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EU Elections: Cultural, Historical and Institutional Analysis

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© European Union 2014 – European Parliament

For a few days Europe will be under the spell of the EU Parliamentary elections. Polls, analyses, hot debates, a frenzy in the name of democracy. But are these elections even relevant and worth bothering ourselves about? In this paper I will shortly analyse the parties involved, the political programs, the historical significance of direct elections by EU citizens, and finally the institutional context of the EU Parliament. This will be presented from the perspective of culture, history and institutionalism.

Cultural analysis

The first thing we want to do is identify the main category involved in the electoral process, which are the European parties and their political platforms. It is essential to keep in mind that these parties are inspired and created/shaped by the public’s needs and interests.

Parties are not in this sense objective material objects but they reflect subjective worldviews, they are expressions of ideas. There is a relatively long list of diversified EU parties involved in this election but one thing that unites them is them having culturally relevant names. We have most parties calling themselves European versus some national ones, parties claiming themselves to be liberal, free and democratic  versus others who are more conservative, reformists, socialist, or even Christian. Without going into detail into their manifestos, we notice they all share common values which we like to call European.

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Source: European People’s [email protected]

Considering names there does not seem to be any deviation from the mainstream political culture, except the nationalist case and the European Green Party which brings a ‘green’ approach to politics. Green tends to get cultural and political connotations. It brings to mind the idea of a positive future by being associated with a clean, safe environment. Politicians understand the power of colours and most parties are associated with one: the red socialists, the yellow liberals or the blue conservatives. The importance of names and colours that these parties choose are fundamental for the cultural approach which makes high use of symbol analysis.

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Source: Alberto [email protected]

Going into more detail, identity-related differences appear. I will exemplify with the three main parties. ALDE points on open EU market, stronger integration and further enlargement. They promote a federalist identity. PES promotes the socialist movement that economically asks for more state-sponsored schemes for unemployment and higher living standards through living wages. Finally, EPP brings a conservative identity with solidarity, autonomy, responsibility and Christian values. All three main EU parties offer voters different cultural packages, namely a federalist one, a socialist one and a conservative one. The rise of Euroscepticism promotes another kind of culture, a nationalist one which talks of sovereignty and anti-federalization.

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Source: PES [email protected]

To conclude the cultural analysis of the parties, we can observe an underlying common European identity that revolves around concepts like democracy, liberalism or Christianity. However, this common identity diversifies at deeper levels. We observe paths that focus more on values like unity, openness and progress, others on solidarity, responsibility and moderation or other even socialism and scepticism or sovereignty. The cultural approach provides us in this sense with a rich palette of potential futures for Europe.

Historical and institutional analysis

We might take for granted today that the EU has an elected parliament and that it is our inalienable right both to vote and to be a candidate. However, it was not like this until the first elections of 1979, when for the first time the previously appointed Members of the EU Parliament were replaced by directly elected ones. The importance of this opportunity is even further revealed when we understand the idea that lies behind the current institutional configuration of the EU and behind the purpose of this EU Parliament.

The main EU institutions are the Commission which is independent of the Member States and represents the interests of the EU as a whole, the Council of the EU which embodies the interests of the Member States and the EU Parliament that represents the interests of EU citizens. As it is clear, citizens do already have a say in EU affairs indirectly through their elected national leaders that form the Council but what the parliamentary elections provide is a direct saying of who gets to represent them. It is the idea of direct democracy that lies under such institutional configuration.

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Source: Keith [email protected]

Moreover, another historical factor that influences the EU Parliament and the elections is the violent past attributed to nationalism. If we analyse any EU party, we observe that they are mainly a large grouping of national parties that share the same political view. Even if  citizens usually elect representatives of their own national parties, the cross-national structure of EU parties disarms nationalistic impulses. EU parties sit in political groups. In addition to this, in order to prepare for the plenary meeting, MEPs organize in committees that reflect specific issues. This sitting and working structure makes sure that national belonging will not interfere with the interests of EU citizens and will not create nationalistic antagonism.

As we could observe in the previous cultural analysis, there are specific European values that are also behind the EU structure, EU parties and the EU election process. It is democracy, meaning freedom of choice, association and expression. It is also republicanism as institutional control over authorities, if we analyse how the EU institutions relate to one another. However, if we consider the Eurosceptic parties, there is also the presence of the memories of a Europe with bloody history where suspicion among European states was something normal. It is this dark part of history that fuels citizens’ mistrust in Brussels and in the EU project as a whole.

Hopefully, it will be the same bloody history to guide both voters and EU parties to maintain institutions, norms and practices that manage to keep peace on the continent and to develop the EU project with this very aim. If coalitions will be made with far-leaning EU parties, hopefully it will be with the aim to bring effectiveness in decision-making and to ease the deliberative process. No big political concessions should be promised and given to attempts that aim to bring the EU back on the isolationist path.

In conclusion, the upcoming EU elections are the manifestation of a historically induced idea, that of democratic cooperation among European peoples with the purpose of stability, prosperity and eventually peace. The mechanisms inside the EU Parliament require cross-national tackling of obstacles and should put more emphasis on the democratic control of the other institutions.

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The Best Handmade Souvenirs from Spain are Just a Click Away

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Artisan decorative figurines are one of the most common purchases among the tourists who visit Spain and want to get something special as a souvenir to remember their stay. Spain’s craftsmanship is known throughout the world for the enormous talent behind it, and for years it has prompted tourists to visit the country and purchase ceramic figurines as souvenirs or to complete a previous larger collection of antiques.

But the people fond of arts and decoration who want to get pieces for their collections can’t always come to Spain to buy them. Indeed, lot of tourist can’t bring craft souvenirs back home because they do not have enough room in their suitcases, or because they want to keep traveling before returning to their countries and they can’t carry them around safely. Luckily, shopping is easier now thanks to the Internet, and customers can get products made in other countries from anywhere in the world. What used to require to go to a specific place, look around and ask for prices, and then proceed with the purchase, now is as simple and convenient as entering a website, click here and there and waiting at home for the product to arrive.

The craftmanship field is not foreign to this new concept of shopping. Some companies, especially in the souvenirs’ field, have noticed the needs of the modern public and have wisely approached a niche as specific as this one. For  this reason, there are online companies such as Toledogifts which are dedicated to the sale and distribution of these decorative figurines through the Internet. The e-commerce technology offers numerous facilities for the sale and distribution of handcrafts online, which makes posible several websites such may offer plenty of options and fair prices.

Toledogifts has brought internet solutions to a sector as traditional as ceramic and porcelain figures, craftsmanship in general. It is no longer necessary to travel to buy collectibles or anything like that, now all you have to do is go to their website and proceed through the catalog to choose what you like. Their online store stands out for its variety and professionalism. They sell high quality handmade products crafted by Spanish manufacturers, and they ship to any part of the world, allowing the customer to confortably receive the products at home, forgeting plane incoveniences.

The first thing that stands out in this company is its catalogue. Scrolling down the webpage, the user can find a wide range of the most popular craft products from every Spanish region. Thanks to the number of filters and options available -essential tools to speed up the search and, of course, the purchase-, you can easily find what you are looking for.

Toledogifts complies with the standards of online stores to ensure consumer satisfaction. Besides high quality products, they also offer the best delivery service. They take care of shipping in the shortest possible time and ensuring, above all, the proper protection of the pieces so that they are not damage during in the journey. Also, they always guarantee that the price is as close as possible to their real value.

Amog the different great products that can be found on this website, the unique damascenes from Toledo stand out. Damascene is defined as the art of inlaying gold on a soft iron base. Damascenes take their name from the city of Damascus, because it is craft technique which originated in the Syrian capital. Their origins are remote -there are vestiges of more than 1500 years old, and pieces have been found in different civilization, but the Imperial City of Toledo became the world’s largest producer of damascenes.

There are three different styles of damascenes: the traditional and genuine Arabic modeling, where the gold or silver thread is highlighted with chisels; the Renaissance style introduced in the 16th century and which represents floral, animal or landscape motifs; and also the new model called “vistas”, in which the city of Toledo is represented often centred on motifs of Don Quixote, so logically rooted in these Castilian-La Mancha lands. The pieces are beautiful and not so easy to find outside Spain, which makes them perfect for picky art collectors.

Other best-sellers of the webpage are artisan ceramic plates and porcelaine figures. Porcelain is considered a luxury material and is widely worked by artisans in Spain given its moldability property. Porcelain’s composition is kaolin, which provides the distinctive with pigmentation after it’s baked, feldspar and quartz. An artisan creates a clay figures inspired in the given design, providing it with the details that will be seen in the final figure. Afterwards, the artisan takes molds of and pours liquid porcelain in them. When the consistency is adecuate, molds are retired and the artisan will paste, polish, sculpt and bake the final figure.


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Top 10 reasons to visit Iceland by car

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For a long time Iceland was a well kept travellers secret. It was not the typical choice of holiday, but now this wonderful country is becoming more and more well known for that holiday of a lifetime and a chance to see and do things that you can’t do anywhere else in the world.

And there really is only one way to really experience this wild country properly and that is using car rental in Iceland to explore it for yourself. It is far better, and far cheaper, than trying to take day excursions with the other tourists and so many great adventures can be had this way. Here are the top reasons why touring Iceland’s roads absolutely should be your next holiday without delay.

1.The people are really, really nice

This is absolutely true. Icelandic people are very proud of their beautiful country and very keen to show it at its best to visitors. Other places in the world are known for quite a surly reception, but this is absolutely not the case here. You’ll notice it the second you head of to the car rental in Keflavik Airport. The conversation is easy, and english quite widely spoken which can make travel easier. Of course once you are out on the road exploring for yourself you should absolutely get chatting to the locals as you explore, they often know the best places to visit or eat that simply aren’t available on google or tripadvisor. Local knowledge is key for getting off the beaten track.

2.Iceland is really easy to navigate by road

Iceland is not a huge country, and there is one huge road that traverses most of it for about 190 miles. It is known as the Golden Circle. So this means that you have a great point of reference for when you are exploring. You can easily slip away from the main road to explore into the countryside, and then hop back on the Golden Circle to get to your next location. The roads are pretty well kept here – even the gravel ones, so you don’t need to worry too much about the terrain when choosing a hire car. Unless you are planning to get really off road that is.

3. The night sky is a thing of beauty

The night time is truly beautiful, especially in winter when the nights are much longer. With so little light pollution and the chance to see the aurora borealis this is a sight few people actually get to experience for themselves. Of course to really get the best of this opportunity there is really only one way to do it, instead of a car look at camper rental in Iceland instead and stay out all night. This is especially useful in the summer when the nights are very very short. This way you have all night to enjoy it while snuggled up warm in your sleeping bag.

4. The unspoiled beauty of Iceland

Of course the other great thing about Iceland camper rental is that by getting out of the towns and into the beautiful countryside you can see Iceland how it should be seen as a beautiful, scenic natural landscape. Imagine being able to camp somewhere so inspiring and free from the intervention of man and waking up to the freshest air and sounds of nature.

5. Visiting the villages gives you a real taste of Icelandic life

Most of the population don’t live in the major cities of Reykjavik, Isafjordur and Akureyri. Most life in smaller communities dotted around the country, and bearing in mind how friendly the people are, it is a chance to really embrace a different culture and take part.

6. Get out there and try the amazing fresh food

The great thing about hopping from village to village on your tour is the chance to try real local food. It is not too dissimilar to Scandinavian food, and there is of course plenty of fresh fish available, as well as lamb. You have probably heard of Skyr, the Icelandic cheese a little like yoghurt. Well here it is made into all types of delicious dishes you absolutely have to try.

7. Iceland has so many different landscapes

It is almost magical the different landscapes you can see. From grassy fields with Icelandic horses, to snow covered tundra, from magnificent coastlines to moonscapes and lava fields it is really something quite special and like nowhere else on earth. With your car you can experience all this, jumping out to hike on foot and get close to nature, before driving to what might seem like a completely different world at your next location.

8. You can watch the landscape change before your very eyes

There are volcanoes in Iceland, and the geology is formed on an every moving tectonic plate that is actually causing the country to grow in size by 2 cm every year. Its impressive and by driving up to the Lake Myvatn area you can see where steam is being vented from the heat under the earth’s crust. The volcano fields are also very beautiful, and give a strange quality to the landscape, almost like you have landed on the moon.

9. Take your binoculars with you, the bird watching is fantastic

With very few predators on Iceland, bird populations are able to thrive here. There are so many varieties, and depending on the time of year there is a chance to see many migratory birds too. It is not just birds you have a chance to see, you can also opt to go whale watching too at certain location. Heading out by boat to cruise alongside the magnificent animals.

10. You will feel like you have had the most amazing adventure

There is nowhere in the world quite like Iceland. Heading out on your road trip with nothing but a map and an open heart will help you discover wonders only shown to the few brave enough to get off the well travelled path. You’ll create memories hear that will last a lifetime.

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Top tips for renting a car in Malaga

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The Costa del Sol is a great choice of holiday destination. With many great places to see, absolutely glorious weather and a chance to enjoy the famous Mediterranean lifestyle it is perfect whether you are travelling with friends, as a couple or with a family.

Whether you are heading to Torremolinos, Marbella, Nerja or the city of Malaga, where the international airport is, the best way to make the most of your stay and give you the freedom to really explore the region is to rent a car. There is a lot of choice for car hire in Malaga airport, so here are some tips for getting the deal that is right for you.

Choose the right car for your group

Thinking about your budget, you can aim for a smaller car, such as the Toyota Aygo or the Fiat 500. Absolutely perfect for solo travel or as a couple.

However if you are travelling as a family, these smaller cars might not be right, especially when you have a lot of luggage to carry. But there are still some very good deals to be had on medium size cars like the Ford Focus or Nissan Juke.

However, if comfort is your top priority, and you want to drive around in style, then consider models like the BMW X5 or Range Rover Evoque.

Don’t forget the extras

You will need to be sure to add on any additional items you might need for the length of your hire. For example, if you would like more than one driver you will need to let the rental company know so that they can be included in the hire and therefore included in the insurance cover.

You should also be sure that you ask for child car seats, and that those car seats meet safety standards. It is often possible to hire a GPS loaded with local maps as well, that can be very handy when driving in a new country.

You should also double check the insurance details. The basic insurance might be great value, but it will usually only cover injury to passengers or theft of the vehicle, and won’t cover any damage. Event the theft cover will likely mean a very large excess will need to be paid. However opt for a package with full cover and excess protection and you will have far great peace of mind.

Book online for better deals and guaranteed availability

There is nothing worse than finally reaching your destination, queuing at passport control, waiting at the baggage collection point and then having to spend ages in a queue for car hire , when all you want to do is go and enjoy your holiday.

If you book online in advance you will not have to worry about all of that. You can simply head to the car pick up point, usually via a free shuttle bus that online takes a few minutes, and then be on your way to enjoying yourself.

Choose a car hire company with good service and 24 hour availability

This can make all the difference to your holiday. There are over 100 car hire companies at Malaga airport, however not all of them are able to offer good prices, good quality vehicles and excellent service.

Also if you are travelling at night, or your flight ends up delayed you want to be sure that this will not cause any problems for your rental. So be sure to choose a company that has a helpline telephone number open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

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