Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Oh that sense of déjà vu

There will be many arguments for staying in the EU but you can bet your bottom dollar that we shall see this one over and over again: The UK has a vital role to play in shaping the future of Europe. Now is not the time to turn our backs.

I can only surmise that Ian Baxter, Chairman and Founder of Baxter Freight and guest author on Open Europe has lived in a yurt in Outer Mongolia for the last twenty years and has not bothered to catch on the voluminous literature on the subject of Britain being able to shape "Europe" according to its ideas and how much "Europe" needs it.

We must stay in the EEC, we were told officially and unofficially in 1975 because that is the only way it can be turned into a democratic structure. How did that turn out, I wonder.

We must stay in the post-Maastricht EU and, indeed, support that treaty because that is the only way serious changes can be implemented and the structure made more open, more manageable, more democratic. Calling John Major.

We must go into the euro because otherwise the structure will not work (that is true but it would not have worked anyway) and, in any case, if we don't, we shall be the losers. Ahem, yes.

So here we are again. Britain has once again a great opportunity to shape the future of the European project, having not managed to do it in the past. Oh, I lie. There is one definite development in the whole history of the project that was put together by our own civil servants: the Single Market that imposes all the rules on all firms and organizations whether they trade with the other member states. Is that what these people had in mind?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Flying a kite?

Once again there are rumblings that, perhaps, the IN/OUT referendum will be earlier than 2017, possibly as early as June of next year, a month after the Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections. Rumour, as peddled by the Independent on Sunday, says that he had intended to have the referendum at the same time but was dissuaded by various MPs and other advisers. He would probably have been dissuaded, had it ever come to a crunch, by the Electoral Commission, who expressed the view in the past that referendums, which are essentially cross-party exercises, should not be held at the same time as elections, which are essentially party exercise.

Of course, there is no possibility of any serious change in the treaties being negotiated, agreed on and implemented before June of next year, so there are three possibilities;

1.      Cameron really does think that his own and his party's popularity is such that they will carry the yes vote just on that, aided by the mess the Labour Party seems to be in and by the fear engendered by the Greek crisis. That sounds a little odd to me. I can see why he might want to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible and he, presumably, knows as well as we do on this side that the sooner the referendum takes place, the less likely the NO side to produce a set of coherent ideas and arguments.

On the other hand, the party's popularity is not quite as overwhelming as all that. They did win the election decisively and the Labour Party is in a mess over the leadership election. If it ends up with Jeremy Corbyn, they may well split and if they end up with one of the others they will spend a good deal of time patching up their various differences. In any case, they are not going to campaign for an OUT vote. But that does not make the Conservatives truly popular and while at the moment popular opinion (not least thanks to the UKIP shenanigans) seems to be on the side of staying in, that can change, especially if it can be shown that Cameron's "changes" and "reforms" amount to less than Wilson's did in 1975. (I have to admit that it will be hard to prove that, given the joy with which the media and the public manages to misunderstand everything that comes out of Brussels and the readiness with which they are prepared to give the PM, any PM, the benefit of the doubt.)

2.      It is possible though not very probable that Cameron is leading towards a NO vote or, at least, a situation in which he can threaten his friends and colleagues with that vote to get what he sees as a better deal though if the article is correct about what he would like from the EU we have to accept that he has little imagination.

3.       He is flying a kite. That would not be the first time. Choose a time when news are slow and the silly season is in full swing and come out with some kind of an idea, get it to some hack, let it be published and see what the reaction is. Then act according to what anyone says in response. So far the response has been a little apathetic and one cannot blame people. After all, none of it is of the slightest interest until there really is some kind of a negotiation and not just endless threats or promises of one. As a corollary of that, it is entirely possible that the Prime Minister is trying to wrongfoot the eurosceptic movement, in so far as it exists, and create even more schisms. That I can well believe.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The world seems to have gone mad

That title is the sort of hyperbole that usually makes me snort with disgust but, for once, I can see no other way of describing what is happening in the political and media world. People come up with the most ridiculous comments. Unfortunately, yes I do mean the reactions to what is going on in Greece, though I really had not intended to write about it again so soon.

The number of people who seem to have discovered all of a sudden that "the EU has a democracy problem" is quite spectacular. Apparently, all those discussions about the EU's "democracy deficit" have passed them by; apparently they did not notice what happened when countries voted in a referendum against implementing certain treaties and were made to vote again (with Greece always a reliable cheer-leader for the EU pack and against any change or reform); apparently they have no idea at all how the EU is governed - not through politics but management.

Well, I have news for all these people: the EU has no democracy problem; it was never intended to be a democracy (that is assuming the people in question can actually define democracy). Furthermore, democracy is of little use when you are seriously in debt and are relying on somebody else to fund your lifestyle. Back in the days I had to deal with bailiffs because of money I owed to the local council or the water board, I routinely consulted my household of fluctuating number of humans and cats and each time we voted unanimously against the proposals the bailiffs made about the payment of debts. Sadly, each time our democratic decision was overruled and pay it all we had to.

Then we come to the lunacy of #itsacoup, which people can read on Twitter even if they are not signed up for that particular form of social media themselves. I can only assume that it was started by someone who has no idea what a coup means and has no idea how the EU works (see above). It is, however, rather depressing when one gets a leading eurosceptic like Daniel Hannan coming up with rubbish of that kind.

I managed to miss his article in the Daily Mail on July 6 in which he congratulated the brave Greek people on standing up to the EU bullies and voting no to the proposed bail-out conditions (very similar to the ones they are about to accept). Ha-ha, he said, the Greeks are being threatened with all sorts of nasty things, like not having salaries, pensions and other expenses paid but they said boo to that and if they can do it, so can we. There is a difference between threats of that kind being made by the people who are doing the paying and those who are not. If Mr Hannan really proposes to compare Britain to Greece during the Brexit referendum campaign, we really are doomed: the reaction to that argument will be a colossal support for the staying in side.

He has now produced a film on YouTube in which he pretends to be a broadcaster during the Second World War or the Cold War and tells everyone that yes, this was a coup. As someone who actually was involved in Cold War broadcasting I find this pretentiousness ridiculous but that is what YouTube is for (as well as watching old episodes of The Avengers and listening to various adventures of Paul Temple, which is my preference). No, I really do not think so and, curiously enough, there are people actually in Greece (oh my!) who agree.

Take this article by Andreas Souvaliotis, a Social Entrepreneur (I think I know what that is) who says that au contraire,  Greece: Here Is Why #ThisIsNotACoup
That tiny little daily violation of each other's rights is perfectly symbolic of the prevailing national culture in Greece: My freedom does not end where yours begins; it extends indefinitely, unless I'm caught or stopped. It is considered perfectly normal to jump ahead of you at the traffic lights, to smoke where I'm not supposed to smoke, to cheat on my taxes, to cook the nation's books in order to qualify for a currency union, to renege on every single election promise. Those who insist on respecting the rules are considered a little less smart, a little less "Greek" -- and they're often told they are the losers.

That's exactly the country that became financially insolvent recently. My beautiful birth country continues to be the Eurozone's most adolescent, rebellious, blindly self-defeating society. Greece didn't get into all this trouble because its European partners took advantage of it; it went bankrupt because, after more than a generation as a member of a rules-driven, respect-based tight economic community, it never figured out how to play fair, how to fit in and how to build real value. It enjoyed the spoils of membership without ever trying to live up to its end of the bargain; it cheated, squandered, abused, begged for more... and the cycle continued until the financial crisis suddenly brought the entire country to the brink of bankruptcy. And even then, on the strength of charm and an endless stream of fake reform promises over the past half-dozen years, the money kept flowing in from its badly tricked Euro partners in the form of bailouts. And nobody was even humiliated or angry about that. Until now, of course.
Mr Souvaliotis exaggerates the extent to which the eurozone is rules-driven and respect-based, let alone tight economic community but he is spot on about the Greek attitude to it. I have no particular objections to a completely libertarian attitude to life, which is what the Greeks might say they have but I do feel that it is not compatible with an enormous government sector, high pay and pensions and demands that someone else, preferably other countries fund all that. That is all.

Mr Souvaliotis advocates "tough love" and adds this extremely fine sentence that needs to be quoted to a good many people:
Mercy on the Greek state, as a lot of bleeding hearts and newly minted euro-experts have been advocating these past few days, would have only fed a bad culture and perpetuated the problem.
As someone said on another forum: I am looking at you, BBC journalists. Well, yes, the BBC hacks are suddenly dissatisfied with the way the EU has been behaving towards gallant little Greece (unlike the way it had behaved towards gallant little Denmark or Ireland). Again, I can only wonder what their attitude would have been if there had been a right-wing government in that country.

I am also looking at some eurosceptics, led by Mr Hannan and his many acolytes. Mind you, none of these people are quite as hilariously funny as the egregious Owen Jones who has suddenly decided that if the wonderful, extreme left wing government in Greece who just want to get lots of money from everybody else and never pay any of it back is bullied by the nasty EU and even nastier Germany then it is time for us to get out. The Left, he says, must reclaim the eurosceptic cause. All we need is that born-too-late student agitprop purveyor from the SNP, Mhairie Black to decide that the EU is not such a good idea after all. We can but hope that the likes of Owen Jones will swing back to being an idiot on the europhiliac side not an idiot on our side. Still, I am more than a little amused by the unholy alliance of Daniel Hannan and Owen Jones. Way to go, lads.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

No it is not over yet, not by a long chalk

On another forum someone pointed out that it must be at lest 2,500 years since Iran (a.k.a. Persia) and Greece dominated the headlines to the extent they have been doing for the last week or so. That is true with some exceptions: there was the time six months ago, and a year ago, and two years ago and so on. Nor have the two stories gone away. President Obama may be lauding the nuclear agreement and pretending that it has nothing to do with Congress (memo to the Prez: read that Constitution at last) but Congress does not think so and there are a good many unhappy people in the region, starting with Israel and continuing with most Arab states. So that one will run and run.

What of Greece? Did the runner from Brussels bring the good news as the one from Marathon had done? Not exactly. On the one hand there will be a third bail-out (anyone who is surprised by that has not been paying attention) but on the other hand the terms imposed on Greece are about the same if not worse than the ones they voted against in that referendum. And this time the Prime Minister has accepted them because he had no alternative.

To his and the Greek population's surprise it emerged that they were not holding the whip hand. Far from it: they voted against the austerity plan on the assumption that they will still be getting a bail-out and emergency funds to keep going in the style they seem to have accustomed themselves to. (Well, maybe not quite in that style as anyone who has a transferable skill is leaving or planning to leave the country.) The trouble with that reasoning as I have pointed out before, is that you cannot vote democratically or otherwise about something you cannot control. In other words, for the Greeks to vote in favour of getting more money from other EU member states was pointless - it is the other states that were going to decide on that and they, too, have people and electorates.

The sad truth is (well, sad from the Greek point of view) that it is they who are desperate to stay in the eurozone while the other members do not seem to care all that much. My suspicion is that most of the big banks and government departments in German, France and the other countries have been making various plans for a Grexit and will be more or less prepared. Not fully, of course, as one can never be fully prepared for something like that, but more or less. Whether the Greek government has made any plans remains a moot point. For the time being they are hanging on in there and I do mean the eurozone.

Will the Greek government survive in Greece? That remains to be seen but I predict that they will. No other real alternative is being presented. Tsipras is facing a rebellion in Syriza but is being supported by the opposition parties. A good deal of hysterical nonsense is being spouted:
Greek Energy Minister and Left Platform leader Panagiotis Lafazanis said yesterday, “Our so-called partners led by the German establishment, behaved towards our country as being their colony and they are nothing more than brutal blackmailers and financial assassins.”
Clearly, even elementary knowledge of economic facts is not a requirement in the Greek government. As for political understanding, don't even think of it. Greece has been a colony of the EEC/EC/EU ever since it joined and its own political establishment, backed by its electorate has done nothing to change that situation.

Meanwhile, the agreement might (though probably won't) be scuppered by the German Bundestag who seem to think that democracy and voting is not just for the Greeks.
“The package is neither credible nor viable,” centre-right MP Klaus-Peter Willsch told Tagesspiegel.

MPs from the larger of the two centre-right parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Wolfgang Bosbach and Willsch announced their intentions to vote “no” on Friday, just as they have in previous votes regarding Greek aid.

Still, most of the Bundestag’s centre-right, Social Democrats and Greens are expected to vote “yes” on a mandate the German government needs for negotiations on a third bailout for Greece. The Left Party is expected to reject the plan. In a second vote, the Bundestag would later have to agree to the new assistance programme.

The agreement established on Monday (13 July) morning in Brussels is a further attempt to “patch-up cracks in the system with a lot of money”, Willsch said. Among other things, he criticised the scope of the planned €50 billion trust fund. This was already recorded as a privatisation target in the first bailout package, but not even 10% of it was actually achieved.

Hans-Peter Friedrich, the deputy chair of the centre-right group in the Bundestag, expressed his doubts over reform pledges from Greece’s left-wing government.

“I do not believe one word the Greek communists say anymore,” Friedrich told Bild.
Looking at it from another point of view, I cannot help wondering whether the sort of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that is to be seen on the left of our own political spectrum, especially among the europhiliacs, has anything to do with the fact that the Greek government that is allegedly being "humiliated" is of the fairly extreme left-wing variety. Would we see the same if it had been of the right?

Brendan O'Neill has written an excellent piece on the born again left-wing eurosceptics who are in agony because the poor Greeks and their left-wing government is being so badly treated.
But I’m not feeling very welcoming to these latter-day doubters, currently live-tweeting their Euro-existential angst and clogging their newspaper columns with tortured questions about whether the EU really is a ‘great achievement of enlightened internationalism’. (Answer: no, you donuts.) For two reasons.

Firstly because it’s just too late. Where the hell were you guys in 2001, when the Irish people rejected the Nice Treaty and were subjected to a tirade of abuse from EU officials before being made to vote again? Where were you in 2005, when the Dutch and French peoples were libelled by EU officials as racists and xenophobes and ‘the generally pissed off’ for having the temerity to reject the EU Constitution? Where were you in 2006 and 2007 when some of eastern Europe’s elected leaders were told by Brussels to tone down their political rhetoric or face being found in contravention of EU obligations? Greece is far from the first European nation to have its democratic impulse nulled by Brussels bureaucrats.

I’ll tell you where you were back then: you were on the side of the Eurocrats sneering at the pesky masses. You treated criticism of Europe as a kind of mental malaise: Europhobia. And you let it be known that all good people, like you, back the EU, whereas only bad people — racists, nationalists, fat blokes with the St George’s Cross tattooed on their arses — oppose it. You formed a chattering-class ring of steel around the EU, deflecting all critical jabs and barbs as the unhinged mutterings of the generally pissed-off. So, yeah, your Damascene conversion to the cause of Euro-questioning is a tad irritating, to be frank.

The second reason I’m not rolling out the red carpet for these people coming around to a way of thinking they once branded a phobia is because they’re doing it wrong. They aren’t genuinely opposed to the EU; they’re just really angry with Germany. In fact, much of this oh-so-late Euroscepticism, especially from the left, is really anti-German sentiment in disguise. It’s the return of the British disease: a hives-like allergy to all things German and a rash fear that this nation is once again plotting to subject all of Europe to its black, unforgiving boot.
As a matter of fact I, too, am fed up with the stupid cry of "Nazi Germany marches again" and "Merkel is just like Hitler". No, this Germany is not Nazi, Merkel is nothing like Hitler, the country is a democracy and has to pay attention to its own people and, in any case, the other putative donors (there is no point in pretending that these are loans) are not too happy with Greece either.

This is what I said on the anniversary of the bringing down of the Berlin Wall:
And now, my fellow eurosceptics, let us do a little bit of maths. The Federal Republic of Germany, popularly known as West Germany, became a constitutional democracy in May 1949, that is sixty-five years ago. That democracy was strong enough to take in twenty-five years ago a section of Germany that had been a Communist country for forty years. Since then united Germany has had many problems (haven't we all?), both economic and political but it has remained a democracy and there seems not possibility of it being anything else. As against that, the Nazi regime lasted for twelve years. That's twelve years against sixty-five and twenty-five. Could we now stop talking about Germany as being always and for ever potentially Nazi?
Obviously no, we cannot get out of that stupid rut for if we did we might have to think a little more seriously about the present and the future.

Many of the people who have been raising the wicked Germans oppressing the Greeks cry found themselves spluttering with fury when it became apparent that Britain would have to contribute £1 billion to the short-term funding (there really is no money there). The UK is, therefore, opposing any immediate solution that would involve British taxpayer's money. As I am one of them I have no objections to that stance (though it ignores certain other funds) but I am a little perplexed by people's attitude of being generous at Germany's and other eurozone countries' expense.
A diplomatic source said Monday that Poland too would oppose the use of EFSM to provide emergency cash for Greece.

The source added that even some eurozone countries are wary of the bridge-funding idea, saying Greece has enough money to meet its short-term needs.

Other solutions to provide the bridge-funding have been aired, for instance, the use of SMP profits - the profits made on Greek bonds by the ECB and eurozone national banks - or bilateral loans to Greece from countries including France and Italy.

"I foresee those negotiations being very difficult because I don't see many countries having a mandate to give money without any conditions", Finnish finance minister Alex Stubb said Monday.

Arriving at the Ecofin meeting on Tuesday, Luxembourg finance minister Pierre Gramegna said there is "no ready product on the table yet" and that ministers would listen to experts from the euro working group who have been tasked to work on the issue.

According to Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed at Monday's Eurogroup that Greece issues IOUs to repay its debt to the IMF and ECB.
Well, that should solve it. Would IOUs be acceptable to Greek pride about which we have been hearing so much recently?

Just to make things worse, the IMF tells us that they are actually worse than we think. Much worse.
A secret International Monetary Fund study showed Greece needs far more debt relief than European governments have been willing to contemplate so far, as Germany heaped pressure on Athens on Tuesday to reform and win back its partners' trust.

The IMF's stark warning on Athens' debt was leaked as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggled to persuade deeply unhappy leftist lawmakers to vote for a package of austerity measures and liberal economic reforms to secure a new bailout.

The study, seen by Reuters, said European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension. Or else they must make annual transfers to the Greek budget or accept "deep upfront haircuts" on existing loans.
That is a complex, technical way of saying that Greece is going to be kept going by the rest of us, that debts will not be repaid, that no reforms will be sufficient to solve the problems and .... that we shall all have to keep them going. Even colonies are stronger economically than that.

Is there a solution to any of this? I am not sure anybody knows what it might be. Certainly leaving the eurozone might be a starting point for Greece but it will still have the debts and an dysfunctional economy. Leaving without some idea of what to do next will solve nothing.

As I said, it is not over, not by a long chalk.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Another split in the AfD

From yesterday's EUObserver:
Germany's anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader, Bernd Lucke, announced on Wednesday he is quitting the party he helped found, reports AFP. Lucke, who is also an MEP with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, said he left because the party is pushing "Islamophobic and xenophobic" views.
One cannot help thinking of several wonderful scenes from The Life of Brian. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Anniversary

Ten years since those transport bombs in London and we did try to remember. I was at a conference on Intellectual Property so was able to keep that one minute silence with other people. London Transport was going to keep it as were other organizations but I do not know whether the place did come to a complete standstill as it used to at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

I thought I'd go back to some of the blogs we wrote at the time and here is Richard (not yet the Boss) announcing what happened. As it happens I first heard what happened from someone in Germany who was calling to find out whether I was all right. I had not switched on the computer. After that I spent a great many hours trying to find out what was going on.

My first posting on the subject in which I made the same mistake everyone else made in assuming that there was a carefully planned co-ordinated attack. As it turned out the bombs were planted around King's Cross because that is where the perpetrators came into London. I am not too pleased with my later update but on the whole it can pass. My next update came on the following day about the situation in West London and I do happen to live in a very mixed area with many Muslims as neighbours and business owners.

Normal service had to be resumed until we had those luckily ineffective bombers on July 21 (one of them was in Shepherds Bush and police activity immediately after it brought the area to a standstill for several days) and there were a few postings on the subject related to the bombings. Here is Richard reminiscing about his childhood and comparing the Orthodox Jews among whom he, a goyim, was brought up with the Muslim communities in north London and the less than helpful part played by the overweening bureaucracy in the problem.

Well, naturally, I had to sound off on "those British values in full" here and here and the postings are not bad even though I say so myself. While we both carried on with writing on other matters (for example Richard here) by the end of July I became very tired with the mawkishness around me and the incompetence with which the aftermath of the bombings was being dealt with. In particular, I recall being attacked by all sorts of people for expressing doubts about police behaviour in the Stockwell shooting. Well, far it be from me to boast (moi?) but I and those of us who were unimpressed with the first, second and third stories were absolutely right. The whole affair was one of appalling incompetence and self-satisfaction and not one single head rolled.

Still we have muddled on with very few terrorist attacks for which we must praise our intelligence services whose success is, by definition, not known. As the saying goes, our chaps and chapesses have to get it right every time, theirs only once.

That is probably as much anniversary remembrance that I want to do and probably more than readers want to know about. I shall stop here. Normal service will resume.

Monday, July 6, 2015

About UKIP

No, this is not about Kippers rejoicing about Greece's discomfort because this version of it sounds like a defiance of the EU but about their representation in the House of Lords, something I have written about before.

It seems that the Prime Minister has replied to Lord Pearson's letter on the subject of whether more UKIP peers will be appointed with the following words:
The Government’s policy is to ensure that the House of Lords continues to work well.

I have committed previously to keeping the party peers under review and will, of course, give further consideration to the points you raise when we come to consider recommendations over the course of this parliament.
As this is somewhat meaningless I suspect there must have been something else in the letter and as soon as I find out I shall report on it.

Meanwhile, we are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, the House of Lords has been packed by political hacks of various kind by the previous Cameron and the Blair/Brown governments and we really need no more members. In fact a purge is in order. On the other hand, UKIP should have some representation in Parliament and they are unlikely to get that in the Commons despite the number of votes they received.

If we take the view that peers should be appointed on merit and regardless of party affiliation or electoral votes then all is well. But if we take the view that the Lords should somehow, indirectly represent opinion then UKIP should have more peers.

If the Prime Minister calls a moratorium on more peerages then all is relatively well though why there should be so many Lib-Dem ones remains a mystery. But if he appoints numerous Lib-Dems who lost their seats then UKIP will have something to complain about and so shall the rest of us as the House of Lords is an important part of our constitution, such as it is while we are in the EU.