on the campaign trail – and by making many of these tools available to his supporters too – he was able to create a community that was not only prepared to vote for him but willing to organise and campaign on the local level. He was able to create a political movement he can now build upon.

The construction of this movement was above all possible because new communication techniques offered a way of being actively involved in the campaign for change. But if you look behind the technical tools you notice that Barack Obama’s campaign was able to recreate old – rather than create new – characteristics that traditional European parties, especially left-of-centre parties, have lost over the years: a sense of community and belonging.

Let us take the oldest social democratic party in the world as an example: the German SPD. When the party was founded in 1863, its backbone was educational leagues founded to educate workers. The cultural and community aspect was therefore not just a by-product but very much the founding principle of the party. Being a social democrat was not a question of membership in an organisation but rather a way of life. The identity of the party was reinforced by the large variety of social democratic newspapers and publications that contributed to this distinct culture. The cultural underpinnings of political parties were also evident elsewhere and it seems that it has been especially this attribute, that used to provide the closest link to society, that has declined most dramatically in recent decades.

It was argued that because of social and ideological changes in societies in the second half of the twentieth century, mass parties – rather homogenous constructs – developed into catch-all parties that attempted to integrate the diversifying political views and social backgrounds of citizens under the umbrella of the same party. Today, many parties look like what political scientists call ‘professional-electoral parties’. Such parties are organisations that have a highly centralised leadership and are focussed on winning votes and offices. They have largely abandoned the cultural heritage of traditional political parties. ‘Professional-electoral party’ is also the closest typology for US political parties, which are practically committees to fight elections without much activity between ballots. They are very candidate centred and lack organisational leadership.

So what is new that could show the way political parties could go from here? What has changed during the Obama campaign? In a nutshell, Barack Obama has managed to recreate the community aspects of old mass parties and integrate them into a professional-electoral party. In the contemporary context, however, culture does not mean a certain way of living but rather being part of a community based on a charismatic political leader, new political ideas and a desire for grassroots activism. The creation of this new culture in the Obama campaign has only been possible by the use of new media. So after it has transformed the economy and the way we communicate with each other, is the information, communication and technology (ICT) revolution now fundamentally changing the political process too? I think there are strong arguments in favour of this and Barack Obama’s success is evidence.

What does this mean for European parties? The socio-economic circumstances and ideological believes of citizens have indeed changed dramatically since the foundation of early European parties, political activism has however not disappeared. The success of single-issue movements such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and the Globalisation critics of Attac clearly shows the enduring desire for political activism. Some of these movements have even grown into political parties in their own right, for instance the German Greens or – with a rather different political agenda – the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

So the first ingredient – desire for political activism – is still there. But how can it be used? European parties have tried for decades to open their structures to social movements and to use societal activism for their party purposes. They have all been largely unsuccessful so far because their strategies were unclear and their own structures often too rigid. Waking up to the potential of new technologies and the experience of the Obama campaign however makes it a necessity to try again – and to try harder. After all, the only alternative seems to be further decline. Initial steps to use new technologies have been taken but more needs to be done. Europe in general is clearly behind the US in terms of internet integration in everyday life including politics. But this can also be an opportunity for the party that comes up first with a successful mix of technologies for the European context.

The second ingredient is political ideas that can capture and motivate people. The current economic crisis has opened a window of opportunity for a new politics. There is a vacuum of ideas since the promise of prosperity facilitated by unfettered markets collapsed with the international banking sector. This void has not been filled yet. In Barack Obama’s case the simple promise for change was enough to create his movement. This was however only possible in the narrow window of opportunity at the beginning of the economic crisis and in the specific context of US politics. If his movement is to become sustainable he needs to bring in new positive ideas. President Obama has understood this and has kept the close link to his followers even after assuming office. The way in which he encouraged living room discussions about his economic stimulus package across the US was a remarkable move and combined the desire for activism with political content. The sense of belonging and potential for activism created by a ‘I received an email from the President’ moment should not be underestimated.

The last ingredient in the mix is charismatic leadership. Early attempts of online campaigning in Europe have shown that it is very difficult to build mass participation in a political online campaign if there is not an appealing political figure at the top. Parties as such seem to be rather inappropriate vehicles for such campaigns. Identification becomes much easier if people are involved. So if the European political culture develops in the direction set out in the United States, it is likely that politics becomes more personalised and centred around political ideas represented by certain politicians.

Political parties have been declining for decades without finding a way to stop their downfall. The ICT revolution is here to stay and has already transformed many areas of our lives. The Obama campaign in the US has broken new ground and is certainly an important example to watch. But the question is how these developments can be worked into European party politics. A simple ‘copy and paste’ will not work. But the revitalisation of political culture and activism using new technologies is the most promising opportunity on offer to change the fate of political parties. Given the alternative, it is certainly worth trying.

How to Be An Expert In The 7 European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative Value Chains In 7 Simple Steps

How does one climb a mountain? The standard response to that question is, “Only one step at a time!” The way to complete any large task has essentially the same answer, “One step at a time.” Taken all-at-once it can be overwhelming. When you organize it into steps, stages, logical pieces, then you can see how to accomplish it, step-by-step. The steps can be smaller. They can each be easy enough and “do-able”. And when you get them all done, why, you find that you have accomplished your whole large task. That’s just precisely how it really is with the best way to be an expert in the 7 European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative value chains. Here is a way to tackle the formidable task of becoming an expert in the 7 European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative value chains, in 7 simple steps.

Step 1. Learn about the first in the list which is; Synthetic liquid fuels/hydrocarbons (gasification). This means you’ll want to study how synthetic liquid fuels and hydrocarbons can be created using renewable bioenergy. Should you neglect this or do not do it, you should expect that you will have missed an important aspect of the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative.

Step 2. Find out about the second value chain which is; Biomethane & other synthetic gaseous fuels (gasification). This step is important because significant amounts of bioenergy are expected to be created through this value chain route.

Step 3. Learn more about the third on their list which is; High efficiency heat & power generation (IGCC). This means that the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative will encompass the sustainable use of IGCC which when given its full name is “Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle” technology. It will likewise signify that no stone will be left unturned during your education in the brand new science growing up around “bioenergy”.

Step 4. Next you will need to be taught the meaning of “Intermediate bioenergy carriers (pyrolysis & torrefaction)”. This may require some in-depth research to elucidate the meaning of these terms.

Step 5. You will seek out the info on; Ethanol and higher alcohols (chemical and biological processes). An important factor you will want to remember here is going to be the way that ethanol and the higher alcohols will be used in chemical and biological processes to produce bioenergy derived synthetic chemicals, instead of the present fossil fuel based sources. The reason that this is important is for us to have a viable bioenergy based economy, after the mineral oil resource has been expended, these sources will become primary sources for manufacturing. These sources will have to replace what is now mineral oil sourced.

Step 6. You will need to understand the theory of; Renewable hydrocarbons namely their chemical or biological synthesis.

Step 7. And, finally you must become be a bit of a boffin in the subject of; Bioenergy carriers from micro-organisms (algae, bacteria).

Great! Now you’re almost there! Always remember, that these subjects are each brand new subject areas which one day will be much sought after. Indeed, whole university departments will be built around them, and many thousands of people will work applying these new technologies.

Learn them now and you will have a highly valuable education for tomorrow in the post carbonaceous fuel age. Very few people have the vision to realise this, but make no mistake: Oil will run out!

For those who stick to the steps outlined above, over time the enormous mountain peak of a challenge you faced when you looked up in disbelief and awe at the summit, has been tamed and handled. You will succeed in completing your studies and will enjoy the fruits of victory and accomplishment! Congratulations on your triumph! You will have undertaken a tremendous challenge, overcome it and won, taking just one step at a time!

Institutional Reforms In The Higher Education Sector Of Mozambique And Ethical Issues

The need to eradicate poverty through increased literacy

One of the central goals defined by the Government of Mozambique in its long-term development strategy is “poverty reduction through labour-intensive economic growth”. The highest priority is assigned to reduce poverty in rural areas, where 90 percent of poor Mozambicans live, and also in urban zones. The Government recognizes also that, for this development strategy on poverty eradication to succeed, expansion and improvement in the education system are critically important elements in both long-term and short-term perspectives.

In the long term, universal access to education of acceptable quality is essential for the development
of Mozambique´s human resources, and the economic growth will depend to a significant extend on the education and training of the labour force. It is very important to develop a critical mass of well trained and highly qualified workforce which in turn will improve the overall literacy, intellectual development, training capacity and technical skills in various areas of the country’s economic and industrial development.

In the short term, increased access and improved quality in basic education are powerful mechanisms for wealth redistribution and the promotion of social equity. This policy is consistent with the provisions of the new Constitution of Mozambique adopted on 16 November 2004, in its articles 113 and 114 which deal respectively with education and higher education. Around the year 1990, the Government of Mozambique decided to change its social, economic and political orientation system from the centrally-planned system inherited from the communist era and adopted a western-style of free market system. At the same time, it was also decided to adopt fundamental changes in the education programmes. Since drastic changes and wide ranging effects were resulting from the adoption of the new economic and political orientation, it was necessary to provide new guidelines and rules governing the management of institutions of higher education.

The struggle continues: “a luta continua” !

The economic and political changes were progressively introduced with success through legislative and regulatory reforms. However, it has not been very easy to evenly change rules of social and cultural behaviour. In particular, vulnerable younger generations are the most affected by the rapid changes in society, while the reference model and values they expect from elder people in the modern Mozambican society seem to be shifting very fast. And in some instances, there seem to be no model at all. The new wave of economic liberalism in Mozambique, better defined by the popular concept of “deixa andar”, literally meaning “laisser-faire”, was mistakenly adopted as the guiding principle in the areas of social, cultural and education development.

The “laisser-faire” principle is better understood by economists and entrepreneurs in a system of open market and free entrepreneurship, under which the Government’s intervention is reduced to exercising minimum regulatory agency. The recent considerable economic growth realized by the Government of Mozambique (10% of successive growth index over four years) is attributed mainly to this free market policy. This principle should be carefully differentiated from “laisser-aller” which, in French language, rather means lack of discipline in academic, economic, social and cultural environments.
Reforming higher education institutions represents a real challenge, both at the institutional and pedagogic levels, not only in Mozambique, but elsewhere and in particular in African countries faced with the problem of “acculturation”. The youth seeking knowledge opportunities in national universities, polytechnics and higher institutes, where students are somehow left on their own, having no longer any need to be under permanent supervision of their parents or teachers, are disoriented. Since reforms in higher education institutions take longer than in any other institutional environment, it is necessary indeed to adopt adequate transitional measures to respond to urgent need of the young generations.

This essay reviews current trends and the recent historical background of higher education institutions of Mozambique. It argues against the adoption of the classical model of higher education from European and other western systems. In its final analysis, it finds that there is need to include ethical and deontology (social, cultural and moral education) components as priority sectors within the curriculum in higher education institutions, with a view to instill in the students and lecturers positive African values in general, and in particular, national Mozambican models. It is rejecting the neo-liberal thinking, which proposes that students in higher education institutions should be allowed to enjoy unlimited academic, social and intellectual uncontrolled independence, in conformity with western classical education and cultural orientation. It advocates for critical thinking and brainstorming on key issues towards the development of positive cultural and ethical models in higher education institutions which could be used to promote knowledge development and poverty eradication in the country’s rural areas and urban zones affected by unemployment, pandemics and economic precariousness.

The colonial legacy and its cultural impact on higher education in Mozambique.

Many experts have described the Mozambican mother of higher education as an institution for colonialists and “assimilados” . The first institution of higher education in Mozambique was established by the Portuguese government in 1962, soon after the start of the African wars of independence. It was called the General University Studies of Mozambique (Estudos Gerais Universitários de Moçambique EGUM). In 1968, it was renamed Lourenço Marques University. The university catered for the sons and daughters of Portuguese colonialists. Although the Portuguese government preached non-racism and advocated the assimilation of its African subjects to the Portuguese way of life, the notorious deficiencies of the colonial education system established under the Portuguese rule ensured that very few Africans would ever succeed in reaching university level. However, many educated African were led to adopt the colonial lifestyle.

In spite of Portugal’s attempts to expand African educational opportunities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only about 40 black Mozambican students – less than 2 per cent of the student body -had entered the University of Lourenço Marques by the time of independence in 1975. The state and the university continued to depend heavily on the Portuguese and their descendants. Even the academic curriculum was defined according to the needs and policies defined long ago by the colonial power.
Soon after Independence in June 1975, the Government of Mozambique, from the FRELIMO party, adopted a Marxist-Leninist orientation and a centrally planned economy. The educational system was nationalized, and the university was renamed after Dr. Eduardo Mondlane, the first president of FRELIMO.

Many cadres trained in Portugal and other European and American universities came also with their own educational and cultural background. Apart from the Eduardo Mondlane University, new public and private universities and institutes were established. These include the Pedagogic University, the ISRI, the Catholic University, ISPU, ISCTEM and ISUTC. Most of these institutions adopted a curriculum clearly modeled on the classical European model. There is still need to integrate African traditional values in the course profiles offered and research programmes developed by these institutions.

The traditional role of a university is to enlighten and serve as a reference within the society: “illuminatio et salus populi”. Today, Mozambique is one of the most culturally and racially diversified society of Africa. This diversity should be considered as a cultural treasure for the nation. It has become however apparent that it’s more a “Babel Tower case”, as no unified Mozambican values appear to develop from this wide variety. With the creation of new public and private universities and new faculties, it would become easier to increase a critical mass of university lecturers and academic professionals, who would in their turn, influence the society, creating and instilling national positive values and ethical principles of conduct in the younger generations. According to many lecturers and students contacted at UEM, Universidade Pedagogica UP and UDM, the impact of higher education on the development of positive academic, scientific, social and cultural values in Mozambique is yet to be felt.

It is however necessary to acknowledge the importance of newly introduced community-based education programmes in some institutions. For instance the emphasis on community and service has guided curriculum development at the Catholic University; its course in agronomy (Cuamba) concentrates on peasant and family farming systems and leans heavily on research and outreach within local farming communities. The CU course in medicine (developed in collaboration with the University of Maastricht) which concentrates on teaching medicine, was particularly deemed appropriate for the rural and urban poor populations of Mozambique, as it is more based on problem-solving and focuses much more on traditional issues.

New Reforms in higher education institutions with a more participative approach

Mozambique is one of few countries in Africa where a new generation of leadership has stepped forward to articulate a vision for their institutions, inspiring confidence among those involved in higher education development and the modernization of their universities. In a series of case studies sponsored and published by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa , it was confirmed that African universities covered by the studies have widely varying contexts and traditions. They are engaged in broad reform, examining and revising their planning processes, introducing new techniques of financial management, adopting new technologies, reshaping course structures and pedagogy, and more important, reforming practices of governance based in particular on their own contexts and traditions.

Important institutional reforms concerning the strategic planning experiences of the Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) were initiated and implemented so far. Two strategic planning cycles were developed, the first in 1990 and the second one in 1996 / 97. The second one was meant to adapting to the impacts of newly adopted multi-party democracy, market competition, and globalization. Whereas the first reform cycle was the result of high level officials at the University, the second one was generated using a participatory methodology deemed to be more effective in involving the university staff in the process.

It is important to listen to everyone, and to be seen as listening. We are also convinced that various components of the population in Mozambique should be involved in the next phases of the process with a view to define what kind of education orientation the population would wish to have for their children.
There is important progress but yet limited academic impact on the development of the society
Considerable progress has been so far made in post-independence Mozambique. After the initial problems caused by the long years of civil war and then the long efforts necessitated by the adjustment to a market-driven economy and a multi-party democratic political order, Mozambique is now considered to have a higher education system that offers a wide variety of course options and extensive research opportunities. However, a major weakness highlighted by many observers is that all the institutions remain basically concentrated in the capital city of Maputo and its neighboring provinces. It is argued that they serve only a limited fraction of the Mozambican population, and are destined to train the elite of prominent people in government and in the professions, industry and commerce. It is also alleged that the majority of the students who succeed in entering public and private institutions of higher education are from relatively rich families.

It is finally emphasized that nearly 80 per cent of university students in Mozambique use Portuguese as their principal means of communication, thus strengthening the perception of establishing, reproducing and consolidating a hereditary elite, with model values copied on western societies. In response to this challenge, it was suggested that the government should encourage the emergence of new and non-traditional HEIs closer to the local communities, able to respond more rapidly and flexibly to the demands and expectations of the public and private sectors for a high quality trained workforce, while addressing both regional and socioeconomic imbalances in the country.

In our final analysis, we find that the impact of higher education institutions on the development and dissemination of traditional African social and cultural values would be very limited for a long period. As long as the access and feed-back from all levels of the society and regions will be left out of the core interaction with the highly educated elite and higher education institutions mainly concentrated in Maputo, the role of universities in promoting African positive values, a culture of academic ethics and deontology in the entire national society will be very limited.

The process of “Nation building” needs to rely on a strong academic support. One of the Government’s main constitutional commitments is to promote the development of the national culture and identity (article 115 of the 2004 Constitution). It is clear that many institutions, for instance the television, are actively promoting cultural diversity through various means. Institutions of higher education should be seen doing more, in particular starting with the students themselves and the academic community members, who are expected to be the light of the society. Such actions would include the integration of courses on ethics and deontology, and develop a wide-ranging variety of education models that reprove negative behavior and promote positive values. Our recommendation is that the Government should for example instruct public universities and other higher education institutions, to appoint “Ethics and Deontology Committees” at the level of their University Councils and within all autonomous faculties.


-Fry, Peter and Utui, Rogéro (1999), The Strategic Planning Experience at Eduardo Mondlane University, ADEA Working Paper on Higher Education, ADEA, Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Paris.

-Mouzinho, Mário ; Fry, Peter ; Levey, Lisbeth and Chilundo, Arlindo (2001), Higher Education in Mozambique: A Case study, The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, New York University, New York