Saturday, February 05, 2005

BNP in favour of Veritas?

That Stop Veritas guy may not be so much of a loon after all... He's come across the British National Party's press release about the launch of Kilroy-Silk's Veritas, and a statement from BNP leader Nick Griffin, which seems to show that the party reckons that Veritas can only be a good thing for the far right.

The points Griffin raises are also worryingly valid - and our Stop Veritas loon has extracted them so you can avoid going to the BNP website, which is rather nice of him.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Towards a European identity?

An interesting short article on the lack of any real sense of European identity gives a nice overview of some of the problems facing the EU, and of the possible outcomes of the proposed constitution, and follows on nicely from some of my recent musings:

"In Spain... there is much controversy over whether the Basque people should remain Spanish citizens or whether they should have their own state. In the UK a recent survey of teenagers found that many saw themselves as English, Scottish or Welsh rather than British. An Italian from Milan might find more in common with a Parisian than with a Sicilian compatriot. Yet despite this, a core set of European cultural, political and social values can be divined."
The article also points to another which, despite being a bit old, is well worth a look. It highlights the take of Jurgen Habermas (he of "public sphere" fame) on the European project - a take which can easily provoke both sides of the argument:
"Germany's thinker de rigueur wrote that Europe's core states could put an end to Europe's stagnancy, sooner or later drawing in the remaining states which would be unable to resist. Separatism, however, had to be avoided. 'The avant-garde core Europe cannot consolidate into a miniature Europe but, as so often, must be the locomotive.'"
This reminded me of an article Habermas wrote a few years back on why Europe needs a constitution, which is well nigh essential reading for anyone interested in current debates about what the EU is, was, and should be in the future. I may return to some of the points it raises again, as even though lots has changed since it first appeared (it was written just pre-September 11th 2001), it still raises many valuable points. From the introduction:
"There is a remarkable contrast between the expectations and demands of those who pushed for European unification immediately after World War II, and those who contemplate the continuation of this project today—at the very least, a striking difference in rhetoric and ostensible aim. While the first-generation advocates of European integration did not hesitate to speak of the project they had in mind as a ‘United States of Europe’, evoking the example of the USA, current discussion has moved away from the model of a federal state, avoiding even the term ‘federation’. Larry Siedentop’s recent book Democracy in Europe expresses a more cautious mood: as he puts it, ‘a great constitutional debate need not involve a prior commitment to federalism as the most desirable outcome in Europe. It may reveal that Europe is in the process of inventing a new political form, something more than a confederation but less than a federation—an association of sovereign states which pool their sovereignty only in very restricted areas to varying degrees, an association which does not seek to have the coercive power to act directly on individuals in the fashion of nation states.’ ... Does this shift in climate reflect a sound realism, born of a learning-process of over four decades, or is it rather the sign of a mood of hesitancy, if not outright defeatism?

"... The contemporary ‘substantification’ of law means that constitutional debates over the future of Europe are now increasingly the province of highly specialized discourses among economists, sociologists and political scientists, rather than the domain of constitutional lawyers and political philosophers. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the symbolic weight of the sheer fact that a constitutional debate is now publicly under way. As a political collectivity, Europe cannot take hold in the consciousness of its citizens simply in the shape of a common currency. The intergovernmental arrangement at Maastricht lacks that power of symbolic crystallization which only a political act of foundation can give."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Referendum question approved

The Electoral Commission has announced that "Having considered the proposed referendum question against our published guidelines, the commission believes that the question to be put to voters is intelligible."


Oddly they also said that "The commission is also satisfied that the question makes it immediately clear what decision the voter is being asked to make, and that the level of public awareness surrounding the European constitution and the referendum process will be sufficiently high to remove any necessity of having an introductory paragraph."

Really? Public awareness will be sufficiently high to understand the ramifications of an overly-complex 300 page document, analyse the relative importance of the pros (of which there are some) and cons (of which there are also some), and then make a sound judgement based around a combination of their grasp of the specific document, an understanding of the current organisational and accountability structures of the European Union, the potential impact that the recent enlargement to 25 member states could have on current working methods, Britian's political, economic and cultural relationships with her European neighbours, and the relative likelihoods of future economic growth or stagnation should the existing structures be either altered or left as they are?

I can't say I'm convinced...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Veritas to sue Veritas?

Judging from my visitor logs, the software giant Veritas has suddenly become aware of Kilroy's Veritas, and is trying to find out more. Well, here's the new party's official site - complete with contact details and an option to donate your hard-earned cash to the cause.

It is worth pointing out at this juncture that "VERITAS" is a trademark of the Veritas software company.

Now I'll admit to being no lawyer, but if the software Veritas (which was founded in 1989, rather than at 10:30 this morning) wanted to sue old Kilroy for nicking their name, their $1.75 billion annualized revenues (whatever that may mean) should be more than enough to take the permatanned git to court and crush his pathetic little party at the get-go.

Come on, real Veritas, sue this imposter Veritas now - they're tarnishing your good name! Please? It'd be funny, and the people of Britain would be eternally grateful...

11pm update: Some people seem to be taking this whole Veritas thing a tad too seriously. First, via Manic, someone seems to think they've found a Veritas conspiracy. Then, it turns out that some of the other members of the lunatic fringe are getting attracted to Kilroy's own particular brand of insanity to boot:

"the Right has been looking for the equivalent of a Haider, a Fortuyn or a Le Pen to lead it on. Now, Kilroy may not be a Haider or Le Pen, but the parellels with Fortuyn are there to see. Fortuyn was a media host who took a big risk (ultimately a fatal risk) to speak out about immigration and Islamicisation). He left the Liveable Netherlands Party to set up his own list to fight the elections... Now, if Fortuyn was the only way a party of the radical Right could obtain a decent share of the vote in the Netherlands, should we not consider that Kilroy may be the only way an anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-PC party can come to the fore in this country?"
This is a parallel and a suggestion which has been made before. As such it worries me. Rather a lot. (Although even if the total membership of the Populist Party joins Veritas, Kilroy still won't have enough people for a game of football, so I don't know why...)

Kilroy's back! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

He's only gone and finally done it! Yep, Europhobia's favourite nutter Robert Kilroy-Silk has finally launched his new party - called Veritas as expected - which purports to be focussing on asylum and immigration, but not much else by the look of things.

A racist bigot basing sparse policies around his prejudices? There's a surprise...

Apparently the party (which seems thus far only to have Kilroy as a member) will be aiming to win over everyone who has "been made to feel ashamed of their culture and being British" - everyone, that is, except those who may be British but also have Irish, Scottish, Pakistani, French, German, Russian, African, Iraqi or Arab heritage... Or any other foreign blood for that matter.

What an absolute dick.

Edit: My bad, there is another member. So, here they are - the Veritas party. Aren't they beautiful? So virile and sexy. They've got my vote...

Edit 2: He's just so damn gorgeous I couldn't resist another picture:

European Weblog Awards - the results

Fistful's European Weblog Awards have been announced. This blog ended up a moderately respectable third choice in both categories in which it was nominated, losing out to Slugger O'Toole in the Best Political Weblog category and to in the Best UK one - both of which are quality stuff, so I can't really feel too hard done by.

Other categories with well-deserved winners (based on my own limited knowledge of the field) include Weblog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, which went to the rather good Non tibi Spiro after a tough fight with the equally decent Histologion, which won the Best Southeastern European section as a well-deserved consolation in what was a tough race.

Siberian Light, named Best CIS blog (in one of the toughest categories of the lot, featuring as it did a range of superb blogs which I largely discovered during the Ukraine crisis: The Argus, Neeka's Backlog, Foreign Notes and The Russian Dilettante) and the Best Blog winner The Glory of Carniola are other particular favourites.

However, many damn fine competitors who missed out on prizes also deserve mentions and are definitely worth a look - and these are just the ones I knew about before the Awards - Brit poliblogger The Yorkshire Ranter, intriguingly eclectic culture blog Giornale Nuovo, the entertainingly eurosceptic North Sea Diaries, euroblogger Manic Net preacher, the sadly now (apparently) defunct Reflections on European Democracy, the superb EuroSavant, the rather fine East Ethnia, the insightful All About Latvia, the Metafilter spin-off Viewropa, the always good Cabalamat Journal, the somewhat intelligent EU Law, and - of course - my fellow pro-EU blogger James at Lose the Delusion.

Also, thanks to these awards I've started reading (or at least trying to read) a number of French language blogs - in particular Publius (winner of the Best Coverage of the EU category), Ceteris Paribus and Versac - all of which look pretty damn good, as do a vast number of others on the list. Plenty of good reading all round.

Congrats to all the winners etc., thanks to everyone who voted for Europhobia, and for those who didn't: you absolute bastards - I wanted to win, damn it!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Spot the Difference

"United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting." NY Times 4th September 1967. (Courtesy of Political Wire)

And so we mark the exact point where the war in Iraq becomes a war of liberation rather than that rather fusty old business about some silly WMD. Yes, it's heartening to see a people embrace democracy, and I hope it leads to stability and prosperity for their country. Nevertheless, it cannot in retrospect justify the gross misrepresentations made by two governments to their respective people which led to the waging of this war under false pretences.

Of course, now that Bush's administration can honestly declare its idealistic and somewhat messianic goals , will that make things any better? Maybe so and maybe not, but with this sort of positive reaction it seems unlikely there is any doubt holding back the American neo-con idealists from their foreign policy goals. Perhaps in years to come, their policy will be seen as correct, and the multilateral relativisim of the UN and the EU as comparable with appeasement. In any event, it looks increasingly likely that the next practical application of the Bush doctrine will be in Iran.

Monday, January 31, 2005

We're all pissed off

Looks like the eurosceptics are just as annoyed with their self-appointed spokespeople as those of us who are pro have been with ours.

EU Referendum's Richard North makes the very fair point that

"The cause of Euroscepticism is not best served by this ranting as it presents us with the added difficulty of having to overcome the "loony-fringe" label before we are even able to get the message across."
This sounds remarkably similar to my own complaint from the other day that
"Most of the pro-EU lot do no service to that side of the debate, usually painting eurosceptics with the broadest of "little Englander" and "xenophobe" brushes, sounding utterly patronising and making us all look like self-righteous arseholes".
Neither side of the EU debate are happy. It seems as though none of those purporting to speak for either the anti or the pro camps are particularly in tune with what the people they claim to represent actually think.

Neither side is entirely happy with the constitution. But the referendum is - and has been since it was first mooted - being portrayed as a referendum on whether or not we see benefits to EU membership, not on the constitution itself. Both hardcore eurosceptics and hardcore pro-Europeans are presenting it as if the true question is "Do you want to be part of the EU?"

If we could calm it down a bit, both sides of the argument would reject the constitution - albeit for different reasons. Then a new constitution (or treaty, if you don't like the "c"-word) could be drawn up, ideally with a provision in it for certain nations to set up a second tier of EU membership where the relationship stays much as it is (although tidied up and with further safeguards put in place), while others can go ahead with EMU and closer integration unimpeded by the less enthusiastic member states. Then we can, if necessary, hold a referendum on which group we want to belong to. I'd say that'd be ideal for all concerned.

Instead, us pro-EU lot are feeling pressured to defend the very concept of the EU - past, present and future - in the face of constant attacks from the antis. This is despite the fact that the real debate should be over the constitution, and from what I can tell, most of us pro-EU people don't like that much more than most eurosceptics do, but see it as necessary to pass simply because it has been transmogrified into a personification of the EU itself.

I think the EU is a good thing for Britain. I reckon a new treaty to tie up all the loose ends of six decades of European integration is necessary. I don't think the current constitution does the job as well as it could and should. But I may end up voting in favour of it anyway (I haven't yet made up my mind) purely to register my support for Britain's membership of the EU itself. That is not what the vote should be about, but that is what it is being turned into.

Tuesday edit: Yesterday someone posted a comment to this old post, in which I accused dear Dr North of doing precisely what he is complaining of in the quote above. The comment is, I think, worth copying here - it is very similar to my initial reasoning for abandoning my former eurosceptic ways:
I used to be very anti-European for what I thought were clear and rational arguements: That government should be closer to the people, that it was bad enough having one interest rate for 3 countries and Northern Ireland, without having one for the whole of Europe, etc.

My turning point was when a met a hoary old man on the high street one Saturday with a campaign to "bring back the pound". I am 40, and I know FA about pounds and ounces. I did decimals all through school and I just thought "Whoaa, what planet did he come from?". He was also launching into an emotional diatribe about Brussels, cheese, chocolate and bananas, that just turned me off.

That was my eye-opener to the fact that a lot of what you read in the papers about Europe is just wonky and the fantasy of some scary types. I still have reservations, but I realised that I am generally in the "pro" camp, because I have nothing in common with the wild and wooley eyed brigade. ~Nan
Wednesday edit: In the interest of balance, another response (in the comments to this post), from the other side of the fence:
7 years ago when a young stagiere I was walking round Brussels in a red t-shirt with Europa emblazoned across the front. While verring on the sceptic side before the Iraq war the behaviour of France and Germany cemented my previous scepticism more firmly. I still think that Britain overall gains from being a member through cheap flights and EU workers based in Britain, but the more I learn about the policies and regulations coming from Brussels, the corruption, lack of accountability, stitch ups and poorly conceived polices, the more I think that generally I've made the right decision.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The European Commission - more democratic than the US presidency?

A thought, from a comment to my last post. Not to be taken too seriously, but I reckon it may be an interesting observation:

A constant argument of the anti-EU side is that the European Commission is not democratic.

But in the US, the people do not directly elect their president. Sure, they VOTE for the president, but it is the Electoral College which actually makes the final decision. Hence Al Gore getting the majority of the popular vote in 2000, yet not winning the presidency (and that wasn't a one-off - see also Samuel Tilden getting more than Rutherford Hayes in 1876, Grover Cleveland getting more than Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and even - if you buy the tales of vote fraud - Richard Nixon getting more than John F Kennedy in 1960).

The US president is the top dog of the US executive. The rest of the executive is led by his cabinet. Yet the US cabinet is solely appointed by the president - none of them are elected officials (unlike the UK where, as the executive is part of the legislature, the majority of members of the cabinet are democratically elected MPs). The president's choice of cabinet then has to be ratified by Congress.

How is this different to the EU system? The Commission has a strong case for being the closest the EU has to an executive. Its president is agreed by representatives of the democratically elected governments of the member states. These representatives are, arguably, equivalent to the United States' Electoral College voters. The Commission president-elect is then ratified by the democratically-elected European Parliament.

Then, of course, the president of the Commission appoints the commissioners - just as the US prsident appoints his cabinet. Only the Commission president has no say in who his commissioners are. Instead, the individual (again, democratically-elected) governments of the member states nominate their own commissioners. The Commission president then gives them their various positions. Again, these then have to be ratified by the European Parliament.

In the US, cabinet appointees all have to be ratified by the (democratically elected) Congress, just as European Commissioners have to be ratified by the European Parliament. Yet, arguably, for the US cabinet to have the same legitimacy as the European Commission, each (democratically elected) government of each US state would have to have the right to appoint its own cabinet member. So instead of Condi, Rumsfeld and the like, we'd have a bunch of people appointed by the state governments of Wisconsin, Idaho, South Carolina and the rest all vying for the president's attention. That would, technically, be more democratic than the current system, where the president's mates get all the best positions whether they've ever held elected office or not.

So then, considering that the president of the European Commision is chosen by agreement between the democratically elected representatives of the EU states, the commissioners are appinted by the democratically elected governments of the EU states, and both the president and the commissioners are confirmed in their positions by the democratically elected European Parliament, isn't the European Commission more democratic than the American executive, in which not even the president necessarily has to have a majority of voters behind him?

The national interest

A few quick thoughts late at night (and slightly drunk), so probably not thought through... The other day, Airstrip One argued that

“It is clear that the Europhiles in Britain will clothe themselves in the flag to promote their cause. However, it is a discourse of the dead since the national interest is effectively destroyed if subordinated within a greater whole. For the first time, politicians are having to engage with the ‘death of Britain’ and applaud our future within a superstate.”
But what exactly is the national interest? Airstrip One's interpretation seems to equate the nation with the state. Yet the state is surely primarily the governmental machine. Nations are not defined by lines on a map or government edicts - they are primarily based around a shared identity or perception of common links.

When it really comes down to it, most people couldn't care less about abstract notions of sovereignty - they care about whether they can get food on the table, find a stable job, buy a house, afford to start up a family and live happily free from persecution in a prosperous and well-provisioned area. For the majority of the population, the nation means little except for when the football, rugby or cricket comes on the telly. On a daily basis what matters is the local town or village, their street, their immediate home.

It is also worth noting that the interests of the people and those of the state do not necessarily coincide. It may be in the interest of the state to, for example, create an immense biometric database to enable government to keep track on the people, or to remove the right to a trial to enable it to lock its citizens up at will. That is surely not in the interest of the people, even if some of them may not be aware of this. So, which of these is the "national" interest - those of the state or the people?

The thing that really matters is surely what is in the interests of the people, not the state, for it is the people who form the nation. And the primary, most important interest of the people is surely for their lives to be as pleasant, safe, free and prosperous as possible. The state can get in the way of these aspirations; it can aid them. In Nazi Germany or - especially - Soviet Russia, which was the national interest? The desires of the totalitarian leadership to assert control over the population, or the desires of the people to live uncomplicated, fear-free lives?

But then it is also worth noting that the people are not always able to see the best means to their desired ends. Were you to have asked a German in 1943 whether it was in the national interest for their country to lose the war and end up occupied by their enemies for nearly half a century, they would almost certainly - and understandably - have answered in the negative. Now the vast majority of Germans would tell you that they are eternally grateful that the expansion of the Reich ended in defeat. The German state is far less powerful than it would have been had Hitler won the war, but the German people are far better off. (Likewise, were you to have asked many Scots in the 16th century whether it was in their national interest to link up with England as the junior partner in a "United Kingdom", they would have told you precisely where to shove it.)

If the long-term interests of the people would be best served by joining a superstate, that is in the national interest; if the people will end up less prosperous, safe, and free as part of the EU than they would if their country were to pull out, then obviously they should have nothing to do with it.

But no one knows whether the European project will end up as a superstate (no one knows even if it will be successful). Equally no one knows whether Britain would be able to make it on her own in an increasingly competitive world now she no longer has the prop of an empire and the advantage of the most productive manufacturing sector in the world. It's all speculation.

One thing, however, which has been proved by the experiences of a broad range of people from the Jews to the Scots to the Welsh to the Basques to the Cornish, Scousers, Geordies and Cockneys, is that a sense of collective, shared, national identity (in its broadest, traditonal sense) can easily be maintained while nominally under the jurisdiction of a far wider organisation. I can be both British and English; Europhobia's Rhona can be both British and Scottish - what makes it so unlikely that we can maintain these identites with a broader, "European" one added on top? If Europhobia's Matt can manage to hold dual nationality without any problems of identity, why can't we all be both British and European?

I'll stress that I am not advocating a superstate by any means. But if maintiaining complete sovereignty means we are less able to compete internationally, and that thus our economy begins to stagnate and our quality of life deteriorates, what value does that sovereignty hold? It is an abstract notion, held at an arbitrary level - after all, what makes the state the best place for sovereignty to lie if the majority of the population have no need to come into contact with people from any other part of that state?

What matters to the people is money and comfort. If sovereignty held at a state level is the best way to supply that, fine; but if having some powers held at an inter-state level produces a better standard of living, that is where they should be.

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