Thursday, 28 July 2016

Despite a gruesome week, Germans keep calm and carry on

Reports in American media of German 'panic' are greatly exaggerated. Most still believe Merkel's refugee policy is the right thing to do.

Over the past week, as Germany was struck by a string of four violent attacks in a row, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stayed on holiday.

It might seem strange for people in other countries. It stands in stark contrast to the political reaction in neighboring France, where French President Francois Hollande rushed to the scene of recent attacks there and made dramatic pronouncements and new policy promises. 

It has matched the general tone of the measured response here in Germany, both from the media and from politicians. There has been no hysteria.

Of course, this is largely because the scale and scope of the French and German attacks were very different. The German terrorist attacks were failures, killing no one but the perpetrator. While the attacks in Belgium and France were co-ordinated large-sale attacks by ISIS cells, the events in Germany have been small attempts by lone wolves. While the other attacks have had clear links with ISIS, the Germany links are tenuous or non-existent.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

It's time for the EU to drop the Turkish accession charade

Whether the coup was real or staged, it is beyond time that the EU drop the pretence that Erdogan's Turkey will ever join the bloc.

As the implications of the events of Friday night have sunk in, world leaders have started to suggest what they dared not say over the weekend.

Since Friday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rounded up and arrested more than 6,000 members of the military and judiciary, accusing them of being involved in the supposed coup. "It looks at least as if something has been prepared," Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner from Austria, said today. "The lists [of people to arrest] are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain stage."

"I'm very concerned. It is exactly what we feared," he added.

Hahn's words carry significance because he happens to be the commissioner for EU enlargement. He is directly responsible for Turkey's accession process to join the EU. But in realty, that process is as theatrical and illusory as Friday night's coup probably was (more on that below).

Friday, 15 July 2016

Europe will referenda itself to death

From Budapest to Paris to Cleveland, the West‘s blind idolatry of direct democracy will be its own undoing. 

"The referendum is a device of dictators and demagogues," declared UK prime minister Clement Attlee in 1949. No surprise, then, that Europe’s next anti-EU referendum following Brexit has been called by Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

The Hungarian prime minister’s absolute control over the political, judicial and media institutions in his country have been likened by many to the power of a dictator, including by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

Hungary has attracted particularly negative international attention because of its brutal treatment of Syrian refugees trying to cross through the country to Germany. It is the latter issue that has prompted the referendum, scheduled for 2 October. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A myopic focus on Tony Blair

Judging by the public discourse, you might think Tony Blair was a dictator who railroaded the UK into war in 2003. But he was just one part of a foreign policy orientation incapable of saying no to the United States.

Today the long-awaited results of the Chilcot Enquiry into the UK's involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, the consequences of which the world is still living with, were finally published. 

Like the 9/11 Commission's report in the United States in 2004, it contains little in the way of bombshell revelations. Instead it paints an overall damning picture of the leadership of Tony Blair, the centre-left politician who was prime minister at the time. It gives ammunition to those who want to see Blair prosecuted. Perhaps the most memorable line of the report's executive summary is this:
"I will be with you, whatever."
These words were in a 2002 private memo between Blair and US President George W Bush. The line seems to vindicate a long-held perception in the UK that Blair was Bush's poodle. Indeed, the memo suggests that even a year before the war's launch, Blair had decided to go along with whatever the American president proposed.

The entirety of the media coverage of the report today has centred on Blair. But as I've written before, I find the UK's myopic focus on Blair in the aftermath of the Iraq disaster to be counter-productive. 

Why personalise it so? Was it really Blair who was Bush's poodle? Or was it the UK that was America's poodle?

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The EU can, and should, reject any new UK commissioner

The British government is trying to find the most palatable candidate to survive European Parliament confirmation. But it is unclear why the EU should accept any British commissioner.

Prime Minister David Cameron's resignation in the hours after the Brexit referendum result on 24 June was the abdication heard round the world. But later that day, there was a less-noticed but also significant resignation in Brussels.

Lord Jonathan Hill, the European Commissioner from the UK, who is in charge of EU financial services, also stepped down. "As we move to a new phase, I don't believe it is right that I should carry on as the British Commissioner as though nothing had happened," he said in a statement. "In line with what I discussed with the President of the Commission some weeks ago, I have therefore told him that I shall stand down."

For awhile, it was unclear whether any new British commissioner would be sent to take his place. But today the Financial Times reported that the UK is about to nominate Sir Julian King, the current British ambassador to France. The Times writes that King would be considered an "apolitical appointment to ensure Britain is not left unrepresented at the EU’s executive body". 

The paper said the European Parliament is likely to reject any nominee that backed Brexit. At the same time, an incoming pro-Brexit government in the UK might be unhappy about having the pro-remain King be their man in the Commission.

But it is unclear to me why any UK nominee should be acceptable to the European Parliament.

The 'Brexit delegation' at Trump's convention

The Tory-led ECR group will attend Donald Trump's nominating convention, but Merkel's center-right EPP will not. It reflects the path British Conservatives have chosen to take.

Years before his faustian bargain to offer an EU referendum to maintain his Conservative Party leadership, David Cameron tossed the eurosceptics another bone to become party leader.

In his 2005 campaign to become Conservative leader, he promised to take the Tories out of the main-centre-right bloc in Europe, the European Peoples Party (EPP), and form a new eurosceptic bloc. For years, the eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party had complained that the EPP, which contains the main center-right parties of Europe including those of Germany, France, Italy and Spain, was too 'federalist' in its approach to the European Union.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Thousands marched, but what are the options for keeping UK in EU?

It is a time of huge uncertainty for Britain, but there are four scenarios which could see the country remain in the EU.

Yesterday saw an unprecedented, and uncharacteristic, outpouring of love for the European Union on the streets of London.
Tens of thousands of people marched on the British Parliament in a protest hastily organised on Facebook called 'March for Europe'. It was a show of European love not ordinarily seen in the British capital, where EU flags are normally verboten. And it wasn't a vague outpouring of sentiment either. The protesters had a specific demand for the parliament - do not pull the trigger on Brexit. That trigger is known as article 50 (more on that later).

The crowd was overwhelmingly young and educated. As The Guardian's Ed Vulliamy noted, "the hollow, bitter wit of the banners and placards was a fair indication of who took to the streets". “Un-Fuck My Future”, the placards pleaded. “No Brex Please, We’re British”. "Fromage, not Farage". Pictures of Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love EU” and Rick Astley singing "Never gonna give EU up, never gonna let EU down". 

“Hell no, we won’t go!” they chanted.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Why England in the EEA would be a victory for France

France has always resented British influence in the EU. Excluding the UK from EU law-making could reshape the union in the French model.

In 1963, when the United Kingdom first applied to join the European Community, the answer from Paris was a resolute 'non'. 

French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed the application in '63 and again in '67. He said that "a number of aspects of Britain's economy, from working practices to agriculture...made Britain incompatible with Europe". He added that the UK had a “deep-seated hostility” to any pan-European project.

It wasn't until De Gaulle relinquished the French presidency that Paris finally relented and allowed the UK to join the club in 1972.

So what were the "aspects of Britain's economy" that De Gaulle was so worried about? It was free market liberal economics. De Gaulle, and his successors, distrusted the "Anglo-Saxon" (The French term for Anglo-American) model of capitalism and had a very different vision for Europe.