Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Climate nationalism

Many having given up on the international process delivering solutions to climate change, and eyes are turning to national solutions to fill the void.

While covering last week's UN climate summit in Warsaw, I found myself encountering very different moods depending on which section of the venue I was in. While I was in the rooms surrounding the main plenary chamber, constructed on the field of the city's mammoth National Stadium, I could feel an overwhelming aura of pessimism. Exhausted-looking delegates on the sidelines spoke of demoralising gridlock and a negotiating process on a knife's edge.

But travel upstairs to the ‘national pavilions' located at the top of the stadium, where individual countries hosted events and showcased their climate actions, and the mood couldn't be more different. The Chinese pavilion was exuberantly showcasing their regional emissions trading schemes. The Americans were trumpeting the new emissions standards for power plants. In the EU pavilion, individual member states were announcing new financial contributions to fighting climate change and deforestation left and right.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Quebec: no need for readmission

Given that it is the only significant independence movement in the developed world outside Europe, the cause of Quebec secession is often used as an example in discussions of separatism in the European context. And so it was perhaps not surprising that at an event at the European Parliament last week about independence movements within the EU, a Quebecer was on hand to share his experiences.

The European Free Alliance (EFA), a collection of seven separatist members of the European Parliament from Scotland, Wales, Corsica, Flanders, the Russian community in Latvia and the Basque Country, hosted the event on “the right to decide” last Wednesday (13 November). The group sits in a sometimes uncomfortable common group with the Greens, who notably had little by way of promotion of the event on the group’s website.

In addition to Quebec, the event looked at the independence referendum situations in Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Wales and Galicia.

Europe has long had a strange relationship with Quebecois separatism. The situation in Belgium is often compared to that of Canada. France has been a strong supporter of Quebecois separatism, while simultaneously suppressing separatist movement sin Corsica, Brittany and Savoy. But are there really lessons for Europe from Quebec’s experience?

Friday, 15 November 2013

International nationalists

The far right has a poor history of working together in international forums. An alliance brokered by Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen is seeking to reverse that trend.

"There is nothing harder to set up than a nationalists' international," wrote political scientists Michael Minkenberg and Pascal Perrineau when they analysed the performance of the radical right in the 2004 European Parliament elections. The latest attempt to disprove that truism was launched last week by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National (FN), and Geert Wilders, the Dutch maverick anti-Islam campaigner.

At a press conference held at the Dutch parliament in The Hague this week, Le Pen and Wilders announced a pact to work together to build an alliance in the next European Parliament to slay “the monster in Brussels” and wreck the Parliament from within. Given the patchy – to say the least – record of populist and nationalist groups’ attempts to join forces at European level, it was hardly surprising that scepticism dominated the initial reaction.

In the last Parliament, far-right groups briefly forged an alliance under the “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty” group banner. But that pact fell apart after Romanian and Italian nationalists rowed over Alessandra Mussolini calling Romanians “habitual lawbreakers”. Perhaps it is not surprising that nationalists whose principal policy platform is being anti-foreigner have trouble co-operating with “foreigners”.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

EU citizenship for sale

As the holder of an EU passport through some arcane and perhaps undeserved reasons (ancestry), I’m often asked by my fellow Americans how they too can get in on this European action. For me it’s been an incredible asset, to hold both EU and American citizenship, and I know many people in America who would cut off their right arm to have the right to come and work in Europe for awhile.

Well Americans, today’s your lucky day. This week the Maltese Parliament approved a measure that would allow anyone to purchase Maltese citizenship for the low low price of €650,000 ($875,000). What a bargain!

When Europe’s media got wind of this news yesterday, people were scandalized. This tiny island nation of 450,000 people is part of the EU and therefore a holder of a Maltese passport would have the right to live and work anywhere in the union. They would have the right to free healthcare throughout Europe and free/reduced tuition at any of Europe’s universities. And they would benefit from visa-free travel arrangements between the EU and the United States.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Torch the rainbow

A monument to peace displayed by Poland outside the European Parliament during that country's presidency of the EU was burnt to the ground last night in Warsaw.

Chalk it up to some very unfortunate timing. Yesterday, as delegates arrived for this year's UN climate summit in Warsaw, they were warned to exercise caution and to stay out of the city centre. Violent demonstrations had broken out throughout the city.

The demonstrations actually had nothing to do with the climate summit. The meeting just happened to be opening on the same day as Polish national day, when far right and far left Polish groups have traditionally clashed in street brawls during demonstrations.

The violence isn't ordinarily noticed by the world's media. But given that international journalists have converged on the city this week for the climate summit, it was embarrassing timing for the Polish government.

It didn't help that the most iconic image from the violence was the sight of a giant rainbow in central Warsaw burnt to the ground last night. Those in Brussels might recognize the rainbow shown burning in this photo. It was displayed in front of the European Parliament by the Polish government during their EU presidency in 2011.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Eastern enthusiasm

A visit to Lithuania this week showed me how history and geography make such a difference to attitudes toward the EU.

Lithuania is a land in between. Part of the Soviet Union until just two decades ago, it today finds itself sandwiched between two dangerous and unpredictable neighbours. It’s not a very comfortable geography, to say the least.

To its East lies the pariah state of Belarus - Europe’s last dictatorship and, one might also say, Europe’s last Russian satellite state. To its West lies the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad - a barren, unforgiving place that few dare enter, repopulated by Russians in 1949 after its German inhabitants were killed or expelled.

But to its North and South lie fellow countries of the European Union – Latvia and Poland. The 103km border between Poland and Lithuania therefore forms a perilous land bridge between unfriendly Russian talons. Since2009 the two countries have been part of the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, giving the border additional importance as the only way to get to the Baltic and Finnic countries to the North without a visa.

But despite this pivotal importance, this narrow passageway faces a dearth of infrastructure connections. As I write this I am on a plane flying back from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, where I spent the last two days at a conference devoted to this lack of connection.