Saturday, January 22, 2005

Russia, Europe, Bush - weekend reading

This is worth keeping an eye on: Russian MPs go on hunger strike.

There were a veritable shed-load of interesting EU-related links over at the always superb Political Theory Daily Review yesterday, which I'm going to lift wholesale as I've got loads of stuff to do today:

Focus on Europe: From Croatia, President Stipe Mesic wins reelection. From Poland, the fraught left will have to tread very delicately around teaching gay sex. From Italy, it's time for the real Naples to stand up. From Great Britain, Blair and Brown are two rivals united by faith, not philosophy. From The New Yorker, how foxhunting became the most divisive issue in England. A review of Britain's Gulag (and more). From New Statesman, how 1 in 5 Britons could vote for the far right, and on how the west followed Bin Laden's script. From Newropeans, an essay on Transatlantic relations between the United States and the EU in 2020 : Anticipation and the new world order a scenario approach (and part 2 and part 3). From The Globalist, on the prospects for future transatlantic harmony, and can Europe build a NATO for Africa? A different perspective: Why pro-Europeans should oppose the EU Constitution. The EU Parliament strongly endorses Constitution. Founding Chairman of the European Central Bank Wim Duisenberg on how the euro has grown up. The most fundamental problem facing Europe is the governments of its member states and the lack of transparency in theCouncil. A leading European political scientist is calling for an immediate end to the copyright system. And why Europeans hate American Express and Wal-Mart, but like MasterCard and Colgate
Also, I reccomend checking out Cernig's Newshog - lots of nice links to interesting articles from around the blogosphere and beyond.

And while we're at it, why not help out with Manic's latest Googlebomb? It's simply empty rhetoric...

Friday, January 21, 2005

A rambling attempt at historical perspective

Old Ken over at EU Realist has been delving into the history books, and come up with some quotes from prominent pro-Europeans of times past which seem to confirm all Eurosceptics' worst fears. It started with this, of which this one stood out:

“Europe's nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation" (Jean Monnet communication, 30 April 1952)
Following my suggestion that times have changed and that not all pro-Europeans necessarily have the same aims that Monnet did half a century ago, Ken came back with yet more quotes.

Here's my vague response, posted as a comment on Ken's site. We started off misunderstanding each other's intentions - I thought Ken was claiming that the EU is driving towards a federal superstate, he thought I was denying that the EU is pushing for further integration and powers. It's all off the top of my head, not backed up with any links, references or anything else, and was written while slightly sozzled after a liquid lunch, so it may not make any sense. It may, however, prompt some interesting debate. Or be mind-numbingly tedious, I don't know...

Anyway, here it is - the point I initially refer to is that federalism is no longer the principle aim of the EU project:

The point still stands, however, no matter how many quotes you find (and there are a lot more than just that little lot - especially from the '40s and '50s when full-on federalism actually seemed like a desirable long-term goal). Quotes are not the same as facts.

There is certainly a minority of politicians - even leading ones - who are so idealistic as to actually want to create a United States of Europe (Ted Heath being one), but they are becoming rarer and rarer as time goes by and realpolitik takes over. It's simply unrealistic and undesirable for all but the most idealistic of politicians.

Probably ought to clarify - further integration, yes, obviously, is an aim - including some semblance of political integration. But nowhere near as much as often seems to be claimed.

I don't have any political philosophy reference works to hand to find the generally accepted definition of a political federation - but I'm fairly sure that by the broadest definition the EU already is one. What I am denying is the (peculiarly British) interpretation of the idea of a federal Europe being one in which nation states no longer hold any power or influence.

Ken's response:
Federalism is not really the point, the point is that the EU is on the road to become the full government of Britain and the other states. To deny that, which you are attempting to do, flows against all of the history of the EU itself, every single treaty drives this project forward every single treaty removes power from the states and gives it to the EU. What you are doing is to deny the Monnet Method, which was designed to achieve unity in Europe by slow inconsistent unconnected moves toward integration that can be explained as something other.
Not sure what you mean by “full government”. If you mean having control over the majority of policy areas, we are blatantly still a long way off. As for “on the road” – well, in the sense that there is still a drive towards further integration, the EU is indeed on the road somewhere, and this involves gaining more influence over certain policy areas, certainly. But not you, nor I, nor they know where this road will end up – unless you have a crystal ball, that is?

I am by no means suggesting that a move to further integration is not happening now, as it obviously is – the EU project is still in its early stages (and no one knows what the final stage will be because, as is obvious from this little discussion, no one can agree yet).

I’m just trying to point out the obvious - namely that what was true in the 1950s is not the case now. What I am suggesting – as I am fairly certain that it is true – is that the drive to further integration which is happening today is happening for very different motives than was the case 40-50 years ago – even than 20 years ago. Lest we forget, in the mid to late 1940s one of the prime advocates of a European union, complete with a common army and all the rest, was Winston Churchill; he later changed his mind.

The “Monnet method” may well still be in existence, but if so the timescale has been extended to the point of being inconsequential – as I said before, there isn’t a hope in hell of this happening in either of our lifetimes, or indeed for centuries. Yet he intended for everything to be sorted by the end of the twentieth century. This proved utterly unrealistic, so plans have changed.

Monnet was also, lest we forget, working in a bipolar, Cold War world, and many then believed that building Europe into a geographically large and coherent superstate to compete alongside the USA and USSR was the best way to get by. Times and opinions change.

A fully politically integrated United States of Europe seemed like a good idea then for the mutual protection of the entire continent (nuclear bombs have a tendency not to stop spreading their radiation at national borders). Now it is less necessary for defensive purposes (although cross-border policing thanks to drug, people-trafficking and terrorist networks strikes me as a good idea with which the EU can greatly assist), and hence far, far less desirable to national political elites who want to maintain their hold on power.

The EU is not the product of one man’s vision, but a multitude of constantly-shifting opinions. It seems that, by your logic, Monnet said x, so everything the EU has been doing since has been to promote x. I might point out that in the early 1980s Tony Blair was opposed to both the EU and the United States’ overseas influence. Has his sucking up to Bush and promotion of the EU constitution all been part of a masterplan to undermine both? Of course not – because times and opinions change.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Robert Kilroy-Silk: mentalist

If anyone else saw the permatanned buffoon on Channel Four News just now, you'll know exactly what I mean. I hope they get video of that up - or at the very least a transcript (I'll keep a lookout). It was a perfect Kilroy moment - self-righteous, arrogant, aggressive, and packed with a range of vague assertions (and outright lies) backed up with nothingness. The long and the short of it? As expected, he's finally quit UKIP.

UKIP have come up with some amusing responses, slagging off Kilroy's supposed new party, allegedly to be called Veritas (Latin for "truth"): "'He's going to call it "Vanitas" we hear,' UKIP spokesman Mark Croucher said sarcastically. 'We've got its manifesto. It has nothing new to offer voters other than the opportunity to swoon at Kilroy-Silk's feet.'"

Here's Kilroy's take:

"I have to say that [UKIP] is regarded by those outside it as a joke. I am ashamed to be a member. I cannot ask people to vote for it because it has no policies, no spokespersons, no energy, no vision, no idea of how Britain should be governed.

"Instead I shall advise people not to vote for the party. To do otherwise will be to be dishonest, to pretend that the party has a purpose - when in fact it is a charade, an empty vessel.

"But while Ukip has turned its back on the British people, I shall not. I will be standing, at the next general election. I shall be leading a vigorous campaign for the causes I believe in.

"And, unlike the old parties, we shall be honest, open and straight".
So, only a few months after being elected as an MEP (and promising to "wreck" the EU), Kilroy's going to run away from his Brussels seat - abandoning the constituents who voted for him in their droves - in the vain pursuit of a return to Westminster. Hardly shows much loyalty to his constituents, does it?

He hasn't got a hope in hell - superb! Roll on the General Election and Kilroy's humiliating defeat!

It's truly fantastic to have people like Kilroy running around the shop - they're always good for a laugh. The only trouble is, after having a good chuckle you start to realise that some people actually think he's a sensible and respectable chap who's fully worthy of their votes...

Could Kilroy be the final proof that democracy isn't all it's cracked up to be?

Friday morning update: Lenin has some great turns of phrase to sum this up, and Tim Worstall spots some interesting internet-related tidbits, following the Honourable Fiend's note that websites for "Veritas" seem already to be taken. Meanwhile, Nick Barlow is conducting a survey to find out what people reckon Kilroy's chances are. Not great, by the looks of things... But as has been pointed out in the comments, we don't want to jinx it now, do we?

(By the by, can someone with better knowledge of the new electoral laws tell me whether he has to quit as an MEP before running, or only if he wins? Either way, he's surely going to have to fundraise and campaign - he can hardly do that while fulfilling his Brussels duties, can he?)

Yuschenko inauguration confirmed for Sunday

Announced on the day Bush's second term officially begins - how rare! Russia's Vladimir Putin also seems to be trying to patch up relations, releasing a congratulatory message to the guy he was opposing to the extent of sending in the troops...

Also, an unrelated interesting tidbit via Geopolitical Review which may be of interest: a blog to which anyone and everyone can contribute - a nice way to test the blogging water without setting one up for yourself, or good for five minutes until the spambots find it? Who can say? Worth a look at any rate.

Busy, sorry... Why not have a look at a new pro-EU blog?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"Yes campaign" (re-)launches

It's about bloody time they pulled their fingers out. As yet I haven't been able to track down any more information about this new drive than what is contained within that short Press Association piece, but either way, it's got to be better than the stagnant mess of the last few years.

Still (and no offence to fellow bloggers who may have been involved...) they should have got some better PR managers in - hardly anything on most of the major news websites two hours after the launch? No prominent pre-publicity? No website? (At least, it looks that way - the old Yes campaign one has been dead for ages.) If this makes the evening news (bar probably a brief mention on Channel Four) I'll be amazed.

So, are they going to make a proper effort this time? The "Vote No" lot are organised (even if they have the occasional spat) and extremely vocal, and have been for ages. They've also got the advantage of preaching to a largely ignorant population who believe all the euromyths with the support of the majority of the media. It's going to be a difficult fight.

As has been pointed out, this campaign should have launched ages ago: "if the Yes camp is to exploit the fluidity of opinion, it needs to seize the initiative. Crucial for a Yes result will be a well planned, powerfully sustained campaign. To a considerable extent, the No camp can afford to rest on their laurels. The pro-constitutionalists must start making up ground early."

They've ballsed up the starting early part, but I suppose there's still a year to go - and at least they're finally making an effort. Nonetheless, us pro-EU lot have been waiting a long time for some kind of decent organisation, and been let down and frustrated by the lack of effort for years. I wish them luck, obviously, but they need to get their act together properly this time.

Hearts and minds, people - hearts and minds. We can't just rely on the politicians getting everything through - that's just going to piss the general public off. Without popular support it's pointless - it'll just become the undemocratic monster the Eurosceptics already claim it is...

Ukraine confusion continues

Ukraine is planning on shifting its "philosophy of co-operation with the European Union", hinting that membership is the country's final aim following Yushchenko's victory in the re-run presidential elections.

Could all that noise about a Yushchenko victory meaning a shift to the West actually be true after all? Well, considering the election results haven't been confirmed yet (or even published - they will be appearing in Ukrainian papers tomorrow), it's a bit early to say.

It may depend on who is chosen as Prime Minister: "The contest has narrowed to three main candidates: Yulia Tymoshenko, the charming but fiery former "gas princess" who helped lead the Orange Revolution protests in November and December; Petro Poroshenko, the softly-spoken "chocolate prince" whose television channel brought the protests into the homes of millions of Ukrainians; and Olexander Zinchenko, Mr Yushchenko's campaign manager." (In case of Financial Times Subscriptions kicking in, I'll post the whole article in a comment - interesting stuff.)

However, the byword for freedom and truth that is Pravda today has a nice big headline: "Russian politician Grigori Yavlinsky to become Ukrainian prime minister". Not to worry, though, if you read the article this turns out to be largely spin, based on a report in The Russian Courier yesterday: "Yavlinsky, the newspaper wrote, has good chances to take the position because he is equally alienated from all political and economic clans of Ukraine."

In fact, despite being Russian Yavlinsky may not be too bad - he may even be an ideal choice to placate Putin. If he believes all the stuff he claims in this interview, the Russian could well work: "Freedom, human rights, and dignity. We will advocate independence of courts and legislative authorities, reduction of administrative clout with elections on all levels. We will speak against the merger of powers-that-be and businesses. It is this merger that resulted in the conflict between YUKOS and the regime. We will also advocate a political agreement but in the form of a law, not an accord. On the one hand, we will advocate an amnesty to capitals and fortunes made in the course of privatization in the 1990's. On the other, we want transparency of funding of political parties, establishment of a transparent political process, adoption of the law on lobbying within the framework of participation of major businesses in politics."

Either way, it seems as though Yushchenko and Putin will have a chance to chat in a week's time, so maybe they can get all friendly again. Although after this week's humiliating forced climb-down over pensions (which, though not significant in terms of cash for the old dears nonetheless shows Putin can be beat on home turf), Putin may not be in the mood to be friendly - he just ripped off Kazakhstan fairly effectively, pinching some prime gas fields in exchange for a bit of spare land.

So then - which way is Ukraine going to go - EU or Russia? Or will Yushchenko live up to expectations and manage to balance gracefully in between the two powers, getting the best of both worlds?

Once again, we'll have to wait and see...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Prime Minister Kilroy-Silk

Go on, try it on for size... Sounds great, doesn't it? the sort of thing that'd make you truly proud to share the same nationality as such a towering figure of gravitas, common sense and political acumen.

Lose the Delusion has found the solution to all our ills.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Free constitution for every reader! (And news round-up)

Now there's an idea. In preparation for their referendum on the EU constitution on 20th February, the Spanish dailies El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and Razon yesterday all provided free copies of the vast document with their regular papers.

Not a bad idea, and one that might bear copying in the UK should we ever get around to holding a referendum ourselves, although quite who would fancy trawling through that turgid document of a weekend I have no idea. The very first reason for rejecting it on this anti-constitution Spanish site is that it is way too long... They've got a point. I can't see readers of The Sun getting too excited about having a 300+ page legal document come free with their newspaper. Perhaps they could tart it up a bit with commentary from topless lovelies?

In other Euronews, Gerhard Schroeder is leading calls to loosen the EU's rules over budget deficits, writing in the Financial Times (behind a subscription wall) that "The stability pact will work better if intervention by European institutions in the budgetary sovereignty of national parliaments is only permitted under very limited conditions," and thus setting the agenda for tomorrow's meeting of all 25 European finance ministers. However, the German central bank seems to disagree with the Chancellor, noting that "a loosening of the budget rules could herald a paradigm shift of fiscal policy in member countries and lead to developments in economic and monetary union that make conflicts between fiscal and monetary policy more probable."

I'll confess to having no idea what either of them are talking about, but this problem of Germany and France flaunting the rules over 3% limits on budget deficits has been going on for ages now, and continually threatens new problems. Perhaps it's time it's abandoned, but then, what is the EU without its economic ties? This could continue to cause problems for a while... (Edit: EU Referendum has a good summary of what Schroeder's article could mean, along with a few more quotes.)

Meanwhile the Tories have announced their ambitious tax cut plans, promising savings of thirty-five billion quid. Of course, had we not gone to war in Iraq (a war the Tories fully supported), the country would have saved significantly more than that - something the Liberal Democrats, who also launched their pre-election campaign today, might want to point out at some stage...

The CIA's verdict on the EU

Heh - top-notch stuff from EU-Serf, following news that the CIA reckons the EU's economy can't last more than another 15 years.

Yeah, because the US economy's doing brilliantly, isn't it?

Ukraine: "the administration learned that it did not have sole influence over the last guarantor of power: the men with the guns."

Fascinating blow-by-blow account in the NY Times of the role of the SBU (successor to the Soviet-era KGB) in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution". This is far from being my area of expertise, but it casts an interesting new light on the events of last November. Specifically it accounts for a crucial factor in any successful revolution, support (whether tacit or active) of at least an element of the military and security services.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Labour's lost trust

A very good article by Tory MP and former minister Michael Portillo in today's Sunday Times highlights much of what is wrong with the current government, from the Blair/Brown feud to the war, plus highlights the major issue which needs to be raised in the run up to any General Election. It is well worth a look for those of us who would like to see Labour get a nasty shock:

"When Michael Howard replaced Iain Duncan Smith as leader, the Tories gave up saying “You can’t believe a word he (Blair) says”. It had been a good catchphrase that had pinpointed people’s growing disquiet. It reminded them of Blair’s shenanigans before the war in Iraq. Sadly, the Conservatives have still not mastered the art of catchphrase repetition. On Monday the party will announce its tax policy. But Blair has more votes to lose on trust than the Tories have to gain on tax.

"The Conservatives are frustrated that recent opinion polls show Labour’s lead firming up and Blair’s ratings on the rise. The main reason is that the trust issue is no longer prominent. In the past weeks Iraq has ceased to dominate British politics as it had continuously for the previous two years. Iraq is going badly. We are within days of the election there and important Iraqis are being murdered. The Americans have given up any pretence of winning hearts and minds...

"Critics of the Tories complain that they have not exploited the Blair-Brown schism. But that would be to bark up the wrong tree. There is no strong evidence that the row damages Labour’s popularity. The best hope for the Conservatives would be some new scandal about how Blair presented the case for war. Failing that they must find other ways to resurrect the issue of trust."

Let's see now... University tuition and top-up fees, hospital waiting lists, stealth taxes, failing schools, public transport, Private Finance Initiatives, "preferred bid" government contracts going to Labour donors, the raiding of pensions funds, the "45 minute" claim and "sexed up" reports, not to mention all those other broken promises - what's not to trust?

A bit of election preparation

As you are no doubt aware, it is very likely that there wil be a General Election in the UK on May 5th. It hasn't been announced yet, because Blair wants his lot to have as much of a head start in campaigning as possible, but that's when it's likely to kick off.

As you are also no doubt aware, Labour are likely to win again by a large margin - largely due to the almost total lack of opposition they have faced in the House of Commons (a few valiant attempts from their own backbenches and the occasional jab from a Liberal Democrat hardly counts). Within the parliamentary Labour party, many are getting a bit miffed - their golden boy Blair has started to piss them off, and they all know that if there was any other option, the general public would vote for it. The Tories can't ALWAYS be rubbish, can they?

Then there's the Blair/Brown feud, superbly explained by the Honorable Fiend, and the increasing disillusionment felt by many ordinary Labour party members. Labour are beginning to collapse in on themselves just as did the Tories in the mid-90s. But it's not happening soon enough - they've got that "historic third term" firmly in their sights, and aren't going to risk jeopardising it through silly squabbles just yet.

Then there is the matter of what this election is going to be about, exactly. No one understands economics, and try as they might the Tories can't seem to find the various flaws in Gordon Brown's fiscal policies, so it looks like - bizarrely - the economy won't matter in this election. Will we, as that article suggests, find ourselves facing a "values" election - much like the "moral issue"-dominated US presidential elections back in November? And if so, what will the "values" be? Multilateralism and respect for the rule of law? Not if Labour has anything to do with it, and the Tories have backed the government on everything from the war to locking people up without trial. Can the Liberal Democrats shape the debate and remind us how opposed we were to the concept of invading Iraq all those many months ago?

Over at Bloggerheads, Manic is planning a few things along this values theme which could work nicely - quite what still has to be kept under wraps, but from the sneak previews I've had they're looking promising. Meanwhile, can you help out with any of the MP proxy blogs Bloggerheads helped set up? (If you want to set up one for your own MP, you may find TheyWorkForYou an invaluable resource). The following MPs are covered, those with asterisks need help, and any names you don't see feel free to start ones for:

Paddy Tipping MP, Paul Keetch MP*, Glenda Jackson MP* (which I have volunteered to assist with), Steve Pound MP, Michael Clapham MP*, Jeff Ennis MP*, Eric Illsley MP*, David Blunkett MP* and again, David Blunkett MP*, Keith Vaz MP, David Lepper MP*, Frank Dobson MP* (I may also try and help with this one), Nick Raynsford MP*, Lewis Moonie MP*, Alan Milburn MP, Sandra Gidley MP, Sarah Teather MP, Jim Cousins MP, John Pugh MP.

What can these blogs do? Well, thanks to the mechanics of search engines (something about which I know nothing), blogs get noticed very quickly. Do a search for "Europhobia" in Google, this site comes top. (For some reason if you do a search for "beetroots" it comes second, but that's another matter...) So, set up a blog devoted to your MP, it will soon be one of the first results when people search for them.

This can obviously be severely misused, but that is not the point here. The point is to create greater access to information about what MPs get up to, and what goes on in the House of Commons. It's about enabling people to make an informed choice about who to vote for, rather than simply going "I always vote Labour" or "I'm a Tory".

Lest we forget, at a General Election you are voting for a local representative, not a central government. You aren't voting for Tony Blair unless you live in his Sedgefield constituency - you're likely voting for one of his mindless lackeys. You're likewise not voting for Michael Howard unless you live in Folkestone & Hythe or Charles Kennedy unless you live in Ross, Skye & Inverness West. So why vote for one of their fellow party members without checking you agree with that individual first?

For example, there is no way I could bring myself to vote Labour if we had to vote for a party (as in the European elections). But my local MP is Glenda Jackson, who's Labour. With a bit of research and knowledge, I can quickly find out that she's not as Labour as all that (she is in fact the 27th most rebellious MP in the Commons), and that from her voting record we agree on most issues. That makes her someone worth voting for - not the fact that she belongs to a particular party. Of course, I don't know who the other candidates are yet - that is another important task of the proxy blogs - to find out about the local opposition groups and other people standing for election.

Whether it's actually worth voting is, of course, another matter. One for another time, perhaps... Either way, This blog may start to get slightly (but only slightly) more centred on the UK in the coming months - just as it got slightly more centred on the US in the run up to Bush's victory. Once I've got the template sorted, expect a few more links and the like - and again, any suggestions would be welcome.

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