Saturday, August 31, 2013

Too much emotion

There are times when emotion is appropriate. I am certain that I shall feel very emotional when I attend Professor Minogue's Memorial Service towards the end of September and so will everybody else there. In fact, I shall fill my bag and pockets with tissues just in case I tear up more than once. But that is what funerals and memorial services are for. Politics, on the other hand, ought to dispense with emotionalism as far as possible. Yet it was clear on Thursday,  in the wake of the Parliamentary debates about possible military intervention in Syria and the close vote [scroll down for Main Question] in the House of Commons against it that there is just too much emotion about the whole subject on both sides and for reasons I cannot quite understand. (Here is the full text of the debate in the House of Commons and here of the one in the House of Lords, where no vote was taken but the sense of the House was very clear.)

Almost immediately after the result was announced one started seeing and hearing weeping and gnashing of teeth among those who thought we should intervene though they were still unable to specify how and for what purpose we should do so and equally insane rejoicing among those who were against it, not to mention those who thought that this would signal the end of Cameron's leadership for reasons I fail to understand. I am, of course, glad that we are not going to be engaged in this open-ended, badly defined, ill-thought out military adventure but I see no particular reason for jumping up and down with joy. (A reminder of what I wrote about it a couple of days ago.)

A couple of days ago Brendan O'Neill put up a piece on Spiked in which he argued that
War used to be the pursuit of politics by other means. Today, if the statements made by the Western politicos and observers who want to bomb Syria are anything to go by, it’s the pursuit of therapy by other means. The most startling and unsettling thing about the clamour among some Westerners for a quick, violent punishment of the Assad regime is its nakedly narcissistic nature. Gone is realpolitik and geostrategy, gone is the PC gloss that was smeared over other recent disastrous Western interventions to make them seem substantial, from claims about spreading human rights to declarations about facing down terrorism, and all we’re left with is the essence of modern-day Western interventionism: a desire to offset moral disarray at home by staging a fleeting, bombastic moral showdown with ‘evil’ in a far-off field.
I could not help agreeing with him and thought of the article again as I waded through the acres of sticky emotionalism last night and today or tried to engage in some rational discussion. The reasons as to why the MPs betrayed us all, betrayed the people of Syria and of every other country you could name and created a world-wide desolation were various but all displayed a "nakedly narcissistic nature". All arguments about the nature of the rebels, the lack of British interest, the lack of clear understanding as to what is going on or what we might achieve were swept aside in a general cry of "Assad is such a terrible man" or, in one case (I kid you not) "MPs can now watch the Syrian children suffer". (I did say rather coolly that if it was about the children we should go in against both sides since there is good evidence of children being maltreated by the rebels. There was no response.)

The whole discussion reminds me of the endless arguments about foreign aid in which all rational objections of any kind are brushed aside with an highly emotional and at the same time self-centred cry of "but we cannot just sit back". It is all about us not about them.

So where are we now? First of all, that vote was not, in my opinion, catastrophic for David Cameron. Intervention in Syria is not core government policy and there is no particular reason why a government should not be defeated from time to time. It used to happen in the past and can happen again. In fact, it has just happened. The defeat was not exactly surprising (and neither were the arguments expressed in the House of Lords). It does not take a great deal of political nous to realize that the proposed military adventure is highly unpopular in the country and the arguments for it have not been presented at all cogently.

Then again, wars are never popular but until recently, declaration of them had not needed parliamentary approval (and Blair had it in full over Iraq) because it is issued, as this article explains, under a Royal Prerogative that is now effectively vested in the government of the day. David Cameron did not have to go to Parliament over the Syrian adventure but he could not really avoid it for political reasons. He can now, with some justification, proclaim himself to be a true parliamentarian who does not act in a high-handed fashion but listens to the people and to Parliament. Indeed, he has already done so and the chances are he will play on it in future.

The Opposition could now call for a vote of no confidence but I doubt if they will as they might win, in which case there will be an election, which they have not a chance of winning at the moment. Actually, the government would win that vote. Governments usually do.

The Lib-Dims came out rather poorly. Having consistently opposed the war in Iraq they (like a number of leftie luvvies in this country and in the US) have suddenly become bellicose and anxious to see a nasty tyrant punished though, presumably, not toppled. Nick Clegg is now of even less importance than he has been until now.

The other losers are UKIP and, for once, it is not their fault. Nigel Farage has made it clear that their policy was strong and absolute opposition to any intervention in Syria. A number of UKIPers then produced the usual statist, socialist mantra about the money spent on any foreign adventure and how it is needed to build more hospitals, schools and so on. Even the Labour Party stopped saying that.

A number of analysts (not all of them UKIP members) said before the debate that if the Commons vote for military action, UKIP's popularity would go up. That would not necessarily be true as the Lib-Dims had not benefited from their opposition to the Iraq war even when that became unpopular. As it happens, the vote went against military intervention and UKIP is once again on the sidelines, calling for a confidence vote, resignations and assuring anyone who will listen that they were the ones who achieved this result.

While Mr Cameron is reported to be contemplating a few enforced resignations in his Cabinet and a general reshuffle, we are getting an emotional chorus of people in and around politics, led by the Lord Ashdown, about Britain's diminished role in the world and the death of the special relationship with the United States. All absolute piffle. If Britain has any sort of a role to play in international politics it is not likely to be enhanced by a Pavlovian need to get embroiled in any war and civil war that happens to have good photographers around.

At the height of Britain's power and influence it managed to keep out of numerous wars and even more civil wars, not considering it necessary to become embroiled unless there was some interest in doing so. The man who is generally thought of being the strongest imperialist among political leaders and one who always had his eye on promoting Britain's role and interests, Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Beaconsfield, can be said to have had his finest hour when he refused to involve the country  in a Balkan war but negotiated a peace to its advantage. When Bismarck was congratulated on achieving agreement after days of difficult negotiations in 1878 in Berlin, he insisted that the achievement was Disraeli's, famously and admiringly saying: "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann."

In fact, all those rather over-wrought individuals who are comparing Assad with Hitler and saying that we should go to war as we did in 1939 as well as those who displaying fears that this might another 1914, should study the events of 1876 to 1878 when, in the wake of atrocious behaviour by the Turks in response to an uprising in the Balkans Mr Gladstone, the Leader of the Opposition, published his highly influential Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. Even then there were pictures and reports from some parts of the world and many people became angry.

However, the situation was different. For one thing, those massacred were Christians and Gladstone, himself a devout man, could appeal to feelings of solidarity for co-religionists. If there is any of that around in the discussions about Syria, they cannot be on the side that is calling for the punishment of Assad as it is the far more Islamist rebels who seem to have attacked, murdered and generally abused the Syrian Christians.

Secondly, Gladstone could point to the British government as being partially at fault. Disraeli was determined to retain the alliance with the Ottoman Empire against the Russians and Gladstone, whose campaign was considerably more popular than any calls for intervention in Syria are now, called for a change in policy. He did not call for direct military intervention (which Russia was supplying in any case) but for a change in foreign policy. Even in 1876, at the height of Britain's strength and power, it was not considered to be necessary to become militarily involved in every war going, not even for a good cause. In the end, as we have seen, Disraeli won and the Treaty of Berlin stabilized the region but did not precisely punish any wrongdoers.

In the meantime, President Obama, unlike his much maligned predecessor seems unable to build a coalition of the willing and may decide to go it alone, largely because he, foolishly in most people's opinion, drew those lines in the sand or red lines or whatever lines and can now either bomb Syria with no-one to back him or climb down on his threats. Neither is a good option for him or for the United States.

To be fair, it looks like France is ready to support any action and even become involved in it though not for the purpose of overthrowing Assad, merely to punish him (and to ensure that some Raffaele Rafale planes are bought by somebody in the regions).

Secretary of State John Kerry, who, in the not too distant past voted for the Iraqi war before he voted against it, made a speech in which he called France America's oldest ally, which is technically correct, as France helped the winning side in the War of Independence. Not sure it means anything really as the special relationship whose death is once again proclaimed by all and sundry is a somewhat more complicated affair and exists on many more levels than politicians can grasp. If it survived Harold Wilson's government, it will survive President Obama's posturing.

John Kerry's speech (analyzed here and published in full here) appears to be using language and arguments that are very familiar. I was not the only one who was transported back to 2003 when similar arguments were given by President Bush and Secretary of State Powell for an attack on Iraq (which I still think was the right thing to do but that is for another time) and which was later furiously attacked by Democrats and their left-wing supporters, some of whom are now finding time to attack Parliament for that vote. Well, if you lost Mia Farrow, you have really lost your position in the world. Or so she thinks, I have no doubt.

Could John Kerry suddenly be against the military adventure (it is hard to know what to call it after all the chopping and changing) after he is for it?

Tomorrow will bring new developments, I've no doubt. At least, I hope so as I am due to discuss them on the BBC Russian Service in the afternoon. But as things stand, President Obama has not built his coalition of the willing and has found himself in a pickle as a result of his more than confused policy in the Middle East. Britain is not going to be bombing Syria and that is not a bad thing as open-ended, ill-defined military adventures whose purpose is unclear and which are likely to help someone equally nasty are a bad idea. This does not mean that Britain's position in the world will change or that the special relationship with the US is over. Maybe it will mean that there will be an effort to define what that position might be but I do not have high hopes of that. However, the rather emotional rejoicing about the vote is equally insane. The situation in Syria and the Middle East is not such as to bring joy to anyone. In fact, it has become considerably worse than it was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected and promised to sort out all the nasty problems that his predecessor had allegedly created. And the moral of that story is that no politician should ever believe the hype produced by the media.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The last political "realignment"

There is some talk going on about the need for a political realignment, for new parties to make a break-through, for old parties to split according to ideas and even ideology - it seems to be leading nowhere. What with the talk and with the many reminiscences of the seventies and eighties that followed Lady Thatcher's death this is undoubtedly a good time to recall the last time an attempt at political realignment seemed to fail though it probably succeeded in the long run and in an unexpected fashion.

In 1981, two years after what turned out to be one of the most significant elections of modern British history, dissatisfied members of the Labour Party, led by the "Gang of Four", Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers, set up a new party, which, they hoped, would carry on the more Social-Democratic tradition of the Labour Party, which had been, in their and many others' opinion, taken over by left-wing Marxist activists.

While David Owen and Bill Rodgers were still sitting MPs, Shirley Williams had lost her seat in 1979 and Roy Jenkins had more or less opted out of British politics, which was becoming unpalatable to him in 1977, when he became President of the European Commission. After January 1981 Wembley Conference, which committed the Labour Party to unilateral disarmament, they finally faced up to the fact that they had only two choices: either conform with the left-wing Marxist movement that was taking over the party or to break away and form a new one.

The summary of the party's history on Wikipedia is, in fact, quite good, though many of the details and twists and turns necessarily had to be left out.

The new party formed an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party very soon after its formation and this continued till 1988 when the two parties merged more formally, the mould not having been broken though somewhat dented. As Charles Moore points out in the first volume of his Thatcher biography, the Gang of Four had not been paying enough attention to what was going on in the Conservative Party, underestimating Thatcher and her increasing influence on British politics. One could say that they had made the decision to break away from the Labour Party too late. If only they had done so when the first calls for a new, centrist, Social-Democrat party had started in the mid-seventies ....

For the story of that attempt at political realignment goes back  to some years before 1981, though many of the players are less well remembered than the Gang of Four and their followers. There is the story of the Social Democratic Alliance, a group of Labour politicians at various levels who struck out boldly against the extreme left-wing infiltration of the party and what they saw, with a good deal of justification, as the pusillanimous behaviour by the party leadership and its Gaitskillite social-democratic wing. Though there was half-hearted support from Roy Jenkins, the other later "rebels" shied away from the fight. Indeed, I recall Shirley Williams appearing on TV to tell us all that she could not understand what the SDA's members were complaining about: she could see no extremist infiltration and Militant was not a problem. She might have been that stupid (you can never tell with Baroness Williams as she is now) or she might have been frightened to tell the truth or she might have thought it was a clever manoeuvre.

Then there were the deselection fights in several constituencies with moderate or right-wing MPs, which were painful and long-drawn with varying results. The most important of these was in Newham North-East where the battle against Militant and various Trostskyist infiltrators was fought by the man who probably did more than anyone else to bring the truth out into the open and whose apparently hopeless struggle produced a curious success eventually: Reg Prentice.

It is wonderful to find that his name is being restored into its rightful place in modern British political history  by Geoff Horn's new biography, published by Manchester University Press, called Crossing the Floor - Reg Prentice and the crisis of British social democracy.

Dr Horn, an expert on social-democratic politics in the Labour Party, has produced an exhaustive and detailed account of the gradual disintegration of that party in the seventies and eighties and of the gradual control exerted over trade unions, local party organizations and, eventually, the national organization. Perhaps, it is a little too detailed for a non-geek. After a while, one gets exhausted by the account of all the meetings and all the resolutions but it is worth persevering as much of what happened afterwards in British politics is rooted in those apparently boring squabbles, hastily called meetings, dubious votes, legal injunctions and, most of all, inability on the part of Labour's right, the Gaitskillites to throw off their political paralysis.

There were exceptions to the latter and one of the most important ones was Reg Prentice, a man of impeccable socialist credentials who, nevertheless, stood up against union violence, political intimidation and extreme left-wing ideology, proclaiming over and over again the need for law and order, for sensible economic compromises, for parliamentary democracy. For his pains he was deselected in his constituency and was subjected to a good deal of harassment. He tried to fight back but did not succeed, thought of standing as an independent when he realized that his idea of a new, social-democratic party was not being taken up by his colleagues and, eventually, crossed the floor and joined the Conservative Party.

Prentice was a decent and honourable man though not an easy one to deal with. Men who feel inspired by a political mission rarely are and if they are losing the battle even less so. For all of that he was right as many in the Labour Party recognized too late.

The book tries to be objective but one cannot help feeling some contempt for the so-called Right in the Labour Party, the supposed Gaitskillites and self-defined social-democrats who did not have the courage to back either the rebels of the SDA or Reg Prentice when these tried to persuade the grandees that the Labour Party had to split and a new political alignment was needed. Nor does Dr Horn spare the two leaders of the time, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan who turned out to be incapable of dealing with the clearly evidenced infiltration. Their punishment was to watch the Labour Party's decade of growing political irrelevance.

The realignment did not happen as envisaged even when the new party was formed. By this time many of the electorate who might have supported it in the mid-seventies had decided that they quite liked Thatcher's Conservatives and voted accordingly. The left-wing activists of the Labour Party were right in one thing: the post-war consensus was failing the country and changes were needed. They simply were wrong as to which kind of changes and the Labour establishment was powerless to fight them.

It would not be correct to say that there was no realignment at all. After a decade or more of progressive destruction and disintegration, after the split that created the SDP, after Michael Foot's spectacularly inept leadership of the party, there was a concerted effort to sort the mess out. It took a few years and a good deal of money but Militant tendency was defeated and its influence in the party negated. It took another few years for the policies to be changed and for the party to become electable under the much disliked yet highly successful Tony Blair.

Dr Horn discusses briefly whether New Labour is, in fact, the social-democrat party that Reg Prentice and the others would have liked to see. Perhaps it is. But one can also argue that we now have two or even three social-democrat parties and, confusingly, the electorate do not seem to like any of them all that much.

Geoff Horn:                 

Crossing the floor - Reg Prentice and the crisis of British social democracy

2013                          Manchester University Press

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Here are a few questions that need answers

This is going to be a rant, I am afraid. Readers who dislike rants should stop right now. And it is going to be about people who are demanding that we should immediately and even sooner than that intervene in Syria. Readers who find the subject unpalatable should stop right now or read this letter that cogently explains the Middle East.

So, Syria, where the most appalling things have been happening as they tend to in a confusing civil war and where President Assad, who was confidently predicted to be on his way out a couple of years ago, is still in place, more or less, still as nasty as ever faced by opponents who are just as nasty. I am not going to discuss the recent gas attack, whether it happened (probably though not certainly) and who might have been responsible (almost anyone). I am, however, going to have a go at the people who are confidently demanding that we should intervene.

Yesterday I noted two tweets that annoyed me more than anything else. One said that if we had not intervened in Libya we would have had pictures from Benghazi like the ones we had from Damascus. Possibly, then again, maybe not. For sure, the pictures we had from Benghazi last autumn and since have not exactly filled one with joy at the thought that we helped to create the situation.

Another tweet was retweeted by someone who is a journalist on the Times and ought to know better. (Whom am I kidding?) It said something to the effect that if Obama did not want to be known as the Chamberlain of the 21st century, he should intervene in Syria within hours, thus showing breathtaking ignorance of history, geography and politics.

I am a newcomer to Twitter and use it little, mostly to promote postings on this and other blogs as well as some articles I liked. Occasionally I express some opinion. On the whole I have no strong feelings about the medium but I do see one enormous disadvantage (or advantage, depending on whose side you are on): people can express firm opinions on any subject whatsoever and cannot be questioned about those opinions. Or, at least, they can ignore questions and challenges, leaving those opinions out there in the public domain, in 140 characters.

Of course, I have noted that there have been longer articles and postings on the subject, with many demands that we, the West, Britain, the US, NATO and sundry others should intervene in Syria. There seems to be a complete amnesia about the fact that we have intervened in several countries in that region recently with lamentable results.

However, ladies and gentlemen who demand that we intervene in Syria, could you answer at least some of the following questions?

When you say you want us to intervene what kind of intervention do you have in mind and who, do you think, should carry it out? What precisely is a limited military intervention, as suggested by Senator McCain? 

What sort of timetable do you have in mind? Weeks? Months? Years? A long occupation with no foreseeable end and if so, who would be doing it?

What would be the agreed aim of the intervention? Simply no more pictures of dead bodies? How can we ensure that? Regime change? I have no problems with that in principle (think Germany, Japan and Italy in 1945) but what sort of regime should we install and how long will it survive?

Do we have any identifiable allies? 

And last but very much not least: what is the exit strategy?

It is possible that some of those who are advocating intervention can answer some if not all of those questions. May I suggest, ever so humbly, that those who cannot answer any apart from pointing vaguely to some nebulous "democrats" that we have to find and help, try to remember what Prime Minister Attlee said to Professor Harold Laski: "a period of silence on your part would be welcome". The last thing we or the United States or NATO needs is another open-ended, ill-defined military engagement in a country whose politics is barely understood in the West.

Not that we are likely to get that period of silence.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Snowden story just keeps giving

It would not be possible to cover all the ramifications of the Snowden/Greenwald/Miranda story on this blog and, in any case, numerous hacks, some with very little knowledge or understanding, have been holding forth on the subject. Suffice it to say that the original "poor little David Miranda, being held merely because he is that courageous Greenwald's partner" story has been somewhat tarnished and opinion now is more divided than ever.

I do have a few observations to make. Firstly, I do hope Edward Snowden, wherever in Russia he happens to be, has no intention of following Bradley Manning's example and announcing that he will live the rest of his life as a woman. The Russian authorities will not take kindly to that.

Secondly, I note that the Council of Europe has made shocked statements and demanded answers.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has asked UK Home Secretary Theresa May to explain the pressure that Downing Street had put on the Guardian newspaper over the Snowden case, warning of the potentially "chilling effect" on media freedom.

In the letter sent yesterday (21 August), Jagland, a Norwegian politician, laid out his concerns over two recent events in the United Kingdom – the detention by police at the Heathrow airport of David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian’s headquarters, which he said was “apparently under instructions of government officials”.
Unless, of course, we are talking about media freedom against which the Grauniad with the bold Alan Rusbridger have been campaigning for some time. Readers will recall that the Grauniad was one of the leaders of the pack against various tabloid newspapers whose journos ... ahem ... acquired information in various nefarious ways. The Grauniad's own methods of investigation were somewhat dubious and involved inaccurate stories as well as nefariously acquired information. All that was deemed to be satisfactory as it was done in the name of honour and decency or, in other words, by left-wing journalists. A number of journalists and other employees of newspapers have been arrested, some already released with no charges preferred, some still awaiting trial. The Grauniad not only cheered all that on but was a stalwart supporter of the Leveson report, which proposed what would, in effect, be a form of state regulation of the media. Brendan O'Neill's piece on the subject is as cogent as his articles usually are.

One new item has come out as a result of the Snowden saga and, possibly, as a result of Greenwald's hissy fit at "England" because of his partner and courier's detention:
Britain has a secret base in the Middle East where it conducts massive internet and telephone surveillance operations as part of its larger Tempora programme, reports the Independent. The base sweeps up data traffic by tapping into underwater fibre optic cables. The data is shared with the US intelligence agency.
Well, I am delighted to hear that our security services are doing what they are paid to do. I doubt if all that many people will be shocked by this news item. But, let us not forget, by collecting and possibly releasing data of this kind the Snowden/Greenwald/Miranda story is no longer about governments spying on their own citizens but about revealing information about governments fighting terrorism through intelligence and endangering the lives of those who do the fighting.

ADDENDUM: Information I was given on another thread by someone whose knowledge of these matters is greater than mine. I am reproducing it with his permission:
Before leaving Palestine in May, 1948, the British in 1947 moved their Sigint operation to Cyprus, with their then 2 Wireless Regt at Ayios Nikolaos, West of Famagusta.

It became 9 Signals Regt from 1959 and from April, 1999, on amalgamating with 33 Signals, RAF, was JSSU. It has 3 Squadrons, is commanded by a LTC, and the site has both [a] HF [high frequency ] Antennae to intercept regional communications of security interest, and [b] a HF DF [ direction finder ] which locates traffic flow across a large region, as well as [c] satellite dishes to intercept traffic on geo-stationary comms satellites.

The latter role has been diminished by the growing use of fibre-optic cables in recent years, and interception of that traffic would be vital. The various Jihadi gangs now rampant from Syria to Sinai make such interception in that unstable region all the more vital.
Does not sound unreasonable.

The EU will do such things ....

... what they are they know not. Actually, the likelihood is that they will impose trade sanctions on Iceland as they have on the Faroe Islands (with, I may add, this country's and its fishermen's support). Iceland has officially withdrawn from accession negotiations.
Iceland said yesterday (22 August) that a recent election which brought eurosceptic parties to power had been interpreted by constitutional advisors as a signal to stop EU accession talks.

The foreign ministry said it had received an opinion from its constitutional advisors that the government was not bound by a 2009 parliamentary vote to launch the membership talks.
How very dare they?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Well, that was a success

EUObserver reports:
As a result of European leaders harsh bailout deal for Cyprus in March including a forced conversion of Bank of Cyprus deposits into shares, Russians will end up with a controlling stake in the bank, reports the New York Times. Russians will own roughly 60% of the bank’s new shares.
Here is the original story in the New York Times. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Greece makes unwelcome appearance

As it is the German election campaign, the appearance is very unwelcome. Chancellor Merkel who remains favourite to win but it is not clear by how much has tried to keep the subject of Greece out of the campaign. Not so the Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble.

Yesterday he cheerfully announced at an election event in northern Germany that there will have to be another "programme" in Greece. Not that this is exactly a surprise to anyone but the German electorate cannot relish the thought of it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some news from those far-off countries

Oh for the days, I hear some of my readers sigh, when the countries of eastern and central Europe were so far off that we knew nothing about them and cared even less except when they turned up in some thriller. Alas, no longer so. We may still know very little about them but they now matter and not just to writers of thrillers but to all of us because the money they receive from the EU is our money (and other countries') and because, more importantly, their leaders are members of our real government. Let us never forget that.

Last week we found out that the rather dubiously appointed Czech government has resigned after a vote of no confidence. On top of that, the Czech Republic may well lose some of the EU funding it is getting or supposed to be getting at the moment.
The Czech Republic could lose up to 968 million euros in EU regional aid and agricultural subsidies this year if it does not correctly administer and accelerate projects, the country's development ministry said on Thursday. Payments for nine out of twenty six spending departments could be lost due to maladministration.
Hungary is in an even worse position over that as EurActiv reports:
European Union funding to Hungary has been temporarily suspended over failings in the country's financial control systems, but there was no evidence of fraud, a European Commission official said yesterday (14 August).

On Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office said the EU had suspended 13 of 15 programmes funded with EU money, including projects such as road building and social cohesion programmes.

A Commission official said the funds had been frozen because of deficiencies in Hungary's financial management and control systems for the programmes in question, identified in an EU audit in 2012.
And the newly joined Croatia is already feeling the EU's ire:
The EU commission may suspend part of Croatia's EU funds if the new member state continues to protect one of its retired spies, Josip Perkovic, from extradition to Germany where he is wanted for murder, justice commissioner Viviane Reding told Danas news. Reding expects answers from Croatia by 23 August.
Given that joining the EU has not exactly sorted out the various political problems East European countries face and the funds they had been promised keep being suspended, what exactly have they gained by it?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Faroe Islands go to the UN

The Faroe Islands who want the coastal countries that include Russia, Iceland and Norway (but not the UK because we do not negotiate on our behalf) to meet in September and discuss the management of the herring stock, have meanwhile taken the EU to an international tribunal under UNCLOS over those threats of sanctions.

The BBC reports that
A statement from the Faroese prime minister's office said the government had requested an international tribunal to declare the European Union "in breach of its obligations" under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It asked for EU authorities to be "ordered to refrain from the threat or adoption of coercive economic measures on the Faroe Islands".

Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson has also demanded the EU withdraws the threats and allows a peaceful settlement to be found under "free negotiations".

European sanctions will be brought in against Faroese herring and mackerel imports from the end of August.
Foolishly, the Scottish fishermen are supporting this high-handed action. Then again, what other options do they have?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

German Left indulges in some "direct democracy"

Both Reuters and Der Spiegel report an interesting new political development in Germany. It seems that the Left - "from far-left anti-fascist anarchists to the mainstream Green Party" have been indulging in a spot of direct democracy. Imitating a number of movements from the late twenties and early thirties (and even earlier than that in Bolshevik Russia) they have been attacking the German Anti-Euro Party in various ways, including physical violence. As ever, one can but marvel at these people's lack of self-awareness when they employ brutal fascist tactics in their supposed pursuit of anti-fascist agenda.
In recent weeks, AfD campaigners have received threatening phone calls, been subjected to verbal abuse and -- in some cases -- physical attacks.

Though the AfD has complained of such incidents in a number of cities including Berlin, Lübeck and Nuremberg, the party points to a particularly brutal confrontation at a campaign stand in the eastern town of Göttingen last week. The local police were forced to break up a dispute between the AfD and members of the Green Youth -- the youth wing of Germany's Green Party -- subsequently installing 40 officers at the stand to make sure that the violence was kept at bay.
Apparently the AfD is debating whether to suspend campaigning in Göttingen, which, being a university town is particularly intolerant of any diverging opinion.

Naturally, I hope they will not give up campaigning and, indeed, I hope they do well in the forthcoming election, if for no other reason but to put a spoke in the nasty leftie-greenie-fascist activists. Of course, it would be good to see a decent turn-out against the euro though whether Germany can actually afford to break that up is a moot point.

Friedrich Geiger in a Wall Street Journal blog speculates that the AfD may yet surprise everyone in the September election, maybe even reaching the necessary five per cent.
In a poll conducted by Forsa institute and published Wednesday, 3% of participants said they would vote for the AfD in September 22 elections. The result is well below the 5% threshold needed for parties to enter parliament in Germany. AfD’s results in previous surveys have been similar.

However, at election betting platform Prognosys, the AfD is mustering a healthy 6%, BHF points out. Prognosys lets betters place odds on the outcome of the vote.

“Maybe not all poll participants dare disclose their support for AfD,” the bank says as a possible explanation for the divergence. That’s because some supporters of the AfD, whose main demand is that Germany exit the euro zone, are aware of the party’s negative reputation among some Germans.

Evidence that polls can underestimate smaller parties is easily found in past elections.
We shall see on September 22.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Another outdated national squabble the EU was going to put an end to

It always seemed to me that the EU was storing up a great deal of trouble on taking in both Hungary and Romania. Do these people not know any history? Well, of course, the reply to that was that the European Union was going to abolish history and everything would become sweetness and light in that part of Europe as well.

Well, the two countries have not actually gone to war and are not likely to do so in the foreseeable future but neither were they likely to before joining the glorious EU. However, spats continue on a semi-official level.

EurActiv reports that
Romania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has strongly condemned a recent statement made by the leader of the Hungarian radical nationalist party, Jobbik, claiming that Hungary should seek autonomy for the Hungarian-populated Székely Land in Romania.

According to the Hungarian agency MTI, Gábor Vona, leader of the Hungarian radical nationalist party Jobbik, accused the government of Viktor Orbán of failing to raise issues regarding the peace treaty of Trianon on the autonomy of the so-called Székely Land - or Szecklerland - with international fora.
Jobbik is a very unpleasant party and its relative popularity is the outcome of the last socialist government's venality and incompetence. However, it is not, as the Hungarian government pointed out, part of it, so Mr Vona speaks for himself and his party.

Nevertheless, the Treaty of Trianon remains something of a political issue for politicians at least if not necessarily for the people of Hungary. Two years ago voting rights were granted to Hungarians who live outside the country's borders and whose "exile" was created by that treaty but who were also considered to be natural Fidesz voters.

Public opinion in the country did not take too kindly to the idea (a very dodgy one politically) and that has not changed much in the intervening period as this analysis shows.
In May 2010 19% of Fidesz voters disapproved of granting both citizenship and voting rights to Hungarians in the neighboring countries and only 30% approved of both. The rest, 46%, supported dual citizenship but without voting rights. So, 65% of Fidesz voters surveyed were against granting voting rights to Hungarians outside the borders. 62% of MSZP voters opposed both citizenship and voting rights and only 5% approved of the Fidesz plan. Jobbik voters were split on the issue: 35% of them wouldn’t grant outsiders anything but 35% of them were happy with Fidesz’s plan. Those without party preference also overwhelmingly opposed voting rights. Only 13% supported the government’s plan. All in all, 71% of the adult population were against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship. Only 23% supported the proposed law that included both.

The July 2012 poll inquired about other aspects of Hungary’s relations with the neighboring countries, especially the Hungarian government’s involvement with party politics in countries in the Carpathian Basin. As soon as Fidesz won the elections the government unabashedly supported certain Hungarian minority parties and ignored or actively worked against others. This particular poll concentrated on Romanian-Hungarian affairs and specifically the Hungarian government’s support of small parties that are politically closer to Fidesz than the largest Hungarian Party, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (UDMR). Medián wanted to know what Hungarians think of direct Hungarian involvement in political campaigns outside of Hungary’s borders. In addition, Medián inquired about people’s opinion of the government’s support of insignificant political groups in Romania as opposed to the largest Hungarian party, RMDSZ. And while Medián was at it, they included a question testing whether their May 2010 findings about Hungarians’ opinion on the voting rights of people of foreign domicile had changed at all.

The overwhelming majority (78%) disapproved of the government’s involvement in the politics of its neighbors. As for Fidesz’s support of smaller Romanian-Hungarian parties that are closer to the Fidesz leadership’s heart, even Fidesz voters were split on the issue, with 50% supporting the Fidesz strategy but 37% disapproving. In the population as a whole only 24% thought that supporting small political groupings was a capital idea while 52% thought such a strategy was self-defeating. A rather large number of those surveyed (24%) had no opinion.

As to the issue of citizenship and voting rights, more than two years went by and nothing really changed. In May 2010 71% disapproved and only 23% approved, in July 2012 70% still disliked the idea but the supporters went up a bit, from 23% to 26%. Not really significant.

In November 2012 Medián conducted another poll. The overwhelming majority of MSZP, LMP, DK, MSZP, Együtt 2014, and undecided voters rejected that section of the electoral law that grants voting rights to dual citizens. Although a relative majority of Fidesz (55%) and Jobbik (53%) voters supported it, in the population as a whole those who opposed it were still slightly over 70%.
Nevertheless, the Romanian government bristles when the leader of a Hungarian minority party makes some provocative comments.
Bucharest states that the statements made “blatantly” go “against the contemporary European spirit and realities, against the principles of the international law, the Basic Political Treaty [between Hungary and Romania, concluded in 1996], as well as those of the Bilateral Strategic Partnership”.

“Such positions are completely anachronistic and must be condemned in all firmness by all responsible stakeholders of Romania, Hungary and Europe in general,” the foreign ministry states, calling on the Hungarian authorities to disassociate themselves from the Jobbik statements.
The Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had nothing to do with them and Mr Vona accused the Romanian government of hysteria. Hmm. Wars have been fought over lesser insults than that.

Odd developments in Denmark

There are calls for a referendum in Denmark to be timed at the same time as next year's European elections. The calls or, to be quite precise, one call, comes from the eader of the Liberal party and former Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, as reported by EUObserver and The Copenhagen Post.

Mr Rasmussen wants a referendum to reverse all but one of the opt-outs Denmark was grudgingly given when the country was told to vote again over the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.
Venstre party head and former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (V) said today that Denmark should remove the opt-outs on EU defence and justice co-operation that were introduced when Denmark signed the Maastricht Treaty that created the European Union in 1992. The third reservation on becoming part of the euro common currency would remain in place.
There are, however, complications. The present government had intended to call a referendum on the opt-outs but decided against it as the Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (in private life Mrs Stephen Kinnock though they seem to spend very little time together) thought there were too many tensions and uncertainties within the EU. Or, in other words, the people of Denmark might once again vote the wrong way.

That problem has not gone away.
But despite a large backing in the parliament to remove some of the EU opt-outs, people may vote differently.

A survey by the Danish Greens Analyseinstitut earlier this year showed there is still a large majority (62%) against the euro and that a just 39 percent wants Denmark to join EU justice policies.

The defence opt-out is the exception, with 55 percent happy to scrap the measure.
Even that is not exactly a huge majority, given the usual propensity of referendums to tend towards the status quo.

So what is Mr Rasmussen playing at? Does he think popular opinion will magically change by next May? Or is he being Machiavellian: calling for a referendum that will go in favour of keeping the opt-outs?

Catching up on the Gibraltar story

The UK has sent HMS Westminster to Gibraltar or, to be precise, to take part in the Cougar '13 naval exercise. This seems to signal to the media that the situation is getting more tense. Meanwhile, Spain is bringing out the heavy artillery: it is threatening to take its case to the UN where it will have one ally at least, Argentina.
Earlier, newspaper El País said Spain could take the matter to the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council, where Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo will seek support from Argentina, which is serving a term.
However, other players have entered the game. We hear from EUObserver that Catalan separatists have expressed solidarity with the people of Gibraltar.
Party leader Alfred Bosch told Gibraltar:"Your freedom is our freedom."
Quite so. May I call his and everybody else's attention to this blog's title. Meanwhile, there is a possibility that Morocco might start stirring in the matters of Ceuta and Melilla, which are inexplicably continue to be Spanish possessions.
Samir Bennis, a Moroccan and political adviser on Arab affairs at the UN in New York, said Spain operated “double standards” by dismissing Moroccan sovereignty claims over Ceuta and Melilla as unfounded while pursuing its own claim over Gibraltar.
He gives a kind of an explanation for this anomalous situation:
“What mattered most during the Sixties and Seventies when such things were discussed was for Morocco to recover its territories in the south, including the Spanish protectorate of the Western Sahara,” Mr Bennis, who has published books on the subject, told the British newspaper.

“That was cleverly exploited by Spain who persuaded Morocco not to take the matter of Ceuta and Melilla up with the UN but agree to make it a strictly bilateral issue between Spain and Morocco.”
Will the UN now take up the matter of Ceuta and Melilla? Will it take up the matter of Western Sahara, whose people might not want to be part of Morocco?

Monday, August 12, 2013

The daughter also rises

It is possible that Silvio Berlusconi's political career is actually finished though I would not put any money on that. However, there is speculation that his daughter
Marina Berlusconi will be her father’s heir to the throne of the People of Freedom (PDL) and will re-launch the party under its original name, the Forza Italia (Go Italy). PDL is affiliated with the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament.
Well, at least, there will be no question of teenage prostitutes. We hope.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Great word "lethargocracy"

Der Spiegel, not Chancellor Merkel's greatest friend entitles its latest attack on her: German Stasis: In the Grips of Merkel's "Lethargocracy". As neologisms go, that is an excellent one. The article's theme?
The German economy may be doing well now, but significant challenges lurk in the near future. Chancellor Merkel, though, has succumbed to the torpor of her electorate and has shown no willingness to address badly needed reforms.
Well, let's be honest, reforms are not going to happen in an election year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Distracting attention

The egregious Godfrey Bloom, UKIP MEP for Yorkshire has been in the news again. For the benefit of those readers who do not find the minutiae of British politics absorbingly interesting I had better explain that Mr Bloom, who has a track record of making offensive comments though he thinks of them as intelligent and amusing, said at a meeting in Wordsley, West Midlands
How we can possibly be giving £1bn a month, when we're in this sort of debt, to Bongo Bongo Land is completely beyond me.

Some of the money had gone on buying "Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it.
He has since explained that he is sorry if he caused offence and will not do it again. In fact, he has promised the Dear Leader that he would never use the expression Bongo Bongo Land again.

Too late. Or maybe not. All day we have had the Grauniad and the Conservative Party getting all worked up about the racism of Godfrey Bloom and UKIP while others have been getting worked up about the PC attitude of our media. Why shouldn't Mr Bloom say Bongo Bongo Land even if he is not talking about Cliff Richard's highly successful film?

The question should be what possessed Mr Bloom to phrase what is a perfectly sensible question in that ridiculous fashion. Oh, I was told, he is a Yorkshireman and he calls it as he sees it. Does he, indeed? I have lived in Yorkshire and what I remember is people being friendly, pleasant and polite.

What he has achieved is to divert attention yet again from the subject of foreign aid and its sheer wrongness to the question of whether UKIP is racist (some and some) and whether Godfrey Bloom should go on being and MEP (why on earth not?) and other suchlike fascinating subjects.

Valiant rearguard action was fought by James Delingpole, who wrote quite correctly:
If anyone has a problem with the factual basis of Bloom's argument, let them speak up now. I'd be truly fascinated to hear them make the case that – contra Jonathan Foreman's bravura demolition of the foreign aid industry Aiding And Abetting (Civitas) – our ringfenced foreign aid budget is anything more than a massively wasteful exercise in post-imperial arrogance, moral grandstanding and self-delusion. I'm also mad keen to hear them explain how – contrary to all evidence – standards of governance, transparency and moral compunction in failing African states are every bit as high as they are in the UK. And if they are unable to do this then the case against Godfrey Bloom is risibly weak. It depends entirely on the immeasurably trivial semantic significance of his use of the phrase "Bongo Bongo Land".
But it was Mr Bloom who diverted attention from his case (badly stated) to the semantic problem. Given UKIP's propensity for turning every political issue into a three-ring circus with themselves at the centre, one does begin to wonder what motivates them and what motivates Mr Bloom in particular.

While we are on the subject, I can certainly confirm Mr Delingpole's comment about Jonathan Foreman's book: it is an excellent and very well researched study of the foreign aid industry, its denizens and the harm it does to the recipients. I shall write a longer piece about it at a future date but can unreservedly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Czech crisis continues

Reuters reports that "the new Czech cabinet formed by leftist allies of President Milos Zeman lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on Wednesday". The result was tight: 93 in favor, 100 against and 7 not present (where were they, one wonders), with no group commanding a clear majority. An election before the end of the year has just become more likely.

Another nail ....

.... in the coffin of the post-war settlement, which, for some reason not unconnected with a lack of historical knowledge, so many people assumed to have been created for ever. Japan is no longer content to stay in the role allotted to it in the immediate post-1945 period. Alarmed by uncertainties over the US role in the world and the constant sabre-rattling by China, it is beginning to flex its own muscles
Japan on Tuesday unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, a huge flat-top destroyer that has raised eyebrows in China and elsewhere because it bears a strong resemblance to a conventional aircraft carrier.

The ship, which has a flight deck that is nearly 250 metres (820 feet) long, is designed to carry up to 14 helicopters. Japanese officials say it will be used in national defence — particularly in anti-submarine warfare and border-area surveillance missions — and to bolster the nation's ability to transport personnel and supplies in response to large-scale natural disasters, like the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
The ship is called Izumo which reminded a friend, knowledgeable in naval military history of the fact that "Izumo was also the name of the Imperial Navy cruiser that made a dash from San Francisco to Vancouver at the start of WWI to provide protection from the Germans, as the Royal Navy ships usually stationed there had been sent elsewhere".
Though technically a destroyer, some experts believe the new Japanese ship could potentially be used in the future to launch fighter jets or other aircraft that have the ability to take off vertically. That would be a departure for Japan, which has one of the best equipped and best trained naval forces in the Pacific but which has not sought to build aircraft carriers of its own because of constitutional restrictions that limit its military forces to a defensive role.
At present, Japan insists, it has neither the ability nor the desire to use the ship for that purpose. In future? Hard to tell though I have heard people say that it will not be long before the country will have nuclear capability. One can only hope that it will still be on our side though that seems probable with that continuous Chinese sabre-rattling.

For some time now I have been saying on this blog and elsewhere that the post-war order is crumbling and has been ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Let it crumble. After all, it was not such a good order. And let it carry the European Union, part of that structure with it.

What I find slightly intriguing and more than slightly annoying is the sight of so many "eurosceptics" who ought to be pleased with that development, hanging on to the shreds of what remains. It is notable in the constant references to some kind of a mythical German Empire or the Fourth Reich and, no doubt, we shall see lots of comments about modern Japan being no different from the militaristic one of the thirties and and early forties.

All that finished over sixty years ago and it is time we did away with the political structures that were created then. Logically speaking, if you are afraid of Germany even now, you should be in favour of the European Union.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How can this happen in the EU?

I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. The European Union was going to bring peace and plenty to all European nations; milk and honey would flow through the land; and old enmities would die. Let's not discuss the problems of milk subsidies and the apparent shortage of honey bees - let us concentrate on those old enmities. The old enmity that is between Spain and the UK and revolves round the rock of Gibraltar.

It cannot have escaped the notice of this blog's readers that the Spanish government is at it again. To be absolutely accurate, it is trying to deflect attention from various domestic problems such as "recession and corruption allegations that have led to a collapse in the popularity of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy" by beating the ward drums over Gibraltar.
On Sunday, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo warned that "the midday break" for the U.K. was over, a reference to what he called ineffective policies in defense of Spanish interests by the country's previous government, which left office in December 2011.
The immediate "cause" of the dispute is the artificial reef being built by the Gibraltarians, which, they maintain, will attract fish and make fishing easier and which, the Spanish maintain, will make their fishermen's lives more difficult. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that
Spain was mulling a €50 border-crossing fee and tax investigations of thousands of Gibraltarians who own property in Spain. A border fee would affect tourists and Gibraltarians who cross the border for work.

Gibraltar has complained to the European Commission over what it says are unreasonable controls at the border, saying they violate European Union rules on free circulation.

Spain was also considering closing airspace to planes heading for the airport in Gibraltar and changing rules to wring taxes from on-line gaming companies based in Gibraltar, he said.
Whether the people of Spain will be taken in by this carefully timed sabre rattling remains to be seen. For the moment,
"The prime minister has made clear that the U.K. government will meet its constitutional commitments to the people of Gibraltar and will not compromise on sovereignty," the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a statement Sunday. "Our differences with Spain on Gibraltar will be resolved by political means through our relationship as EU partners, not through disproportionate measures such as the border delays we have seen over the past week."
But, surely, this is not the sort of thing that should be happening in the EU, anyway.