Weekend reading, shamelessly lifted wholesale from the always superb Political Theory Daily Review - as much to remind me to read them later as anything. (Warning: last few links are to .pdf files):
Charles Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era, has long been a courageous advocate for Europe. Now that he is changing his mind. And a new issue of Europe's World is out, including a look at why religion is the wild card in transatlantic relations; an article on how things turned nasty for the nice guys of the OSCE; articles on scenarios for escaping the constitutional impasse, treating Europe's Ills, diagnosis and prescription, and six priorities for tackling the EU crisis; and a section on Views from the Capitals.
Yet more future of Europe futility
Our dear national leaders are meeting today in the Belgian capital to discuss the little problem of the EU no longer having tedious little things like "a purpose", "a direction", or "a viable way of continuing to function for more than the immediate future". As the BBC's Mark Mardell rightly points out, the chance of anything genuinely constructive happening at this summit is somewhat akin to my chances being appointed editor of the Daily Mail.
Yep, it's all yet more fall-out from that bloody constitution, which in some quarters is being treated like the beloved pet you lug down the taxidermist's so you can stuff him full of straw in a "life-like" pose and leave him lying round the sitting room in a really rather sad act of self-denial. Meanwhile, sensible types dug a shallow hole out in the garden and shoved the poor bugger in long ago, saying a quick prayer and hoping that the local foxes don't dig up the bones.
In other words, this summit is all about one group asking "where next?" and the others asking "where next for the constitution?" The fact that they can STILL deny that the thing was well and truly put down by the French and Dutch a year ago ensures that the latter group will well and truly stop any progress being made in allowing the EU to get on with coming up with processes to tackle the many problems it faces - despite them maintaining that they're the most enthusiastic "Europeans" of the lot.
Here's a tip, chaps. It you love someone who's ill, the way to help them get better is to try and find them a cure that will work. The constitution has already been rejected. That particular medicine has failed. It's time to try something new. Because if you leave the lurgy for too long, some parts will become so sickened that the only option left will be amputation.
But enough with these tediously overwraught analogies.
The prime reason that this summit is going to fail is because it's being conducted between the 25 Europeans not only least capable of understanding the people of Europe, but also least capable of forming a sensible, mutually-beneficial solution to a trans-continental problem: the political heads of the 25 member states.
The major problem, of course, is that none of these 25 national leaders can risk seeming weak. Remember Blair (entirely sensibly) offering a compromise on the British rebate last year? BLAM. He's portrayed as weak, caving in to the French, and betraying the national interest. Remember Chirac offering a compromise on anything, ever? Of course not - his eye is firmly on the French electorate and the desperate struggle to maintain power. The same is more or less true for all the other politicos in Brussels for today's summit.
But an added problem - especially for a summit one of whose aims is to discuss how to increase "transparency" - is that these national leaders are precisely the same people who make up the Council of Ministers*, the single worst offender in terms of accountability and openness of any EU institution. The Council has repeatedly insisted on a secrecy and almost total lack of accountability that would make many dictators envious - yet it is the Council of Ministers' members who are going to come up with solutions to the EU's "transparency" problems? Yeah, right...
The only way - as I've argued before - to come up with a workable plan for the future of the EU is really rather simple. We need to find out what everyone wants from the thing. Currently the only opinions that get heard on a regular basis are the extremes - abolitionists at one end, political unionists at the other. The opinions of the people of the EU are not that simple or extreme.
But if the people are not consulted - as they weren't in the drafting of the failed constitution - then the politicians who are consistently failing to come up with a plan will have no guidance on what might work. They're desperately stabbing around in the dark with a rubber sword, hoping to skewer a passing solution while all the solutions are happily putting their feet up in a different room. But even if a solution was to be had, few of the other politicians could agree to it lest they appear weak, and unable to find one of their own.
And so it continues. Another pointless summit at which nothing will be decided. The decision will be deferred again. And again. Until, one day, the last-minute compromises on which the EU has been so reliant for the last few years will fail to materialise any more. The already present cracks will widen, and the whole edifice will start to collapse.
For people who profess to be trying to find the best solution to help the EU continue to grow and strengthen itself, the lot in charge are doing a great job of destroying it. For those of us who can acknowledge the EU's many and major problems, yet want to see it do well, this whole charade is getting increasingly depressing.
* The Council of Ministers is properly known as the Council of the European Union - not to be confused with the Council of Europe (which is very different and not an EU body), but also not to be confused with the European Council, which IS an EU body and has pretty much exactly the same rules and members as the Council of the European Union, yet is subtly different for some obscure reason best known to its members - the political heads of the EU member states. It is as the European Council, not as the Council of the European Union, that the heads of the EU member states are meeting in Brussels today. Clear?
"Renew for freedom"? Well, sort of...
Largely because it had run out, but partially because of the Renew for Freedom campaign, last month I renewed my passport, sending the thing off with plenty of time for the potential three week turnaround time.
Perhaps thanks to the claimed "resounding success" of the campaign to get as many people as possible renewing in May to avoid the cut-off before the introduction of the new computer-chipped biometric passports, I now have a passport with an issue date of 2nd June - more than three weeks after I sent the thing with next day delivery - an even worse photo than usual, a microchip of some description, and a little leaflet which "contains important information about your new biometric passport". (Although, of course, despite forking out fifty quid for the thing, "Your passport belongs to the government".)
Yes, despite "renewing for freedom", I now have a biometric passport. Cheers guys.
The new chip apparently "stores a copy of your photo and the personal details printed on page 31. There is no extra personal information in the machine-readable zone or on the chip."
As the authorities haven't - to my knowledge - got my fingerprints or DNA (what with me never having been done for any crime), at least I've avoided that part of the biometric invasion, which "we are also considering including... in the future" - apparently "in line with new European Union standards" - which are presumably the ones that Blair's lot made so much fuss to try and push through while they held the EU presidency last year, but as yet (that I recall) have not been passed.
The attempt to pass the fingerprint-storing buck to the EU and "international obligations" is, either way, at best a semi-truth. This is entirely consistent with Blair and co's push for ID cards and the National Identity Register - neither of which are mentioned at all in the accompanying literature, despite now being firmly linked to passports thanks to the piss-poor compromised reached at the final stages of hte Bill's reading.
Vaguely concerningly, the chip also has "an antenna" - although quite for what purpose is not made clear. How far away can the thing be read from? Who is it going to be read by?
Apparently it is "secured by advanced digital encryption techniques", yet they warn that
"The chip and antenna are sensitive electronic devices. Please protect your passport and the chip from damage. They must not be bent, torn or damaged in any way, or exposed to very high or very low temperatures, excess moisture, magnetic fields or microwaves."
So no more carrying the thing in your pocket, travel to sub-Saharan Africa or Antarctica - or Britain for that matter, given the "excess moisture" warning - don't let your headphones get near the thing on the plane, and in fact don't even take it anywhere near an airport
Hell, perhaps this is the government learning from Apple - create a flimsy product that'll break after a few months and force everyone to upgrade to the new one. Like with an iPod, not only will the new version have a load of useless new features that you'll never want to use, it'll also cost more. But unlike Apple it'll also force your details onto a vast and insecure database, claim continued ownership of the product, and demand that you hand over your fingerprints for the privilege.
Still,I suppose I at least avoid the full-on biometrics that will be coming in in a couple of years. And which, apparently, will now be blamed on the EU - because Blair and co have been quietly trying to push the legislation out as EU-originated while no one was looking. Someone should have seen this coming. Oh - wait - I did
I love the BBC (part 98,476) - their already superb news site promises to get even more addictive with these dinky real-time stats of the most popular stories. Of course, the results are likely to be skewed by what's on the front page of the respective UK / International versions of the site, and they haven't got stats for every news subsection, but still. News-addicted geek heaven.
It has been far too hot for me to even contemplate thinking for at least the last week. I'm British, damn it - I can't handle nice weather. As the various Sharpener people I had a drink with on Sunday will testify, I tend to melt and go pathetic in these temperatures.
In the meantime, I got interviewed about blogging and the like a couple of weeks ago by a chap from Cafe Babel - and the results are now online:
"Brainy he seems – and his habit of chain-smoking self-rolled cigarettes strangely adds to that image – but a screen-addicted geek he certainly isn’t."
As I'm currently suffering from a case of heat-stroke, to prove that I'm not addicted to this blogging lark, posting is likely to remain light until we get some nice, cold, overcast weather again... In the meantime, that interview was part of a wider Cafe Babel look at blogs in Europe
, most of which I haven't had a chance to read yet. Looks like there's some interesting stuff there though.
I can't get angry when I'm already hot, so no rantings about strange responses to suicide
, stupid responses
to almost as stupid anti-terror raids
, Alistair Campbell
, dead terrorists
, or the latest developments in the ongoing EU/Turkey pussyfooting
. Sorry about that.
(Oh, and I appear to have inspired my interviewer to have started a blog of his own, and it looks rather promising thus far. Go have a gander and give him some encouragement