Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ukraine, NATO and the EU

Eurosavant reckons that Ukrainian NATO membership is simply not on the cards, while Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign policy committee, has said explicitly that "Ukraine belongs to Europe... Over the last few years we have given the impression that we would never open negotiations with Ukraine. That’s sending the wrong signals about whose zone of influence we believe the Ukraine belongs."

So, whither Ukraine? The foreign policy of the Ukraine is characterized by ambiguity. In some ways, Ukraine’s relations with NATO are the most advanced of any of the international organisations that it co-operates with, and a year ago Ukraine was pushing for both NATO and EU membership - even while the supposedly pro-Russian Kuchma was in charge (he later dropped the bid, having got concessions from Moscow).

But many Ukrainians have less and less confidence in NATO, and many of the reforms desired by NATO have been delayed. So, could it be the case that the Ukrainian leadership, including Yuschenko, are simply planning to use NATO and the EU to give itself added leverage when dealing with its more powerful Russian neighbour?

Is the whole East-West thing little more than for show, a cunning use of realpolitik? Or is Yuschenko's apparent desire for closer relations with Europe thanks to a genuine feeling that it must be now or never, that there is a danger that "if Ukraine relies exclusively on Russia’s support, it may well become a part of Russia’s foreign policy project"?

The West has woken up to the problems of Ukraine and its region, and is beginning to feel that "to make NATO effective in counter-terrorist operations... in addition to new members that will strengthen us, we have got to have new relationships with the countries to the East of NATO that are singularly important for stability and security in Europe. Russia, and the Ukraine, and the states of the Caucuses in Central Asia."

Actions speak louder than words - and we have yet to see any real action from Ukraine, no matter who is in charge. Will this change should Yushchenko be named president? During his term as prime minister between 1999 and 2001, Yushchenko also cultivated close economic ties with Russia - would a Yuschenko presidency actually be better for Russia?

One thing does seem certain - although the orange-covered protestors may well bring in a change of leadership, a new course for Ukraine will be shaped not by Ukraine's leaders alone but by Ukraine's external needs.

Ukrainian politicians - even before Yushchenko's latest resurgence - have certainly delivered on the rhetoric, but can they deliver anything of real substance to keep the EU and NATO happy? Might a Yuschenko presidency be the first step, or will the need to keep in with Russia ensure that, once again, nothing changes?

Some weekend reading

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The problems of the EU debate

I've been having an interesting discussion with a chap called Ken in the comments section of my Euromyths post down the page. I'd be interested to hear some more opinions, as it's certainly helped me clarify (as much as it can be) my thinking on some key problems which both sides of the argument face. I'll reproduce a few of these thoughts here, slightly edited, in case anyone's interested:

The basic point is that the silly details are distracting everyone from the truly important issues. Whether you are pro- or anti-EU, there's still only a year to sort out your feelings towards the constitution and to convince others of the merits of your opinion.

Distortions from either side will simply ensure that the majority of the population don't know enough to form a valid opinion. Not only would this reduce turnout, but it would also mean that the losing side will be able to continue to claim that the winning argument doesn't have a clear mandate from the people. This would not be healthy for either side.

When I started this blog, the fact that I've accepted both sides of the argument I hoped would give me a good chance to straddle the debate and treat all sides equally. As it stands, the fact I've declared myself to be pro-Europe (even though I didn't declare to what extent) means that anyone anti-EU seems automatically to take a slightly hostile stance, and anyone pro seems to think I'll agree with everything they say.

I've been labelled left-wing by a bunch of sites, even though I'm more of a centrist. A few (who have only read individual posts in isolation) have called me a righ-winger. In my time I've been called both a socialist and a Tory. As it stands, I'm both opposed to some aspects of the EU, and very much in favour of other bits.

Sadly, however, terminology is all important in this sort of thing, and there is no consensus on what anything actually means. As I pointed out the other day, even "Eurosceptic" doesn't mean what it says anymore. It's all somewhat frustrating...

The left/right assumptions when it comes to Europe are very confusing. I mean, the EU is a trade organisation, aiming to promote capitalism - that should be right-wing. But it also promotes workers' rights and such like, which is left-wing. In other words, it's neither. Just another silly generalisation.

And as you say, it is our various governments which give powers away. Personally, I can't understand why Westminster would want to do that. The Commons spent centuries building up the influence that it's now got, and is trying to gain more power by messing with the Lords - why chuck it away? I genuinely don't understand it, even though (for the most part) I think a lot of it was for the greater good. (The European Court of Human Rights being a prime example - even though we've opted out of various clauses to allow us to suspend habeas corpus - one of the fundamental rights which parliament was fighting for throughout the seventeenth century... As I say, I don't understand it...)

The double standards also get me. New Euroblogger Lose the Delusion has a good post on it. I'd add the question - Why is it that the anti-EU lot in this country ever seem to stop and think WHY so many governments want to go ahead with this? The way they present it, the French (in particular) are trying to build up the EU as a super-state which will destroy British sovereignty. By this logic, it would also destroy French sovereignty. Even the briefest glances at French politics (going back to at least Louis VII) would demonstrate that this is not something the French are particularly predisposed to do, despite all the "cheese-eating surrender-monkey" nonsense.

The French have lived under imposed foreign domination within living memory - as have the Belgians, the Dutch, the Luxembourgians, the Poles, the Czechs, etc. etc. etc. It is not something they wish to repeat, and they have far better knowledge of the situation than anyone in the UK does. I can't see any European country genuinely wanting a USA-style federal Europe, so that particular anti-EU argument simply never washed with me, even when I was full-on anti-EU.

What do you reckon? Am I just stupid for not getting this, or what?

Edit: Sorry, I've only just realised that the chap called Ken is the guy behind EURealist. Make your Blogger profiles public, people - you'll get more linkage... He looks like a thoughtful chap, so I'll try and add him to the blogroll tomorrow. Here's his alternative take on the whole Euromyth business.

European Weblog Awards

Hmmm... Nominations now open, you say?

Hint, hint...

EU Expansion - whither the Union?

An interesting post speculating on the potential future expansion of the EU that I'd missed over at The Yorkshire Ranter, which follows on from the Washinton post article I quoted from the other day, and which was picked up fairly widely in the Bloggosphere. Deliberately over-the-top in its speculations, but raises some interesting possibilities nonetheless. A good read, and worth a look.

Edit: Oh. This shows just how far behind I am... Cabalamat Journal has already done a run-down on the responses all over the Bloggosphere. Lots more speculation and arguments, which should make interesting reading.

UN man: "Iraq elections impossible"

Interesting tidbit via Eurosavant - the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian, has apparently told a Dutch newspaper that (speaking in a personal, not professional capacity), thanks to the current chaos on the ground in Iraq, there is no way elections can safely or legitimately run on 30th January.

Self-evident, eh? I mean, how can there be any democratic legitimacy when polling booths have to be surrounded by armed men and anyone going to vote is fully aware they are taking their life into their hands as suicide bombers and the like are liable to try and blow the hell out of them?

But it is his other comments which make interesting reading, as they go even further than Kofi Annan's statement of a few month back that the Iraq war was illegal. Again, for those of us who find the situation in Iraq appalling, this all sounds self-evident. But it is important for from whom it is coming - especially after the announcement last week that the UN is planning the most sweeping changes in its history. Is this a sign of things to come?:

"Iraq is in ruins," he declares. And: "The Americans attacked Iraq without any reason at all and installed an occupation that the Iraqis did not want. How can you speak of a liberation, if you send an army of 140,000 and devastate the cities, and the electricity and water installations."

He's also got a fair few things to say on US support for Israel to boot. Is this the start of a new, tougher UN? The main US complaint before the Iraq war was, after all, that the UN never bothered to get off its backside and actually DO anything. Is this tougher language an attempt to warn the world that the UN is about to start intervening more actively?

Eurosavant also points out an article over at Informed comment about the lack of preparation for elections, which notes that "In contrast to the 600 UN election workers in Afghanistan for the recent presidential elections, there are only 35 in Iraq, and security concerns are delaying the sending of more. Even the rules of the election haven't been completely spelled out yet."

I've mostly avoided posting about Iraq here thanks to a combination of it being too depressing and other people doing a far better job of it than I. But this election thing is central to the coalition claims of legitimacy and, coming as it does on the back of Ukraine's own election crisis, I will be intrigued to see just how keen the international community will be to help the US force these things through to the entirely arbitrary timetable they have set themselves.

Professor Cole at Informed Comment also notes that "In Kuwait, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, gave an interview in which he described the security situation as "not good." ...Al-Hakim said that elections had to be held Jan. 30, since otherwise the present Iraqi interim government would become illegitimate. Its term was set to run out by the end of January, 2005, at the latest. He implied that after fighting Saddam for decades, the Iraqis would not accept such a descent into arbitrary rule."

Democracy cannot be rushed. As Ukraine has reminded us all, the various former Soviet states are still struggling to get it right after more than a decade of nominal freedom. They need to take this slowly, or risk making the Iraqis think that maybe this democracy lark isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that a strong leader who can get the country working again may be preferable. After all, the strong leaders of America's allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan seem to be doing OK...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Referendum

So, the wording has been set, and unlike the 1975 Referendum is not a blatant attempt to distort the results. You'd think the anti-EU lot would be happy.

But no. EU Referendum put up a post last night about British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's covering speech, which covers similar points to my last post - albeit from a very different perspective:

"Everything is 'spun', distorted, not real, mendacious in spirit if not actually in fact.".

As much as Dr. North (a former UKIP stooge whose evident intelligence is often submerged beneath alarmist, populist sarcasm, yet who can occasionally still come up with some compelling arguments) seems to think that such spin is solely the providence of the pro-EU camp, his own side are equally guilty. Hell, a lot of the time HE is equally guilty.

Nonetheless, some of his points are valid - assuming you can get past his accusations that Jack Straw is simply a "moron" and his assertions that "In a less civilised world, you would just shoot people like Straw", that is. I mean, I'm no fan of Straw, it must be admitted, but that kind of silly name-calling is precisely what we should all be trying to avoid if there's any hope of convincing that undecided majority of the population one way or the other.

It was precisely that kind of attitude and language from the Eurosceptic camp which made me start my journey towards thinking the EU is - essentially - a good thing. Peter Oborne (of The Daily Mail and Spectator fame, and who attended the same school I did) was the main culprit in my gradual conversion. I simply couldn't bear to be associated with people who spouted the kind of silly pap he did, even while agreeing (as I still do) with many of the basic arguments they put forward. The pro-EU camp are certainly self-righteous, arrogant, seem to assume that anyone who doesn't understand their point of view are a trifle dense for missing a self-evident point, and rarely bother to set out detailed and convincing arguments, but at least they also rarely resort infant school insults.

I don't want to get into a slanging match with the eminent Dr North. He evidently has far more time for blogging than I do, so if he picks up on this I doubt I will be able to respond as fully as I would like. What is a shame, I feel, is simply that someone with his intelligence and obvious knowledge of the issues still resorts to playground tactics when he could easily provide a detailed deconstruction of Jack Straw's entire speech. Not only would such a deconstruction be a useful starting point for further debate on the merits of the constitution, but if the debate is started off in intelligent terms it may stand a better chance of continuing in that vein.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Euromyths ahoy!

Toby at Straight Banana continues his quest to disprove Euromyths. If pro-Europeans really have to go into this much detail each time, we could be in trouble. There are hundreds of these things, and some of them are truly barking.

And, unsurprisingly, the usual tactic of modern political debate is brought up in the comments - an attempt to discredit the entire, insanely detailed research of the article by picking up on one small inaccuracy. Which, as is also often the case in modern political debate, isn't actually an inaccuracy at all...

Some good news for the pro-EU camp is that the Eurosceptics' previously fairly united front seems to be fracturing, just as the pro-European camp has before them.

This is hardly surprising - as noted here the other day, Britain's attitude towards and relationship with the EU simply can't be boiled down to a black/white, Yes/No issue. It's an insanely complex affair, with many ranges of belief and perception - from the hard-core nationalists who want out of the EU entirely on the one side through to the Ted Heaths of this world who think the EU can do no wrong on the other.

Most people, if they thought about it for a few minutes (which many, sadly, don't), would lie somewhere in between. They would see that the EU has its benefits, but that it also has its flaws. They would see that it is very hard to prove categorically one way or the other that further integration will be to Britain's benefit, and that it's very hard indeed to prove that Britain would be better off out. We simply don't know.

Much as with the 1975 referendum, most people (if given the choice) would opt for the status quo, because it's practically impossible to work out which direction - if any - is the best. Given the choice to leave the EU, they'd say no; given the choice to join the Eurozone (with all the fears of federalism that entails) they would also say no.

Of course, the problem is that if the rest of the EU charges ahead, and we don't follow along with them, the status quo will be impossible to maintain. Quite what will happen - and it is impossible to stress this point too hard - no one knows. Only one thing is certain - sooner or later Britain will have to make a major choice between following her EU partners or going it more or less alone into uncharted waters. Of course, the other EU member states will also be heading into the white areas of the map - but they will, at least, have safety in numbers.

But this, too, is falling into the trap. Anyone who claims to be able to predict the future is a charlatan speculating on insufficient evidence - nothing more. This is precisely why the two sides end up polarising a debate which is far more complex than simply "Yes" or "No", and keep getting bogged down in the details.

I'm offering no solution here. I'm not sure if there is one. The details need to be examined and discussed. The myths need to be dispelled, and the problems need to be highlighted. But we need to keep the broader picture in mind at the same time or risk getting into the classic blind men/elephant scenario, with everyone having a different interpretation of what's going on. Perhaps this has already happened - it'd certainly explain the infighting between all the various EU-focussed camps.

The provisional constitution is symbolic of the entire problem - overly complex and detailed, and very hard for most people to understand even if they can be bothered to try. To resort to cliche, the entire European debate has got to the stage where not only can none of us see the wood for the trees, but we can barely see the trees for the leaves.

More political blogs than you can shake a stick at

Bloody hell. Someone's been busy... This is one of the longest lists of political blogs I've seen, and seems to be getting updated fairly regularly. It's even got a bit of indication as to what they're about (in some cases at least).

May well be old news. Still, a handy resource.

(Again, proper updates later if time permits)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ukraine crisis - EU implications

A well-considered and interesting article on the impact the Ukrainian election crisis has had on the EU:

"while the western establishment failed quickly to grasp the import of the Kiev events, the rapid engagement of Polish politicians in the unfolding Ukrainian events allowed Poland again to show that it is at the heart, not the periphery, of the enlarged European Union.

"The Ukrainian events catapulted Poland into a crucial position of cajoling, then leading, the EU’s involvement in the post–election crisis. The resistance of Polish officials and MEPs to the traditional Franco–German preference for “stability” over “chaos” was crucial in preventing Viktor Yushchenko from being sacrificed on the altar of good relations with Vladimir Putin and non–interference with Russian imperial interests. As over Iraq, Paris and Berlin have learned that they no longer monopolise or dictate the “European” position; Poland and other escapees from the Soviet empire possess historical experience that allows them both to recognise a time of historic opportunity and to find appropriate responses."

Has this been the first taste of just how much Europe has been altered by the expansion of the Union seven months ago? So far everyone's been concentrating on the constitution, the possibility of Turkey joining, and all that chaos over the new Commission. The new member states and their impact has been almost entirely ignored. Perhaps we should have been paying a bit more attention to these guys.

Update: Via, more Ukraine implications - this time for trans-Atlantic relations:

"the crisis in Ukraine shows what an enormous and vital role Europe can play, and is playing, in shaping the politics and economies of nations and peoples along its ever-expanding border. This is no small matter. On the contrary, it is a task of monumental strategic importance for the United States as well as for Europeans. By accident of history and geography, the European paradise is surrounded on three sides by an unruly tangle of potentially catastrophic problems, from North Africa to Turkey and the Balkans to the increasingly contested borders of the former Soviet Union. This is an arc of crisis if ever there was one, and especially now with Putin's play for a restoration of the old Russian empire. In confronting these dangers, Europe brings a unique kind of power, not coercive military power but the power of attraction. The European Union has become a gigantic political and economic magnet whose greatest strength is the attractive pull it exerts on its neighbors. Europe's foreign policy today is enlargement; its most potent foreign policy tool is what the E.U.'s Robert Cooper calls 'the lure of membership.'"

Third. That's not so bad...

Yep, the results for the Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards 2004 are out, and Europhobia just missed out on a prize. Bugger.

Thanks to everyone who voted nonetheless - there's always next year, I suppose. Oh, and if anyone wants to nominate this for an other awards, it's always nice to feel wanted...

Proper updates later, if I get a moment.

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